It was a 4-hour journey from Seoul's Cheongyanggi station to Namchuncheon and then a bus to Hwacheon. When we finally got to Hwacheon, it was too simple to figure the place out. Hwacheon is a frigid icicle of a small Korean town just a few kilometers from the North Korean border. The Hwacheon Ice Festival was in full swing and even with over a million patrons visiting during the festival's course and it being a holiday weekend, a motel room wasn't hard to find. In minutes, we were on the ice with our newly purchased "fishing rods" which resembled warped fly swatters more than fishing gear. Music blared over the speakers as we set up camp and fished to the inescapable tunes of Son Dambi's "Crazy" song. Four hours later, I was a frosty bundle of fury with no fish to show for my efforts. All around me, couples and families yanked fish after fish from their yielding apertures while I stared maniacally into mine wondering if it would be easier if I just dived in and greedily started snatching fish with my bare hands.
With my sanity slipping away from me, my friend started dancing around her ice hole to the obligatory sexiness of "Rainism". Though this little dance didn't attract any fish our way, it brought on the ajushis (old Korean men). It wasn't long before one came over and invited us to eat some hwe (sashimi) with his family. We had our fill of deliciously chewy slices of fresh fish paired with the clean (propellant) notes of soju. Upon parting, the family left us with a writhing plastic bag of fish. We took our energetic gift to a little stand flanked by a modest army of grills. Just 1000 won per fish to have them smacked on the head, salted, wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown on the grill to sizzle away. We expertly picked away at the freshly steaming filet of flaky white flesh, navigating around bones, internal organs and those vengefully gleaming fish eyes. I can only describe how delicious this meal was by explaining our one clear objective for the following day: catch more fish, much more.
I tried. I REALLY tried. I even started threatening my friends with starvation, beatings and….I’m not proud to say, cold-blooded murder. But we had no such luck and again, we had more free fish thrust upon us from patronizing ajushis as they tsk-tsked at our complete incompetence. We tucked our tails between our legs and consoled ourselves with a family-size pizza, a cake about the same size, a cauldron of sangria and a 1000 piece puzzle that we were too drunk (or stupid…probably both) to finish.
Though I don't know if I can call it an "ice fishing experience" if I didn't actually catch any fish, I can honestly say….I don’t give a shit. It was fun.