▲ "Star-struck" students with a haenyeo. Photo courtesy Wanda Wynn
This is the first instalment of "Haenyeo Diary" by Wanda Wynn. Wanda is learning to be a haenyeo out on Jeju's west coast and is sharing her experiences, thoughts and feelings with the Jeju Weekly as she goes along. We hope you enjoy reading it. - Ed.
I’m going to Haenyeo School! Over the past week I’ve been reflecting on my feelings about this undertaking. Why am I so interested in these women? I am in such awe of them. When passing them on the street, I always bow hoping for the slightest recognition. I’m like a star-struck groupie. What is it about the haenyeo women that make me want to get closer to them?
For me, I think they symbolize strength and determination, qualities I admire and desire. I want so badly to be near them and experience who they are and what they do, so much so I’m willing to throw caution to the wind and risk being eaten by a shark or being attacked by hundreds of jellyfish or death by drowning.
▲ Wanda posing below the Korean flag. Photo courtesy Wanda Wynn
I hope, through this experience, I will become a small part of a culture and history that completely fascinates me. I want to learn something new and very different. I want to learn to hold my breath for one minute or more. Hahaha! Who am I kidding? I think it would be really awesome to catch an octopus, a small one of course, and have my picture taken with a Haenyeo. I hope I will not die.
I love my very large, really cool name tag issued at orientation. I’m thinking about wearing to work. Not really. Ok, maybe a little bit. Everyone at orientation was nice and helpful. Especially comforting to me is being paired with a fellow student who can speak English and interpret for me. I was fitted for my wetsuit, fins, and traditional Haenyeo mask. At the end of the night we had a group dinner with fantastic food and makgeolli.
▲ Kitted out and ready to enter the seas. Photo courtesy Wanda Wynn
Opening day was an interesting event with over 300 people attending and certainly not for the ‘camera’ shy. People here are clearly interested in foreigners. For me, the best part was being interviewed with a 70ish year old Haenyeo who hugged me many times and told me my blonde hair was good luck. She even offered me a free trip to the aquarium. During the opening ceremony, we were required to wear our wetsuits. One woman wore her high heels with her suit. I wish I would have thought of that! After the ceremony, we had more great food and LOTS of makgeolli.
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