…Jeungdo Island, Time Runs Slowly Here…

Just as it takes a certain amount of time for it to turn from winter to spring, the Cittaslow movement believes that there is a proper pace to human lives. The movement designates places around the world as “slow cities”, where traditional ways of living are valued. A journey to Korea’s slow area of Jeungdo Island is a vacation from the fast lane and a chance to return to the natural speed of our body and soul.

Time always flows at a certain speed. Yet the way people experience that time can vary widely. If you’re very busy, you’ll find that a mont or even a year has flown by without you noticing it. You might grab a cab to get to work instead of walking, and you might eat fast-food or a candy bar instead of a proper dinner. Your idea of a break might be having a cup of instant coffee and some cookies from a cafe chain.

The Cittaslow movement rejects life in the fast lane in favor of slow living. In its designated “slow cities”, you can taste dishes made from organic seasonal ingredients that have been prepared with a care that takes time. In a slow city, people work and rest according to the sunrise and sunset. While it may sound old fashioned, local culture thrives in such cities.

The Cittaslow movement began in the small Tuscany Village of Greve in Chianti, Italy, in October 1999. Started as a slow food campaign, the movement soon spread throughout Europe and then the globe. In December 2007, the Cittaslow Organization accepted Jeungdo Island (Sinan-gun County), Changpyeong-myeon Village (Damyang-gun County), Cheongsando Island (Wando-gun County), Agyang-myeon Village (Hadong-gun County), Daeheung-myeon and Eungbong-myeon Village (Yesan-gun County), Jeonju Hanok Village (Jeonju City) and Yuchi-myeon Village (Jangheung-gun County) as slow cities of Korea. Korea was the first country in Asia to have designated slow cities. Since then, Agyang-myeon Village (Hadong-gun County) adn Daeheung-myeon (Yesan-gun County) were added to the list, indisputably making Korea a leader of slow cities in Asia.

One of these slow cities, Sinan-gun County’s Jeungdo Island, was first put in the global spotlight in 1975. In that year, a fisherman accidentally fished up celadon pottery from the ocean, which led to a large-scale excavation project. Treasures that had been buried beneath the sea for serveral hundred years once again saw the light of day. Between 1976 and 1984, as many as 28,000 Chinese artifacts dating back to the Song and Yuan dynasties were salvaged.

While Jeungdo Island is no longer digging up jewels from the ocean, the island is still a treasure. Jeungdo Island is home to salt fields that produce high-quality bay salt, restaurants that cook fresh and healthy slow food and residents that are kind and welcoming.

The Art of Being Slow

When you cross Jeungdo Island Bridge, the first thing that comes into view is tha vast intertidal zone. The mudflats lining the southwest coastal lines of the Korean Peninsula are a biological treasure trove. In particular, the coasts of Sinan-gun County teem with sea life such as fish, crabs, clams and octopus as well as countless seashore plants including glassworts, sweetbriers and more. UNESCO recognized the island’s unique intertidal ecosystem and designated it a biodiversity conservation area.

The wide intertidal zone that stretches across the west coast of the island is famous for mudskippers. A sea fish belonging to the Goby family, mudskippers use their pectoral fins to walk across the land. If you walk along the 470 m long Jjangttungeo (meaning  mudskipper in Korea) Bridge that cuts across the middle of the intertidal zone, you see the mudskippers hopping along the mud. Between the mudskippers and the millions of other living creatures squirming in the mud, the intertidal zone looks like a living creature moving this way and that.

If you cross the bridge and continue walking along Ujeon Beach, you’ll come upon Jeungdo Mudflats Eco Exhibition Hall on your left, standing in front of the El Dorado Resort. The hall hosts a well-organized exhibit showing how mudflats are formed, the vast ecosystem of mudflats and what mudflats in different parts of the world look like.

Along with a rich ecosystem, the island is home to Taepyeong Salt Farm, which produces bay salt. Formed in 1953, the farm sits in the middle of the island and farmers harvest salt from the lake the same way they have been doing for almost 60 years now. It is Korea’s largest salt lake and every year 16,000 tons of bay salt are produced in the wind and sun. Climb up to the salt field observatory on the eastern part of the island and the 300 m-wide field will come into view. More than 60 salt storage units stand next to the shimmering field, creating an exotic scene you will find nowhere else.

Jeungdo Island’s bay salt is different from the common refined salt that is produced by electrolyzing seawater. The bay salt is truly a “slow food” as it is created with assistance from the wind, sunlight and human labor. It takes about a mont for seawater in the field to turn into salt. As salt crystals flower on the surface of the field, they are raked into a storage house where they woll sit for six months to a year to dry out. Once the salt is dry, farmers harvest the salt for consumption.

Bay salt only accounts for 2% of the world’s salt production and it is currently produced in Australia, Peru, China, France and Austria among other places. Jeungdo Island’s mineral-rich ocean water and intertidal zone makes Taepyeong’s bay salt some of the best in the world.

You don’t just have to eat to benefit from Taepyeong’s gorgeous bay salt. The Salt Cave Healing Center, located next to the Salt Museum on the eastern side of the island, gives visitors a really good chance to improve their health through inhaling small particles of salt. The anion and micro salt emitted by bay salt is known to heal asthma, bronchitis, and even psychological conditions such as depression.

Transportation

TRAIN

Take the KTX or Saemaul trains at Yongsan Station in Seoul to get to Gwangju or Mokpo. Transfer to an intercity bus bound for Jeungdo Island.

BUS

Take an express bus from Central City Terminal in Seoul to Gwangju or Mokpo Bus Terminal and take an intercity bus to Jeungdo Island.

CAR

Take Seohaean Expressway and head south until Hampyeong Junction to take the Gwangju-Muan Expressway. Exit through Bukmuan IC and head toward Saokdo on Route 24. Then cross Jeungdo Island Bridge.

Source: Korea People & Culture Magazine, March 2011

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