Here is a much-delayed post on 7 mysteries of that mysterious island of mystery.
Judging by their 감탄 when they get off the ferry from the mainland, there are two things that every visitor is impressed with. They are the hue of the water and the relative lack of polution (which of course results in clear water). The water is a beautiful sapphire blue. Not the bright turquiose that you see at tropical beaches in Thailand, the Maldives, etc., etc., but a deep rich blue color. In spite of many efforts by the Sanchon Hunjang involving polarizers, tripods and long exposure times, different angles and even post-photo tweaking in Photoshop and Gimp, the blue of the water refused to be captured satisfactorally in an image. It's a real mystery that has to be experienced first-hand.
- Why so many churches
We stayed at 추산일가 (more on this place later), which is situated in an ultra-small vilagette of less than 20 people. Nonetheless it is equipped with a church and a sparkling new Buddhist temple. 추산일가 is a few kilometers down the road from the nearest village proper, 천부. Now 천부 is a real village. It has a population of 450. 천부 also has its own dock for fishing boats, a couple of butcher shops, several smaller supermarkets and no less than four churches of its own! The real irony is when we stopped by the butcher's for some 삼겹살 to barbeque, they were all getting ready to go to church. In the Catholic facility located a third of the way around the island! Churches are popular in Korea, but they seem way over done on 울릉도. The big mystery is how all these churches are supported.
On the subject of ratios of facilites to population, there was also a room salon in 천부. I'm not sure how that could be a viable business in a town of 450, but at least there weren't four of them.
- Who pays for all the construction
The ring-road that goes about three-quarters of the way around the island is perched precariously close to the ocean in many places. There have been several typhoons that have swept large pieces of road out to sea, or caused 산사태 to descend upon the road and make it useless. Indeed, if you take the ferry around the island, you can still see traces of where the now unused portions of the road hang in several different places along the cliffs. It has been rebuild many times and was under construction to repair from the last typhoon when we were there in August. They were also working on a new tunnel through some of the mountains. Now since these are Korean roads, they are poured concrete. And one of the principal ingredients of concrete is sand, but there is no sand to be had on 울릉도. Every precious grain has to be imported. So all of this endless construction must be very expensive. Fishing for 오징어 and growing 더덕 must be incredibly lucrative if it can support all of the locals as well as the endless construction. Who pays for all of this construction is another mystery.
- Why is the 독도 issue an even larger issue on 울릉도
According to the Korean administrative district allocation, 독도 belongs to 경상북도 울릉군. On a clear day, which is hard to come by because most of them are quite hazy, you can see 독도 as a couple of small rocks on the horizon from the lookout point above the ferry dock in 도동. If you descend from the lookout on a 민족적인 high, you can also visit the 독도 박물관 located right next to the cable car that gets you to the lookout. It is also possible to reserve a seat on a boat tour of 독도 from the ferry terminal at 도동. It costs 37,500원 per head, you have to make your reservation a day in advance and they can cancel the stop at 독도 on a whim, but it is possible to visit 독도 from 울릉도. The boat leaves at 10:00. Given the proximity and fact that everyone seems busy with their own lives, I didn't expect the 독도 thing to be bigger in 울릉도 than on the peninsula. But it was everywhere. Including that lovely 뽕짝 masterpiece by the honorary 군수 of 독도, 정광태. It is a mystery to me why the 울릉 people are so fired up about the 독도 issue and whether it does any good to have the ordinary populace fired up over such an issue. And if it does, how about when you go beyond 독도, and lay claim to much more?
This bright young woman has nothing to do with 울릉도, but her attitude is impressive. While studying for the international diplomacy 고시, this SNU English Education major discovered that 독도 is classified as an international site of border dispute. Her diplomatic response? "우리땅인데.." Brilliant. Now that she has passed the 외무고시 with the highest marks, she has surprised the nation by putting her convictions into action. She has volunteered to work at the Cyber 독도 Government Office.
- Why do all ferries only call at 도동
울릉도 sits in the East Sea, so it's western face is closest to land. Since fishing is one of the biggest industries on 울릉도, the coast is sprinkled with docks large and small. So why is it that the ferries from the peninsula slide past the west face of the island and call at 도동, which is on the east face of the island. I could understand if they were calling at the population center, but that would be 저동, which is over the hill from 도동 by land, or about 10~15 minutes farther north by sea. Since the port of call is 도동, that means everyone who has not signed up for a 대아여행사 package with forced lodging at their new resort on the hill is going to be hooked by one of the 민박mongers that line the streets when the ferries arrive. They will all be sleeping in 도동. There are ferries that arrive from three different cities on the mainland: 포항(경상도), 묵호(강원도) and 후포(강원도). It's a mystery why they all call at the same port on the east side of the island.
- What is up with this haze
There is a semi-permanent haze that has settled over the island that prevents visitors from getting a clear view of 독도, not to mention the photographs that they would like of 울릉도. Three trips to 울릉도 so far and I have yet to get nice photos. Certainly I am not to blame ^^. This haze doesn't have the brownish tint of smog, but is similar in its effect of limiting visibility of far-away things. I'm from a desert--nowhere near the ocean--so I can't be sure, but this appears to be a normal ocean phenomenon.
- Why doesn't everyone stay at 추산일가
I admit there's not really much mystery here. It all comes down to the fact that (1) nobody knows much about where to stay before they come to 울릉도, (2) 추산일가 is not that famous, and (3) it's very out of the way so it is a pain to get to and get out. Still, I think the facilities are nice and the view can't be beat. Nestled up under 송곳산 on top of a cliff with an inobstructible view of the sea. I don't exactly want it to show up in the next edition of Lonely Planet and have them start serving banana pancakes and museli but I have met many people who said something like, "I wished I had known there was an opiton like that available before I booked my crappy little 민박 that doesn't even have an ocean view." If you're considering a trip to 울릉도, consider staying at 추산일가!