Lazy. There’s no other word for me right now. But fortunately for my productivity, I’m back in school (but only for a measly week and a half – ha!) Before it becomes February in North America, here’s the most wintery highlight of my winter so far…
The Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival!!!
화천 산천어 축제!!!
I finally made it up to Hwacheon! There was a free day for native English teachers and I’d promised wonderful Gabby that I’d visit her anyway, so it was the perfect opportunity.
Let me explain a little. Hwacheon is far, far to the north of South Korea, whereas I’m in a coastal city in the south. After the Korean War, North and South Korea were divided by the 38th parallel…Hwacheon is actually above the 38th parallel. (North Korea?) This also wasn’t my first time visiting; during orientation we had a day taken out of weekend in Seoul to go to Hwacheon. Instead of the DMZ. This happened to be the same day the Pope was visiting Korea (in Seoul, of course). And the bus ride to Hwacheon resulted in a lot of…sick people. As you can guess, ETAs my year weren’t left with the fondest memories of Hwacheon.
But I overcame my Hwacheon bias and so, the week after my winter camp, I headed out on a Sunday afternoon. This was my route from where I live: 10 minute bus ride to the subway, 40 minute subway ride to the Nopo (intercity) Bus Terminal, 5 hour bus ride to Chuncheon, 40 minute bus ride to Hwacheon! In total, almost 7 hours of travel!
I stayed with super duper Gabby and Monday morning, a group of us (ETAs) set out for some festivities. We were greeted by a big frozen river. Actually, this year has been unusually dry and warm, so the frozen river and snow sculptures were all artificially made. As we walked across the river, you could occasionally hear the ice crack…but it was super thick, so we had nothing to worry about, right? Right?
Once we found the information tent for foreigners we were carefully guided around. We received mini fishing rods and plastic in which to put our fish. Never having fished before, I had no idea how this would go.
We were there at the same time as Hwacheon’s mayor, who I recognized from our orientation trip to Hwacheon! As foreigners we got all the attention and for a while photographers followed us around, ready to snap away whenever someone caught a fish. Once we’d all caught one, we even took pictures with the mayor.
Credit for this photo goes to one of the many city photographers present.
Perhaps it was this guy:
They were even filming for a video promotional, and guess who made it in? (If you’re impatient, skip to about 2:15.) Later though, the photographers left us for a white man. Figures. But that meant we were free to take our own pictures as we pleased!
The fish here are sancheoneo, a kind of trout that’s a Hwacheon specialty. The limit was three trout. My first time, a volunteer actually saw I was struggling, came over, and simply tugged on my line and caught a fish. Hmph. But after that I caught two more on my own! Later, I found out that they actually stock the foreigner section with more trout so it’s even easier for us to catch fish.
After fishing, the natural thing to do would be to eat! For 2,000-5,000 won, you could have your fish grilled or fried. It was DELICIOUS. But three fish was a lot.
It turns out there was a lots more to do at the festival than I thought. There was an ice sculpture exhibit of sorts with tons to see, ranging from Korean traditional palaces to Angry Birds. Back at the main part of the festival, I also tried bobsledding, ziplining, and some traditional Korean games..
The one thing I missed out on was the bare hand fishing, in which for some inexplicable reason you put on a T-shirt and shorts, then jump into a pool of freezing water to catch fish with your bare hands. I don’t regret not participating. I do regret not watching.
Most ETAs left the same or next day, but I stayed to hang out with Gabby until Thursday morning. We went hiking, visited a tea house, painted fish lanterns, and made BROWNIES. They were too delicious for pictures, sorry.
Hwacheon is a really beautiful place, and the complete opposite of Busan. After living in the second largest city in Korea for 6 months, I was shocked to be able to see SO many stars in Hwacheon. At night it was quiet, except for the occasional dogs barking and cows mooing.
Gabby and I took a short hike the next day, although it was cold. This was our view of Bukhan River, which we then walked along to get to the tea house that Gabby’s friend owns.
Wednesday we painted lanterns. Because it was Wednesday, NO ONE else was there.
It was fun just being a different region and noticing small differences, like how they sell boiled potatoes at the rest stops (I’ve never seen that in Busan or Gyeongnam). Everyone in Hwacheon wore layers, including small children. In Busan girls still wear short skirts in the winter, sometimes without stockings. I experienced slight culture shock, I suppose.
Of course, a visit to Hwacheon wouldn’t be complete without some kind of interaction with soldiers. The Korean military has a strong presence there, and while waiting at a bus stop, Gabby and I always saw at least twice as many military vehicles pass by than regular ones. When I finally left on Thursday, I had to wait for a second bus, since there was already a long line of soldiers going to Seoul on what must’ve been their day off.
Though cold and far away, Hwacheon was well worth the trip.