▲ Terue Yamauchi helping out at the sea shore. Photo by Wanda Wynn
This past week our class took a field trip to the haenyeo museum in Gujwa-eup.I highly recommend seeing this museum to anyone visiting or living in Jeju. There is so much fascinating history.
During the long bus ride to and from the museum I chatted with Terue Yamauchi, a fellow student from Japan. She is currently living with one of the haenyeo as she attends the school and works on a photo journalism project about her experience. For weeks I’ve wanted to talk to her about what it is like to live with a haenyeo.
I have been curious to know her feelings about being Japanese and immersing herself in the life of a haenyeo considering the history between the two countries. She was open and honest and expressed her concerns about being accepted into the community. Much to her surprise, she has been treated as if she were a daughter or granddaughter.When we returned from our field trip, she invited me to join her the next morning as she photographed and helped the haenyeo as they work. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity!
▲ A haenyeo working with the tewak. Photo by Wanda Wynn
We met at 7:30am the next morning. Slightly nervous and not wanting to get in the way, I stood back. Once in the water, the haenyeo put us to work, first getting more tewaks as needed and then helping as they got out of the ocean with their catch.
At one point, I fell into the water, fully clothed, as I was trying to help one woman climb onto the rocks. Everyone gave me a quick look, I smiled immediately and gave the thumbs up sign, and then scrambled back on the rocks and everyone continued working. I soon realized it was easier to help them out of the water if I got in the water. So, I jumped back in (with clothes, shoes and jacket) and began to help again. This garnered many smiles and laughter. I was able to connect with these women, not through language, but through helping.I realized they were as curious about me as I was about them.
This experience has been more about making a human connection with the haenyeo and not necessarily about the specific techniques of diving. At the end of the day, it’s about finding out who these women are.
Diving with the haenyeo is a completely different experience from taking a diving course.My best day outside of school was hanging out with the haeyneo in Hallim. Regardless of falling into the water with shoes and clothes on, getting poked in the finger by a sea urchin, bruising my knee and busting my rear end on the rocks, it was humbling to be so close.
I come from a long line of commercial fisherman, grandfathers and uncles, who made their living from the sea. Maybe this is explains why I’m spellbound by these women.
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