21 August 2005

departure from pohang harbor

above, seung-hee and penny steel themselves for the trip on the boat below

the sunflower 2, our boat to the island

the title of this spiel, "haunting ulleung island", is not to describe the island itself, but is to describe what we did to the island, as you will soon see...

the trip began with a three-hour ride from pohang to the island aboard an enclosed ferry. now, i've been on my fair share of ferries--big and small boats; in cold, rainy, calm, stormy, hot, and indifferent weather; on three different continents; and in the company of various types of people--but the ferries in korea are in a completely different class, though that's not delivering a compliment. it seems that korea is the one of those countries that doesn't place an inordinate amount of faith in the intelligence of its citizens. to wit, until this ferry ride, i'd never been on a boat where i couldn't go outside and enjoy the fresh ocean air, feel the spray of foamy roughness, watch with mirth the folly of the leaping waves and frolicking fish. i'd never imagined that in a country as up and coming as korea likes to think it is, in a country that looks contemptuously down its surgically-altered western-style nose at third-world asian nations i'd find such anachronistic attitudes toward boat safety and boat passenger culture. one could be mistaken for thinking one had stumbled upon a bangladeshi ferry, which are notorious for their once(at least)-yearly disastrous sinkings because of treacherous typhoons and mind-bogglingly high number of drownings in said calamities because passengers get trapped inside boats to which no one has access to outside.

nonetheless, korea has such ferries and they are as fun as being shot in the head with a laser enema with a bad sense of direction. it's not the seasickness, as i've yet in my longer-than-it-has-seemed life to get seasick, but it's more the stench of barfing from the landlubbers who, while the boat was still moored in the harbour before departure, were enjoying such wholesome seafaring meals as banana muffins, carbonated sodas, chips and snacks of all colours and persuasions, ice cream, cupcakes, and burnt butterfly chrysalises. and if the stench doesn't get you (remember, there is no fresh air solution as to be found on, say, finnish ferries where, in the dead of night in the dead of winter and it's -30* C outside, one can still wander out on the deck and try to reach and grab wayward icebergs should one want to), it's certainly the sound of the little kid across the aisle regurgitating his coke and chocolate cream pie breakfast or the ancient old woman just behind the kid entertaining me with her three-hour version of muffin-and-coffee vomit dance. it's as much fun to be stashed in an enclosed chamber with such geniuses of high seafaring IQs as it is to be eaten alive by a shark with hydrochloric acid for saliva.

of course, what could i have expected from a culture where 97.6% of the population can't swim (oh, and has anyone ever noticed that korea is a PENINSULA)?

winning trip, to say the least. couldn't even enjoy the sights of the sea or the approach to the isolated volcanic island that was our destination because the dirty and gunk-encrusted windows were as effective for peering through as is an iron curtain in a decompression chamber.

fortunately, the island was worth the trip...

day 1--the cable car and view from above the harbor

do-dong harbor, a visitor's first steps on the island

ryan explaining the finer points of knitting, island culture, and his runaway goatee

we'll go to any lengths to drink beer in picturesque locales

not exactly the amazon, but arresting, nonetheless

angry clouds descend upon the island

meeting the other cable car

the first day witnessed our arrival just after 1pm, haggling about room prices at our pension, going on the cable car to the top of a small mountain situated nearly directly above the harbor, watching the fog and dark clouds roll in with alarming alacrity, and general acclimatization to being on the island.

night 1--lost in paradise

ryan in better times early in the evening

surprise, surprise: wouldn't you know it would be these two culprits responsible for our losing paradise on the first night?

warning: don't be deceived by the name of the soju on the right--'charm', it isn't. if i didn't know better, i'd think it would be an acronym meaning, roughly, "CHew-your ARM-off delicious". even i had to acknowledge that it was nearly undrinkable, although if i found myself living on the island for, say, a year, i'd probably end up drinking endless quantities of it because that's what the locals drink.

seung-hee looks sceptical at the bold assertion made by one of our party that the night's ending would be innocuous...

cheers to her for knowing us better than she would care to...

all that will be said about this first night is that we had delicious raw fish, fine drink (okay, it was fine once we switched soju brands), and met a good bloke via a friend back in gangneung. his photo for this night is unavailable, but he will show up in all-too-recognizable detail soon enough. his name is chris, he hails from cambridge, england (not massachusetts), supports nottingham forest, and is a closet toon army fan--though it, like most homophilia is disguised as homophobia, was disguised by overboard attempts at proving how much a toonaphone he was.

there will be no mention of anyone's getting lost while walking home at 0300 hours, collapsing like the spanish national team at every football world cup in front of some local's house and thereby alarming the elderly woman there by herself because her husband was taking care of the tenants at their nearby pension. there will be no stories of this person's not responding to continued attempts to rouse him or her nor will there be a tale of how this kind couple--in spite of their outright fear of the mass of intoxication decorating their porch and throwing empty cans of peanuts at them for disturbing his or her sleep when they finally did rouse him or her--bringing out a blanket and pillow so he or she would neither be uncomfortable or chilled by the night island air.

nope, there'll be no stories, no names shared, no secrets unsealed, no gender revelations, even, because, as the squid and locals there have been saying for millennia,

"what happens on ulleung island gets filleted on ulleung island."

day 2--filleting squid and enjoying natural A/C

jeo-dong harbour: far bigger and perhaps more arresting than do-dong harbour.

the next day began with a search-and-rescue operation, which was eventually successful. no more need be said about that.

thus, with one successful venture completed, we (penny, seung-hee, chris, and i) headed a 7-minute cab ride northward to the other of ulleung island's two harbours, jeo-dong. as the photo above might detail against the memory of the do-dong harbour, this harbour is much larger (at least ten times as wide) and much more beautiful, in my opinion, because of the attractiveness of the hills and green slopes directly behind the village. do-dong is much narrower and immediately steeper in its rise from the harbour waters--and more commercialized since it's the first place a tourist sees when he or she disembarks from the ferry.

jeo-dong is much more pleasant because it has a more genuine feel of being a step back in time to what a korean island harbour would always have been like. the smell of the sea, the incredible beauty both from the land out into the surrounding sea and from the harbourwalk back to the rising land, the sight of countless squid boats, small restaurants serving quaint and damned delicious meals the way they ought to be (that is, not bastardized to accommodate the disingenuous and oft-times unadventurous tourist palate), small shops selling korean artifacts (not imports disguised as local products), and the ubiquitous rooms in which to drink but without their having been westernized in order to impress people. just simple and korean, just how it should be.

a distant islet in the ascendant morning mist

seung-hee and i engaged in the squid-filleting competition.

one of the main reasons for heading to jeo-dong was to witness--and perhaps take part in--some of the festivities surrounding the "2005 Ulleung Island Squid Festival". as luck would have it, we stumbled upon ulleung island during an annual celebration of the marine animal so ubiquitary--and thus so important--to ulleung's culture and livelihood.

on this particular morning, there was the squid-filleting competition, into which the missus and i entered. we couldn't get chris or penny to engage in what turned out for us novices to be an exercise in mutilating the poor mollusks, but they were there to spread the word with cameras. the auspices of the competition were these: fillet as quickly as you could 20 unsuspecting squid. sounds simple, doesn't it? well, even after a dozen examples of how to do it, as demonstrated by amused locals, it still wasn't clear to me how to endeavour how cleanly to do it without severing the squid's eyes, any of its dangling legs, or one of my vestigial appendages. as i told chris, "as long as i don't finish last or cut any of my fingers, i'll consider this a success."

well, i managed not to be last nor to walk away without all ten of my fingers, but i can't say that there aren't people somewhere in korea who aren't today munching on dried squid wondering why it might only have one--or perhaps even no--eye staring up at them from their plate. my wife didn't start off well, though i did, but she was getting coaching from no fewer than three pros while i was left languishing in front of countless cameras and video cameras aiming at the foreigner in astonishment at even his mere attempt at doing this.

when my wife had finished her 20 (unfortunately, she didn't win, show,) or place i'd only managed to have mangled 15, so a couple of old crusty pros helped me out with the remaining five (in the time it took me to do my one, they each had done their two, smoked a pack of cigarettes each, gone for lunch, had a quick nap, gone for a relaxing swim, phoned their children, and had got in a quickie with two of the local call girls at a nearby 'room salon'). however, i was not last, as at least two other people (out of, say, 20) needed help with their more-than-five remaining squid.

the squid in better times before being split open and rendered flat

alluring wife amidst arresting scenery

the omnipresent squid boats

ahh, chris enjoying the virtues of the "cave of the wind"

day 3--the pull of the island beckons

the famous candlestick rock at jeodong harbour (and, at lower left, the slightly less-famous rowstron outcropping)

one of the myriad of squid boats ready for the upcoming night out on the seas...

there is no explanation for this

just another part of the gorgeous ulleung coast

na-ri valley, the only relatively flat plot of land on the island...

na-ri next to the sign signalling entrance into her village, na-ri village...

all signs point to naesujeon beach

the ever-present "still life with beer" concept photo

na-ri and penny, seung-hee and i all engaged in the taffy-pulling contest

night 3

chris in a happier frame of mind

the sunflower II docking at night

sunflower II: this time, without flash

the centre of ulleung's economy--squid reposing in their resplendent grace