CHEONGPYEONG ICE FESTIVAL

Yikes! Three weeks of absolute insanity and zero writing. This month has had me busy directing a group of seven-year-olds in a 15-minute play (which went surprisingly, luckily, very well!) and entertaining a friend who has come to visit me for a few weeks. Not to mention trying to stay warm in the coldest winter in Seoul in 20 years. Brrr!

When you can’t beat the cold, you gotta join it! True Korean-style, there are plenty of festivals all around devoted to the winter weather. When I saw a subway ad for the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival, I knew I had to go. My visitor was excited, too! The event attracts over a million visitors from around the world every year who compete to catch the most trout. Other attractions include sledding, bare-handed fish wrangling, and tandem ice bicycling (??!!!). Unfortunately, the Hwacheon festival was canceled due to the recently overwhelming problem of foot-and-mouth disease. Lucky for me, I have a lovely assistant teacher who found us another ice fishing festival in Cheongpyeong (the same area where I saw the Garden of Morning Calm Christmas lights).

Since the world-famous Hwacheon festival had been canceled, the crowds flocked to Cheongpyeong. I wasn’t surprised by the traffic, since most festivals are packed, but apparently, it was much larger than the locals anticipated. My assistant teacher has family who lives in the area, and she said they didn’t even try to go fishing. They approached the area, saw the crowds, bought some trout, and went home to cook it. Ha!

Lotsa people, not lotsa trout. There were hundreds of holes, and nearly every one of them was full of unsuccessful anglers. We had to walk for a few minutes to find an empty spot, and we only fished for a few minutes before we realized we were never going to catch anything. Nobody was! My friend said he saw one man catch a fish, but I wasn’t around to see it, so I’m still not sure I believe. ;)

We saw this pair while waiting in line to buy tickets. What the what?! I’ve seen a lot of perplexing things in this country, but this has got to be at the top of the list. Bringing a cat. On your shoulders. To a crowded ice festival. Huh?!

The only thing more perplexing than one shoulder cat at a crowded ice festival is TWO SHOULDER CATS AT A CROWDED ICE FESTIVAL !! (???)

The near-complete lack of trout didn’t seem to discourage some dedicated fishermen. This place is every bit as cold as it looks, and they were willingly putting their faces into the icy holes. I’m still unsure what the purpose of this crazy little endeavor was, since I doubt they were trying to see any fish in the dark water. Has anyone been ice fishing? Know what this is all about? Luring fish with the scent of human breath? Masochism at its finest? What’s the deal?

Head-scratcher no. 3: What are those spectacular ice creations, and how were they made? We formed lots of hypotheses but never could figure it out. Whatever they were, they were beautiful.

There were lots of streetside vendors and tents for food and souvenirs. A flimsy plastic food tent may not seem like the ideal winter refuge, but it was warm and perfect. Crowds are good for at least one thing–body heat!

Wonderful, warm, sunset bus ride home. I can’t believe this was only a week ago! What a busy week has come between the ice festival and now. But February is coming soon, and it’s a promising month—the first hints of spring, a light class schedule, a little Lunar New Year vacation. And hopefully way more writing!

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