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