Spring sprang warmly Thursday everywhere in the South Sound — and especially in Puyallup, with the opening of the 26th annual Spring Fair at the Washington State Fairgrounds.
Subtle scents of scones rose as the gates opened and early guests were greeted at the Gold Gate by a 20-foot-high inflated rubber duck. At the “Fun on the Farm” exhibit, children were given the chance to milk an ersatz cow. A monster truck stood ready to take riders for rides, and hawkers staffing booths in the Showplex offered their fair wares.
Meanwhile, up in the executive board room, WSF CEO Kent Hojem hosted a luncheon (lasagna, not onion burgers) honoring a delegation from the Gimje Horizon Festival, which will host its 17th iteration next October in South Korea.
The Asian delegation included Horizon Festival Manager Oh Hyeongju, and Jeong Ganghoan, a professor at Paichai University and director of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in Korea.
Hojem, who will serve as director of the international association (worldwide) in 2016, was accompanied by Puyallup Mayor John Knutson, Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto, WSF Board Member Jerry Korum and Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shelly Schlumpf.
Over lunch, the two delegations compared fairs.
At the Horizon Festival, there are no rides. There is, however, a “harvest experience” where visitors can mechanically move water into a rice paddy. There is a rice “milling experience,” but no carnival midway. There is a chance to “cook country foods,” but there are no elephant ears, Krusty Pups or ice cream bars dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts.
There’s a chance to see 860 people carry a 1,400 pound rice cake, but there are no sellers of waterless cookware or miracle mops, and no newborn pigs compete for attention against cute baby bunnies.
But where the Harvest Festival offers interactive participation in 80 percent of its exhibits, in Puyallup the figure drops to 20 percent.
The officials compared notes, asked questions.
Korean fairs are primarily government-subsidized and charge no admission. Here, fairs pay taxes. Over there, the fairgrounds are used once each year to celebrate rice. In Puyallup, the fairgrounds offer year-round access to gatherings including gun shows, weddings, vintage car displays and a German beer festival, among others.
“They’re examining opportunities,” Hojem said.
He had previously visited the Horizon Festival.
“They’re very curious about our business model,” he said.
The Korean government, he said, has recently reduced its full-on financial support of fairs. Where once the country could boast 1,200 such events, the number has lately been reduced by nearly half.
Following the lunch and an exchange of ceremonial gifts, Hojem led the combined group to the Showplex for the opening of a photo display dedicated to the rice festival.
“We hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship,” came the announcement to a growing crowd.
Meanwhile, the sun shone and sweet barbecue rode the breeze.