The Haenyeo Diaries: Day 9

On another beautiful day with perfect ocean conditions, I was able to meet the Haenyeo Halmoni just as they were coming to shore early in the afternoon. This time, they drew quite the crowd with tourists and passersby who looked on in amazement. Pictures were taken and a barrage of questions were immediately directed at them as they were trying to catch their breath: “What did you catch today? Did you catch any octopus? How much does this and that cost?” The Haenyeo were in no mood to field such questions, so I answered on their behalf as I carried their bags to their work station. Some of the tourists who were really interested in purchasing items followed us to the station where a second round of questions was directed at the Haenyeo. “Can you make hwe (raw seafood) for us? We’ll buy a few haesam (sea cucumbers) and sora (turban shells). But we need you to cut them open for us.” In my best angry voice I replied, “This is not a seafood restaurant, the Haenyeo just sell their items and you cook them yourself or take them to a seafood restaurant to be prepped.” The ajjeoshi (middle-aged man) looked at me and replied with a “but they must have a knife so it should be easy.” They did not have a knife. He ended up buying a few haesam and 3 kg of sora for a total of 22,000 won and his wife (I assume) literally stole a few pieces of large miyuk (seaweed) from their nets thinking they were doing the Haeyneo a favor. Seriously, wth?! The suspect couple turned to me with a “young man, come have some hwe and soju with us near the ocean. I am a native Jeju resident and I really feel ashamed that you’ve done more as a foreigner than I ever have. Come have a drink with us.” After saying my goodbyes to the Haenyeo, I went home.

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