Yes it’s riveting, you’ll be bolted to your spot, infused with the excitement. It’s the WWC (World Welding Championships™, as if you didn’t already know that).
Well that’s what the poster said, in reality it’s a load of fat, bearded, hunting-obsessed, lower-class rednecks sweating over bits of metal, or so says the National Times Clarion. So who is telling the truth? We decided to investigate and take a trip to Ulsan shipyards, South Korea home to Hyunpy heavy Industries.
South Korea is a great country. Since it split from North Vietnam in the Second World War over rights of laborers building bridges for the Japanese, the country has thrived.
South Korea has become one of the most prolific producers of goods not made in China or Taiwan. It’s perhaps most famous for car manufacturers, bridge and ship building.
When Kim Il-sung and his best friend Chun Doo-hwan decided to wager who could apply the most rivets in 30 minutes they had no idea they would be the founders of the WWC attracting welders from all over the world.
Today, the competitors are split by lottery into different groups and then an algorithm decides which of the winners competes against whom until there are three left for the final showdown.
Visitors to the WWC are also treated to the shipyard tour and have free entrance to the International Welding Museum™. This museum treats its visitors to a history of welding and welding techniques. Somebody has accurately scribbled next to an exhibit 빌어 먹을 지루한, which roughly translates as, well, just go Google Translate it yourself.
We suggest skipping the museum but the shipyard is good fun. There’s an interesting memorial to tourists who lost their lives at the shipyards, not looking where they were going, not understanding warning signs (all in Korean) or just deciding they know better.
Caution is advised when visiting these yards and remember there are no health and safety precautions at Hyunpy.
We were finally led to a large arena with the flags of the 127 nations taking part in the competition. There are only 127 recognized industrial nations on the globe: those who have abandoned wood and flint tools for metal. Also these countries have running water and have signed the Global Sanitary Agreement.
Round One of the competition begins. The atmosphere is hot, sweaty and smells of coolant. The initial task is applying as many rivets to a metal sheet in 30 minutes. The world record is 427. The Latvian riveter Aina Muceniece came close this year with 399 and won her group. The next competition is the decathlon which includes all the different welding disciplines. The winner is checked for neatness and keeping the work within the lines.
Finally, after nine hours and excruciating boredom and noise, we reached the final. There were 250 people left in the 60,000 seater stadium.
The finalists were the Latvian Aina Muceniece, the Ghanaian Abena and the Lebanese contestant Haifa Wehbe.
They migrated to the center of the arena for the final challenge, welding watertight a container 100-feet wide. The winner is the first to successfully complete the task. Another mind-numbing four hours passed until finally the power house Latvian welder Aina Muceniece was crowned WWC champion.
So don’t believe the WWC rhetoric but also ignore the media that misrepresents these highly-skilled artisans.
Looking for welding, you can find it in between ‘wedding’ and ‘went’ in the dictionary. Oh and apparently South Koreans don’t think it’s very funny to scribble the letter R wherever you see their capital city written and your travel insurance will not cover provoked violent attacks due to immaturity or general stupidity.