Winning the Ulsan Whale Boat Race

Winning the Ulsan Whale Boat Race

This past weekend was the annual Ulsan Whale Festival in Korea. Whale hunting used to be a big part of Korean culture and so they have a festival every year at the Taehwa River to eat whale, reenact whale-hunting and have other whale-related exhibits.

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I’m not a big environmentalist or anything, but I’m not real keen on the thought of hunting whales. So it struck me as kind of strange that they have an entire festival to commemorate something that most other cultures/countries are strongly opposed to (killing innocent whales). Obviously, it’s a different culture, though, and they are very pro whaling. Regardless, it was a beautiful weekend to spend outdoors by the river, see different Korean traditions, drink Soju and participate in a Whale Boat Race.

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The Whale Boat race consisted mainly of waygooks (foreigners – which were probably 95% English teachers) dressing up, day drinking and crashing their boats into each other. Okay, maybe that was just my team. In my team’s defense, we did well during our first race.

The day of the race started at 9am. We met up with our team, threw on our matching T-shirts (my team was the Drunken Whales, named appropriately so) and anxiously waited for the races to start – until we were notified that they were casually looking for a corpse because somebody had recently jumped off the bridge. Nothing was recovered after scuba divers searched for an hour or so and so the races began.

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My team decided to wing it and so we had no actual tactic or strategy planned. We climbed into the long-tail boats and after much confusion, arguing and miscommunication, we were at the starting line. A horn sounded and we were off with each boat’s drummer guiding each stroke. Surprisingly, we did quite well. And when I say “quite well”, I mean we didn’t capsize or get last place! Which was really the goal the entire time – so essentially, we had won the race.

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The second race didn’t go as well unfortunately. There’s a steerer for each boat and for our first race, an experienced local was steering for us. The second race, one of our teammates insisted on doing it and was fairly confident that he could handle it. Wrong. We crashed into another boats within 20 seconds, almost capsizing them. Best part of the day, hands down.

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After receiving our “participation medals”, our team went out for celebratory burgers at Toolbox and then came back to the festival to dance, listen to the worst DJ ever, watch other waygooks trash the park area (this is why so many Koreans hate us) eat Korean food and drink 1,000 won beers. A Saturday well spent.

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