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Dokdo is not reefs but a home

2012/07/15 | 71 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Dokdo has never been very hospitable to its human habitants. It is windy, rainy, or snowy at least 300 days a year. To add to its hostility, it is almost always draped with sea fog. Yet, it has permanent residents, who made their home on this unwelcoming place in the East Sea in 1991. They are the only two residents of Dokdo, Mr. and Mrs. Kim.

They aren't the first residents of this rocky place. The late Choe Jong-deok was first. He built a house on Dokdo in 1965, frequenting it as if it had been his home to catch sea cucumbers and abalones together with female divers called haenyeo (incredibly skilled Korean traditional female divers with a long history), and eventually in 1981 he officially registered as a resident of Dokdo and lived there for 6 years.

It was just after he was released from his military service that Kim Seong-do first came to Dokdo in order to work with Choe in the 1970s. He was a meoguri (a Korean traditional male diver) and knew the underwater world like the back of his hand, so he managed the haenyeo. Kim Sin-yeol, a haenyeo from Jeju, the largest island of Korea, came to Ulleungdo on a business trip and met Kim Seong-do, and the rest we say is history.


environment isn't very welcoming to human beings, but the island has been inhabited for over 20 years. Let's listen to a couple-Mr. Kim Seong-do and Mrs. Kim Sin-yeol, who plan to live on Dokdo until they die and be buried in the sea off Dokdo.

WISH to live on Dokdo and be buried in its sea

Choe passed away in 1987, and Mr. and Mrs. Kim moved to Dokdo, feeling responsible for safeguarding it.

"I laid the 998-step stairway from Mulgol (a natural pool of groundwater) to the house with these two hands of mine, let alone the wharfs and the lodgings", recalls Mr. Kim.

Life on Dokdo has never been easy or comfortable. The hardest moments were when they missed their children, who lived on Ulleungdo.

"Since the children had to go to school, they had no choice but to leave Dokdo", adds Mrs. Kim. "Back then, boats didn't shuttle between Ulleungdo and Dokdo as regularly as they do now, so we met our children once or twice a month.

I begged my husband to move out to Ulleungdo, but he was as steady as a rock. Now, they both married and come here with their children- our grandchildren-every summer vacation".

Their health wasn't good, perhaps because of their hard lives on Dokdo. Mr. Kim had her gall bladder removed in 1997, while Mrs. Kim had brain surgery in 1995. Even though they weren't young and energetic anymore, they came back to Dokdo after they were released from the hospital. For Dokdo is their home, a sweet home to rest in.

Their children suggested that they move to Ulleungdo or Pohang, a port city in Gyeongsangbuk-do province, where life is comfortable, but Mr. and Mrs. Kim say that they want to live on Dokdo until they breathe their last and be buried in the sea off Dokdo. Ulleung-gun appointed Seong-do the ijang of Dokdo, a title given to the leader of a ri-level village, in a way to declare that Dokdo belongs to Ulleung-gun, a permanent part of Korean territory.

Whether they are sick or healthy, whether it is windy, rainy, snowy, or sunny, the Kims occupy Dokdo. They are residents of Dokdo.

*Article from Korea Magazine (July 2012)

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