Friday, March 18, 2011

Ice Festival (4 February)

We’ve been given a late morning meeting time today since we’re heading to a local ice festival that is approximately 20 minutes away from Phoenix Park.  Since we only have to meet at the bus at 10:00am, we get up slightly later than yesterday and take out time getting ready before venturing out for a breakfast hunt.  Breakfast in Korea usually involves kimchi and rice – as much as I love kimchi, my body does not appreciate it first thing in the morning.  We head to the nearest Family Mart where we eventually settle for yoghurt and waffles with a thin layer of cream.  We’re halfway through breakfast when we’re joined by an American couple who are also on the AK trip and who have found bagels and cream cheese for breakfast.  Note to self: Dunkin’ Donuts is closer than Family Mart AND they have bagels!

A fishin' We Will Go... 

We’re soon on our way to the ice festival where our first activity is ice fishing.  We get our fishing rods – which resemble large egg lifters with a length of gut wire and a fake rubber fish attached to it – and get told to choose a hole.  Sounds easy enough.  As we near our chosen hole, however, we realise that we have to pick through the thick layer of ice that has resealed the hole and we soon find ourselves in an unexpected game of “Find the least frozen hole because digging out that ice is hard work”! 

YeonJeong seems to sense our hesistancy in committing to a hole and tells us the Korean phrase for Please help me.  She points out that since we’re foreigners, someone will probably dig the hole for us if we ask them nicely.  Fortunately, at the moment, we notice the electric drill moving down a line of holes and we race our fellow foreigners and the Koreans to reach a hole in the line that has quickly formed.  We’re in luck and our hole is the last one drilled.  We’re soon fishing happily while groups around us attempt to hack their way through the ice in an effort to create the fishing hole needed.  On the lake next to our section, the serious ice fishers have settled in for the day.  Seokjin’s parting words this morning were: “If you catch a fish, you can have it cooked for about 3 000 won; if you can’t catch a fish, it’s going to cost you more to buy one.”

Like any other fishing, ice fishing requires a lot of patience.  There are only so many trout in this damn and there must be at 400 fishing rods in the water.  When the fish don’t bite, we find ourselves staring down into the hole as though we expect to suddenly find a fish staring back at us just waiting to be caught.  Perhaps it’s not so surprising that this seems to be the approach most people take to ice fishing.  We get into an easy rhythm of lifting the rod up and down several times and then peering into the water despite not being able to see anything other than blackness beneath the three feet of ice. 

Catfish and I are not really taking the fishing too seriously and the novelty wears off very quickly.  We’re having more fun goofing around taking silly pictures as usual, watching our fellow fishers, and chatting to people.  This is one of my favourite photos of the day: Catfish and I with the AK staff! 

Just as we’re starting to doubt that there are actually fish in this lake, the Korean family next to us has a bite.  He whips the trout from the water with skilled speed and hastily drops it onto the ice beside him while his wife scrambles for a plastic bag which will soon become the fish’s jail cell and quasi-gas chamber (minus the gas of course).  The fish is clearly not happy with this situation and attempts a frantic escape back down the hole but the fisherman is too quick for it and the fish’s fate is sealed while the couple’s daughter, who seems to be around four years of age, watches the fish flapping about.  As the fish flaps about in the plastic bag, the little girl squeals providing much amusement for everyone around her. 

But...I Want Fish For Lunch! Juseyo?

After an hour of nothing, we’re hungry and decide to call it a day with our ice fishing and find some lunch.  We head in the direction of food smells and are disappointed to discover that our lunch options are limited.  We settle somewhat disgruntled for hot dogs and dakbokki.  All around us, people are eating delicious looking trout but we can’t find anywhere to buy one.  Eventually we discover that we’re only at the snack stall and that there’s an actual cafeteria so we ditch our lousy meals and head off hungrily, salivating over the thought of grilled trout.  Ordering the trout is a completely different matter.  Catfish is the talker in our friendship so she attempts to order the fish since we can only see sashimi on offer. 

She approaches the woman at the counter and asks for a grilled fish – no luck.  We contemplate the situation once more and Catfish approaches a family eating a trout at a nearby table and asks them what it is called.  She returns to the counter and tries again – still no luck.  She then approaches some students who try to help us but we’re still unsuccessful.  Just as we start thinking we’ll have to forgo the trout for lunch, Catfish has a brainwave: She marches over to a table, takes a photo of the trout on a plate and heads back to the counter where the woman seems to be thinking Oh no, not the waegook again and shows her the photo while holding up one finger and saying “Hana juseyo”.  Much to our relief, the lunch order has been understood and we’re soon finding a table to enjoy it.

As tasty as this fish looks, it’s still Korean.  This means it still has head, tail and fins attached unlike fish back home that at least have their heads chopped off.  Foreigners don’t like their food looking at them while they eat so we quickly westernize our fish by covering it’s head with the receipt.  Unfortunately, we’re also starting to wonder just how Korean this fish is since it’s so fresh – ie. has it at least been properly gutted?  With slight trepidation, we gingerly lift half the fish and sigh in relief at the lack of fish guts that would’ve been a rather nasty surprise.  We dig in with relish and it doesn’t take long for us to devour the entire fish – minus the head, scales, fins and tail of course.

Fishing Round Two - Bare Hand

Soon, we’re on our way to the bare hand fishing pond to contemplate our polar bear plunge.  We’ve decided that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that we need to do even though we know we’ll be freezing afterwards.  As we chat around the pond, and eye the fish that we’ll try to catch, we learn that ByungMin (an AK staff member) has never done bare hand fishing before.  KiwiKat suggests that he participates in it today but ByungMin protests that Seokjin probably won’t allow him to do so.  This prompts KiwiKat to find Seokjin and ask him very sweetly if ByungMin can join the bare hand fishing.  Naturally, Seokjin agrees and ByungMin’s fate is sealed – into the frigid waters he’ll go to experience bare hand fishing with the rest of us.  This is a voluntary activity and I’m seriously considering my sanity as I think about just how cold the water will be.  I’ve been given lots of tips for bare hand fishing so, in theory, I should be okay: Stay close to the side so that you can trap the fish against the rocks, wait for them to be chased to you, grab one and get out so that you can get changed.  It sounds simple enough and we’re soon changing into the shorts and t-shirts provided by the festival organisers.   This is a waegook event since there are about 30 of us in total and the Koreans have surrounded the pond in order to witness what promises to be a hilarious and ridiculous attempt at bare hand fishing by foreigners who chase the fish around the pond instead of catching them.  I should note that Koreans tend to be rather good at this particular task – like many things – and foreigners are…not as successful. 

Splish Splash, I Don't Wanna Take A Bath

The Korean MC is already in the water and tries and to get us to do a few warm up exercises before plunging into freezing water.  In try waegook style, we can’t even synchronise our exercise and it’s clear that he soon gives up on us and tells us to get in and fish.  There are loud splashes and squeals as foreigners splatter into the knee high water and start chasing the previously serene trout around the centre of the pond.  My calves feel like a thousand tiny pins are being thrust into my skin repeatedly as my body reacts to the coldness of the water but I’m determined to stay in the water until I’ve caught a fish! I stay close the side of the pond and, as promised, the fish soon come to me.  I push one against the wall and pull back my hands in disgust: Somehow I’ve managed to forget how slimy fish are and I can’t bring myself to pick them up – they’re so slippery and gross!

Seeing my failed attempt, a Korean man on the side of the pool leans over to give me some pointers.  He pushes my shoulders down so that I’m bent at a 90 degree angle over the water, thrusts my numb hands into the water and positions me so that I’m facing the rocks squarely where he then tells me to stay “on standby” for a fish.  I’m so caught up in trying not to react to the cold that I react too slowly for the fish that flees past me much to the Koreans’ dismay.  I hear people shouting directions and locations of fish but this is just too disgusting for me.  I feebly attempt to trap two or three more fish against the side of the rocks and am aware of several fish being caught around me but I can’t bring myself to pick up the slippery buggers.  Another foreigner next to me catches a fish that I’ve just missed and offers it to me.  I’m more than happy to decline since the idea of touching the fish is just too much for me to handle.  At this point, I just want to stay in the water long enough to say that I’m not a total wimp!

A Fish For You

Since I’ve already had lunch, and we get to keep the fish we catch, I’m not particularly concerned that I haven’t caught anything when we’re told that we only have 10 seconds left.  I can’t stand the idea of suffocating a fish in a plastic bag and I suppose I probably shouldn’t have been fishing in the first place since I’d never even considered what would happen to the fish after they were caught.  ByungMin seems determined to catch a fish for me though and when, moments later, he does catch one, he’s quick to place it in a bag and hand me the bag with the fish still flapping around frantically inside of it.  Part of me just wants to release the fish but I know it’ll only be caught by someone else then so I try to refuse the fish instead but he’s adamant that this is my fish so I take it, thinking that I’ll figure out what to do with it later on. 

As we change back into our warm clothes, I place the flapping fish on top of the steel lockers lest someone stands on the poor thing.  Unfortunately, the fish isn’t giving up and ends up doing a suicide dive off the steel lockers to several girly shrieks – the fish is now officially dead.  Having eaten trout for lunch, I don’t really want the fish and am not quite sure what to do with it as I head outside to meet my friends.  KiwiKat suggests giving it away to a Korean and we find an ajumma (older woman) who is walking towards the parking lot and not looking particularly happy.  I don’t know how to say, “Would you like a fish?” in Korean so I resort to standing directly in front of her which brings her to an abrupt (and scowling) halt.  I greet her with an “Annyeong haseyo” and push the fish in her direction.  The man behind her steps forward in an effort to help make sense of the two waegooks currently blocking the path, and when they realise that the bag contains a fresh trout, their faces light up.  It seems I’ve just made this ajumma’s day by giving her a prized fish for dinner and I’m pleased that someone can appreciate the trout that ByungMin caught. 

We walk around the festival for the last hour watching the ice-ATVs, snow tubing, ice slides and more wishing we had enough time to enjoy these things ourselves.  We do, of course, have time to take more silly photos of Catfish fighting Korean kids for her turn on the ice slide (slide made of ice), us posing on the ice furniture and one with NZ2 and Catfish pretending to have the ‘South African fish’ at the festival before heading back to Phoenix Park where Catfish goes night skiing and NZ2, KiwiKat and I play Catchphrase with hilarious results. 

At 23:00, we join the AK staff at the ski rental pick up site and keep ourselves entertained while we wait for inconsiderate foreigners to return their gear as late as 23:45.  It seems this is not the only inconsiderate behaviour of the night as YeonJeong is rudely awaked at 3:30am by a phone call with complaints of noise from the ‘party room’ with nearly 40 drunk foreigners.  It’s incidents like these that make me that much more embarrassed to be associated with so many foreigners and I really hope foreigners could just grow up and stop embarrassing us all!

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