Ulsan Whale Festival 2012

May 3, 2012

Kat: Lame. Completely lame.

We went to the Ulsan Whale Festival expecting a park full of kooky Koreans dressed in traditional clothing and abundant weird photographic opportunities. But no, instead we got expat central and a giant floating whale on the river.

The Ulsan Whale Festival is an annual celebration of a not-so great aspect of Korean history: whaling. While we contemplated taking “Free Willy” t-shirts to protest, we ended up sans placards down at the Jangsaengpo river rotunda. First impression: 100 expats lined up for dragon boat racing. Not a whale in sight.

Justin: I concur with my trusty captain’s assessment of our latest sea-fairing(ish) expedition to the whale festival in Ulsan. Lame it definitely was, just not cohesive enough and targeted for a younger bunch than us. Most of the expats living in Ulsan participated in a dragon boat race and most of the expats were enjoying a beer or two or seventeen by the time we turned up.

Kat: As we left the boaters to their dragon drums and drinks, we met our first dose of kooky for the day. A cowboy was hanging out on his horse in the carpark. A Korean cowboy.

Kat: After finding our friends, Tiffany and Joshua (who have now been Aussified to Tiff and Josh), we headed to the food tent for some sub-par bibimbap and beer. Unfortunately the celebrating Dragon Boat racers had taken up a table before us, and us culturally understanding western teachers looked away embarrassed by the table of drunk expats playing drinking games at 1pm in the afternoon at a family event. We could hear the squirms of the Koreans as they tried not to look at the idiots in fluoro singlet tops.

Justin: We ordered a bibimbap from a pushy seller in the food market, hands down the WORST bibimbap I have ever tasted and ever will taste. I tried to compensate by drinking a couple of longnecks of South Korean beer. Even if I tried to cook bibimbap, the likelihood of this being LOW, I could not muster this terrible dish. Shame on you temporary festival food seller.

Kat: The Ulsan Whale Festival website promised a local talent quest, which in all countries usually adds up to a mildly entertaining variety show of mildly talented people. Wedged between two K-Pop impersonator acts were some genuinely talented B-Boys twisting tricks for the audience. One dancer walked down the stairs on his hands to shake hands with a gorgeous girl in the front row. Upside down. With my large lens, they thought I was the official photographer and they kept posing for the camera.

Kat: Once they were finished on came another K-Pop act.

Justin: The closest thing I came to learning about the history of whales and whaling was having my photo taken with three South Koreans after they were walking back from a performance.

Kat: Justin also got a photo with the guy from Avatar.

Kat: We lost Tiff and Josh in the crowd and headed to the giant whale fight on the river. We caught the end of the boats knocking down a giant metallic whale, complete with side hatch. All I learned is that reverse parking a whale is a nightmare.

Kat: Yeah so there were some stalls, ho-hum, some activities for kids, not that interesting.

Justin: You know I am actually struggling to recall the day now, which speaks volumes about how memorable this tribute to the large mammal actually was. I did run into one of my students there; a brief exchange of pleasantries was one of the more memorable moments of the festival.

Kat: Don’t forget the weeeeiiiirrrrd statues of nudie green haired things.

Kat: We eventually found Josh and Tiff again and simultaneously shrugged our shoulders, with an audible “MEH”.

Justin: So after the meh Tiffany, Joshua, Kat and myself headed off to dinner in Ulsan, an Indian meal shared with friends. A lovely meal together with great people.

Kat: And no, we did not eat any whale, dog or live squid. We rate this adventure a 2/5 on the adventure scale.


The festivals in Korea are never quite what you would expect. I went to an ice fishing festival north of Seoul and there were ATVs doing donuts on the ice. So wacky!

I never get over the grannies on ATVs…

I’ve never heard of this festival, but your commentary was entertaining to read. I love your blog design, and it looks like you guys have been traveling for awhile. Good luck with your year in Korea!

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