I am a total sucker for interesting cultural events! So, when I found an announcement for a local potato festival, I knew we had to be there. Palbongsan is a mountainous area northwest of Seosan. Along with hiking trails up the mountain, there are potato, garlic and onion fields dotting the landscape. This festival is held on a weekend in June, the website for all the details and dates is here! It is in Korean, but Google translate did a decent job helping us figure out the festival schedule.
We used our GPS to get us to the general area of the festival, but the police had blocked the way our GPS told us to go. In order to help with traffic on the small country roads, they had made the roads to Palbongsan into a one-way loop. After driving for a few more minutes, we discovered the road in, and waited in traffic for a few minutes. There was plenty of parking in the festival area, however, there were lots of cars parking on the side of the road along the road into the festival, but there were plenty of spots later on. We were trying to decide if they just wanted to hike in, or if they thought there was not going to be parking!
The walk up to the festival proper was lined with carts selling all sorts of goodies. Some of my favorites were socks, fried potato-ey goodness, and berries. Landon chose a spiraled, fried potato on a stick, rolled in sugar. I chose what i thought was a battered, fried baked potato covered in more diced fried potato pieces. Unfortunately, it was a corn dog with potato pieces on it, but it was still edible. I’m not sure what the deal was with the sugar, but they rolled my corn dog in sugar as well, along with a squirt of ketchup. YUM?!
Landon loved this guy with the monkey. He had it chained up, and I’m not sure what its purpose was other than to attract attention, but if that was the purpose, it was very successful! I think he wanted to sell berries and other natural products.
Finally, we made it to the festival square. There was a big centerpiece made out of potatoes, some booths with kid’s activities and information, a wading pool for the kiddies, a stage, food court, and farmer’s market. In all, it took about 10 minutes to walk through and see everything, but the entertainment, kiddy pool and many food booths lining the road made it worth it for us. The natural back drop of the mountain and the sunny weather made it a great Saturday outing!
In the middle of the square was this “wall” made out of 2/4 with different spacing between the vertical supports. At first, I just thought it was bad engineering, but turns out, it was some sort of fortune telling device. Depending on which space you could squeeze into sideways, there was a message in Korean on top. Once I saw a few Koreans go through the beams, I thought we should try it out. Landon fit easily through the first opening, I didn’t do too badly, and Austin fit through the second widest. I was impressed! We’re not sure what the fortunes were according to width, but I’m sure they were all good things! This sort of device goes in the category of “only in Korea!”
In one booth there was an interesting display on the life of Palbongsan potatoes from tiny sprout to full blown potatoes. Apparently this area of Korea is famous for potatoes, and grows many different varieties. As I was perusing the booth with a few of Austin’s co-workers, the lady from the local news station came over to us with her TV camera. She wanted to get some action shots of us looking at the booth. We were already done looking at it, but we did a pretty good job, I thought, acting interested in the many variety of potatoes on display. We could not read or understand any of the associated signage, she didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Korean, so no interviews took place, but maybe we got on TV somewhere?
I am amazed at the self control Landon exhibited to not immediately jump in the water. It was a warm, sunny day and literally every other kid there was in the water with their clothes on. I’m not sure what their parents had planned for afterwards, but we, for one, did not want him to go home soaking wet. There were some kids skinny dipping, but we decided he was
too old for that, so he expressed interest in swimming in his underwear. He was the little white wonder in the pool! He was splashing and being splashed, and having a marvelous time. There were a few tears when water bottles were stolen and lost, but overall he had a blast! Meanwhile, on the stage, there was a potato peeling contest, a potato guessing weight contest, and two pop singers that weren’t terrible.
Then, there was a pause in the entertainment and the MC (who wore the most amazing turquoise pants!) made all the kids get out of the pool. Landon had no idea what was going on and was just crying on the seat of the stroller. I had looked on the website and knew that there was some sort of potato diving contest coming up. We had no idea what the rules were, but they started dumping boxes of potatoes into the pool. When the MC said go, the kids all started picking up potatoes off the bottom. Landon thought this was the best game ever! He gathered probably 20 potatoes- but remember, we had no
idea what the object of the game was. I knew there was something more to it because some of the older kids were picking up potatoes, looking them over, and putting them back in the water. He called time, and had the kids present their potatoes to the judges. Landon gave them all of our potatoes, even though most of them were not “winners”. I think winners were potatoes with an “eye” or the dark spot that means they are ready to be used for seed? I’m still not sure. Anyway, the grand prize winners walked away with a 20 lb bag of onions. Landon got a coupon, and nobody knew enough English to explain what was going on, except to say “change!” So, we knew it needed to be exchanged for something. Austin google translated it and it said potato coupon. They had pointed toward the potato harvesting part of the festival, so we walked quite a ways over to the potato fields, only to be turned back because it was the wrong ticket. Landon was dead set on digging up some potatoes, so we paid for a bag to fit 10 kilos of potatoes, and Landon went to work. Austin went to figure out the coupon situation. At this point, Landon did not want to put on his shorts with wet undies, or change out of his undies, so he was digging potatoes pantsless. He loved the whole process of digging and finding the big potatoes in the ground. The Koreans very carefully dug up all the potatoes in an area, and put them in a pile for inspection. Landon just wanted to put every potato he found in the bag, from the smallest to the largest. Needless to say, we were done pretty fast with our bag, and then he helped other people dig until Austin came back with our prize- a 10 kilo box of potatoes! This happened about a month ago and we’re still working on the box! At last Landon is starting to earn his keep in the Brown family.
These “J cones” are interesting ice cream cones. They pump ice cream into both ends with a skinny little funnel and the cone is not very sweet, but it’s still a fun treat to share. Outside of the tourism office at the base of Palbongsan mountain was this potato sculpture. Only in Korea would the potato sculpture be so regal and artsy.
To the average tourist looking for a good time, I would not recommend the potato festival. If you have kids, or think that really immersing yourself in local culture and chintzy celebrations is fun and interesting, this festival is for you! As we were leaving the festival, a saxophone band took the stage. The altos were SO out of tune that I almost covered my ears, but as they warmed up and made adjustments they started to sound less shrill. It was a perfect way to end the day at the festival! We will be back to climb the mountain at a later date!