I had never imagined, in a million of my little dreams and phantasms that I would live in a place so beautiful and so unique!  Such a juxtaposition of tender hospitality and harsh reality. The island rises out of the sea like an ancient palace. High and mighty, with liquid-like patterns along its walls where the last bits of volcanic rock cooled. Within the first few weeks on the island, the first major tragedy struck. While enjoying a noisy bustling lunch on the ground floor of the church, Tae-Eun’s mother leans over to tell her that three of the squid boats did not return that morning.  A three day search went on for the three boats, but only one boat and one body was found. We all stared silently at the TV as mother and daughter wept on the shore. It was Tae-Eun’s job to do the national news report.

The sea on a busy day looks exactly like the Japanese paintings I saw in my humble  year of art history at varsity. The minerals in the volcanic rock colour the water. When the sea is restless the foam churns the water to a beautiful jade. The sight is exceptional.  At best when viewed from the morning bus I take to Cheonbu on Tuesdays, and the bus station where the water sprays up angrily against its man-made limitations. 

Ulleungdo is a place of reflection. There is no place to run from your thoughts apart from multiple soju rooms and street bars, and the all night singing rooms and dabang “coffee” shops. I usually find myself walking down to the Family Mart by the harbour for an ice-cream or mid-night lamion.  In summer it bustles all night long with merry (rowdy) tourists, but the winter is quiet and mysterious. The boat, which usually runs twice a day during peak season makes a lazy appearance once a week, and leaves us lonely, stranded and short on milk.

I am one of two English teachers in Ulleungdo. The first of our kind. Even the tourists in Ulleungdo have tried to assist me in finding a place to stay. If I stand still in the street for too long, people assume that I am confused, and helpfully approach to help the lost (and surely panicking) foreigner to find her way. My first day of teaching was a very early trip to Cheonbu, on the other side of the island…from where I live, at least. Even the dogs knew I was something strange, and followed me and stared, heads askew… It was my welcoming committee…

Did I mention that I bought a pair of green high heels? They were impossible to wear. The steep road in front of my house annihilated a brand new pair of flats in less than a week. In fact, the road is so steep that on a rainy day I slipped clean out of my shoes and ended up walking home with my shopping bags and shoes in hand, locals staring. I thought it best to protect my ankles from the same fate…

So how DO you climb a mountain in high heels? I still don’t know…but lets hope I find out.

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