Hyundai Shipyard Tour

The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them. – Amelia Barr

Last week, my three new gal-friends and I decided to sign up for a tour of the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) shipyard, located very close to the foreigner’s compound where we live. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, other than that we might catch a glimpse of some of the daily activities that go on with that heavy machinery we can all see out of our apartment windows.

After meeting at our apartment for some gingerbread waffles from a fantastic new recipe I’ve been using, we meandered down to the bus where we were chastised for being two minutes late, opposite of the usual Korean fashion of not even understanding the word appointment. Just as soon as they closed the bus door, practically on our heels, we were off to the shipyard, less than a five minute drive away.

The shipyard, as with the oil and gas fabrication yard, is relatively secure – you can’t just drive or walk in on a whim. Since we were there with a pre-arranged guided tour, we were herded around as a group the whole time. Our first activity was watching the movie below to get a background on HHI and what the company involved in around the world.

Next we walked around the Asan Memorial, which is a museum area devoted to the founder and original head of Hyundai Heavy Industries, Chung Ju-yung. He led a rocky early life trying to escape his village, now technically in North Korea. After four escape attempts, he eventually landed a job selling rice, which slowly led to business success and becoming one of the most influential people in South Korean history. Aside from business, one of his most notable achievements was securing the 1988 Olympic bid for Seoul.

HHI has grown so large it now nears $50 billion per year in revenue. It is one of the few, if only, companies that can do large scale engineering fabrication, which is why Ulsan draws so many expats, particularly in shipping and oil/gas. It was very interesting learning about Chung’s life and the progression of HHI, and at the end we were even able to see a model of one of the offshore oil platform projects J’s company completed in the last decade.


After the museum walk-through, we were herded back to the bus to drive around the yard. Even though we’ve heard our spouses talk on end about their projects and the monstrosity of these fab yards, actually seeing the shipyard in all its true glory was honestly fascinating. It’s like an uber-sized Lego world, with machinery and equipment abuzz with the energetic life of creation – creation of humongous ships. We saw welders and painters, forklift operators and mechanics. It is amazing to see what these engineers can accomplish and I don’t think I could have really fathomed how massive these projects are without seeing them. The photo below can’t begin to really depict it – it was taken through a bus window.


The shipyard employees were quite strict about not taking photos, but ironically didn’t tell us these rules until we had already had our iPhones clicking away. In Korea, there is a law that if your cell phone has a camera on it, there must be a shutter sound every time a picture is taken, regardless of if the phone is on silent or vibrate mode. I got up on my soapbox a bit, as the leaders of the tour kept taking group photos throughout our journey, which I didn’t really care to join since I didn’t know what sort of publication they would end up in. So, on our last group photo in the yard the girls and I decided to do a silly pose in protest, and it turned out quite funny. Prom pose for the win! (Sorry it’s so blurry!)

Our next destination on the tour was to see where the purchasers of these large ships, or CEOs of companies commissioning these ships, are accommodated on their visits to the yard. The outside of the hanok house was very traditional, with courtyard space and an almost maze-like arrangement. The inside, however, was very modern, with a contemporary-styled kitchen, rainfall shower heads, a room with a dedicated foot spa, and even a sauna! The girls and I were almost open-mouthed, saying “where did they FIND these fixtures in Korea?!”


HHI, which owns the compound and organizes events like this for foreigners, was kind enough to treat us to a free lunch following our tour, at a Korean barbeque place near Ilsan beach. It was a pretty yummy meal, with the standard flavored pork served with assorted side dishes including rice.


With our meal finished, we headed back home to tell the guys about our experience. I think they were all pretty impressed that we were interested in the yard and now we might pay a bit more attention when we hear about the module fabrication. Hopefully I’ll get J over here soon to write a post about what he’s been up to, so you can get an even better idea of what brings us to Ulsan!

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