Jeju – Life-threatening jobs on the vacation paradise

Three days in the vacation paradise of South Korea, the island of the little grandfathers, the hallabong fruit and Haenyo – the free diving women of Jeju-do.

cliff and sea on Jeju-do
cliff and sea on Jeju-do

💡 Facts about Jeju
Jeju (제주, or actually Jeju-do, because the abbreviation “do” stands for the province) is an island and the southernmost place of South Korea. Furthermore, it is one of the nine provinces of the country. The capital of the island has actually the same name, it is Jeju-si (“si” stands for the city) or simple Jeju City. The island is built up of volcano rocks from the mountain Hallasan, which is 1,950 m also the highest mountain in South Korea. The mountain is a dead volcano with a crater lake and located in the centre of the island. Nowadays the mountain and its environment is a national park. The island has a subtropical climate and is a really famous vacation destination for Koreans. A few years ago, it was also the most popular place for honeymoon travels. Nowadays Europe is also a favoured aim for newly-married couples.
From little grandfathers and new fruits
Grandfather souvenirs
Granfather souvenirs

Dol hareubang  (돌 하르방) is the Korean name of the stone figures which are everywhere in Jeju. Rather the word “dol” (돌) stands for stone and “hareubang” (하르방) for grandfather, so they are the (little) grandfather stones. And of course, they sell these little sculptures also in any variations of souvenirs. Those versions remember me actually a bit to the little trolls from the Disney movie Frozen. However, originally the figures are considered to be gods and should bring protection and fertility.

Hallabong fruit

I think hallabongs and tangerines are the most sold fruits on Jeju. Hallabong is a variety of mandarin and orange. The more widespread name of the fruit is “dekopon” and it is a hybrid fruit. But in South Korea, the fruit is named after the mountain Hallansan in the centre of the island, where it is primarily grown. Besides the fruits, the markets also offer freshly squeezed juice, chocolate and pastries made out of hallabongs and tangerines. Also, popular fillings for chocolate are blueberries, green tea and cactus fruit.

Dol hareubang

Haenyeo – a dangerous occupation in the seas of Korea
Haenyeo statue

Haenyeo (해녀) means literally translated “sea women”. This old traditional occupation is just running by women who are free divers to reap seafood from the ground of the sea. They dive just with a wetsuit and flippers – up to 20 metres deep. Since they do not use compressed air cylinders they have special trainings to retrain their breath. Researchers found out that they actually expanded the capacity of their breath by using their spleen as a store for oxygen. The profession of the Haenyeos is not only physically demanding but also life-threatening in terms of the deep dives. Since the women run the risk of getting unconscious while emerging from the water they usually dive in pairs. That way they are able to render first aid.

New prestige and climate change

In the 18th century, women and men were both diving in the seas around Korea to earn their subsistence. Later it became purely an occupation for women. Reasons were probably that many men died at sea due to war but also that the state upraised the taxes, especially for men. However, the occupation as a free diver got very popular with its time and also received prestige. Haenyeos got more rights and freedom in difference to the women who lived on the mainland. Haenyeos were able to get divorced and remarried. Often it was common that men had to watch out for the children and the woman became the head of the family.

Woman sells seafood

Nowadays, the occupation is in danger of extinction. Rarely young women start the hard training to become free divers. Most Haenyeos are older than 60 years. The profession is not only a very arduous one but also the climate change plays an important role. The seas around Korea are getting warmer which destroys the natural habitat of the sea animals. The women have to dive every year a bit deeper to find enough seafood to meet their demands. In December 2016, UNESCO inscribed the occupation of the Haenyeo on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

🚌 How to reach Jeju
Most people take a flight to reach Jeju. The distance from Jeju to Seoul is the busiest air route in the world.
But of course, there are also ferries from Busan, Mokpo, Haenam, Wando, Goheung, and Yeosu. The benefit is that you can bring your car and enjoy the ride over the sea.
In every case, you will arrive on the Northside of the island in the same-named capital Jeju-si. The different places and sightseeing spots are reachable by bus. There are eight express bus routes which bring you from the airport in under one hour over the island. The Airport Limousine Bus stops at the more expensive and frequently booked hotels.
For more information about the bus system click here.

Click here to read part II:
Jeju – The vacation paradise of Sout Korea Pt. II

First written on Sunday, October 30th, 2016, you have read the blog post Life-threatening jobs in the vacation paradise on My Travel Journal-Blog.

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