Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Local festivals

I would always get frustrated with the Korea Herald for announcing festivals or special tourism events only a day before the event started. Here I am now, doing the same.

This Friday, the Songi Mushroom Festival starts, here in Yangyang. Songi, or Pine, mushrooms are a phallic-shaped delicacy in Korea and Yangyang's have been scientifically tested and shown to be the best. Okay, I don't know what that 'scientifically tested' bit means, but that's what locals tell me.

The best quality mushrooms can cost 250,000 won a kilo (I guess that's $100.00US a pound). The lower quality mushrooms are, well, mushroom shaped, with a large umbrella. As the quality, or possibly the age, increases, the umbrella shrinks and they become more phallic. Visitors to the District office might be surprised to see what first appears to be a giant gold penis in a glass display case, but it is only a mushroom.

Yangyang tourism staff enjoying Songi Mushrooms Posted by Hello

The festival runs Oct. 1 to 5 and I found the highlight last year was being taken up a nearby mountain to 'hunt' for Songi mushrooms. Actually, it was more of an Easter Egg hunt, as the mushrooms had been placed there earlier. We were told that the mushroom were in the right kind of locations, in the downslope shadow of a pine tree. You have to register for the hunt but foreigners can probably jump the queue a bit.

I have to admit that the Songi hunt was a nice time outside but I wouldn't have come to Yangyang just for the festival. If you are planning to come anyway, you know, visit Seorak Mountain and such, a few hours at the festival wouldn't be misspent.
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Now some festival news in good enough time that you can make plans to arrive.

The Yangyang Salmon Festival is October 23-24 this year.

Now, I don't understand why salmon in Alaska and Western Canada run in the spring and summer but Korean salmon run in late fall; but they do and the festival is a fun one.
--I guess Great Lakes Salmon run in the fall, too. Anyway, ...

You can eat salmon until you are sick, if that for some reason interests you. It's good, cheap and plentiful. The best part of the weekend, though, is catching the salmon by hand.

I think that all my aunts back home are involved with the Humane Society and similar animal rights organizations. I also believe in animal rights, but chasing after salmon in a shallow stretch of river enclosed by nets on a warm fall day is a lot of fun, a real guilty pleasure that I hope my aunts forgive me for.

Catching salmon Posted by Hello

I was tempted to catch the salmon and throw them over the net to freedom but but didn't think they'd get very far. The river is even more of a gauntlet than in the past. I think the salmon hatchery and research centre near the mouth of the river has a net across and 80 or 90% are stopped there and collected (the centre has tours and information on salmon biology, last year with English-speaking guides). Then come the fishermen who don't use lures and bait but huge treble hooks and a strong rod to snag the fish. The worst are the ones who stand on the bridge and watch the salmon in the clear water, snag them and reel them up to the bridge, most breaking free to fall, gutted, back into the river. The salmon I caught was actually caught elsewhere and delivered by truck to the festival site.

Still, a friend who is quite a purist when it comes to fishing and does use lures and such, caught a few a km upstream of town.

I hope I haven't painted too grim a picture. I really do recommend coming for this festival.

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Yangyang has a traditional 'O-Il Jang', a fifth day market. Every calendar day with a '4' or a '9' is market day. I always wake up early for market day -because the damn cattle auction takes places from five to seven AM right beside my apartment. There is a lot of produce and such and some antique-y things or crafts for sale as well. During the festivals, there are a few dozen extra vendors.

Yangyang Gun (district, not weapon) has an English website but the dates are from last year.
An English speaker working for Yangyang Gun tourism gave me some information about the salmon festival at 033-670-2516.

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