Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Women Divers, Jeju Island, Korea: Part 2

Continuing on with our Korean adventure (you can read part 1 here: Bulgogi, Waterfalls and Ponies: Jeju Island, Korea Part 1) and my list of favorites from the trip, I’d like to share what captivated me most on the trip, the women divers.
4. The Women Divers
I am so enthralled with the haenyo, the women divers of Jeju Island.  I had never heard of them before and I was even more surprised to know that they’re women divers in Japan, China, Russia and other places.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haenyo) says this about the divers:
Statue outside the museum
Until the 19th century, diving was mostly done by men. The job became unprofitable for men since they had to pay heavy taxes, unlike women who did not. Women took over the diving (which was considered the lowest of jobs) and, because of the great dependence on sea products in most places on Jeju, became the main breadwinners, making Jeju a matriarchal society. It could also be said that women simply were more adapted for the job, with their bodies keeping them warmer and being more suited to swimming than a male, with more body fat. With that, they often became "the head" of their family. On Mara Island, where sea products accounted for almost all sources of revenue before it became increasingly attractive as a tourist site, gender roles were entirely reversed. Often men would look after the children and go shopping while the women would bring in money for the family.
This evolution clashed with Korea's Confucian culture, in which women have traditionally been treated as inferior. As a result, administrators from Seoul (unsuccessfully) tried to bar the women from diving, ostensibly because they exposed bare skin while at sea.
Haenyo are skilled divers who are known to be able to hold their breath for almost two minutes and dive to depths of 20 meters. The divers must also contend with other dangers such as jellyfish, and sharks.
Starting from the late 1970s, exports of sea products to Japan such as abalone and conch have made the sea women richer than ever, allowing them to fix their houses, build new ones in Jeju City and send their daughters to college. However, there is a threat to the haenyo's continued success; with their daughters choosing to work in the island's tourism industry or in the big cities, the haenyo will most likely disappear. While in 1950 there were as many as 30,000 haenyo on the island, in 2003 there were only 5,650 sea women registered as divers, of whom 85% were over 50 years old. With the number of sea women declining and with tourism giving Jeju men more opportunities, it is unclear what will happen to their daughters' status in their communities and home, though it is unlikely that the matriarchal family structures will continue to survive.
We spent an hour at the Women Divers Museum and as we walked through the museum EBean was insistent on seeing a real woman diver.  I thought it was pretty spectacular to hear a 3-year-old so intent on something.  EBean was in luck because as we were driving to our next destination, we were able to stop and watch (and hear, the divers make a whistling sound as they exhale & inhale when they resurface) a pair of divers at work.

Women Divers Museum
Standing with our own "woman diver".  Only within
the last several decades have they dived with a wet suit;
they used to only wear a cotton outfit.
As we were driving to our next destination after touring the museum, we were able to see a pair of divers in action.  They were possibly diving for abalone, sea weed and other edible sea products.

A diver coming up to let out the CO2 and take in oxygen,
which produced a "whistling" noise.
There she goes! No oxygen tank for her.
Up again for another breath.
Here is a link to a book I purchased
from Amazon about the women divers:
 Moon Tides, Jeju Island Grannies
Drying the day's catch.
A few "boats"
Absolutely beautiful!

5. Spending time with my Family
Of course the highlight was spending time with my family.  On our last night, the whole family attended a dinner hosted by a company in the pig industry.  It was a beautiful dinner complete with women performers in traditional Korea dress, Korean barbecue prepared at our table, and Korean fans as party favors.  It was a nice way to end our trip.  And, true to their personalities, the girls partied all the way back to the hotel, which was an hour drive and several hours past their bed time, while others slept around them!

The dinner was held outside, but we were surrounded
by some really beautiful buildings built in the
traditional Korean style.
30 years ago that little girl would have been me
tugging on that Papa Joes's arm, now it's my daughter's turn!
We enjoyed listening to the women perform using
traditional Korean instruments and wearing their traditional
hanboks.  But, I am very certain that their song selection
was not traditional Korean music...the Beatles and music
from Disney's The Little Mermaid!
EBean could not get enough of the Korean barbeque.
The server at our table (you can see her preparing the meat)
caught on quickly as to how much EBean liked the meat.
She kept passing more meat to her.
Getting ready to dive into some noodles and...more meat.
I think this 30 pound little girl ate more Korean barbeque than
any of the grown men at our table.
Opening up the favors from the
dinner...new Korean fans.
Love this photo...I think Elanco's
new slogan should be..."Elanco, bringing
generations together."

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