If you are ever in South Korea for the second week of January, you should go to the Hwacheon Ice Festival. It’s a wonderful example of a lot of my favorite things about Korea.
First, it is full of all the best festival foods like Hoedeok (a pancake with cinnamon and sugar inside) and other things sold at stands and in food tents.
However, it’s also a festival devoted to ice fishing, so in addition to festival food, you can enjoy fresh fish.
Bundle up, of course.
If you are going to be on the ice with a fishing pole for hours at a time, you don’t want to get cold. I was in layers upon layers and I still think I lost feeling in my feet after awhile, but that’s outside in January, isn’t it?
(Well, in snowy places in the Northern hemisphere, anyway.)
I also really enjoy the racism. No one does racism quite like South Korea.
There is an area for Koreans, and then off towards the back is the “Foreigner Area.” I lived in Korea long enough that I was accustomed to be corralled into “special areas” for people who were not Korean.
It’s not like racism in the USA where you get worse things and it’s institutional and horrible.
You just get separate things.
Sometimes the separate things are nicer. For example in this case, the area was mostly deserted and so it was easier to catch fish than in the main part of the river where everyone else was.
Also, Koreans like to see white people in ads.
So, once I caught a fish I was swarmed by photographers.
They want the ads for the festival to feature smiling white people because it makes the festival seem more popular.
So here is a picture of me having my picture taken by several professional photographers, to be used in promotional materials.
They don’t ask for permission, by the way. I have been on TV and in ads, and I never consented to it. I don’t have to because as a foreign person I don’t have the intellectual property rights to my face. That’s a perk of citizenship, (which foreign people can’t really get.)
Anyway back to fish.
It’s a celebration of fish.
And it’s a festival so there are all sorts of fun things. There is a “polar bear swim” where men jump into the frozen lake and catch fish with their bare hands while in their underwear. I watched. It was amusing.
There is also a giant ice castle that they build every year and fill with interesting facts about fish (you can walk through a tunnel on the inside that is full of “Fish Facts.”)
But obviously the very best part was the rides and games, because that is what makes a festival fun, right?
I enjoyed that they had several things that would be considered “too dangerous” back home, such as races in go carts along the ice, and taking an ATV across the ice.
Naturally, if something is dangerous and stupid, the American in me says to do it. And so I did.
I am still alive to tell the tale, and I highly recommend the ice festival if you happen to plan a trip to Korea in the winter. It’s a lot of fun.