We’ve been having some beautiful weather lately here in Jeju, so the Haenyeo have been making dives practically every day. On this occasion, the trio headed out to another location further out from their normal spot because the current and tides were non-existent. They went out so far, in fact, that I could barely see their orange buoy from my home. When they arrived on shore, they were in good spirits and more talkative than usual (or maybe they’re just used to my presence?). Anyways, here is a short snippet of one of my conversations that I think brings some insight into their thoughts and feelings.
Me: When will you quit diving? I think you deserve to retire and enjoy the rest of your life.
Haenyeo: Until I die. If you can, you gotta keep working no matter what. I still have family to feed and support too.
Me: Who do you support?
Haenyeo: My son and his family. We all have to help each other out.
Me: Don’t you think he should be helping out by taking care of you?
Haenyeo: We all help each other out. It doesn’t matter if I am old, I will still do this until I die. However, I will never let my kids or my grandchildren do it. We work this hard so they don’t have to.
Before meeting this trio of Haenyeo, I thought it was important to preserve or even promote the Haenyeo cause with their dwindling numbers, which stand at roughly 2,000. Now, however, after befriending them and getting to know them personally, I really hope this is the last generation of Haenyeo. No person, let alone a 70-year-old grandmother, should have to sacrifice and toil as they do on a daily basis. They deserve to be playing with their grandkids, spoiled by their kids, and watch TV dramas all day. To be honest, I’m still in shock after trying to dive with them the other day but failing big time. I swam (more like floated) back to shore with a sense of humility and respect for these living legends.