“Sorry I don't mean to be rude, I'll meet them next time. The ride back just takes so long.”
Kari was pissed at the dinner we just had at Paris Baguette- For her, A square of dying pizza bread sauced inexplicably with mustard, one stale bagel to go, and a big stupid dildo full of expensive water. Eau.
Mondays and Thursdays we go to Pusan National University to take Korean lessons. It's three transfers away from me, but worth it because I get to see my Korean friends. I've spoken about Joe and Jeon, and now I've added Oliver and Yong to my roster. They are both characters which I will have to talk about some other time.
Joe was supposed to pick me up from the building I take Korean lessons in, but we didn't hear from him until we were done eating. Ten minutes after Kari left, I see Joe running towards me from my left, red in the face. He entangles his arm with mine.
“I'm sorry I am late! But you know we had a festival today. It was for our major and another major.”
“Oh yeah I saw! Right by my building there was a big crowd. And on stage there were a bunch of men dressed as women. We thought they were having a party with all the lights and music.”
“Ah actually that wasn't us. Yeah there are at least 100 people in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. And actually at the festival there was a fight so, that's why I am late.”
Before I can respond, I seen Yong running toward us across the street. His face is scuffed up above the eyes, and there's a helix of bright, young bruises along his collar bone. They decide, both holding me by my elbows affectionately, to take me to a drinking party for everyone in their major.
I get the story in bits and pieces along the way, but even with Joe's fluency, some of it isn't making sense to me.
“This year, the fight was too much. It's a very old festival that has been going on for a long time. I can't really explain it but there is a fight over a pig's head between our major and civil engineers to see who is better.”
“How many people fought?"
“Everyone, like maybe 100 people from our major.”
“Holy shit, and the cops don't get involved?”
“The police can not enter into the University. This law was from some political trouble in the past. It was made to protect universities.”
“So I could kill someone and then hide on PNU campus and the cops can't touch me?”
“Yes, that's right. But the headmaster can give them permission if he wants to.”
When we get to the restaurant, and it's a very traditional Korean restaurant that specializes in Gamja Tang, pork spine soup. There are at least 60 people eating and drinking the same thing. Every table and room on the floor was filled with Naval Architecture majors. People walked around with their hands swollen twice their size, laughing and shooting the shit. I felt like I had walked into a scene from Goodfellas.
I glanced over at two juniors shouting answers at their senior like boot camp trainees to their drill instructor. One of the oldest seniors started talking to me.
“Our major is one of the strictest, most traditional in Korean university. I think it is important.”
I didn't argue. But I did ask him many things about the pig's head.
“Everybody here fought. The girls just cheer on the sidelines, but if they want to fight they can use sticks and you can't hit them back. There were 100 people on our side, and only two were beaten.”
“What do you mean, beaten?”
“We had to take them to the hospital.”
“That's pretty good, only two. So you beat them?"
“Yes, but they took the pig's head from us at the end. They were very dirty. This year the fight was too violent, much worse than the last five years.”
“Did you get hurt at all?”
“No, I am a senior so I just hid behind the other people, hahaha.”
Joe made me get up to go talk to the girls in his major. I wasn't really excited about it, since they told me at PNU, the hottest girls are all in econ. So I talked to a Chinese guy who'd been studying here for 5 years. He didn't have strong opinions on anything, but he did think that the Chinese would've been friendlier towards a visiting Korean than the Koreans were with him.
“So they told me about the fight tonight. Did you fight?”
“Yeah I fought. But yeah, basically they all fight over a pig's head. And then afterwords they eat pig soup.”
“Why do they do it?”
“I have no fucking idea.”
The general consensus about the annual tradition was that nobody liked fighting, which is why they drink beforehand, to calm their nerves. The seniors felt that the tradition would end within the next few years, but until it does, they do it for bragging rights, to be able to say, “I fought for the pride of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. I was a hero for our major!” The older guys have never recalled a time where someone brought weapons or received permanent damage like losing an eye, though there's always a few that have to go to the hospital. The feud exists only in Busan, largely at Pusan National University. It started decades, if not centuries ago when Civil Engineering and Naval architecture / Ocean Engineering split into separate programs. The rest I'm not clear on.
Oh yeah, the soup. It was delicious, but you really had to work for the meat. The red hot peppers made the veggies so aromatic and flavorful. And kim-chi as a side dish just goes so well with anything.
The following Monday I had dinner with Jeon, whose face was still bruised up from Thursday. This was what he had to say about the fight-
There was not supposed to be a fight this year. The leader of our major (a sophomore) called the Civil Engineering major and said that we should just meet in the stadium and make peace. So we met at the stadium and decided to just put on a performance, you know like to show 'Hey I'm not afraid of you!'. We showed that we brought two pig's heads and were not wanting to fight. But every student in the school of Engineering was there watching, booing and yelling for us to fight. There were at least a thousand people watching. Things got out of control and we just started fighting. If you look at the videos, we didn't stand a chance. They gathered many civil engineers from other bad schools, and the students who don't study are very big and tough. We stuck together and let them come to us, but in the end there was still too many of them. Now many people are in trouble, because this year so many people posted videos on the internet. 3-4 years ago people took videos but nobody was interested to put it on the internet.
I think this will be the last year for this tradition. It started a very long time ago, when my major was the lowest of the low. Only the bad students joined my major, so they were of course very big and tough because they never studied and only fought.
“I heard from Joe that the police have no jurisdiction in Universities. Could you just go around killing people and then hide on campus?”
“...Please don't do that in my country. Actually I didn't know this before but even ambulances aren't allowed. And in the class room, during class time, the professor is the king of the class room. It is illegal to disrupt his class or disobey him.”
“I need to write about this, I've never heard of anything like this, on this scale.”
“Hey man, do you want me to never join a company? Please, don't write about it. This tradition is really old and we don't want to fight anymore. We are kind of ashamed of it, but you know it's such an old tradition.”
The whole system of majors here is a lot more formal than in the US. Particularly for the more traditional majors like engineering and the sciences, the formality and tradition that comes with being of a certain major is more like the Greek system in the US. I think it was similar in Japan, but my experience there was mainly in the boxing club, where it was definitely like being in a fraternity.
This article can explain the tight-bonded group mentality of Koreans better than I can. I just wanted to tell a story that few foreigners know about. It's so peculiar that only these two specific majors have a feud, and such a violent, long-standing one at that.