Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival Pt. 2: Sancheoneo

Sancheoneo (산천어/山川魚) is the Korean mountain trout. It's the fish for which we all fished at the Ice Fishing Festival. To make a long story short, I caught three! To make a short story long...
This is a Korean mountain trout, freshly caught!
When Adam, Katelyn, Ammy, and I arrived at the festival, we saw hundreds of people standing on a thickly frozen river, jerking small plastic fishing rods up and down over holes bored into the ice. It looked pretty funny, actually, but a lot of families had brought chairs and snacks and were making a picnic out of it.

We made our way up the river; nearly all of the festival activities were taking place on huge fields of ice. One section of the river was specially reserved for foreigners. We located an English-speaking festival guide to help get us oriented, and then got our gear and headed onto the ice.

As it turns out, ice fishing at this festival is quite simple. Pick a hole, drop your line into it, then wait patiently. If you want, you can jerk your line up and down with your rod to attract more fish, but, as we found out later, our frozen section of the river had already been pre-stocked with hundreds of fish, which made landing one almost a guarantee. It wasn't long before Katelyn made the first catch of the afternoon!
Katelyn caught the first fish!
The next catches came pretty soon after: I caught one, then Ammy caught one, then Adam caught one... it was thrilling in part because it was so easy. No real skill required! Just patience. In fact, after the initial harvest, the fish seemed to learn that there were four murderous foreigners on the ice above them, and nothing bit for the next half hour. I eventually caught two more, for a total of seven among the four of us.
Me, Adam, Ammy, and Katelyn with our bounty from the Ice Fishing Festival.
What did we then do with these fish? We ate them, of course! There were stations, or mini-restaurants, located all along the river where you could have your fish grilled in an oven or made into sashimi (eaten raw). My friends and I, hungry for a late lunch, did both. My lunch was literally trout and soju, nothing else. I will admit that I was very excited to be eating food that I had just caught. Yes, a part of me was squeamish or a bit sad that I had ended the short existence of a beautiful animal unceremoniously by eating it. But it was also a rare experience, I'd say, since I almost never go fishing. If you're going to eat meat, it's best to be as close to the source as possible, to handle killing and cooking it yourself if you can. (This way, you'll be convinced to go vegetarian. Haha, I kid.)
My sancheoneo, made into sashimi! It wasn't bad. Not terribly 맛있다, but it's not a typical sashimi fish, so I'm okay with it. The grilled version was better. (I even ate the eyeball...)
Me and the excitable Korean man. (Taken by Katelyn)
Some odd and inexplicable things happened during lunch. A table of loud, drunk Korean men not too far from us noticed this group of foreigners enjoying their fish, and decided to make our acquaintance. A man from their group came by to our table and motioned for me to go over to theirs. Then, he gave me a small paper cup and announced that we would do shots of soju together. What? I was so confused! And embarrassed. But there was no way for me to refuse, so I did a "love shot" (link arms before downing it) with this complete stranger, who seemed very pleased with himself and then said we'd do another. Soju's alcohol content is about four times greater than that of beer. He also fed me a piece of sashimi... By this time, other men in his group of friends had dragged Adam over to the table for shots, as well. All of us were so amused at this. Nothing like this has ever happened to me, not in Korea or anywhere else! Later, I went to get one of my grilled fish, and when I came back, the man had brought a bowl of live minnows over to our table, and he had just finished feeding them to my friends. Ick. But before I knew what was happening, he caught sight of me, grabbed a minnow, dipped it in red pepper sauce, and put it in my mouth, too. Yeah, so I ate a live minnow (and chased it down with more soju).

This man -- this complete stranger -- was a riot. He thought it was hilarious seeing our reactions to everything, and he must have been very excited to meet foreigners, after all, because he wanted to get a photo with Maggie and me before he left. He also gave us all his business card. And for all of us to just smile, laugh, and go along with everything? That's what it takes to build 정. When we are spontaneously thrust into weird cultural experiences, then, as long as there isn't really anything dangerous that could happen, why not, right? This is part of the job description: engage with Korea personally and build connections, even those fueled by soju. I'm sure the man came away with a more positive view of Americans (even though I didn't keep his card).
The poor things... But I did eat another one later.
Fishing! I can see now why my host brother likes it so much. As for myself, I enjoyed myself on the ice but had yet to steel myself for what was to come: bare hands fishing in freezing water... for next time!
Hey, I caught a fish!

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