WTF: Ulsan Amethyst Cave World

The Amethyst Cave wasn’t my original destination when I set off for Eonyang, the western outskirts of Ulsan, at 8:30am one Saturday morning. My friend Paul and I were in search of Paraeso Waterfall, but after a 2+ hour trek out to Eonyang, we missed the only bus. We tried a taxi, but the driver claimed it would take 50,000 won or something ridiculous to get us all the way there. Not wanting to waste our time in Eonyang, we asked him to take us to another one of the city’s 12 “scenic locations”, Jakgaecheon, a stream. The driver said that would only be 7,000 won so away we went. But once we made it to the stream, the taxi driver mumbled something about wanting to take us to a “cave” and took us there instead.


I was quite surprised to find we were in the middle of a tiny amusement park, overrun with groups of small children. I had heard of the Amethyst Cave before, but nothing had quite prepared me for their quirkiness. The Cave seemed a good alternative to our failed attempt to get to the waterfall, so we got our tickets and made our way inside.


The cave is divided into several sections, featuring exhibitions that seemed to have been selected using the random button on Wikipedia, or some other such nonsense method.


Egyptian hall

Forever preserved in Child’s Pose.

A Buddha statue and mats for praying.

The exotic Papa New Guinea tribal section.

And of course, there was a hall claiming Dokdo:


There was also a little bit of Amethyst…


…but it was mostly in fogged-up glass boxes, and sometimes rather difficult to see. There were also little holes in the cave walls, where you could see “real” un-mined amethyst, but it wasn’t all that much to see.

By far the best part of the caves was an acrobatic/contortionist performance, performed by a group of kids from a SE Asian country that may have been the Philippines. They were amazing.

As is commonly found in Korea, these anatomically-detailed statues marked the entrance:

Amethyst Cave World also has a giant indoor ice sculpture section:


But we decided to skip it. I hear it has a nice toboggan run.

Down below the caves was a kids-size mini go-karting area, with some very loud cars that sounded in desperate need of mechanical repair. This was positioned right next to a nice little temple, with a big pond full of lily pads.


Up above the cave was a tiny zoo, with an excellent “Chickens of World” exhibition:


This French chicken was my favorite. His style seems a bit reminiscent of Bowie.

These floppy-mopped Polish chickens were a close second.

The rest of the zoo had some really awful cages for its animals, without any attempt to recreate a habitat. I would really like to find a way to write City Hall or someone to complain…these conditions were just awful.

Bear cage.

Monkey cage.

The Amethyst cave world is definitely a quirky place, and certainly worth the visit for anyone with a prolonged visit to Ulsan. I think the easiest way out there is a taxi from Eonyang, as I didn’t really see any buses.



We had finished our tour of the cave by mid-afternoon, and decided to see if we couldn’t walk to the waterfall. We easily found our way back down to Jakgaecheon, and walked along the stream for a couple hours until we were blocked by Sinbulsan, one of Eonyang’s biggest mountains.

Signs near the entrance to the mountain told us that another, smaller waterfall was an easy 15-20 minute hike up.

There were some rock climbers descending and taking video. They looked pretty badass.

And so we found a waterfall after all! It made a very decent substitute for Paraeso.


The day ended with some delicious mountain vegetable bibimbap down at a tiny restaurant at the base of Sinbulsan, as every hike should.

While it would’ve been nice to have found Paraeso, stumbling onto the Amethyst Cave definitely made for an interesting day of exploring.



Memorial Day weekend came a week late for this American this year, as Korea’s version of the holiday is June 6th. Luckily, it’s still celebrated with a Monday off of work, and I decided it would only be fitting to usher in the spirit of summer with some camping – on a small island off the west coast of Korea. Seonyudo caught my attention way back in November, when I stumbled across some random blog raving about the islands’ beauty and enticing combination of bike paths, scooter-rentals, and lack of cars. I didn’t want to get my hopes up or anything, but online reports made it sound like our trip would be nothing short of an epic adventure.

About camping: I am by no means an experienced camper. Luckily for me, hiking and general outdoorsy-ness are incredibly popular in this country, so cheap gear is everywhere. I picked up the cheapest tent I could find – 30,000 won at Lotte Mart (Korea’s Wal-mart). Combined with a 10,000 won waterproof picnic blanket from Home Plus and the cheap sleeping bag left behind from the previous tenant of my apartment, I hoped I’d be set.

Getting to the islands from Ulsan is no easy task, to say the least. It required 3 buses, 1 train and 1 ferry, starting on a late Friday evening KTX to Daejeon. Travel wisdom from the weekend: book trains well in advance on a holiday weekend in Korea. In Daejeon, we stayed at my favorite love motel (my favorite for its name – the Bijou Motel, close proximity to the train station, kind ajumma who runs the place, and being the only place I’ve stayed in Daejeon). After one stop at a chicken and beer hof, we called it an early night in anticipation of waking up to catch a 9:30am bus to Gunsan.

Gunsan is a small port city in the middle-ish of the west coast. There were a surprising number of foreigners milling about the bus station for such a small city; apparently we weren’t the only ones taking a weekend island trip. We had a bit of trouble tracking down the #7 city bus to the ferry terminal, which we never would’ve found without the help of a very friendly young Korean woman. After a 30 minute wait for the bus and a painfully slow 45-minute ride all through town, we finally made it to the ferry.

Seonyudo & Gogunsanislands map

Waiting in the ferry station, we found a rather intriguing English map of the islands, featuring what appeared to be several small villages, some beaches, no fewer than three ‘Mud Flat Experiencing Fields’, and the mysterious Golden Rain Tree Colony. Oooooooh.


The ferry ride was a pleasant but rather unexciting hour and a half. Apparently it’s also possible to ferry to China from Gunsan, which – considering the speed of our ferry – must take about a week! But something fun to think about nonetheless.

And finally! We were on Seonyudo. Many golf cart-taxis waited around the port, taking people to pensions or on island tours. We walked over to the beach to set up our tents. On the way, we came across a big group of scantily-clad, already drunk foreigners, and decided to set up our tent far, far away.

The camping area was a small strip of beach separating the sea.

Tent set-up successful, ready to tackle the wilderness.

Our camp-site. Perfect! Except for the lack of showers…

By the time we got our tents set-up, we were hungry and eager to sample some of the island’s seafood. We chose the most inviting seafood restaurant on the main road and ordered three of the cheapest things off the menu – raw fish with rice, seafood noodle soup, and 산낙지. For those unfamiliar, 산낙지 (san-nak-ji) is live octopus. It’s not actually alive, but just recently chopped up so that the legs are still wriggling about. Like how chickens run around after their heads have been chopped off. This more or less made the dish look like a plate of live worms. Yummmm! But it actually tasted great – much better than worms, I’d imagine. By far the freshest tasting octopus I’ve had in 8 months!

Here they are in action:

Eating live octopus can be a bit of a challenge. The tentacles still suction to the plate, and also the insides of your mouth. Apparently they can also suction to your throat on the way down, which is a potential choking hazard (but mainly only if you’re really drunk). The tentacles very conveniently wrap themselves around your chopsticks, which makes picking up the thin little ends much easier. All in all, considering my rather recent 4.5-year stint as a vegetarian, I wasn’t nearly as grossed out as I expected. I’d even do it again!

Our energy sufficiently replenished, we decided we couldn’t be there another minute without getting on some scooters. I was pretty anxious about getting them, as the walkways were pretty packed with golf carts and people walking and biking, but the excitement of driving a scooter quickly triumphed over any anxieties.

The process for renting a scooter went like this: find bike/scooter rental stand. Wait while the owner tracks down five scooters/borrows one from random guy riding past. Pay 15,000. Get a 30-second demo of how they work, and a quick reminder not to drink and drive. And go!

No license? No ID? No insurance? No problem. Seonyudo is perhaps the easiest place to rent a scooter anywhere. I guess the scooters aren’t allowed on the ferries, as they didn’t seem at all concerned with us running off with them. They also didn’t seem particularly concerned with anyone’s safety, but I guess people don’t really sue each other so much over here.

Aside from a near-crash trying to avoid a golf-cart-taxi on a steep hill approximately 45 seconds after starting, I found scooter-driving to be pretty easy, and very fun. There’s nothing quite like zooming along the coast, wind blowing through your hair, nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see to either side…


Scootering around, we passed many groups of touring Koreans, the older and drunker of which thought it was very funny to wave and shout hello! and cheer us on. The people we met on the island all seemed to be on vacation, and much friendlier than normal.

Seonyudo connects to two other islands by small bridges, which are bikable, and pose an interesting challenge when full of other tourists.

In an hour, we found we were pretty much able to explore all the island paths reachable by scooter. The islands are beautiful, but certainly not very big. As far as the strange sights listed on the map, I’d say Korean Tourism advertising has a tendency to give a name to every little spot that doesn’t necessary merit such a significant title. There was unfortunately no “Golden Rain Tree Colony” to be found (although perhaps there was and we just didn’t spot it). There were plenty of mud flats open for experiencing, but we did not partake.


Returning to our beach at dusk, we were surprised to find this land bridge connecting the beach to a small island. Many people were out with flashlights, seemingly scavenging for something. Oysters? Seaweed? We weren’t sure.


I quickly realized I had forgotten to bring bug spray, a potentially very hazardous mistake. Apparently unavailable anywhere on the island, we settled for some bug-repellent incense and hoped for the best. Burning that while hanging out in the evenings, and staying inside my tent for the rest of the night, I came away from the weekend with only 4 mosquito bites – a record low for me and camping weekends! Maybe I’m not as attractive to Korean mosquito, or there’s something in this bug-repellent incense – either way, I like it.

We spent our evenings on Seonyudo making our own entertainment on the beach with some drinks, some music (in particular this one), and a deck of cards. At one point we were joined by some jolly, drunk and bicycling Seoul National University professors, who I was surprised to find had recently moved back from Ohio. Apparently, the pensions back in the main part of town provided more entertainment – bonfires, drumming, fireworks and noraebangs all night. But I was much happier to have some peace and quiet on the beach.


Is there anything better to wake up to? I think not.


And on the other side of our tents: some mud. Prime for experiencing!


The morning sun blanketed the beach in mist. Many people were out on the sand in the low tide, digging for more things. You could actually rent little shovels for 1,000 won to dig for things, right next to the bike rentals.

“The ghosts of Seonyudo”

After a rather ridiculously long breakfast/lunch at the single restaurant we could find that served something other than seafood (which we all agreed we couldn’t stomach before noon), where we met a few more groups of vacationing foreigners – including one from Birmingham, my neighbor! – we rented some bicycles from the scooter guy.

“We are on a tandom bicycle.” Cute.

I was stuck on a small ridiculous bike for some reason, completely inept at handling the island’s steep hills. It’s name was “The Raging Dwarf”, as given by us.

On our bike ride, we found many interesting things:

A lighthouse shaped like two praying hands.

Being reclaimed by nature.

Some big rocks beckoned us off-trail for a while, where we found many giant gross bugs. Luckily, they were quick to scatter wherever we were walking. There were so many running over the rocks, it reminded me of the masses fleeing from Godzilla or some such.

They ranged in size from 1-3 inches. Really. Eeeeewwwww.

Our private beach on the other side of the buggy rocks.

A refreshing foot bath in the sea.

A view of our beach, or what would be a view of our beach if you could see it through the mists.

Midway through our second day on the island, we were all feeling a bit in need of a shower. But without any sign of a jimjilbang or public facilities anywhere, the only option seemed to be the ocean. The water wasn’t very warm – quite freezing, actually – and it was a rather gray day, but we could not be deterred. Bathing in the ocean in your clothes is a surefire way to attract a lot of attention, by the way.

The islands rise out of the mists…

…and into more mists.

Our bike tour ended with the steepest hike in my life, which involved going both up and down on (mostly) all fours.

More island eats”

The most popular seafood on the island appeared to be cuddlefish, sea slugs, and these giant, flat, crazy-eyed guys–


These kinds of fish were hanging up drying everywhere. I think they look super gross all mangled together in that bag. Blech.

Our last night on the island got really cold. Unfortunately, the camping area doesn’t really have anywhere to build a fire, or much to use to make one. Some guys had one going in a big oil can, but unfortunately we hadn’t come so prepared. We gathered what sticks and dry things we could find and were given some charcoal by nearby picnicers. Alas, pine needles only last for so long, and so I spent the night shivering in my sleeping bag. Next time, I’ll be better prepared!

The only other thing we needed to complete our American-style Memorial Day weekend was some barbeque. Lucky for us, bbq is ridiculously omnipresent in this country. While searching for a spot, we found some older Korean men who insisted on giving us all shots of whiskey and some raw fish. It was extremely fresh, as they were taking the fish still wriggling from a bucket and slicing them up right in front of us. I’m not sure why Korean people tend to be so willing to share their food with strangers, but that’s one cultural difference I’m a pretty big fan of.

Our last morning on the island, we had a very nourishing breakfast of Korean-twinkies and Doritios, quickly packed up and went for one last walk. Where we came across a rather startling sight:

It’s difficult to see, but this is a group of ajummas, high up the side of a mountain, climbing a sheer rock face sans any harnesses. I wish I could describe this scene better. They were cackling away as their friends scrambled up to join them. There seemed to be some ropes you could hold on to for support, but from our view down below it looked like a climb better suited to climbing harnesses and ropes. Crazy ajummas.

Seonyudo had a whole nother breed of ATV-riding, rock-face-scaling ajummas, really not to be messed with.

On the ferry home, many people had water bottles and containers filled with things from the sea – small crabs, shellfish, some animal that looks like a little stick. It was interesting. We sat next to a woman who kept offering us shrimp-flavored snacks. She didn’t want anything to do with our Doritos. Again, I’m a big fan of the Korean food-sharing culture.

And thus began our somehow-11-hour journey back to Ulsan… Book train tickets ahead on holiday weekends! Lesson learned. A 3-hour delay in Daejeon can be improved by checking into a Love Motel for a shower.

Quite a long post for such a small island, I realize. While they’re a bit touristy, the islands are a ton of fun and I’m definitely glad I made the trek out to visit!

Beware of Brontosaurus!

A brontosaurus!
As seen out the bus window, somewhere between Gwangju and Wando. How awesome is that?? Are there more giant dinosaur murals on mountains in Korea?? Hopefully I can stay awake on some more bus rides to find out!

I <3 Chungcheongbuk-do


Chungcheongbuk-do is a province a ways north of Ulsan and a bit south of Seoul, the only land-locked province in the country. And it is absolutely wonderful for anyone who loves to be outside: full of rolling green hills (for hiking or paragliding), a giant river for rafting, caves for exploring, beautiful temples, and a beautiful lake.

Here’s the details…


After months of thinking about going along to one of their events, I finally signed up for Adventure Korea‘s “Caveing and Ferry riding” trip. The thought of crawling through a small space deep underground that at any moment might collapse on me sounds absolutely terrifying to me, which was exactly why I thought I should do it. As it turned out, the ‘caveing’ was a bit less spelunking, a bit more “cave touring.” But more on that later.

Meeting up with the tour group in Chungju, I was surprised to find we would be traveling with two full buses – about 80 waygookens in total. I kind of feel that traveling with 80 people isn’t really the best way to see anything, especially when you’re all foreigners attracting tons of stares from the locals everywhere. But it was still fun. It was strange to meet people new to Korea from the west, as it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was the one telling everyone “I’ve only been here three weeks.” I also met someone who grew up just a few miles away from where I grew up. Crazy!

The tour group was really well organized, the guides seemed friendly, the schedule was well-planned and it was convenient to have a bus there to take us everywhere we were going, sure – but ultimately I don’t think I’m one for big tour groups.

Anyways, here are all the wonderful things I saw over the weekend:

Chungjuho Lake, from a ferry–



I want to move to this house. Also, the farm land looks really funny from far away.




The weekend was really yellow dust-y. This stuff blows over from China all the time in the spring apparently, and while I can never tell it’s happening when it’s happening, it sure shows up in the pictures. All of my pictures looked like they were taken in a yellow fog (I tried to clean them up a bit in Photoshop). But that’s why the water looks so yellow – it’s quite prettier in real life.

Gosu Cave

The cave is a huge tourist destination, and was packed when we arrived. We were standing in line through the entire cave. Laaame.

The lameness was a bit made up for by the really cool rock formations, though. Which were conveniently lit up for prime picture taking. In same ways, having the cave set up for tourism was rather nice.




Dodamsambong Rocks


Here’s the story, from the tourism website: “According to the legend there lived a couple who loved each other, but had no child. They found a mistress because they wanted to have a baby, but once she had the baby, she began to mistreat and taunt the wife. The heavens saw them, and turned all of them into stones. The way the rocks stand next to one another is very interesting. ”

I read elsewhere about how the middle rock is the man, who is looking towards the ‘pregnant rock’ (the mistress) and turning his back to his wife. Hm.

Near the rocks, a beautiful “stone gate”. Reminds me a bit of Mackinac Island.


After the tour ended, I headed to Danyang with a couple of friends to do some more exploring.

The characters from the rock story are the symbols of Danyang. Is that the mistress or the wife?

These guys are everywhere.

Really, everywhere.

Ah, Danyang. What a beautiful little city. I’m ready to move there, right now.


Arriving at the bus terminal, we quickly found a cheap pension overlooking the river and headed out for a walk. The entire town is set on this river, facing some giant green hills. The river was really flooded, which we realized when we noticed that only the tops of these trees were sticking out:


There was a boardwalk built into the side of the hill facing the river, and it seemed to stretch for miles and miles. We walked for a while, through a rose tunnel (that didn’t have any roses yet) and eventually stopped to watch the sun set behind some hills.


Did I mention it’s pretty in Danyang?


This was a rather intriguing find on our walk…
…that came out of a giant tree. Strange…


For dinner we ate at a little handmade mandu restaurant, where the owner seemed rather surprised to see foreigners – he was hesitant to give us our kimchi, gave us a free dropwort pancake, and wanted to know what we thought of everything. It was excellent. And it was nice to be somewhere that felt so small town-y.

This was supposed to be a better view of the flood, but didn’t come out quite right. Look to the right, and you can kind of see how the bicycle path and parking lot are completely under water.

There’s a road to the left in this picture that disappears into the river. This is why we couldn’t go to the waterfall.

Even the bugs there are beautiful!

And a bit random, but – a strange sign seen in the city. Maybe the bird levitating above the rocks is supposed to look more …appetizing?

Guinsa Temple

A 30 minute bus ride from Danyang is the beautiful Guinsa Temple, set in a valley between two mountains. We were there just after Buddha’s Birthday, so they still had some giant lanterns set-up.


Another beautiful ceiling

A nice dragon detail that caught my attention.

These four guys guard the entrance of every Buddhist temple.

This is a sculpture of all the zodiac signs. I thought the elephant butts were funny.


The main temple building.

In the main temple:
This guy apparently founded a special sect of Buddhism in this temple. It seemed weird to see him there and not Buddha though.


Cleaning up the party from Buddha’s birthday.



Ondalsanseong Fortress

Our final stop for the weekend was a fortress just down the street from the temple. It was of course pretty as well…


Apparently it’s also been used in some K-drama.

The fortress walls were surrounded by a moat, teeming with tadpoles.

Inside we found some torture equipment.



In a park around the fortress we found another cave. We had to put on hard hats to enter, so I had some higher expectations for adventure, and I wasn’t disppointed!

The cave was still set up for tourism, with a built-up path that you had to follow. But the cave was far less crowded, and the path went through some rather tight squeezes.




This rock looks exactly like an elephant!!

Just when Danyang couldn’t get any better, we came across a GIANT DRAGON.


Unfortunately, it attacked Caitlyn…

…and killed her.

We also found a giant thumb!

And a giant swing!
Apparently this is normal in Korea, and is traditional, or something. It is way less fun than a normal-sized swing, so I’m glad they eventually came around.

Danyang is awesome. I don’t know who gets to live there to teach English, but I wish it were me.

Energetic challenge of bulls! Sparkling crash!! Shouting for joy!

(Title taken directly from the English brochure**, in case you couldn’t tell.)

Last weekend was the long-awaited Bullfighting festival in Cheongdo. It had been delayed for a month due to Hoof and Mouth Disease, which has been shutting down festivals across the country for months (including those that don’t seem to involve any hooves, like the Jindo Sea Parting Festival).

The word ‘bullfighting’ probably brings up images of Spanish matadors and a fight to the death. But Korean bullfighting is quite different – bulls fight each other, and neither one is killed or even really hurt. But animal rights groups in Korea (yes, they exist over here in the land of eating dog and whale) have been trying to shut the festival down for years, claiming animal cruelty for forcing the bulls to fight and potentially feeding them performance-enhancing drugs. Those in favor of the festival claim that this kind of fighting is something bulls have done for thousands of years in pastures across the country. Which side is right? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but here’s my account…

Getting to the tiny city of Cheongdo was a bit of a pain – although the city borders Ulsan to the west, there’s no direct route. Getting there involved taking no fewer than two buses and two trains. As we were switching to the slow train in Daegu, we found ourselves surrounded by many big groups of loud foreigners headed to the festival. The festival seems to draw a lot of waygookens, as the main promotional picture prominently features a big group of white people.

Upon arrival in Cheongdo, we were quite eagerly greeted by a very friendly festival information booth, where they provided me with the Cheongdo tourist pamphlet the title of this post came from and led us all the way down the street to the local bus station (before being pulled away to talk to a ‘big group of Americans’). The bus took us to the city’s giant bullfighting stadium, where by early afternoon many cars already lined both sides of the road.

I felt like there were some mixed signals coming into the event:

Welcome to the Bullfighting Festival!
Aww! So cute.

An angry bull
AHH! So terrifying!

The bulls were on their hour lunch break, so we headed out back to check them out.

A drunk idiot tries to fight with one of the bulls
The first thing we saw was this drunk idiot trying to aggravate one of the bulls. Lucky for him, he failed.

Bulls in waiting
We found them lounging rather lazily in the bright mid-afternoon sun. Seeing them so peaceful like this, it was hard to imagine they’d soon be tearing into each other in the ring.

This one looks sort of like a demon...
Except with this guy, who looks pretty scary.

doesn't it?
…kind of demonic with those horns, no?

Relaxing in the sun after a fight
Apparently the blue stuff is because he got hurt. 😦

Heading into the arena, we met up with some friends who had snagged front row seats. It wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t exactly crowded, either. I was expecting a bit of a better turnout.

2011 Cheongdo Bull Fighting Festival

As the fighting started back up, some ambassadors from Serbia and Nigeria were introduced. Seemed like a bit of a random selection.

Here’s how the fighting went down:

Led into the ring
The bulls are led in, one at a time.

Then the handlers try and get the two bulls to face-off, as the animals don’t seem to have any interest in each other.

But once the bulls were facing each other, they’d charge. And so (with a sparkling crash) the fighting begins!

Finally - it begins!

My tourist-y pamphlet outlined several of the techniques that these bulls are supposedly trained in:

‘Horn Hanging’
'Bull wrestling' seems more appropriate

‘Horn Striking’
Locking horns

‘Neck Striking’
Sideways push

‘The Stare Down’ (I made that one up)
Eyeing each other


This video was probably the most ‘action’ I saw in an afternoon of fighting, by the way.

The Bullfighting

This kind of wrestling would go on for anywhere from 1-30 minutes or so. Often the ‘fights’ went on for so long because the bulls would lose interest and have to be roped back in several times. Generally they were a bit slow, and so my friends and I entertained ourselves by betting on who would win and how long the fight would last. A winner wasn’t declared until this happened:

And then the next two bulls would be brought out, and this would repeat for a few hours.

So, is this ‘animal cruelty’? Are the bulls mistreated?

My feelings are still a bit mixed. So I did a bit of research

First, a bit of history: The tradition dates back 1000 years, to when the first tribes were farming on the peninsula. It evolved with farmers who used bull fights to settle land disputes. Then, the Japanese prohibited it “fearing any festival that encouraged Koreans to get together.” A gradual revival after independence brought about the Cheongdo festival in 1990.

I would imagine the nationalist roots are a part of the reason it’s stuck around.

The animal rights groups attempting to ban the festival have only succeeded in a slight delay in festivities in 2008. Their main issue seems to be the treatment of the bulls, and that they may be given performance-enhancing drugs. But while such groups have gotten the government to shut down horse fighting on Jeju island, Cheongdo has managed to hold on to its bullfighting.

There do actually seem to be some benefits for the bulls: a longer life away from the slaughterhouse during which they get special meals (boiled beans, medicinal herbs, mudfish, snake meat and octopus, apparently) and plenty of exercise. The bulls we saw looked healthy.

But the fighting didn’t seem to be very voluntary or natural. The bulls had to be pushed quite a bit to fight, sometimes over and over again. They seemed much more content to play in the dirt and ignore each other. And while they aren’t killed, they are roughed up a bit. Apparently the bulls’ horns are filed to a point before matches, and during the fighting they were obviously getting scratched up.

The article offers the opinion of a ‘rodeo expert from Nebraska,’ who apparently should be an authority on the matter of Korean wrestling bulls…anyway these are his thoughts: “When I look at a bull, I know if it has been taken care of or abused,” and also, “they are not forced to fight…they want to fight.”

I still don’t buy it, and I couldn’t feel good cheering with the rest of the crowd when the bulls really got going after each other. But whether or not they want to fight, at least they’re taken care of.

What do you think?


This was my first big, nation-wide Korean festival, which was interesting in itself.

First, the cute Cheongdo mascots:
Mascots on hand to cheer on the events

And second, the food available on-site.

The food they had far surpassed what would be available at an American festival-equivalent, which would be… hot dogs? popcorn? cardboard pizza? They had full menus of traditional Korean favorites and all kinds of barbeque, being cooked on-the-spot.

We grabbed some beef soup, in honor of seeing the cows, and some dong-dong-ju, which is a sort of rice wine served out of a bowl and drunk from littler bowls (like makkoli):
Lunch at the festival

This meat was also available:
Another lunch option:
(If you can’t tell what it is, there’s a picture in the background.)


From the festival, we headed to the other big attraction in Cheongdo: The Persimmon Wine Tunnel

On the way there, we passed some pretty flowers.
Pretty flowers

Like many other cities in Korea, Cheongdo is famous for persimmons. But Cheongdo is unique in that they turn their persimmons into a sweet white wine.
Entrance to the Cheongdo Wine Tunnel

The low-lighting and wine and cheese plates provide all the makings of a good date spot, and according to my Cheongdo tourist pamphlet “It is very popular for date course”.

'It is very popular for date course.'

At the end of the tunnel, we ran into the Siberian and Nigerian ambassadors and entourage. It kind of seemed like everyone left the festival and headed to the wine tunnel.

Wine and wine glass

I wasn’t a huge fan of the persimmon wine. It tasted good at first sip – sweet and dessert-y. But as I drank a full glass, it got worse and worse. I think other places probably do sweet wines better.


**In closing, a few more English gems from the tourist brochure, because you can’t make this up:
Incidental/Experience Events
Experience bullfighting
Cow& bunga is shooting nicely!

On stage event
Magic show of levitation
Poomba performance to crack up
Bull’s free dancing competition

Official event
Entrance of color guards composed of bull

I don’t know what this cow & bunga business is, but it showed up twice in the program. Could it be anything other than cowabunga?? As in, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s cowabunga?? Googling ‘bunga’ and ‘cow bunga’ doesn’t turn up any other results, so I think this must be so!

In appreciation of cherry blossoms

Before coming to Korea, cherry blossoms had always been something I’d heard about in Washington, D.C. Little did I know that come spring time, this country goes cherry blossom-crazy. Streets in seemingly every city are lined with the trees, and they’re planted all over parks across the country. They seem to be everywhere.

After what’s felt like a rather long winter, it was nice to see some flowers. And while there’s plenty of the trees in my neighborhood in Ulsan, the urban backdrop isn’t very picturesque. So I went searching…


First stop: Daegu

Cherry Blossoms
Walking through a park in Daegu on a Saturday evening, the trees looked quite nice lit from below.

The most popular place in the country to see the blossoms is the festival in Jinhae, a small city west of Busan. After reading reports online of four-hour traffic back-ups to get to the festival, I decided I’d just try my luck in Busan. But where? I referred to my tourist map of the city, and thought the green-covered islands in the south looked pretty promising.

Tourist Map of Busan


Stop #2: Yeongdo island, Busan

As it turned out, the island is really big – a small city in itself, really – and not quite the natural paradise all of that green on the map had me envisioning. Walking around, I felt more the quaintness of a small coastal town than the rest of metropolitan Busan. We followed some narrow streets up and down steep hills, where houses disappeared down tiny alleyways, their cement walls covered in many different brightly colored paints. After about an hour of trying to follow signs to the ‘Jeoryeong coastal pathway,’ I finally found my way to the green part of the map.

Yeongdo island, Busan

While the excursion was a total failure in terms of finding cherry blossoms, it was still a spring afternoon very well-spent. The pathway goes along the rocky coastline, up and down tons and tons of steps set into the sides of the cliffs facing the ocean.

Yeongdo island, Busan

Yeongdo island, Busan

On one of the beaches there were a bunch of ajummas selling raw fish and soju. Amongst the seafood being sold out of their colorful plastic buckets was something terrible looking called dog penis. Gross.

There were several other people hiking, including a group of Koreans behind my friend and I that had obviously been drinking (which seemed a rather unwise decision for all of the steep steps up and down cliffs they were navigating). One of the men kept offering to take my friend and my’s picture, even though we weren’t asking. He also wanted to take our picture kissing, which we weren’t too keen on. But he was persistent, so eventually we told him we were brother and sister. At that, they all seemed very embarrassed, and his wife bought us both an ice cream.


Number 3: Hakseong Park

This park is just down the street from my apartment in Ulsan, but for some reason I had never been. My first week in Ulsan, one of my co-teachers told me something about how “only old people go there,” and I guess it made me less eager to explore. As it turns out, it’s absolutely beautiful in spring and full of cherry blossoms.



Needless to say, I’m glad I finally decided to check it out.



A sunny evening in the park, surrounded by flowering trees and floating flower petals. What could be better?



Stop #4: Gyeongju, Bomun Lake

My final excursion to take in the cherry blossoms was to Gyeongju, Korea’s ancient capital and rather conveniently Ulsan’s neighbor to the north. Joining what seemed like a quarter of Korea’s population in Gyeongju on a warm Sunday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to the resort-y Bomun Lake.



The lake was crowded, but still beautiful. Most of the lake was lined with restaurants, motels, noraebangs, and places to rent bicycles and ATVs, which reminded me a bit of some Michigan towns along the Great Lakes.

Gyeongju World and the hot air balloon experience provide the fancy entertainment on the lake. The hot air balloon looked like a total rip-off to me, as you never actual detach from the rope holding you to the ground and just kind of float for a while.





Duck paddle boats filled one part of the lake. Please note the mommy duck in the back.

It’s been a very pretty couple of weeks, but the cherry blossoms in Ulsan are officially dead. There’s actually a site that tracks the cherry blossom progress across the country, and I hear they’re just starting to open up in Seoul. But I think I’m finished chasing them. At least after these past few weekends, I won’t be associating cherry blossoms solely with D.C. anymore.

Come quick! People in funny hats!

After work last Tuesday, I got word that people in costumes were dancing around my neighborhood, Byeongyeong. There usually isn’t a lot happening around here, other than lots of drinking and raw-fish-eating and the occasional drunken fight, so it seemed worth a look. As I came down the hill from my apartment, I was greeted by rhythmic drumming and some kind of singing (or maybe more like chanting) being blasted over the PA. A crowd had already gathered, blocking off most of the street. On the small stage, many people in white outfits and funny hats were dancing around and beating on some traditional Korean drums. In the middle was a wizard, which was obvious because of his long white beard and light blue robe.

Byeongyeong festival
What was all the fuss about? Some holiday celebrating a ‘campaign’ against Japan was how my co-teacher explained it – something to do with independence, but not independence day. According to wikipedia, there are several Japan-related holidays.

After a little more drumming, all of the colorful floofy-hatted performers departed, only to be replaced by some all-pink floofy-hatted drummers. They were joined by three traditional Korean masks, and what seemed to be a big alter. Luckily, the wizard remained. There was plenty of more drumming and chanting and dancing, this time in a circle around the alter.

(I tried out my camera’s video for the first time to try to capture some of the music, because I thought it was kind of cool. This is a bit long and unedited. My two favorite dancers were the wizard and the incredibly happy drumming man, who didn’t stop smiling for the hour that I saw him. You can see them towards the end.)

Bowing to the alter-thing
Everyone bowing to the alter. It had some fake pears (I think they were pears?) at the base.

The Wizard-guy is my favorite
His hat is part of the traditional Korean hanbok. But the robe and beard seem all wizard to me.

I like their hats too
I would like to acquire one of these hats.

The event was watched by a sea of ajummas
Please take a moment to note that the crowd consists almost entirely of older women, all with the exact same short curly-poofy haircut. This is the ajumma.

The traditional mask takes a drink
At one point, a ‘well’ was wheeled out and all the masks and the wizard-man drank from it.

Then they made a ‘fire’, which was rather unfortunately just a smoke bomb under some dried brances.
The wizard-guy dances by the smoke

Traditional mask man in front of the fake fire

The festival kind of reminded me of the kukeri festival they do in Bulgaria, for the end of winter. The fire, dancing and drumming in a circle, and funny costumes were all rather similar.
Kukeri Festival
(from the Kukeri festival in Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria)

They went on singing and dancing for another 15 minutes or so, and some guy started giving out apples to many people in the crowd. We were just about to leave when I ran into some of my students. At first I didn’t recognize them…
A couple of my students in some crazy make-up for a dance performance
…as they were wearing this make-up that looked like a mash-up between CATS and Avatar.

A couple of my students in some crazy make-up for a dance performance

I find the way it distorts their noses and eyes a bit disturbing, but it made me want to stick around and see what kind of dance warranted such make-up.

As we waited, we watched three couples of older women dance to dated-sounding disco music. This was followed by a group of slightly younger women in mermaid-ish belly dancing outfits dancing to Shakira.

Then some women dressed like mermaids bellydanced to Shakira...

My students unfortunately were not doing a CATS or Avatar-inspired dance, just some KPop. But it was cool to see them perform, and they were awesome, and I think one of my sixth grade boys has a future as a back-up dancer. The kids dancing after them were wearing flannel shirts tied around their waists, which startled me almost as much as the cat-makeup. ’90s grungy flannel and KPop just don’t seem to go together.

The sign hung up behind the stage translated to ‘citizen bragging songs’. Whatever that means. The dancing went on for another four hours at least, so I guess they had a lot to brag about…

Western Comforts

At the three month mark of living in Korea, there were some things I was starting to miss. Particularly certain food things. Like burritos. And hummus. And so, for my winter vacation, I decided to head to the ‘big city’ to remedy some of this homesickness. I never thought I’d be heading to Seoul to search for Mexican food and H&M.

And so I met up with my British friend Mark, who was coming up from Busan. The first thing we did was get a place to stay in Itaewon, the international/foreigner neighborhood, which I figured was the prime location for finding Mexican food. The next thing we did was find a burrito.

Los Amigos' waiter signals
Upon entering ‘Los Amigos,’ I was insantly transported home, with the attempt at Mexican authenticity that’s obviously so far from the real thing, common in all places trying to imitate that are really far away from the real thing (be it South Korea or suburban Michigan). The place even had all the familiar cheesy decor.

That picture is of Los Amigos’ waiter signalers. I was very amused. (Quick note to anyone not familiar with dining out in Korea: waiters don’t check by your table, you have to use a little call button to summon them. Usually it’s a small and nondescript electronic button…)

In Itaewon, I was also able to find hummus at a Moroccan restaurant, although it was kind of awful and didn’t tase anything like any hummus I’ve had before.

Perhaps the best feat in curing my food-homesickness came in finding one of these:

Caribou in Korea!

Yes, a Caribou Coffee! And in close proximity to Starbucks, too. I was pretty surprised to find one in Korea, as they haven’t even spanned across the US yet. And normally I’d be all ‘blargh blargh globalization blargh’ but considering the kind of espresso I normally find in Korea, this was a welcome taste of the familiar (and superior, in my opinion).

The next order of business was to find some good beer, another thing that can be rather difficult to come by. And so we embarked on an international bar crawl down a street lined with bars representing countries from all over the world (but mostly Ireland). The evening ended with a snowstorm –


one final reminder of home after a December full of my complaining that I missed snow (which brought me more than I could have ever asked for for the rest of the week).

While I called it a night, Mark stayed up long enough to finish off a couple bottles of soju, make some friends at the hostel and create all of this on the roof:

Snow on the roof of our hostel

Despite my search for reminders of home in Seoul, I did manage to have some more ‘authentic Korean’ experiences. The next day we braved the snow and blizzarding to hit up the touristy district, Insadong:



The neighborhood is full of traditional restaurants. We opted for the one with the best name:

Lunch at 'Sound of Korean lute without cords' restaurant

…and enjoyed some makkoli (rice wine) to fend off the cold. Makkoli is best drank out of a small bowl.

Nothing beats makgeoli on a cold, snowy afternoon

The streets in Insadong are lined with stores selling souvineers and traditional, crafty Koeran things, like this pink feather boa fan:
Shopping in Insa-dong
I’m not exactly sure who this is for…

After a while, the snow finally got to us and we ducked into an arcade. Arcades are everywhere in Korea, but I’d somehow never been into one. The first game we attempted was this Chinese drumming game:

I was incredibly excited to find this Rock Band-reminiscent drumming game that had “You Give Love A Bad Name”
"You Give Love A Bad Name"
Unfortunately it was a bit too difficult for my limited drumming abilities. Also, please note the tiny individual ‘recording studio’ style noraebang in the background.

The most difficult DDR game in existence
Of course there was also DDR, which happened to be the most difficult (and unalterably so) DDR game in existence.

Behind all these fancy games was an area with small machines where you could play old school games, like this one:
Bubble Bobble!
bubble bobble!

Mark was really excited to find Tekkin, which is apparently a big deal in Korea:

I found it amusing that he was eventually killed by a boxing kangaroo and her baby.
Mark gets beaten by a kangaroo

One of my favorite parts of Insa-dong was this four-story shopping center selling all kinds of crafty, gifty things:

One of the popular sellers was this:
Dong-Dong Bread
‘poop bread’ (dong-dong bread). I’m not sure why this was appetizing to people…

Happy New Year!

Insa-dong is popular for traditional tea houses. And its “Beautiful” Tea Museum:
'Beautiful' Tea Museum

Although the neighborhood, like seemingly every other area in the country, is being overrun by coffee shops as well:
Suh-tah-bok-suh Ko-pee
(For anyone who may not be able to read Korean, this sign says: suh-tah-bok-suh keo-pee)

Fall in Ulsan

Fall in Ulsan

It’s a bit of a late update, but this is was I was up to all fall in Ulsan…

Onggi Pottery Festival
My first weekend: in which I am introduced to “Dynamic Korea” at the Onggi Festival

Onggi is a type of traditional Korean pottery that is commonly used to prepare and store kimchi and other fermented things (like makoli). My arrival in Ulsan coincided with a festival in honor of Onggi and fermenting in a village on the southern outskirts of the city. The Metropolitan Office of Education (my employer) organized a visit for interested native English teachers, including a special kimchi-making class that my co-teacher assured me was an important cultural experience.

Within my first few weeks of teaching, communicating with my Korean co-teacher was still rather difficult, so I never determined where exactly I was supposed to catch the bus to the festival. And so on Saturday morning, I gathered in between Ulsan’s two main bus stations with a group of 30-some other uncertain foreign teachers to find our shuttle bus. We figured a giant group of foreigners would be easy enough for our bus driver to spot (we certainly weren’t unnoticed by the other natives passing by).

Thirty minutes passed. No bus. Teachers started to grow impatient, some decided to leave. We noticed a sign across the street in Korean, that someone was able to read said ‘Onggi Festival Shuttle Bus.’ So we moved across the street. Another hour passed, and still no bus. More and more foreigners gave up and left. One Korean-American teacher with some Korean language skills finally ended up on the phone with a very concerned and upset festival organizer, who assured us a bus was on its way. And sure enough, a bus did pull up. We quickly piled on, and then someone determined the bus wasn’t going to be leaving for another two hours. Everyone off the bus. At that point, most of the rest of the group left, just as a second bus was pulling up. The bus driver was able to communicate to the girl who could speak Korean that he was here to take us to the festival. It was now about two hours after our initial point of departure. Half the group decided it wasn’t worth it and just walked away. But me, feeling guilty about leaving the bus driver without anyone to take to the festival, and still wanting to get in on my free Korean cultural experience, climbed aboard.

When we arrived at the festival, we were greeted by a couple of young Koreans in name tags. They threw some name tags at us and ran us across the festival into a tent where a bunch of foreign teachers were already making kimchi. They quickly set us up at a kimchi-making station, where an ajumma brought over a few bowls of ingredients. My appointed ajumma brusquely guided me through the process, doing most of the work herself. The entire thing was over in 10 minutes, after which they judged the best foreigner kimchi, took several pictures of us with our kimchi, and then took back our name-tags and sent us on our way.

The 10-minute whirlwind experience didn’t quite justify the 2 hour wait, but I did get a free onggi pot and enough kimchi to last me for months.

Making some kimchi

Post-making some kimchi

Fall was rather pretty around Ulsan’s Taehwa River.

Ulsan's cute mascots
Ulsan’s dolphin mascots

Exercising ajumma
An exercising ajumma: one of the most common sites on the Taehwa.

More exercising ajummas
More exercising at the bamboo forest. Exercise stations are common around well-trafficked places in Ulsan.

Bamboo Forest
Inside the bamboo forest: one of the ‘twelve scenic locations of Ulsan’

My fall in Ulsan was greatly improved by the purchase of a bike.
First Day with the bike
This is my bike on it’s first day out on the town.

Ulsan is a very bike-friendly city. There’s a big bike path along all of the rivers, as well as along every major road-way. Bicycling on the sidewalks when there isn’t a bike path is completely acceptable. Actually, biking wherever you want is pretty acceptable – but it’s the same for scooters and parked cars. Traffic rules seem to be more like guidelines, especially for smaller vehicles, which makes biking around a bit chaotic, but also easier.

My first day biking, I headed with my friend Dave from Canada to the west part of the city. This is ‘Standing Rock,’ another one of Ulsan’s “Scenic Locations.”
'Standing Rock'
I imagine it must look a bit more scenic at times other than winter, when everything is not brown.

Another important discovery of the fall was that Ulsan has a micro-brewery! The Trevi Brauhaus. This is a terrible cell phone picture of their hefeweizen:
Trevi Brewery
As is the case in most of the world, German beer is very popular here. I believe all of the micro-breweries I’ve come across make German-style beers. Not that it’s anything to complain about – the Germans make some good beers.

Having a bike also makes the eastern part of the city (and the ocean!) much easier to get to. Buses go between the city center and the ocean as well, but it takes about forever with all of the stops along the way, and I always seem to end up on the wrong bus (or in some cases, multiple wrong buses).
Seuldo Lighthouse
Seuldo Lighthouse in Bangeojin

Looking south to the sea
Looking south into the East Sea

And of course, as a native English teacher, my weekends in Ulsan have had plenty of ‘going out.’ Going out in Ulsan almost always happens at one of the two downtown areas. ‘Old downtown’ is on my side of the river, and has most of the city’s foreigner bars.
Entrance to the 'Old Downtown' area
The entrance to ‘Old Downtown’

Seognam-dong (Old Downtown)
In addition to foreigner bars, Old Downtown has many, many fish restaurants. This street happens to specialize in eel restaurants. Outside of each storefront is a tank full of eels, next to which there is usually an older woman or man slicing one up for diners waiting inside. 😦

Seognam-dong (Old Downtown)
(You can also eat these fish.)

industry city
Ulsan tends to get a bad rap amongst the foreign English teachers in Korea, and is generally overlooked for it’s bigger sister city, Busan. As a city, I find it is lacking in some aspects – there isn’t really any music or art culture to speak of, and the majority of the young adult population leaves to go to university in a city with better schools. But it is very scenic, being full of mountains and rivers and coastline. While I appreciate the nightlife and culture of Busan, I do think Ulsan has a unique character and certain charm that shouldn’t go entirely overlooked.

Through the City, to the Sea

Having already been in Ulsan for over two weeks without yet making it to the coast, I decided to remedy this situation on Sunday. Having the entire day open, I figured I would walk, and so set off fro my apartment due east-ish, determined not to stop until I got to the ocean. It turns out it’s a bit of a trek from the city center to the coast, but the route is rather interesting…

Leaving my apartment, I came across these guys. I didn’t want to interrupt, but it was just too tempting a photo opportunity…
a couple of grasshoppers...caught in the act?

First, I headed south along the Dongcheongang River.
Fishermen along the river

The Taehwa was lined with fishermen…
Fisherman in the Taehwa

…and cranes…
Leaving city center

…which gave way to the giant Hyundai plant between Jung-gu and Dong-gu. I noticed all of the bicyclists passing me were wearing masks – which isn’t uncommon, but it seemed like even more than normal suddenly. Maybe it was just an effect of seeing the plant and all the masks, but I felt like I could really feel the pollution in the air. Gross.

Approaching Dong-gu (the eastern part of the city), I came across a mountain! And so climbed over it…
Climbing over a 'mountain'
(It was actually a very tiny mountain, at 206m tall – a big hill really. But still! I climbed over Mt. Yeompo!)

On the other side of the mountain was a small reservoir, where yet another fisherman was camped out.
Past a small secret reservoir...

There were some hula hoops near by, just in case…
...where there were some hula hoops...

...and then a bunch of small farms

I exited the mountain through a bunch of small farms, where I was stopped by an old man.
“Hello!” He called.
“Hello! Annyeong haseyo!” I called back.
He then seemed to just repeatedly say “Wo-man-wo-man-wo-man-wo-man” at me, several times. In a very friendly, old man, not really at all creepy way. I just kind of smiled and continued on my way…

…where I came across another one of these awesome spiders! This time in yellow!
Another crazy-looking spider devouring something
I think he has two insects that he’s devouring, right? I can’t tell.

This cute dolphin is Ulsan’s mascot, but I think it’s a sure sign I’m getting close to the ocean.
Cute bricks closer to the ocean

And finally! I arrive at Ilsan Beach, approximately 2 and a half hours after leaving my apartment.

Arriving at the ocean!

The beach is also lined with fishermen.
More fishermen

Hung out to dry?

Ilsan Beach

Looking out from Ilsan Beach, I wonder if I can get to that rocky part covered with trees over there on the right…
Ilsan Beach

…And the answer is yes. I’ve actually made it to one of Ulsan’s 12 ‘scenic attractions’ – Daewangam Songnim, or Pine Forest.

In the forest, I’m greeted by the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” playing out of these two random speakers tied to one of the pines. It’s rather surreal…
'Psycho Killer'

Ilsan Beach
The beach from above (most all of those dots on the beach are fishermen)

Ilsan Beach - Hyundai Plant
Another Hyundai Plant.

A forest of pine trees overlooks the ocean...

The park is absolutely awesome. Stairs and paths lead every which way up and down and around the rocky peninsula. In between these man-made walkways are plenty of opportunities to climb around and find your own path.

Ilsan Beach, Pine Forest

A forest of pine trees overlooks the ocean...

Um, I live here.

Ilsan Beach, Pine Forest

Ilsan Beach, Pine Forest

I suppose it’s not quite the open sea, as Japan is just out of seeing distance. But still – it’s the ocean!

Daewangam (Rock)

Daewangam (Rock) has some historical significance, which I think is why it’s so crowded. According to the sign, it’s something about how one of the earlier Kings wanted his spirit to manifest as a dragon and stay under these rocks, to protect the country against any invaders from the east (…like Japan).

Daewangam (Rock)

Here’s the Ulsan mascot again, telling you not to smoke – wink, wink (?)
I like that he's winking

The pines here seem different from the ones back home.
Pine Forest, Ilsan Beach

As the sun began to set, I made my way out of the forest and started the journey back home (by bus – which was another adventure in itself). This country is so beautiful… I can’t wait to do more exploring!

Pine Forest, Ilsan Beach

Previous Older Entries