There were Choco Pies, taekwondo demonstrations, and local pols shoring up the Korean vote at Saturday’s opening of the new Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Va.
The Choco Pies, a much loved, semi-knockoff MoonPie invented by the South Korean military, came courtesy of the Korean American Senior Services Association, which also bused in much of the audience: several dozen sun visor-clad grannies and granddads who milled about the park playing games of yut and, surreally, tug-of-war. Crowd chatter was mostly in Korean, and tended to get louder whenever any of the politicians started speechifying in English for too long. These included Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova, Supervisors John Cook and Pat Herrity, and Virginia State Senator (and, until recently, expected candidate for governor) Chap Petersen, who boasts the strongest community cred by virtue of having a Korean wife. South Korean Ambassador Choi Young-Jin was also on hand, as well as officials from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The Washington Korean Symphony Orchestra opened and closed the ceremony with the American and Korean national anthems, the Korean folk song Arirang, and a selection from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
But the bell garden itself is the brainchild of the Korean American Cultural Committee and its chair, Jeung-Hwa Elmejjad-Yi. Elmejjad-Yi founded the organization shortly after the 2003 centennial of the start of Korean migration to the U.S., with the intention of creating the first garden of its kind in the Western Hemisphere (other Korean bells exist in California, she says, but not in this particular landscaped setting). In 2006, the KACC reached a memorandum of understanding with the NVRPA authorizing its placement in Meadowlark Gardens. The entire project took more than five years to complete and cost approximately $1 million, says Elmejjad-Yi, 80 percent of which came from private donations from the Washington area Korean community, and 20 percent from the South Korean government.
The enormous bells used for such monuments trace back to the Shilla Dynasty, are made of bronze and other metals and can weigh as much as 17 tons. The bell at Meadowlark was cast in Korea and shipped to the U.S., and is housed in a pavilion with traditional upward arching eaves. A sign in Korean labels it the “bell of peace.” The garden also includes a gazebo, pond, wooden jangseung totems from Jeolla Province and stone harubang statues from Jeju Island.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is located across the Dulles Toll Road from Wolf Trap, at 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, VA. Entrance fee is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors and students 17 and under, and free ages 7 and under.