City of Life, Dreams of Whale

This year marked the 17th Annual Ulsan Whale Festival.  What began as a village festival to commemorate an ancient tradition has become a weekend of wild, whale-filled wackiness.

The festival’s website ( promised “programs you can take part in and paying more attention to distinction by ensuring internal stability of the contents.”  The organizers hoped that the theme ‘City of Life, Dream of Whales’ would attract visitors to the “eco-friendly festival.”  (I’m not so sure the whales being served in the food tent would agree with the eco-friendly descriptor…)

Among the festival activities listed on the website were: a re-enactment of prehistoric whale hunting, whale-themed open air drama, a whale song contest (I pictured Finding Nemo 😀 ), whale in ice, and this:

I couldn’t wait.

The festivities began with a Dragon boat races in the Taehwa River.  The teams were mostly made up of foreigners, much to the amusement and amazement of passing Koreans.

After the races, we decided to find some lunch and check out the rest of the festival.

It was a little tricky to find whale-less cuisine but we managed.  I also managed to take a few pictures of whale meat.  I have no idea why but every picture I took came out green.  Weird.

I asked where the whale meat came from since whaling is illegal in Korea, and has been for many years.

“Maybe the boats accidentally hit the whales.  Not hunting, only accident.”

I can imagine that boats do occasionally run into whales, but how do you accidentally run into enough whales feed hundreds of festival-goers?  And while we’re on the topic, you would have be a really bad boat driver to run into enough whales to keep all of the whale restaurants in Ulsan supplied with whale meat throughout the year.

After lunch we decided to explore the festival.  We found:

An ocean-themed umbrella painting contest

A prehistoric Korean who wanted me to bend down for the photo because he didn’t want to look short.

We learned that prehistoric Koreans apparently lived in grass tee-pees.

A whale waiting patiently to be harpooned.

A Noah’s Ark bouncy castle.

We weren’t entirely sure what the point of this was.  When you pedaled the bike, the little blue flower on top would spin.  It didn’t seem like much fun to me but kids were pummeling each other for the chance to ride the bikes!

We went back to the food tent for dinner only to discover we had to be seated by a waitress.  There was an event happening on the stage and seating seemed to be in short supply.  She seemed pleased to see us and seated us right in front of the stage.  Slightly embarrassed at our prominent seats, we bowed politely to our neighbors and ordered food.

From the screeches and howls coming from the stage, I decided it was some sort of karaoke contest.  Thankfully we had arrived in time for the last few contestants.  My favourite was the burly farmer who was so intoxicated he fell off the stage mid-song.

Our food arrived as the MC began presenting the prizes, and I watched in amazement as the winners were presented with large bottles of alcohol.  As the MC drew towards the end of the winners, a homeless man jumped on to the stage, wrestled the bottle out of the MC’s hands and ran away.  Everyone cheered.

Two elderly supremely intoxicated gentlemen joined us, bought us a bottle of makkoli (rice alcohol) and began to question us in slurred, spittle-filled Korean.  We decided to make a hasty exit.

At night there were fireworks.  And as Koreans seem unable to do anything without proper sustenance (something I greatly admire!), there were snacks.  I don’t know what they were but they looked weirdly delicious.  (And thankfully whale-free.)

The next day I returned for the re-enactment of a prehistoric whale hunt.  I began to doubt the historical accuracy when all of the “cavemen” showed up in life jackets.   My suspicion increased when I noticed that the whale had a door.

The re-enactment began with the whale charging the canoe filled with cavemen.

The re-enactment was hilarious (although I seemed to the only person laughing.  Must be a cultural difference.)  My favourite part comes soon after two cavemen inexplicably throw themselves out of the canoe.  A trapdoor opens behind the whale’s blowhole and a cavemen climbs out to triumphantly skewer the whale.

Historical accuracy be damned! 😀

I also bought myself a souvenir:

No kitchen could possibly be complete without a whale-shaped alcohol ladle. 🙂


About Carrie K

Teacher, writer, traveller. Slightly neurotic. Overly talkative. Loving life. You can also follow me on Twitter: kimchigirl72
This entry was posted in food, Korea, Life, Photography, Teaching English, teaching in Korea, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to City of Life, Dreams of Whale

  1. ck says:

    Whale of a time methinks. Call me Ishmael. Man the harpoons!! Arrrrrr!

  2. Katie says:

    Damn, I should have staying in Korea last weekend.

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