Monday, January 18, 2010

Back in the Land of Morning Calm, pt 2 - Hwacheon Ice Festival

So the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. It's an annual festival that takes place in, well, Hwacheon, which is a city just a few kilometers south of the DMZ. It's close enough that as of 2007, the city had 24,000 civilians and 36,000 soldiers. According to the NY Times, not only is it cold enough for an ice festival in winter, but "here the temperature soars to 97 degrees in summer and plunges to minus 33 degrees in winter."
Doesn't that sound like a fun place to be smack in the middle of January?

Okay, maybe not. But it's the time that Sancheoneo, or freshwater mountain trout, come out to play, since they thrive only "in clean fresh water with a temperature below 20 degrees Celsius throughout the year," and so it's the time that Korea puts on a giant celebration of what the northern parts of South Korea have to offer.

You can find more information about the festival in general from the official Korean Tourism page here and also here, and check out other people's pictures (from Zimbio) of this year's festival.

So let me set the scene. First of all, I had to wake up around 6:30 to KTX to Seoul and meet Keely and Emilee in Sinchon by 8:45. As I leave my apartment in the morning to walk to the subway station, I check the weather - it's 14°F. I KTX and subway to meet Keels and Em in the McDonald's above Sinchon station, and together we subway to the bus station and bus to Chuncheon, our old stomping grounds from orientation, and switch buses there for Hwacheon. All in all, it took me about 5 hours to get from Daejeon to Hwacheon -- most of it on a windy bus. But while it's happening I'm only marginally annoyed by how long it's taking, and I'm still having fun, because I haven't seen Keels and Em for a month, so we're catching up, and we hit up the Starbucks in Chuncheon because, well, why not?, and we meet up with a college friend of Emilee's, and new people who speak English are always fun.
There is, however, one point on the bus where we are feeling less than optimal. The road is getting kind of windy, and we've finished chatting so the sleepiness is setting in. I check my iPod and discover the weather forecast for Hwacheon.

High: 23°F.
Low: 14°F

Fortunately, once we get there, all is well. The sun is shining and we're bundled up enough that the cold doesn't stop us from having fun.

We wander around for a while, and we partake in all of the cultural gifts that icy cold Hwacheon has to offer us -- thousands of fish lanterns:

A giant ice sledding tube-y thing:

ATVs on ice...which under our influence quickly became bumper ATVs:

Ice sculptures:

Inner tube sledding (or as Emilee and Keely informed me after they finished ahead of me, "racing")

All of these things were fun, of course. I mean, how could they not be? We were cold, but like I said, we were bundled. Personally, I was wearing a silk undershirt, a heat-tech shirt from uniqlo (those things are amazing), a blouse, a sweater, uniqlo heat-tech leggings, jeans, thick wool socks and boots, a big scarf, and a giant down coat (not to mention a reasonable portion of soju). So I was pretty comfortable, and I was having fun, thanks to my serious winter gear.

Obviously, that wasn't going to last long.

Somehow, in ways and for reasons that I still can't quite understand, Emilee talked me and Keely into hand ice fishing. What this entails sounds simple in the summer - change into shorts and a T-shirt, carefully tucking in the shirt, and wade into a pool trying to catch fish with your hands. If you catch a fish, secure it by putting it down your t-shirt.
Now visualize it in the winter - with ice floating on the surface of the unheated pool. It's me, Emilee, Keely, one other Korean girl, and about 20 Korean men and boys. Yep. This happened -- and here's the proof:

My personal favorite, as it reveals so much about our respective states of mind:

Out of the three of us, Emilee alone could brave the cold for long enough to achieve victory. That woman is an Amazon, and I love it!

Poor bastard never had a chance, once emilee was in the water -

Well, we wouldn't try to catch you if you weren't so DELICIOUS!

After that, we wandered until dark, and then checked out the famous ice sculptures. They. Were. Awesome.

The only way we could come up with to warm up was world-famous (okay, Korea-famous) Chuncheon dalkkalbi. Exhausted, cold, and having had our fill, we found our way back to where it all began.

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