Ulsan: A Festival of Lights

Early in December, my coworker asked me if I would be interested in taking a trip to Ulsan the weekend before the new year to go to their light festival. Wanting to see more of what Korea has to offer, I quickly agreed.

So in the week leading up to our planned trip, we arranged bus times and booked an airbnb before making our way to Ulsan early Saturday morning.

We arrived in Ulsan around noon. Stepping off the bus was a great relief for me, as I never quite outgrew my tendency to suffer from motion sickness. Shortly after arriving and my stomach settled, we decided the first order of business would be to find lunch. It turned out to be quite the challenge. Sam is gluten free, and I don’t consume any meat products, which leaves very few options we can both eat in Korea. Fortunately, there was an Indian restaurant nearby, so we braced ourselves against the wind and made our way out of the bus terminal and into the downtown.

Ulsan is a much larger city in Korea, with a population of about 1.1 million, making it much larger than Jinju. Known as an industrial powerhouse in Korea, Ulsan is home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant, owned by Hyundai. But despite being an industrial city, Ulsan definitely had a lot to offer for anyone visiting the city for a day or two.

Sam and I went to Ulsan specifically for the Light Festival, a large display of lights set up in the Ulsan Grand Park. The displays at the festival included the Zodiac, Under the Sea, Superheroes, and a large maze of lights leading to a giant Moravian-style star. Dotted throughout the festival were tents with space heaters inside, which we much needed as it was a cold December night. It took just under an hour to make our way through the entire display.

Following the festival, Sam and I went toward the University in Ulsan to find something for dinner. We found a restaurant that had a variety of soups for Sam to choose from, and French fries for me. We stayed there for hours, telling stories, drinking soju, and talking about the various things that brought us to that very moment.

When the soju was gone and it was nearly midnight, we made our way to our airbnb. The next day, we would catch a mid-morning bus back to Jinju.

Life in Jinju: Lights, Lights, Lights

The start of October brought me much more this year than the chilly weather I desire so badly after a hot and humid summer. In Jinju, October also means the beginning of a two week celebration: the Lantern Festival. The festival is held along the Nam River and at the Fortress, which I am lucky enough to be able to walk to in about five minutes. Lanterns depicting scenes from the Japanese Invasion of 1592, fairy tales, and popular culture are put on display throughout the grounds of the fortress and on the water. The bridges connecting the banks of the river are lined with lights, creating a dreamy, fairy tale-like experience as one walks from one side of the festival to the other. All along the sidewalks, lanterns hang overhead, lighting the way.

Along with the intricate lanterns scattered throughout the festival, festival-goers also had the opportunity to send their own lantern, along with their wishes, onto the water. These small lanterns attracted crowds of people who all filed into a tent to write out their hopes, dreams, and wishes for the upcoming year, which they afix to the lantern before taking it out to the river to watch it float down. Hannah and I got our lanterns, wrote out our wishes, and sent out lanterns down the river, side by side.

Of course, no festival would be complete without food. Venders set up along the riverbanks, selling everything from buckets of chicken and potatoes on a stick to cotton candy and watermelon juice served right in the rind. Of course, my favorite were the potatoes on a stick with chili pepper seasoning.

The festival is also a great opportunity to see some fireworks. The opening night, fireworks were sent off into the sky around 8 p.m., a perfect time considering the festival started on a Monday and Tuesday was a work day. While most fireworks are pretty universal, there were some fireworks I had not seen before back in the States. October 3 was a holiday, so in true celebratory fashion, there were more fireworks. While I did not venture out to see these ones, I was able to see them from my window. Before the festival wraps up, there will be one more night of fireworks.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection.