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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Full of Bull

"How about a bullfight?" my Korean teacher asked me one recent afternoon. "A bullfight? In Korea?" Once I got past the total incongruity of that image, I pushed back. "No way," I said. "I once saw a bullfight in Barcelona, Spain. The blood, the torture, the sheer brutality. I walked right out of the arena in total disgust." "Ah," Ms. Kwak responded. "Obviously you don't know about Korean bullfighting."

Scratch the matador, the sword, the gore. It's all bull in Cheongdo, South Korea. Bullfighting has been a tradition here for over 1,000 years. Korean Hanwoo bulls weighing between 1,322 and 1,764 lbs. clash like huge brown titans. Happily these bulls live to fight another day. "Spain's bullfight is between man and bull and assumes that men will defeat bulls," said Lee Joong Geun, county executive of Cheongdo. "But Cheongdo's bullfighting is an energetic fight between two bulls." In fact, owners have deep affection for their animals. Some even sleep with their bulls.
Korean bulls: clashing of heads and horns; but no matador, no gore

The annual Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival is held each March. Nearly 100 bulls compete for the title of "strongest bull." Foreign guests are invariably pleasantly surprised by their Korean bullfighting experience. It's curiously entertaining and fun. Two bulls fight head-on until one just backs off, either from exhaustion or intimidation. Sand is certainly kicked up, but unlike their Spanish and Mexican counterparts, there are no casualties other than perhaps loss of pride. 
Packed arena during the March Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival

In fact, I left the arena will a wide smile on my face. I had bet Ms. Kwak that the bull with the blue marking would win. She had taken the bull painted with the red circle. Mine won. Lunch was on Ms. Kwak.

Getting to Cheongdo: From downtown Daegu it is about 35 kilometers to Cheongdo. It can be reached by bus, train or rental car from Daegu.

Statue at the Bullfighting Museum in Cheongdo

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