First, Ulsan on the south-eastern coast, about 70kms north of Busan. It’s a pretty nice place. According to some locals we met at the race, it’s an amazing place to live. The city and local industry is really interested in encouraging community involvement, so if they have an idea, they can easily secure funding. The guy I talked to wouldn’t even consider moving to Seoul after living in Ulsan. With little over one million people living there, Ulsan (apparently) has everything you need. Plus, it’s only about 45 minutes away from Busan, so if you need to go to the second largest city in Korea, it’s quiet close.
It took us about 5 hours by bus to reach Ulsan from Seoul. We left on Friday night at 12:15am (I guess Saturday morning). It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but I did fine. Apparently I was one of the few people who slept through the drive. A surprising feat since many people were drinking and meeting for the first time during the whole bus ride.
We got to the competition grounds at about 7am after a quick breakfast. We were the first ones there. That was the first time we came in first during the whole day.
We were a pretty funny sight; a bunch of foreigners and Koreans who mostly met for the first time 9 hours ago. Most of us tired from a long bus drive. The competition is a pretty legit event. Teams from China, Taiwan, Russia, Germany and Japan come to compete. Luckily, there are also “pick-up” dragon boat teams allowed in the open category. This is where most English teachers can be found. Regardless of our inexperience and overall uncoordinated “technique”, we came in 3rd out of 4 on our first race (ever). We were pretty pumped. We figured there was only one direction for us; up! Not so much. On our second race, we came in last by a fairly significant margin. After that, I think we were disqualified, so we just started out journey home, abandoning the dream of fame and rices in the dragon boat racing world.
Before hitting the highway, we went to the port of Ulsan. Surprisingly, Uslan is home to the world’s largest shipyard, the world’s largest automobile assembly plant and the world’s second largest oil refinery. Who knew. Despite these world class accolades, the visit was a bit boring. In a strange bit of irony, we found a whale museum in front of a restaurant where you could buy whale meat. The museum wasn’t really worth it, it took us about 7 minutes to walk through and with the exception of a whale skeleton and a life size replica, there is nothing of interest. I wouldn’t recommend it.
On the way back, some people decided to drink some soju and beer while the other watched a few movies. As it is always the case with these things, I was extremely excited to be home on the way back, but thanks to Gladiator and Die Hard 4.0, the ride went smoothly.
And that was my career as a dragon boat racer.