The first word I learnt as the Ulleungdo phase of my life started, was honja. Ironically, it means alone. I was on the ferry on my way to the island, when a lady who was sitting on the floor laughed and asked me whether I was alone, meaning to ask me if I was married or single. I answered, single, at which point she touched her chest with the palm of her hand and said: “Me too, me too….”. Thats how it started. I was later told that people who live on islands often develop a sort of depression because of the intense feeling of loneliness or isolation. The feeling of looking out over the sea from all corners and never seeing any land. I have often heard people in Ulleungdo complain of this loneliness. Case in point, loneliness has become a close acquaintance of mine in the past six months.
Yesterday was to be another daunting Valentine’s Day. So, some of my single friends, who thankfully still make up the bulk of the group, decided to celebrate the fact that we were indeed single, but not lonely. We trekked off to The Brass Bell in Kalkbay for sundowners and an early dinner. Each were asked to bring a gift round the value of R50. I, being the token theatrical in the group decided that a romance trivia quiz was in order to establish who would be whose valentine. All had a good giggle at the expense of the cute, kitsch and cuddly objects of romantic art produced from all shapes of heart splattered parcels. The bubbly and oysters got us through the initial shock of things.
The food was exquisite too…although all I can account for, is my succulent yellow tail tuna steak and a very lovely vanilla pod crème brûlée. Everyone who wishes to be my friend should know that I am willing to trade a wide variety of things for good crème brûlée. Another charmer was the fact that it practically felt like our dining room had been thrust over the gushing breakers as the tide came in.
I must admit, foolishly, that the prospect of going back to Ulleungdo and walking into a quiet apartment by myself is, to say the least, daunting. Its not that I mind spending time by myself. On the contrary, I enjoy being by myself most of the time. Its different, though…when you live on an island as a foreign teacher and you no longer have a choice! Lets hope its my first and last year of being by myself so completely. Here’s to a year full of challenging adventures and great victory. May I come back and understand how to never be lonely again.