Thursday, May. 13, 2010

Bullish on Tradition

Best Bullfights
Cheongdo, South Korea

Bulls in South Korea don't fight matadors as they do in Spain, nor do they battle to the death. Instead, bull is pitted against bull in a national sport that stretches back hundreds of years. The behemoths charge and clash horns, and when one animal walks away out of exhaustion, the other is declared the victor. On the day of the fight, some bulls are fed soju, a strong grain alcohol, to give them extra aggression. But a thunderous melee isn't guaranteed; sometimes the bulls glance at each other, then simply walk away.

Every March, tens of thousands of visitors show up in southeastern Cheongdo County for the five-day Bullfighting Festival — the largest of 11 such annual meets in South Korea. Tickets sell for a meager $4.40, but if you were born during the Year of the Ox — according to the Chinese zodiac used in South Korea — then you qualify for free admission.

Bullfighting is one of the few sports you can legally wager on in the country, although gambling isn't the sole reason for the healthy attendance. Many South Koreans are also rediscovering the heritage value in what was once seen as an old and dying village sport. "We wanted to make the bullfights popular again," says Cheongdo festival manager Cheong In Hak. "It looks like the pride is back." Lately "a lot more foreigners have been coming to the festival," he adds. The feel-good aspect of these bullfights is surely part of the draw: a battle of brawn can be enjoyed without these wonderfully strong creatures needing to die.

KNOW BEST: Numbers of the Beast
Bulls score points for different moves, just as in martial arts.