UAF has many traditions, I’m sure, but the one best-known by the bulk of the student body is Starvation Gulch. Starvation Gulch occurs on a Saturday at the end of September every year, and involves a great deal of fire.
Six bonfires are constructed to one side of the Taku parking lot by different teams. They have to be within certain dimensions, include no spray paint, and follow a few other rules which are in place for safety reasons. The fire fighters light them on fire over the course of about 15 minutes, starting at one end, and the team whose flame burns highest gets to take the trophy home and display it proudly until next year.
Clubs and departments are given the opportunity to sell things at booths set up in the middle of the parking lot by the bus station. I helped out with the Japan-Alaska Club’s booth this time, since I’m trying to be an active participant in their activities this year. We got together on Friday at the club president’s house to prepare the food. 440 gyoza made, three bags of chicken sliced into strips and boiled slightly for yakitori, and two batches of mochi made using the microwave. We had Dragonball Z on in the background while we worked; having a Japanese movie playing with no English subtitles proved too distracting, since the president and/or I had to explain what was going on to everyone else.
At the event last night, we warmed the finished gyoza over a grill as it was ordered. The chicken was cooked over the grill as well, having soaked up a home-made marinade all day. The mochi could be grilled if people wanted it. Everything was served on sticks. Business was steady the whole time. Even accounting for the fact that we always had a few people hovering while their food cooked, we had one of the busiest booths.
We stayed open after everyone else had gone. We were the only ones who stayed open long enough that the event staff could get something to eat. They ended up having to lift our canopy over our heads and move it so they could take it down. The event staff left and we elected to cook the rest of our supplies. We ate a few; some club members paid for some of the leftovers; and we gave quite a bit of food to the firefighters who were going to be there all night watching the smoldering flames. They were glad for that, since they hadn’t considered midnight hunger before their shift started. It turned out that one of the firefighters had grown up in Japan, so she was especially happy about the gyoza.
We had our fire a bit warm on the second grill, which was great for cooking times but less so for keeping the skewers intact, in spite of the fact we were keeping them submerged in salt water. Winston, one of the Japanese exchange students, was eating some of the night-end yakitori when his skewer broke off right above his hand and his delicious (if over-salted) chicken plunged into the dirt. “Shit!” he exclaimed (he’s great with slang), and we all turned to look. After a moment’s pause, we all cried, “NOOOOOOOO!” Our communal melodramatic lamentation lasted long enough to demolish the three-second rule, and Winston’s yakitori was laid to rest on the hot coals.
Winston is not his real name, of course. It’s a nickname he adopted for use here, and intends to keep using on his return to Japan. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He has a good sense of humor, and is great to talk to. He’ll be leaving before too much longer, but I intend to hang out with him some more before he returns to Japan.
All in all, this is the most fun I’ve had at Starvation Gulch. Much more fun that just showing up to stare at the bonfires. I didn’t get to see the fire jugglers, though I hear that one of them managed to catch her hair on fire this year. If I weren’t graduating in spring, I would totally help run the booth again.