▲ Koreans packing rice, circa 1900. Courtesy Robert Neff Collection
In the summer of 1905, Malcolm Playfair Anderson, a 26-year-old globe-trotting American, arrived in Korea to collect specimens of wildlife. As part of the Duke of Bedford’s zoological exploration of the Far East, Anderson traveled extensively throughout China, Japan and Korea. His account of his voyage to Jeju provides us with an interesting look at the hardships faced by early Western visitors to the island. Not only did he have to contend with the fickleness of Mother Nature but also with the superstitious fears of the Jeju Islanders.
In August, determined to visit Jeju Island, Anderson made his way to the southern city of Mokpo accompanied by Ichikawa, his Japanese interpreter, and Kim Yong Su, his Korean servant.
Ichikawa, a student from Tokyo, was a “slender youth of dignified appearance, model manners, and great integrity, but lacking in physical strength.” Anderson doesn’t explain how they met – only that Ichikawa “had left his books for a time in order to have some experience with me.” He does, however, seem to indicate that their relationship was quite new.
His Korean servant, Kim (Anderson misidentifies him as “King Ryo-sui” and translated his name as “Gold Sea Dragon”) “was a youth, short of stature, with a face much marked by smallpox. He always dressed in Korean garb, and went hatless, wearing his hair in a queue, as is the custom among unmarried men.” Kim was fluent in Japanese and it was in this language that they communicated – although Anderson did admit that his own Japanese ability was quite limited. Most of the translation and interpreting with the Jeju Islanders was performed by Ichikawa.
Getting transportation to and from Mokpo and Jeju was not easy. There were several small Korean junks but these were slow and, although he doesn’t mention it, he may have been concerned about their seaworthiness in a region well-known for sudden and violent storms. Instead, he opted to sail aboard a “very old and [small] rotten steamer which should have been scrapped 10 years before,” with a Japanese captain and a Korean crew.
Anderson was impatient and annoyed with the how slowly his fellow Korean passengers, whom he describes as being “mainly peasants and petty merchants – all ragged and unkempt,” were in boarding the ship. The Korean passengers, all steerage class, completely filled the rear of the steamer and were forced to find comfort amongst the stores of coal and crates.
Only Anderson and Ichikawa had purchased cabin tickets but they may have been better off sleeping in the elements. The unfurnished cabin had only a five-foot-high ceiling which prevented them from standing and there were no seats or benches for them to sit upon. The cabin was also extremely small — six-feet-long and only wide enough for the two men to lie side by side upon the floor.
After their departure from Mokpo, Anderson’s discomforts grew worse. That evening they encountered severe weather and were forced to seek safe anchorage in the Port Hamilton (Komundo) Island group. By morning the storm had passed and they were able to proceed, arriving off the coast of Jeju City later that afternoon.
Because Jeju City had no “harbor deserving the name” it took some time before arrangements could be made to transport Anderson and his companions to shore. They were greeted by a crowd of curious men and boys who asked them a series of questions while feeling his clothing and leather boots which, according to Anderson, they “admired greatly.”
Right from the start, language proved to be a problem. Kim, who was from the mainland, had problems understanding the Jeju Islanders’ dialect and it took some time before he was able to convey that they needed coolies (porters) to carry the party’s supplies. Finally, a large dirty man lunged forward and, despite its weight, hoisted the party’s box of ammunition on his back.
It was a common occurrence on the mainland for fights to breakout amongst coolies competing with one another for the opportunity to make some quick money. Jeju was no exception. Within a very short time the largest men had won the dubious privilege of carrying the party’s goods.
Jeju at this time was well off-the-beaten-track and had limited accommodations – especially Western-style – available to tourists. The proprietor of a Japanese inn, learning of the arrival of a foreigner, went to the landing and “solicited [Anderson’s] patronage [by] representing that his place was much cleaner than any Korean inn.”
Korean inns were notoriously dirty. They were cramped affairs that were infested with bugs, food of dubious nature and extremely hot due to the ondol underfloor heating system. Anderson readily accepted the innkeeper’s offer and followed him to his inn.
Anderson was far from impressed when they arrived at the inn. He acknowledged that it was probably cleaner than a Korean establishment but disappointedly noted that it “was merely one of the crude native huts slightly modified to suit Japanese ideas. There was a small entrance hall with no floor, a general room with the floor raised some 18 inches above the ground, a single guest room opening off this, and in the rear the smoke blackened shed that answered as kitchen.”
Like the steamer’s cabin, the guest room was small and without furnishings, but, he noted cheerfully, the walls had recently been covered with white paper and the floor was well-matted. Anderson’s plan was to spend a single night in comfort before setting out for the wilderness surrounding Mt. Halla where he intended on spending the next several weeks collecting and cataloging the island’s fauna and wildlife.
Anderson would soon regret his decision.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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