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Surviving Christmas in Ulsan

Christmas can be a hard time for us all. Whether this is your first Christmas away from home or your 15th, it can have it’s ups and downs. Recently, Ulsan and surrounding areas have been getting more and more into the Christmas spirit. This makes it a lot easier to get into the spirit of the holidays here. That being said, Christmas (and much of life here in Ulsan) is what you make it. The ingredients are all here from the light festivals to the copious amounts of hot “choco” from Costco. You just just have to dig a little deeper here.

If you are struggling, here are a few tips to help your through the holiday season:

Spend it with friends

Christmas can be lonely and not a lot of workplaces in Korea will let you jump on a plane and celebrate Christmas with family. More often than not, you will have to wait until the Lunar New Year holiday to see any kind of vacation. However, with the time that we do get off, you don’t have to spend it alone in your one-room apartment eating stale butter cookies. There are many places around the city that are putting on Christmas (and New Year’s) celebrations. JJ’s Bar is one that is putting together something special this year!

If bars are not your thing, then plan a Christmas party of your own. In years gone by, that was exactly what many of us did. We found someone with an oven that could cook a turkey, pooled our money to afford one from costco, did a secret santa, and made the best out of our Christmas away from home. Another fun idea would be doing a “white elephant” type gift exchanges. There are tons of places to get weird and wonderful gifts.

Also if you are religious, try heading out to one of the local churches. Many of the churches these days will have English services and this is a great places to meet new people in a safe environment. Simin English Church will have a Christmas play, ‘Moments of Christmas’ on Sunday the 23rd at noon, followed by lunch.

Ulsan Light Festival 2018

Ulsan also has a ton of places to admire Christmas lights which can make a great night out with friends and family. Ulsan Grand Park will be having a Light festival in the rose garden from now until January. Seongnamdong is decorated with lights and a huge Christmas tree along the road up from the Shigyetap intersection. Also Samsandong is decorated and has a festive celebration on at 11 am on Christmas.

If you venture out to places like Busan or Seoul, many of the expat clubs will be having a christmas dinner or luncheon too. They are not cheap, but many have the traditional meals and whatnot that you maybe missing. It is also a great way to expand your network and fill your belly at the same time. The Busan Seaman’s Club has an annual dinner every year.

Old Downtown decorated for Christmas

The bottomline here is that you have to make the effort at times to bring yourself some cheer. Sitting at home and waiting for Santa to come might not give you the same joy it did when you were 6.

Cook Away

This is another area that has greatly improved over the years. Most supermarkets carry a wide range of spices and what you can’t in town, places like iHerb will most likely have it. So if you are missing some flavours of home, try your hand at making them. For example, I love eggnog but it simple does not exist here. However, searching around youtube I found a number of great recipes that I could make at home. Surprisingly enough, Home Plus has cloves and the spices that I needed as well. If you are looking for a dairy free version, click here.

For other baking items, the bakery supply store near the Jung-gu District Office (pinned on the map) has many of the things that you need. Also Moreigner Mart in Samsandong (also pinned on the map) has a great many items for all of your baking needs. Not to mention, iHerb also has a lot of hard to find spices and items.

The reality is that this is a different country and just because we now have a Cinnabon and 500 Starbucks, this does not mean they will have eggnog or your Grandma’s famous fruitcake. Thus, you have to step up and make it yourself. I find that the fun is in the quest and when you do finally get everything together, it will be so much easier next year.

Spread/Share the Cheer

The holidays in Korea are a great way to get together with people that may not celebrate in the same way that you do.  Christmas for Koreans is mainly a date night and much of the traditional food they have only seen in movies. Christmas in England may be celebrated differently than in South Africa. This is a great time to exchange traditions as well as gifts. I am not much of a chef but I whipped up a batch of eggnog one year for a class that was generally perplexed as to what “nog” was and this little exchange really helped bring out a little more Christmas spirit in me and introduce my students to something new.

Let’s face it, hearing Mariah Carey’s “all I want for christmas” everyday until Christmas is over is enough to put anyone in a grinch-like mood. Finding different ways to share how you celebrate Christmas is not only rewarding for you, but also rewarding for your students and friends that might not understand Christmas the way you do.

The best thing is that many people are not expecting elaborate gifts this time of year. Places like Artbox, Daiso and Guam have a decent selection of Christmas cards and gifts that will bring a smile to anyone’s face. Also the cards in some ways are uniquely Korean and are perfect for send back home.

So spreading a little Christmas joy around your school or workplace might just brighten the mood a little. Not to mention, it is a great way share a little bit of culture and education along the way.

Deck the One-Room

This is another one that has gotten a whole lot easier over the years. Decorating your apartment is another way to make your space your own. Christmas trees can be found in pretty much every store and for a reasonable price too. Daiso has a wide selection of unique Christmas decorations that can brighten up any home and make it feel like you’ve stepped into your own winter wonderland.

The thing here is that instead of saying “bah-humbug” because you are not back home, step up and do something. You don’t have to break the bank but simply make your own space while you are here. Then when you leave you can sell the stuff to the next expat having a “Blue Christmas” on Ulsan Used Goods. If you work at a school, you can do the same in your classroom.

Merry Movies

Since Korea picked up Netflix, watching your favourite Christmas movie has gotten a whole lot easier. While they might not have every single movie you love, it is certainly better than watching the Home Alone Marathon that OCN typically plays every year. If you poke around the Ulsan Online Facebook Group you may even find where to stream movies from other sites. You may need a VPN and a strong pop-up blocker for some sites.

If you don’t have a “smart tv” you may want to look at getting a chromecast from Hi-Mart. These are not that expensive but will allow you to cast your computer or your device onto your TV. Alternatively, if you have your  cable with places like KT, you may have youtube or even a web browser already on your TV, just look in the TV Apps section in your menu settings.

Help Others

Another way to light that Christmas spark inside of you is to take some time to help others. Every year We-HOPE puts on a special Christmas event for the Ulsan Orphanage. This special day always needs a lot of volunteers. It is a wonderful event and something that is good for the soul as well. Here is some information on how you can help. 

Get Away

Finally, if Christmas is really not your thing now is probably a good time to book a flight Somewhere warm. Air Busan and other discount carriers have amazing deals year round. Seriously though, if you are wanting to take a trip up to Seoul or Busan, there are many more options there. Seoul has an amazing skating rink that is usually put up in front of city hall. Busan has the Christmas Tree Festival in Nampodong as well.

 


The main takeaway here is that like most places outside your hometown, nothing is going to be the same. Nothing is going to be laid out for you on Christmas day unless you get up and do it yourself. So if you are looking to make a special day this year, then get out there and spread some cheer!

Ulsan Light Festival Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree at the Ulsan Light Festival

 

Jason Teale is a freelance photographer and writer based in South Korea specializing in travel, Cinemagraphs, food, and documentary photography. Available for assignments in Ulsan, Busan, Seoul, and nationwide.

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