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Seogwipo becomes Jeju Island’s festival central: Whether for welcoming the new year or drinking beer, celebrations are abound

Dec 21,2018
Participants of the last year’s Seogwipo International Winter Sea Penguin Swimming Festival swim in the icy Jungmun Saekdal Beach on Jan. 1 to celebrate the New Year. The 21st edition of the event will also be held on New Year’s Day. [SEOGWIPO CITY TOURISM ASSOCIATION]
The first sunrise of the new year can be seen atop the Seongsan Ilchulbong, the volcanic cone in Seogwipo. The city organizes the Jeju Seongsan Sunrise Festival each year from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1. [YONHAP, PLAYCE CAMP JEJU]
Top: The Canola Flower International Walking Festival will be held for two days beginning March 23 at Jeju World Cup Stadium.
Playce Camp Jeju’s popular “Jjan” beer festival will also be held for three days beginning on July 26. [YONHAP, PLAYCE CAMP JEJU]
Some say that Seogwipo, located at the southernmost point of Jeju Island, is the warmest region in the country during the winter. Indeed, the temperature hardly goes down below zero, but you still need a lot of guts to take off your clothes and jump into the winter sea.

Nevertheless, every year, dozens of courageous people gather at the island’s Jungmun Saekdal Beach for the annual Seogwipo International Winter Sea Penguin Swimming Festival to take an icy dip. And since last year, the Seogwipo City Tourism Association, who organizes of the festival, holds the festival on New Year’s Day so that participants can make the event an annual tradition.

“We hope people can let go of last year’s troubles and anxieties by dipping in the cold water and ring in the New Year all fit and sound,” said Yang Kwang-sun, chairman of the association. “Since many locals and foreigners participate in this festival, we hope everyone, regardless of where they come from, wishes each other a very happy and healthy new year.”

According to the association, about 3,000 people participate in this annual festival each year. Not everyone who attends jumps into the water though, because swimming is only a part of an array of programs at the festival.

This year, the festival starts at 10 a.m. The day’s program begins with an instant dance competition where participants, without any order or formalities, can freely participate in the competition on the spot to win some prizes. Next up is a racing tournament followed by a wrestling competition. Each competition is open to everyone, whenever they like. Children will have more fun participating in the 10-minute treasure hunt program that starts at 11:10 a.m.

The highlight of the festival starts at around 11:50 a.m., when participants will be encouraged to warm up to prevent any accidents before they take a dip in the cold ocean. Then at noon, a whistle will blow to signal participants to run into the sea, swim out and back within 30 minutes.

“I remember participating in the festival last year,” said Mark Wilson, an Australian who was visiting Seogwipo over the Christmas holidays. “It was such a refreshing experience I still talk about it to my friends. I made a lot of friends at the event that I still keep in touch with because about one-third of the participants were from other countries like myself.”

Those who wish to participate in the event can apply by downloading an application form at cafe.daum.net/winter-sea-swim and sending it via email to sta4201@daum.net or faxing to (064) 739-9201. For more information about the festival, call the association at (064) 739-7201.

If jumping in ice cold water is not how you want to spend the first day of 2019, there’s also the Jeju Seongsan Sunrise Festival, where you can watch the sunrise atop the famous volcanic tuff cone.

The festival lasts for three days starting Dec. 30. Starting at 10 a.m. on the first day of the festival, participants can wrap up the year by trekking around the neighborhood near the Seongsan Ilchulbong volcanic cone. On New Year’s Eve, the main program starts at 8 p.m. with concerts from choirs and singers followed by a countdown event. At the strike of midnight, there will be fireworks and a performance of ganggangsullae, or a maiden’s circle dance. At around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of New Year’s Day, participants will gather together at the entrance of the Seongsan Ilchulbong to climb up the cone and watch the sunrise together. For more information, call (064) 760-4282.

Since an increasing number of people are visiting Seogwipo, many festivals organized throughout the year are geared towards both local and foreign visitors. According to the Jeju provincial government, more foreigners are currently living in Jeju City than in Seogwipo, but the rate of increase is much higher in Seogwipo City (558.3 percent) than in Jeju City (372.2 percent).

After the International Winter Sea Penguin Swimming Festival, Seogwipo’s next major event is the Canola Flower International Walking Festival, which will be held for two days starting on March 23 at the Jeju World Cup Stadium. Walking is, in fact, a very popular activity in Jeju as it is home to 21 walking trails known collectively as the Jeju Olle Trail. Since March is when bright yellow and golden canola flowers are in full bloom, organizers insist that the event is the best way to “enjoy the scenery and stay fit.”

The event starts at 9 a.m., and there are three courses available for attendees on both days: a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) course, and 10-kilometer course and a 5-kilometer course. At the festival’s kickoff event, visitors will be able to get a taste of bread made using canola flowers.

Participation costs 10,000 won ($8.90). For registration, call (064) 760-3320 or (02) 2272-2077 between Jan. 7 and March 15.

Those who love to party should mark their calendars for the city’s next two festivals, which are scheduled to be held at Seogwipo’s Playce Camp in Seongsan County. This new resort claims to be a “multicultural complex” that provides something more than just accommodation and is organizing festivals in the hopes of attracting more young people.

On May 17 and 18, Playce Camp will play host to the annual electronic music festival “Island Fest Bomb,” turning the whole resort into a club. Popular DJs will be behind the turntables one after another throughout the night for 36 hours straight, according to event organizers. This year’s special programs and lineup of DJs are yet to be disclosed, but based on last year’s lineup of DJs like Aster, Sura, Toyo, Paralyze Idea, Advanced and many others, electronic music fans are also anticipating this year’s event.

Playce Camp Jeju’s most popular festival, however, is the “Jjan” beer festival, which is scheduled to take place from July 26 to 28. “Jjan” is the sound Koreans make when they clink alcoholic beverages. This year, some 5,000 people participated in the festival, having a go at drinking at least 50 different kinds of beer from around the world.

According to the Playce Camp, last year’s visitors called the event the “Korean version of Oktoberfest.” Similar to this year, various competitions and events will be organized for beer drinking to make the most out of the unique festival.

Live music will also be organized outdoors for visitors to enjoy the summer breeze and a beer or two. Festivities begin at 5 p.m. every night during the festival, and the event wraps up at midnight each night.

Bookings for the festivals at the Playce Camp Jeju can be made early next year via its website www.playcegroup.com or by calling (02) 516-0880.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]