It’s always a humbling experience whenever I meet the Haenyeo. With my last visit though, I not only learned something new but I had the special privilege of being the middle man for the Haenyeo and author/blogger named Graham Holliday. With a little bit of fate, good timing, and patience, we were able to get an extensive interview with two of the local “younger” Haenyeo (75, 77 years old). This was the first time meeting them before their dive, so they were almost unrecognizable in regular clothing and were definitely caught off guard by my unexpected presence with a strange white guy. Being the professional that he was though, Graham’s personable demeanor really rubbed off on the Haenyeo and they provided more than enough information for both of us.
• The youngest of the three Haenyeo is 75 years and her name is Mrs. Kang. Her husband is “up in heaven.” The middle Haenyeo is 77 and her name is Mrs. Goh. She revealed her name is a traditional Jeju surname with lineage to divine spirits.
• Mrs. Kang started diving at age 13, Mrs. Goh at age 21 shortly after marriage. They both started diving for the same reason: economic hardship.
• Revealed that Jeju has changed drastically in their lifetime with modern style homes replacing traditional chogajip or doljip (thatched homes w rock n mud walls). When asked if they yearned for anything from the past, they replied with a strong “no.” They are more than content with modern conveniences, unlike the past where they had to fetch the water, bring in wood for fire, go bathroom outside, swim in regular clothing, etc.
• Over the course of the interview, the two Haenyeo became more giddy and comedic, eventually joking with Graham by asking, “Do you understand Korean? Do you even know what I am saying?” Graham replied back in Korean, which gave them another good chuckle.