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...


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