The week of the Samgilpo fish festival, our sleepy little fishing village suddenly transformed! First to arrive was a troupe of dancers/singers. They set up a tent in one of the dirt parking lots next to the food vendors. Every time we passed them, the space under the tent was FULL of people, although I never really understood why. Half the time, there was old-timey Asian dance music playing and these middle-aged ladies dressed up in funny costumes were dancing around like crazy people hitting drums set up across the stage area. It was truly odd. The other times I passed, the main, most famous lady was singing karaoke, and it seriously sounded like a wounded, dying cat, singing into a microphone with the reverb turned way up. After her show, people would crowd around for autographs, and they sold plastic packages of peanut nougat candy-like bars that they made themselves at a booth next to the stage. Like I said, so odd, and so loud that it echoed off the walls of the pension buildings and right into our room at night.
Next came the food and goods vendors. They were set up a few days ahead of schedule as well. There were pigs roasting on the spit, raw meat set out ready to be cooked, and all sorts of yummy fried treats and festival foods. Landon just had to get a potato spiral on a stick, although this time we knew to ask them not to roll it in sugar! Due to the raw meat sitting out all day, we did not eat the festival food, but it was interesting to look at. There was a whole tent selling eel! Other goods tents included a mobile dollar store, a stamp making booth, a traditional Korean medicine booth (those doctors were very busy every time we walked by!), a cheap electronics booth, a hats/gloves/sun shade equipment booth, a quilt and blanket booth, and a dried sea products booth. We checked out the mobile dollar store, and I told Landon he could pick whatever he wanted. There were some funny things in there, but he settled on a lava rock. Where else could you buy a large lava rock for 1,000 won?
Finally, the first morning of the festival arrived. I had seen on posters that there was an opportunity to fish at the fish festival. Landon has been asking to fish all summer, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. Austin had to work all weekend, so we were flying solo on this adventure, and just decided to get it over with first day. I did not know how often they restocked the area, so I wanted to go early to have the best chance of catching fish!
I guess I’ll pause here to admit that although I wanted Landon to have the experience of fishing, I did not at all intend for him to catch any fish. I had no idea what I was going to do if he caught one. I was scared of that prospect. We walked down to the shallow fishing pond they had made out of a part of the port, and saw them getting started. I had no idea how the whole thing worked- there was nothing online in English- so we headed back home to get the baby carrier, and then I went and bought tickets at a booth near the fishing area. It was 10,000 won per person for the fishing experience. Landon was barely tall enough to get in, and they made sure I knew that I had to be there right with him helping him. I had to wear Owen in the baby carrier and we bought tickets around 10:20, not knowing that the next session was not until 11:00. We had to leave our stroller (with all of our water, snacks, etc) outside of the fenced off area, and just bring our fishing supplies. Apparently, there are fishing sessions that begin every hour. We arrived just as they were starting the fishing portion of the session, so we had to wait a LONG time to fish. It was hot and sunny, and we went back and forth from the stroller several times to get water and snacks. On one of these trips, a man came up to me and asked if he could interview me while we fished. He was from the news station in Daejeon, the nearest bigger city. So, we had that to look forward to as well!
There were key pieces of fishing equipment that I would highly recommend. I dressed Landon in his swimming attire because the water was up to his waist. He wore special gloves to protect his hands from the pole, and from the poky fish. Luckily for us, a man saw him digging in the dirt one day and gave him the gloves so he wouldn’t hurt his hands? So thanks, random guy staying across the street from us, for providing us with the gloves for this fishing experience! The other piece of equipment needed is something to put the fish in. Some people had nets that they attached to their belts and had down in the water, so the fish stayed alive longer. I grabbed a big shopping bag from our room, not knowing it had holes in it.
Finally, it was our turn to fish. We were led to the steps of the fishing area, and the announcer had a few games for the crowd to play first. He called out some of the dads in the audience to hop on one leg in the pool and play chicken with one another. The last man standing won some fish! Then, loud dance music started playing and there was a grandma dance contest. Entertaining for me, not so much for my preschooler who just wanted to catch fish. After the fun, a man came out with several bins full of live fish, put them in a strainer- type bowl, and flung them far and wide in the fishing area. I thought this was an interesting way to disperse the fish! Also, that was when I learned that they re-stock the fish for each fishing session, and even re-stock while everyone is fishing! These poor fish don’t have a chance! When the announcer said to start fishing, it was a free-for-all. We got a little bit of a late start, and Landon soon discovered that the net was too large and heavy for him to maneuver well on his own. At this time, I was carrying Owen on my front, and he was sweaty, tired, dehydrated and annoyed. I also had my camera to capture this fun memory, and the plastic bag that I hoped we would not use for fish.
At this point, Landon gave me one of the poles, and he kept the other. The general technique is to spread the poles wide apart to spread the net, and then drag it through the water to catch a fish. Every so often, we lifted it up to see if we caught anything. This was hard to coordinate with the two of us! I think we looked so pitiful, the fish stocker guy felt sorry for us and threw two fish directly into our net. I’m really not sure if the TV guy asked him to do that, or if he did it out of the kindness of his heart, but then I panicked. We had fish in our net. NOW what were we going to do? The TV cameras were rolling as we dragged the net over to the side of the pond so I could hopefully help Landon get these fish into our bag from the net. The fins were very sharp, so I did not want to attempt to pick up the fish with my bare hands with Owen right there in front! I convinced Landon to pick up the first fish with his handy gloves. As he was lowering it into the bag, the fish squirmed with all its might, and Landon did not want to touch any more fish! I tried to convince him to pick up the 2nd fish, but he did not want to have anything to do with it. So, we worked together to try to free the fish from the net, and another lucky person probably caught it in our fishing session.
It was time for my interview, so Landon went off fishing by himself. The man asked me what I thought about the fish festival, and what I thought was interesting about it. I answered that it was nice that it was in our hometown, and that it gave Landon an opportunity to fish. I thought that having to catch the fish with a net was very interesting. He asked if I would be coming back to the festival. I’m not sure if he meant this year, or another year, but I answered that we would probably be back every day to play because stuff like this does not happen in small Samgilpo! Then, to my surprise, he took the fish that Landon had put in our bag, and threw it back in our net. Then he asked us to act happy or surprised. Landon just acted confused. Thankfully, he put it back in our bag for us! A friend from our branch in Seosan said that he saw us on the news that night!
We kept trying to fish for what seemed like forever. It was hard work, and we managed to catch a big rock. Close to the end of the session, the announcer called everyone over to one side, and then the fish stocker guy threw one last bin of live fish into the pond, and then the announcer had everyone do one last sweep from one side to the other before calling it quits. The whole time we were fishing, I was trying to keep the plastic bag filled with a little water for the fish. Our bag had holes, so I refilled several times. After we left the fishing pond, there was no water left, and so the fish thrashed for awhile (with me holding onto the bag!) before finally succumbing to lack of oxygen. I was so sad to have passively killed the fish.
We returned back to our pension, and I had to figure out what to do with this fish. I ignored it while we had lunch, and then I had to figure out what to do. I looked up how to clean a fish on Youtube, so Landon and I learned all of the steps. Then it was time to touch the fish and put it on the cutting board. This was the hardest part for me. Part of me was worried that the fish was not actually dead, and would flop around when I touched. Another part of me was sad that the fish was dead. Either way, it was really hard to work up the courage to touch the fish. Landon gave me a pep talk. He said, “Mom, it’s OK, the fish is dead! You can do it! Just pick it up!”
Once I worked up the courage to pick up the fish, gutting it was not that hard. We replayed the video over and over again, and Landon helped me remember each step. When we were done, it was not the prettiest looking fish, but I was proud of my work. We BBQd it whole over a charcoal briquette on our party deck. To start the briquette here, you torch it with a flame thrower. The flame thrower does not have an automatic spark, so I had to turn on the butane and then use a lighter to light it. By the end of the day, I felt like I could do anything! If I could clean a fish and use a flame thrower successfully, nothing could stand in my way! By the way, the fish was delicious!
On other days of the fish festival, we stayed far away from the fishing pond and played in the kid’s pop-up water park area. On different days, the pools were being used for different purposes. There was a fun (and high!) blowup water slide, a pool with arm paddle boats, and a pool for playing. Landon gets so excited to play in the water that he’s a little rough sometimes, not realizing that other kids do not want their faces splashed with water. I dipped Owen’s feet in and it was fun to live down the street from a free water play area for a few days!
Along with the fishing, booths, and play areas, there was a main grandstand stage that had concerts each night and a small karaoke stage that older people used to sing and dance around! This particular guy had a fun costume. There were also two small amusement rides that Landon thankfully seemed not to care about too much. They were overpriced and did not look safe.
I don’t think I would make the trek to Samgilpo from Seoul for this festival, but if you’re in the area during the first weekend in August, I would recommend the Samgilpo fish festival. Of course, sashimi lovers already flock to Samgilpo on the weekends to eat raw fish, and so if you’re a sashimi lover, this festival is for you! It was fun to see our “hometown” transformed for the week, but ultimately we were happy when the small town said goodbye to its visitors and returned to being its sleepy self.