Burning in the New Year

Deaborum festival fireworks

Yesterday was the first full moon of the lunar new year, or 정월 대보금 (jeongwol daeborum – New Year Full Moon) as it’s known in Korean. The holiday has many traditions, like cracking peanut shells with your teeth and (possibly) drinking makkoli, Korean rice wine, in the morning for good health in the new year. But the best of the traditions involves a giant bonfire.

This fire, called a 달집 (dalchip – moon house), is supposed to burn away the bad luck from last year and usher in wishes for the new year. People write their wishes on paper and tie them to the firewood to be burned. Burning them sends them up into the heavens so they’ll come true.

dancing around the fire

There were several places in Ulsan holding events, and my friends and I opted to check out Ilsan Beach. Unfortunately the full moon was covered by clouds, but the festival was still on. We arrived in Ilsan to the sound of fireworks and the giant crackling bonfire. Apparently we were a little late, but we weren’t alone, as people kept charging the fire to throw in their wishes and be chased away by security.

dancing around the fire in funny white hats

After the fireworks, the drumming and dancing started. According to my friend, this was the favorite activity for many ajummas who had been drinking makkoli all day (for health). People in funny white hats led everyone dancing around the fire – including me and my friends. Some played traditional Korean drums while a group of women in hanbok sang a song praying for good fortune in the new year:



To me with my limited Korean ability, it sounded like they were singing something about potatoes (kamja, kamja!) but my native-speaking friend assured me that was not the case.

After dancing around the fire and throwing in their wishes, most people left the festival. Some stuck around to drink makkoli and eat kimchi and tofu and odeng. One guy was spinning a can full of fire around on a chain. According to wikipedia, this was originally done on farms to get rid of crop-destroying worms. On the beach, it’s done probably just to look cool. Which it really does! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures but it looked something like this:


From Discovering Korea

The biggest celebration in the country seems to be in Jeju, where I heard they light an entire field on fire, so I suppose if you have the opportunity you’d want to be there 15 days after the lunar new year. But no matter where you are in Korea, you’re bound to be near a giant bonfire. I think it’s a pretty fun way to start the ‘new’ year – or at least far more exciting than New Year’s Resolutions.

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Halloween

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One of my students models my Halloween costume. Can you guess what it is?

I had meant to write about Halloween before, but apparently never got around to it. Oops! Nothing like some Halloween in January though, right?

I never really liked Halloween as a kid, I think because I could never come up with good costume ideas. But then in university I discovered the amazingness that is Halloween in New York, and that I really like to make things, and since then I’ve been all about it. And as far as teaching holidays to my students goes, Halloween is definitely the most fun.

Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Korea, although it seems to be gaining popularity from all the foreign English teachers telling kids about it and throwing parties at school. All of the big supermarkets have small Halloween sections with witch hats and devil pitchforks, but it seems most kids don’t dress up unless they have a Halloween party at their private schools. Most of the kids are aware there’s a Halloween-candy connection though, which is all they really care about. Many of my students came by the English room on Halloween to say, “Teacher! Trick-or-treat! Candy, please!” Haha, nice try kids.

Some decorations from home made for a nice festive atmosphere in the classroom–

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I hadn’t put little plastic spiders in cotton cobwebs in years! It’s pretty fun.

In my weekly “English Cinema” class we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and made Halloween masks. I was a little worried about whether they’d be into the movie or not, as they don’t really celebrate Halloween or Christmas, but they seemed to like it. Especially the music.

The Halloween masks came out pretty cute, and gave me a good use for all the disposable chopsticks I’ve accumulated from over a year of take-out kimbaps and delivery.

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We should’ve used some paint or something more vivid, but they were still all right. I especially liked this project because I got to spend my “deskwarming” time making samples:

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The best part about teaching in a school is getting to wear my costume there, even if I am the only one.

Last year, I had had a rather raucous Halloween exploring downtown Daegu on a bar crawl with mobs of foreigners. This year, I stayed in Ulsan, where there were plenty of parties at the foreigner bars, but nothing quite like Daegu. I was really surprised to find a Korean-hosted party at one of my favorite bars, Showtime, in Ulsan’s old downtown. I was the only foreigner while I was there, and so forced to play the pass-the-paper-mouth-to-mouth game between two ajosshis, but also got a free cocktail. 아싸!

Potatoes are not people!

Last week I was teaching my fourth grade classes a textbook unit that covered the sentences: “What’s for lunch?” “We have fish/salad/rice/chicken.” Which I think is awkward and perhaps entirely incorrect, but was in the textbook and so had to be taught (which is a topic for another post). My students were very interested in what kids ate for lunch in the USA, which prompted me to do some research into school lunches around the world.

This is a typical school lunch for me in Korea:

School Lunch

Every day we have some kind of rice, soup, kimchi, vegetable and protein (usually fish or chicken or tofu) . All of the kids, from pre-K through 6th grade, are expected to eat everything, and to eat enough to satisfy their teachers.

In my research, I came across this great blog What’s for school lunch? And apparently this is what kids are eating for lunch in the US:

Chili dog and fries. Yum!
Chili dogs and fries.

Nachos and fries?!
And nachos and french fries. Wow. Healthy!

Of course, my students were all insanely jealous that they never get french fries or nachos or hot dogs at lunch (although they do sometimes get a fried mandu or rice cake, albeit rarely). I tried to explain that many kids in the US are not very healthy, but of course my 4th grade students couldn’t care less about that aspect.

I know there’s been a lot of reform going on in the US to push for healthier school lunches. But today, I came across this interesting article on Slate: Congress wants the Agriculture Department to rethink its healthy school lunch proposal: it’s just too good.

According to the article, the school lunch legislation going through Congress has been derailed, thanks to the efforts of lobbyists from the National Potato Council and other interest groups. The proposed changes included limiting starchy vegetables and salt, increasing healthy fruits and veggies, and a stipulation that pizza can not be counted as a vegetable (that has to be a law? really?).

All of those changes sound like good ideas to me, but apparently not to everyone:

The Department of Agriculture created a proposal that fit within its budget and pleased nutritionists, public health experts and many school lunch officials, but it didn’t please the American Frozen Food Institute or the companies that provide much of the food served to kids at lunch—companies like Coca-Cola, Del Monte, and the makers of frozen pizza.

The article also sited the NY Times to report food lobbyists have spent $5.6 billion fighting these proposed school lunch changes. And it seems that’s enough to buy legislation away from the best interests of the country’s children.

In Korea, school lunches are planned by the school nutritionist, whose job is to create a healthy and varied menu each month. According to my Korean colleagues, the parents wouldn’t have it any other way.

I was talking to a Korean friend about this, who thought it was pretty crazy that the government would give the kids unhealthy food, which could lead to obesity and other health problems later in life, and then not provide them with the health care they’d need to take care of these problems. She thought it was pretty funny. I think it’d be funnier if it wasn’t actually happening.

It’s pretty hard to explain to my Korean friends that my country puts the interests of its potato industry ahead of its children! How ridiculous can we get? If I were in America right now, I’d take to the streets! I’d join them on Wall Street! And this would be my sign:

Potatoes are not people!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Egyptian hall

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Forever preserved in Child’s Pose.

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A Buddha statue and mats for praying.

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The exotic Papa New Guinea tribal section.

And of course, there was a hall claiming Dokdo:

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There was also a little bit of Amethyst…

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Bear cage.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

A Tale of Two Summer Camps

Summer “vacation” in Korea isn’t quite the same as most students and teachers have it back in the US – for most Korean students, it means just as much studying at private schools, and for me and other EPIK teachers it means extra teaching at special English camps. So while Korean schools don’t officially run year-round, students never really get a break from studying – ever (at least until they graduate high school).

Over July and August, I spent three weeks at a school in a remote location in Ulsan and 1 week at my school. Teaching for 6-10 hours a day can be quite stressful, but it’s not all bad. Really, it can be quite a bit better than regular school teaching. At camps, I’ve gotten to plan and teach a lot of my own lessons, and the students are generally much more motivated to learn English. After my overnight 5th grade English camp last winter, I saw my students’ levels transform, as well as their enthusiasm for learning which they still have months later. So when the option came up to teach another three-week overnight camp for summer, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Although I did try my best not to get assigned teaching grammar this time…which I found to be a rather unfortunate subject to be stuck with for 7 hours a day last camp.

A bit of background on these English camps – 5th and 6th grade students are shipped off to a secluded campus for three weeks (with breaks on the weekends) of intensive English studying with lots of foreign teachers. The camps are organized by the public system, and in Ulsan it’s done by the MOE (Metropolitan Office of Education). They have classes from 9 in the morning to 9 at night or later, only breaking for meals and perhaps a bit of PE time. To me it seems a bit ridiculous to have 10 and 11 year-olds in classes for 10 hours a day, but that’s just because I’m not Korean.

For summer camp, I was working with all 6th grade students off in the very southern corner of Ulsan at Seosaeng Middle School, on a tiny peninsula sticking out into the East Sea. Based on my two camp experiences and anecdotal evidence, the first day of camp generally goes like this: get picked up by a bus carrying a bunch of students. Meet the frazzled Korean teacher in charge of your bus. Make the ~1 hour drive to camp, receive some vague instructions about what to do upon arrival. Arrive at camp, find your room, try to follow vague instructions previously given. Receive different instructions several times while students and teachers wander aimlessly. Wait. Be prepared to be in a classroom of 16-60 tired, shy students eager to be entertained with no planned activities or help from a Korean co-teacher for 1-4 hours. Stay positive! After the first day, everything should settle down into a relatively set schedule.

Our dorm situation at camp brought with it some more interesting problems the first day: all of the foreign teachers were in one wing of the building, with one bathroom to share and no where to shower. Eventually, they told us there was one shower room for boys and one for girls, which was an open room to be shared with all of the students! The school dorm management didn’t seem to understand that this was not “OK.” But by the end of the day, they had it sorted out so we wouldn’t have to shower with the students, and we had a “sink shower” room for female staff with some semi-private shower curtains. Having living in Korea for a while and beet to the jimjilbang/public spas has made me a bit more immune to nudity, but I’m not quite ready to shower with all of my students…

Living in a dirty middle school dorm room for 3 weeks was a bit less than ideal, but it did have a very nice view:

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Every day the class schedule was two hours of grammar, reading and vocabulary, an hour of speaking and an hour of “song”. That left two hours for “special activities”. I lucked out in getting a pretty laid back arts & crafts activity.

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Little paper dragonflies that balance on their nose. It was a pretty simple idea suggested by my co-teacher, and the kids were totally into it! 아싸!!

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The biggest obstacle of camp was preparing a song and dance for the Song Festival. Aiiigo, aiiiiiigo. I felt like it was a bit much to expect us to choreograph a dance and teach it and a song to our students within the little spare time afforded by the camp schedule, but the results were actually pretty great. Upon arriving to camp, we were told that the song we selected to teach each night would be our song for the festival. I had “Another Brick in the Wall,” which was quickly vetoed by my class as too slow and boring. They instead chose a song by some awful British pop act McFly, which had been in some Korean drama. It was beyond awful, but absolutely adored by the students. And it’s all for them anyway.

Teaching “Another Brick in the Wall” was an interesting failure… I thought something in it might resonate with the students, who are studying all day and at 12 are starting to feel the seeds of rebellious teenage angst. But it didn’t quite work out. Most students couldn’t have cared less, no matter what I tried. I think I reached about 10 students out of the 100-200 I had, and only had a couple of classes that I felt good about. Eventually I gave up and switched to James Brown “I Feel Good,” because at least it would make me happy and let me get totally goofy. And it actually got an entire class up and dancing! My best 20 minutes of camp.

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One of the highlights was “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles. So cute! Next time, I’m choosing a song with an animal theme.

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The boys from my homeroom class.

So camp was a big difficult, particularly aapting to the schedule hearing “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” “Teacher! Teacher!” non-stop all day, every day except for the hours you’re sleeping. But then after 3 weeks, it’s over!! And you get all these letters:

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And they overwhelm all of the bad memories of camp and you wonder…maybe I could do it again next time!

But apparently that won’t be a question to consider because the camps are no more! Or so I heard. I guess they’re too expensive. Ah well. They were …interesting while they lasted.

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A week later, I had my school’s camp. Which was 6 hours a day of whatever I wanted to do with a group of 4th-6th graders. I was pretty excited about this never-before-had freedom, and got to work in a lot of group projects and non-English subjects. Each day had a theme: The World, Animals, Science, Fairy Tales, and Superheroes.

Animal Day:

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I ripped off this mask design from something I found online but thought it looked pretty cool.

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This is from “Oktapodi: the sequel” inspired from this great animated short.

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There’s an alien fishing with a big worm. She sees the octopi and says, “Lets go with the cosmos.”

I also redid my dragonfly craft, which was great once again!

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And I was really excited to do a reading and writing activity based around superhero comics. First we read a bunch of comics that I had made. Then we discussed how to make a comic, and the students had to make their own…

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It looks like there’s something inappropriate happening between Superman and Wonder Woman. And perhaps Catwoman is having a wardrobe malfunction?

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I like this a lot.

The comic book activity ended up being a bit too much about coloring, and a bit too little about English. But I think it could be modified into something really great. I was quite pleased with the results.

Looking back on summer camps after having started regular classes again, they look good. Even with all the work. And I’m happy that the last thing I do before I leave Korea for good in February will be my school’s winter camp. Oh, the possibilities…

Culture Shock of the Week: Korea and Butts and Lawsuits, oh my!

Sticker prominently displayed on the bus to English Camp...

This is a bit of a blurry picture, but what you may or may not be able to see is a woman from behind, wearing nothing but a thong and high heels and a dragon back-tattoo. This big decal was very prominently decorating the interior of the bus I rode back from English Camp with my sixth grade students. It seems like a bit of an odd choice of decor for your very public bus, but to each their own…I guess. You’d think having this in view of a bunch of 12-13 year old boys would cause quite a commotion, but none of them seemed to pay it any attention. Maybe they didn’t see it? That seems highly unlikely, as they’re 13-year-old boys and it’s a picture of a mostly naked woman…

But butts are really not a big deal in this country. Maybe it’s because everyone goes to the jimjilbang together (well, boys with other boys and girls with other girls) so nudity isn’t really a big deal. In the hospital, there’s hemorrhoid removal posters featuring big extreme close-ups of the point of surgery, and no one pays them any mind. Plastic surgery is advertised with really smooth and firm-looking bottoms. A nurse will give you a shot in the but without any concern for who else may be within view, because no one really cares.

Really though, it’s better that way, right? It’s just a butt. We’ve all got one. We’re so uptight about that stuff in the US. Can you imagine if a bus driver that worked for public elementary schools had that sticker on his bus in the US? I’m sure there’d be a lawsuit in no time. Or at least he’d be fired, immediately. Probably before he even got the chance to pick up any kids.

Today I was thinking about some of the differences between teaching in Korea and the US, at least what I know about teaching in the US based on growing up in the school system. In Korea, I can hug my students or give them a pat on the back and it’s no big deal. I can give students my cell phone number, although that’s not really something I’d want to do (many other teachers do though). I can “threaten” my students when they’re being bad..not that that happens a lot…but if I were to, say, mime kneeing a student in the face, I wouldn’t have to worry about repercussions. Not that that’s a mature way to approach classroom discipline… But the Korean teachers often discipline the students by having them hold their hands above their heads or stay in push-up position for a prolonged period of time.

In the school bathrooms, there’s often no soap at the sinks. I have my own antibacterial hand stuff, but I don’t know what the students do. Yesterday there was a bee hive/bee infestation situation in several classrooms, which still hadn’t been resolved today. Earlier this week the fire alarm went off in the middle of class, but we just waited for it to stop so we could continue. After class, the fire alarm light was still flashing in the hallway, and no one was paying any attention…

I’m pretty sure all of these things could be potential lawsuits in the US. In Korea, it’s no big deal. I was aware, but never really realized how much our sue-anyone-for-anything culture really influences life in America. Actually, I think that’s probably a big reason behind the differences in driving in the US and Korea…but that’s a topic for another post.

A Whale of a Weekend in ‘Whale Meat City’

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Ulsan is second-best known in Korea for its history of whale fishing and contemporary whale non-fishing, which it celebrates every year with a big Whale Festival. (What it’s best known for is Hyundai, if you were wondering.)

For four days over the weekend of May 25-28, Ulsan went whale crazy with whale drawing, cake-baking, ice sculpting and singing competitions, whale meat tasting, whale watching, and whale hunting re-enactments. It all sounded like some kind of strange county fair. Whale ice sculpting in May and ‘whale singing’ sounded particularly ridiculous. I was also very much looking forward to tasting whale meat, as I’ve never had the opportunity before.

Also, I realize this whaling tradition is a bit controversial. I attended the festival with a curiousity as to the cultural and traditional aspects of whaling in Ulsan. But more on the controversy later .

The festival was in two parts of the city – downtown on the Taehwa River and at the Whale Museum over on the ocean. On Saturday I checked out the Taehwa part of the festival, where I found they were running lots of dragon boat rowing races.

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This was the first time I’d seen the dragon boats in action, as for the past 8 months they’ve been sitting under the Taehwa Bridge. On the river there’s a big picture advertisement with a bunch of young, buff foreigners rowing. Unfortunately, the racers we saw were all old.

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The festival grounds had all kinds of whale decorations.

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You know what makes whales better?
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Avatar.

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I’m not sure what this smurf is reaching for, or what they’re doing in the middle of this whale.

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This one doesn’t even have a whale. It’s like they’re just trying to violate as many copyright laws as they can in one place.


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One section of the festival was full of straw huts, supposedly used by the prehistoric whale-hunting Koreans. A bunch of people dressed in very authentic leopard-print costumes put on a drumming and jumping/dancing performance with some big traditional masks and lots of neon. It ended with them going to the river, getting into a dragon boat, and attacking the big floating mechanical whale (see top of post). It was …interesting, to say the least.

One of Ulsan’s biggest attractions for out-of-town visitors are some petroglyphs depicting this prehistoric whale fishing. A very popular tent at the festival was handing out simple ink prints of the petroglyphs, and there’s also a big copy of them up at the Whale Museum in Jangsaengpo. The historical aspect of whaling in Ulsan seems to be a pretty big deal.

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I’m not sure if this guy was a part of the festival, or if he just decided it was a good day to take his horse for a ride down the river. But I like the juxtaposition in this picture. Sometimes Ulsan can be a very strange place.

The festival left plenty of space for lounging around the park, and it was a perfect day for a picnic. My friends and I found some familiar foreigners who offered us some of their leftover whale meat. Apparently they had been selling fried whale and whale burgers earlier on, but had unfortunately stopped. I tried a bit of fried whale, and it tasted pretty good. The meat inside was very dark. It kind of tasted like a fish stick, but a bit heartier. Should you ever come across some, I suggest you try it.

While enjoying my fried whale, a local rock band played on a small stage. I was quite surprised to hear them play “Creep,” “Best of Me” by the Starting Line, and “American Idiot.” Radiohead and Green Day are in all the noraebangs and pretty popular, but the Starting Line?? I hadn’t heard the Starting Line since sophomore year of high school, and considering they were never all that big in the US, I never thought they would’ve been popular here. The audience seemed to be mainly older people who had sat down for a rest, and a few groups of adults clustered around tables of fried chicken and soju, who had to no idea what any of the music was. I appreciated hearing those high school favorites quite a bit.


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On Sunday I went out to the coast, to “The Whale’s Hometown” in Jangsaengpo, an area of the city I had never ventured to before. For good reason – the only things out that way other than the Whale Museum and “Whale Experience Hall” are the immigration offic and tons and tons of factories.

The Whale Museum had an excellent view:

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…of a port full of factories. Lovely.

The coolest part of the day for me were these giant trash-sea creature tricycles:

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Looks like they borrowed some of the animal print spandex from the prehistoric whale-hunting performers at the Taehwa. I think these fish-bikes pull it off much better.

Of course, Jangsaengpo was ridiculously whale-themed as well:

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The ticket office.

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A whale and dolphins swimming down the side of a building!

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This looks a bit more like a dolphin. Or maybe a beluga?

Of the two museums, I thought the “Ulsan Whale Experience Hall” was much cooler. It was basically a mini-aquarium with some extra whale info thrown in.

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Dolphins swimming over my head. Check out the ajosshi in the suit, hat and sunglasses. Total baller.

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I got to ride a dolphin!

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The entire community coming together for the whale carving. There were lots of somewhat graphic whale carving pictures.

The downside to the “experience hall” was seeing way more dolphin fetuses than I ever wanted to see. They were pretty gross, and contributed very little to my whale learning experience for the day.

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This was in the whaling museum. Konglish, or art school student’s attempt to BS a modern art description? Hmmm….

Along the main road through Jangsaengpo were several whale meat vendors. I didn’t partake, as I wasn’t that hungry and it seemed a shame to waste a plate of whale for just one taste. But it looked like it was raw, cut from various different parts of the whale in all different shapes and colors.

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Only 10,000 a plate!

I ended the day at the main stage, where I was very disappointed to find the “whale singing competition” was neither people singing like whales nor actual whales singing. Talk about false advertising! But luckily there were still some music oddities to behold, like as this funk/elevator-jazz/traditional Korean fusion group:


There was also some great drumming.

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Although my favorite part was watching this little guy dance and try to eat bubbles:
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After a weekend filled with whale-everything, there was one thing I had left to try – whale bread! It was nothing special, really – just the typical read-bean filled waffle dough pressed into the shape of a whale. But quite tasty. And cute!

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After consuming my red-bean-filled whale bread, I officially hit my whale saturation point for the weekend. While I didn’t really come to understand any more about Ulsan’s stance on whaling, I would say all the oddities of the festival made me appreciate my little city that much more.

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Inspired by the festival, and this restaurant down the street from my apartment (one of many I’ve come across in the city), I did some research on the subject.

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(Whale meat)

The most interesting article I came across on the topic is from the The Korea JoongAng Daily, a newspaper I’ve never heard of before. This article gives Ulsan the name “Whale Meat City” (another thing I’d never heard before).

In 2005, Koreans were consuming about 150 tons of whale meat per year, 80% of which happens in Ulsan. This is nothing compared to Japan though – they ate 4,8000 tons! Although there are about 3 times as many of them than there are of Koreans.

I was interested to read that whale meat has apparently been getting increasingly more popular. In 2009, the number of whale restaurants in the city quadrupled to over 100. The one near my apartment seems to be recently shut down, or otherwise inactive since I moved in last October (maybe it’s a front for something else?). None of the Koreans I’ve talked to seem to be really into eating whale, so I was pretty surprised by that statistic.

Commercial whaling was universally banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Which means the whale served in restaurants has to have been caught “accidentally” in fishing nets intended for something else, or from whales washed up on shore. But there’s quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not this is actually upheld, of course.

The government has said it will pay people $10,000 to report any gray whale sightings to discourage fishing. Although there does seem to be a bit of incentive for fishermen to keep fishing – a 6-meter-long (19.6 ft) whale sells for 25 million won ($21,000). Wow.

I was very curious as to whether I’d see any protesters at the festival, but there didn’t seem to be any. In years past, Greenpeace has been out:

While I certainly don’t agree with whale fishing, I was happy to participate in Ulsan’s whale culture for the weekend, including tasting whale meat. And I’d do it again. Although perhaps if I watched The Cove, I would feel otherwise.


One final final thing in closing: another clip of the traditional music and dance performances from Jangsaengpo. Jazz lady had a killer voice.

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