Jeju now has more museums than ever. Some museums are directly linked to the island, but others have no apparent connection at all. An Africa museum in Jeju? Elephants? Ripley's believe it or not? The World Automobile Museum?
Some museums are not even museums, but thinly disguised shops: several chocolate museums, including one on Marado, come to mind. But even though the “Dutch Museum,” like the African Museum, may seem a little strange on the island, actually it does have a good reason to be located on Jeju.
For it was a Dutch ship which, having inadvertently been dashed against the rocks near Jeju, wrote Korea’s history. One of the men on board, Hendrick Hamel, was the administrator of the ship on behalf of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and as such was obliged on his return to send a full report about his experiences in Korea to the board of directors, which, as history teaches us, he duly did, thereby creating the first in-depth account of Korea in the West.
To commemorate this historical link between Jeju and the Netherlands a replica of this Dutch ship, the Sperwer, was built. The replica can be found at Yongmeori (“Dragon Head”) coast, in Daejeong-eup, southwest Jeju. A winter visit to this ship showed that the last typhoon season had damaged the ship, which just goes to show how fragile a wooden ship is against the elements. The replica is actually made of metal, but the outer layer around the ship, the visible hull, consists of wood. Most of the wood was gone, showing a desolate rusting hull to the world.
Inquiries as to when the ship would be repaired led to nothing. Apparently the ship is not owned by the operators of the Dutch Museum, but by a department of the city of Seogwipo. Nothing could be told about possible future repairs, but for the time being the ship is closed to visitors and not much can be seen. However, the statue of Hendrick Hamel, sitting on a bench next to the side of the ship, is still there. The statue may look somewhat small, but it is likely that Hamel really was this small: Dutch people at the time were considerably smaller than they are today.
Opposite the ship is another statue of a Dutch man, this one very much alive today. Guus Hiddink, world famous football coach, is the second Dutch person honored with a statue at this spot. His statue however is a little bit less flattering and also more comical: the statue makes Hiddink look a bit like a clown. Perhaps that then is the reason why Hamel is smiling on his bench, even though his ship is not looking very seaworthy, making a second escape if so desired rather impossible. Hiddink offers one route of escape away from the desolate ship, straight into the Dutch Museum.
Unfortunately though, the Dutch Museum is much like the shop-cum-museums elsewhere on the island: it is essentially a shop with information about the Netherlands. And even at that it does fail a bit, since most of the objects on sale at the “museum” are not related to the Netherlands, while some of the information on display is also looking a bit old and faded. Wooden clogs are however available and you can wear them for pictures.
The shipwrecked ship, the cold and gray windy weather of the Jeju winter and the rundown shops in the neighbourhood make the area look quite desolate during this season, but in a way this actually makes this spot rather interesting to visit. It is, from a Korean perspective, pretty much land's end, with only the two small islands of Kapado and Marado further out.
There are other offerings at this spot. For the aspiring geologist the coast itself is very interesting, but be aware that during stormy weather the path is not open to the public. Turning your back on the ship does reveal another interesting geological site: Sanbangsan. When Hamel ended up on the beach here the first thing he saw was a rock higher than any point in the Netherlands. At 395 meters, this large rock comes with its own cave altar and a series of temple buildings, but more interestingly from Hamel's point of view it also comes with a very good view of the Sperwer and the surrounding area. It also means it is very easy to discover this spot, which might aid Hamel and Hiddink if they ever plan to escape. Any potential rescuer could easily locate the castaways. Perhaps then this time it won't take 13 years...
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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