The Hand of Harmony, Pohang

CONTRIBUTED BY STACEY PETERS

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The Hand of Harmony in Pohang is not the easiest place to navigate to in the middle of the night. I went to bed later than I expected. I decided to set my alarm and see how I felt when I woke in the morning.

I woke up at 0430 full of energy and vigor, got dressed, packed my camera equipment and a few snacks in my backpack and was inputting the address information in my Korea-only GPS by 0500.

And that’s when I found out the trip I had originally planned for 90 minutes was more like 2 hours. I had to be in Homigot Sunrise Plaza by sunrise, which was set to occur at 0713—very little wiggle room for the usual mistakes I make when driving around South Korea.

I got lost a few times. The only reason I knew I was heading in the right direction was the smell of ocean air that drifted into my car through the open vents.

I arrived in Sunrise Plaza with 10-15 minutes to spare. And waited for the light show to begin with a small group of fellow luck seekers.

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Why I got out my bed in the middle of the night

The Hand Of Harmony is a statue made of bronze and granite, built in 1999. It is a symbol of “the struggle and the spirit of all Koreans to pursue a better life.” That’s it. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Korean tradition and part of an annual festival held every New Years Eve.

The festival includes lots of cultural entertainment and a sunrise concert. Visitors receive a free bowl of tteokguk, a traditional New Year’s Day broth soup from a huge communal soup pot. The soup consists of thinly sliced rice cakes, julienned eggs, meat and seaweed. It is believed to grant the consumer good luck for the year as well as an additional year of life. Participants also fly kites and launch hope balloons with their wishes, hopes and dreams attached.

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The Hand of Harmony sits 20-30 feet from the shore in the shallow water. A seawall keeps the big waves from reaching the paved walkway above the shore. The waves beckon to be heard, as they break hard against the jagged rocks of the wall. A few photographers brave the chance of getting wet to capture a unique photo of the open palm.

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We all stood there, looking to the horizon waiting for the sun to rise. Some people shuffled from side to side in the cold morning air. Others stood close to each other trying to generate heat and share its rewards. I kept myself busy by alternating between my camera and my phone. I had worn gloves, but unfortunately I couldn’t operate my phone with them on, so I occupied myself by putting them and taking them off—trying while trying to keep my fingertips warm.

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And then it happened. The sun started to peek out behind a thick blanket of fog and clouds. And its light spread out before us and over the outstretched fingers of the Hand of Harmony. Each finger, a temporary home to the seagulls that witness the same sunrise day after day without fail. They perched on the fingertips like statues as if they too, were reverent of the new day dawning. When I arrived there was only one. When I left there was one on every finger and several found shelter in its palm.

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And Just Like That…

The sunrise came and went, just like the crowd, which dispersed soon afterwards. But they should have stayed a bit longer, because the real magic came around 0745 when the sun actually burst through its cloud cover and the orange, red, pink and yellow light cast a more vibrant backdrop to the show.

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I walked around the beach to the lighthouse and the statues in the large plaza. There is a matching hand directly facing the one in the water. The palms of the hands face each other to symbolize harmony and coexistence. The right hand in the water, the left one is on land. Under it, an eternal flame said to have been lit by sunlight itself.

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I know this from my research because the only thing I could actually read, was “do not sit…” which I gladly heeded.

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The lighthouse is the largest lighthouse in Korea. It was built after a Japanese ship sunk off the coast in 1907. It was designed by a Frenchman and built by Chinese craftsmen in 1908. Its design is European, but I read that its six stories are decorated with paintings of plum blossoms, which is definitely Asian.

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The morning had been eerily quiet, probably due to the early hour. However, the silence gave way to the clatter of pots and pans as the food vendors began making preparations for the influx of those too lazy to arrive before dawn. The odor of drying fish seemed stronger now and the competition for captivity of my senses was won over by them. It was a clear signal to me, anyway that it was time to go home.

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Hand of Harmony

GPS Address: 225-2, Daebo-ri, Homigot-myeon, Nam-gu, Pohang-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do

GPS Coordinates: 36.0768407, 129.56779740000002

Caution: Route 929 is the fastest way to get there from Daegu, but can be a bit treacherous in the dark with its narrow roads and tight switchback curves. It takes you past some cute fishing villages, abandoned boat yards and sandy beaches. However, all the above make it a lovely drive home along the coast under the light of the morning sun.

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