Having explored many a wonder in our closest city of Ulsan, including most of the unforgettable (?) Scenic Sights of Ulsan, we feel like we have done it proud. Its not the easiest city to like, let alone love – you may remember that even about the gleaming tourism sights it was noted that, “…none are world class or notable sites within Korea itself.” Ouch.
In spite of this, we have done our best to bring you the good bits, the amusing bits and the bits to give a wider berth than you’d give a Korean teenager who has had their Smartphone confiscated. There have definitely been some highlights, most of which we have shared with you on this blog. Like many things in life, however, some things slipped through the cracks and while they haven’t made it into our reporting thus far are certainly are worth a mention. Now not all the things that follow are totally Ulsan-y (as opposed to just Korean-y); they are, however, little delights that have made our time there more tolerable and provided little pockets of respite from a sometimes otherwise dull city. So here we bring you, The Ulsan B Sides together with a little taste of the wider Korean experience.
First up, Ulsan is pretty famous for what we like to call its ‘whale culture’! Having been a habitat for migratory whales off the coast since prehistoric times, not surprisingly its port at Jangsaengpo has had quite a history of whaling and now whale tourism. Feeling the need to do something touristy in Ulsan that wasn’t one of the 12 Sites, we headed off to explore the port area and learn about some of Ulsan’s most famous friends.
Unsure of what exactly we would find in the area, we aimed for the Jangsaengpo Ocean Park. We knew we were in the right area when the first thing we saw was a line of restaurants advertising whale meat.
This is a bit of an interesting loophole here in Korea – while whales are not allowed to be killed strictly for commercial purposes Korean law permits the processing and sale of meat from a whale that is “accidentally” enmeshed in fishing nets. While the government says it has been stamping down on illegal whaling since the ban in 1986, Korea is set to join the big guns again with a “scientific” whaling plan it commenced earlier this year. Sounds a bit fishy to us…But back to the cricket!
We contemplated the wide range of whale dishes available and wondered whether we’d be tempted to indulge by the end of our day’s exploration. Our clean, green New Zealand friends would shudder at the thought, no doubt – but when in Korea, right?!
In the meantime, it was off to buy tickets for the whale museum, the whale exhibition hall and a 4D movie of something sea related.
The whale plaza overlooking the ocean is absolutely stunning. Even if you give the museums a miss, the grounds are worth having a walk around to have a nosey at all the sculptures, various arts works, cool buildings and the beautiful views.
On the top floor of the building there was a manga cartoon showing a heart-warming and emotional story about a Korean whaler – narrated by a friendly seagull.
The main whaler (the hero of the show) lines up the target…. takes a shot and………..
Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you have an afternoon in Ulsan where you feel like doing something touristy, do head over to Jangsaengpo. Our tip – check out the museum building, have a wander around the stunning grounds, peruse the cool art and spend some time people watching beside the port. Only bother visiting the exhibition hall (separate entrance fee or you can buy a package deal for all the buildings) if you are particularly fond of watching dolphins perform (and live) in a small tank where they float around looking depressed in between bouts of having Smartphones shoved in their faces by photo happy mobs.
So did we eat whale meat?
Nah, we just opted for the cutesy dolphin-shaped, red bean paste-filled bread snacks. Disappointed?!
Right, enough about whales – what’s next on the B Sides?
While not unique to Ulsan, there’s a lady tucked away just off the ‘old’ downtown area – the bit where all the cool kids hang, otherwise known as Seongnam-dong/Shinae – who has a cart full of deliciousness.
We reckon she makes the best chip dog in Korea! Yes, your eyes are correct – that’s a hot dog, with super thick battery stuff, rolled in a layer of chips (!!!), then smothered with tomato sauce and mustard. Having studiously avoided them for many a month, when we finally gave in and tried one, it was revelatory. Its the closest thing we’ve found to brunch here in brunch-less Korea – it tastes like a really dense, meaty hashbrown. YUM.
Hmm but perhaps we should backtrack here somewhat. After all, you probably couldn’t justify eating one of those without either having a hangover or, more likely, still being drunk, right?
Which brings us to the Cocktail Cart.
In New Zealand there are pretty strict rules that one must adhere to when drinking in public. You can’t drink on the streets, that’s for sure. You can’t buy liquor at prices that “encourage irresponsible drinking”. You sure as fuck CANNOT buy a plastic bag of strong cocktail for four bucks and sip it through a straw while wandering the packed streets. But this ain’t New Zealand!
Yes, we’ve been there more than once you may deduct from the change of outfits. And while people may look on disdainfully at you while you lower yourself to purchasing from a street cart – Koreans look at you with something akin to “oh, you slovenly foreigners” and other expats look at you with radiating thoughts of “oh, you are obviously SO new to Korea, we don’t do THAT anymore” -all we can say is SOMEONE has kept these businesses afloat since 1989! And $4 for a strong, portable and quite tasty cocktail? Bring it on.
Not up for a big night on the turps? That’s okay! Next stop, a couple of floors up in a nondescript corner of down-town lies a Multi Bang. You’ll find a ‘bang’ (방 meaning simply ‘room’) for just about anything in Korea – there are noraebang (singing rooms), PC bang (computer rooms), DVD bang (rent a movie, make out on the couch), jimjilbang (elaborate bathhouses, often with sleeping facilities), Soju bang (drinking rooms)…even kiss bang! Most anything is available for a price in Korea and usually a fairly reasonable price.
But back to the Multi Bang. Multi refers to the fact that these particular places offer you a private room where you can select from a number of activities be it karaoke, watching a DVD, playing computer games, or in our case, playing Wii.
A recent discovery led us to a Moroccan restaurant, tucked down a main road perpendicular to the hub of ‘new’ down-town, Samsang-dong. For something really different to Korean food and an actually really authentic tasting Moroccan meal (we think…plus the chef is Moroccan) we wholeheartedly recommend a visit here. If you’re especially lamb deprived New Zealanders, as we have been up until eating here, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to an abattoir. In a good way, that is. Not like a sheep going to an abattoir. That’s probably not as much fun for them. But we digress. Introducing Marhaban, a little slice of Morocco. It has a lovely menu full of things that will keep meat eaters and even those pesky little vegetarians happy. The space is warm and rather large – it would be a great place to take a crew. Which would also serve as a good excuse to order one of everything.Moroccan tea is provided with each meal, along with a bowl of little crunchy snack things to tide you over while you wait. There appears to be only a single chef working in the kitchen but she rocks stuff out at a fairly respectable pace. The lamb tagine is stunning. Melting, savoury lamb with gorgeously infused chunks of potato and carrots. Its served with lovely bread, just perfect to rip apart and soak up the juices.More lamb? Why, yes please! This time it came skewered in generous hunks, again delectable, moist and flavoursome.
We ordered a mixed salad and our feast was also accompanied by a bowl of olives, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions with spices, some pickled vegetables and a small soup.This place cannot be recommended highly enough. It was divine. We’re already planning one last visit there to sample the bastila, the tanjiya, the kefta, the roasted chicken….How many weeks do we have left here again?!
Some of you may remember way back when we were fresh to Korea, we had a particuarly nasty run in with an Evil Soju Monster. Having been ejected from a taxi so Dan could spread kimchi flowers around the pavement, we founds ourselves in what we thought at the time (our brains weren’t 100% for obvious reasons) was the middle of nowhere. The only reference point we had was the gigantic Ulsan Musuem sign. Having subsequently been passed this point on EVERY bus we have ever taken into the city, we can confirm its actually not the middle of nowhere and its a very fine looking museum And therefore one which we’ve been ‘meaning to go to’ ever since that first encounter.
Alas, we’ve still never been. In our defence, we actually made an attempt to go this past weekend but it was closed. The building itself is really cool and its borders Ulsan Grand Park so we suspect a day could well be spent trolling through the museum and then picnicing in the park, thus its inclusion on the B-Sides. Let us know what its like if you make it!
So that about does it for the B Sides of Ulsan. Its been a blast digging through the somewhat gray and industrial nature of the city to find the gems that lurk not too far from the surface. Ulsan, it turns out, you’re really not that bad…