In the past, Jindo was an island few could visit due to its location. Fortunately, this preserved the archipelagos, and today the spot has become well-known for its yearly, mysterious parting of the sea.
Not many Koreans know exactly where Jindo Island is. The image that comes to mind when most people think of Jindo is the eponymous dog, known for its loyalty and intelligence. The Jindo dog is able to find its way back home even when stranded hundreds of kilometers away, and most learn of the legendary characteristics of the animal as young children in the classroom.
As I travel to my destination, I try to remember all the distinctive traits of this particular man’s best friend. The Jindo dog never backs down from an enemy and has the courage to stand against, even when facing a tiger. Koreans are very fond of the breed, believing its traits match those of the people’s – in the mien of forerunning the international IT industry from a small corner of Asia and orchestrating massive construction projects worldwide without fear or doubt. Similar to the Jindo dog, Koreans enjoy nature from time to time, but once their sights are set, will concentrate on reaching their goal.
REMEMBERING THE HERO
Jindo Island is located on the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula and is the third largest island, behind Jejudo and Geojedo. When Koreans refer to Ttangkkeut Maeul, or “Land’s End Village”, they are referring to the Haenam region, which is the southernmost tip of the country. From Haenam, Jindo can be reached by crossing the Jindo Bridge, which is the only easily accessible land connection. A KTX (Korea Train Express) train stops at nearby Mokpo, allowing visitors to access the island within four hours from Seoul.
As they cross the bridge, visitors can expect to meet the hero and symbol of the Korean people, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598). Yi’s legacy can be found all across the southern coast, but many consider Jindo the best place to reflect on his spirit.
Yi was a commander of the Naval forces, and is known for having used unique tactics to fend off forces during the two Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598). In September 1597, a Japanese naval fleet consisting of 133 ships advanced toward Uldolmok (now known as Myeongnyang Strait). The Japanese fleet had accumulated countless victories up to this point, boosting morale. Learning of the fleet’s advance, Yi gathered and commanded his last remaining 13 ships to guard the entrance of Uldolmok on the Yellow Sea. The Japanese fleet outnumbered the Korean forces by 10 to 1.
However, there was one thing that the incoming fleet did not know. The currents of Uldolmok, where the waters of the Yellow Sea and the South Sea meet, flow in the opposite direction around noon, due to the changing tides. The Japanese fleet rode the northwestern currents towards the Korean fleet, which valiantly resisted, holding their ground until the currents flowed backwards, determined not to waste the opportunity. As a result, 31 Japanese ships were sunk and the Japanese general was decapitated; Yi’s insight on the surrounding geography and nature’s advantageous characteristics had led him to victory. The Battle of Myeongnyang is considered one of the greatest historical Naval battles in the world.
The currents at Uldolmok are still as strong as the days of the freat Myeongnyang Battle. The currents are the fastest in Korea, clocking in at 11.5 knots-per-hour. Before the Jindo Bridge was built in 1984, most people dod not dare to cross the strait. The Jindo Bridge was the country’s first cable-stayed bridge and a second, parallel bridge was added in 2005 to accommodate the high traffic. Across, people can visit the Nokjin Observatory, with a view of both the bridge and Yi’s statue. He stand as if yelling commands to his fleet 400 years ago.
SUNSETS AND SEA ROADS
Visitors can reach the base of the guardian mountain of Jindo, Cheomchalsan, by taking National Road No. 18 to downtown Jindo, Local Road No.9 and then Local Road No.15 to the east of Jindo. The beauty of the mountain captivates visitors, hiding the Ullim Sanbang Houses and Ssanggyesa Temple within. Though not a particularly tall mountain, being only 485 m above sea level, its ‘skyline’ curves flow elegantly like the shoulders of a woman.
At the foot of the mountain are the Ullim Sanbang, Korean traditional houses with a garden where Joseon Dynasty painter Huh Ryun (1808-1893), renowned as a master of Namhwa (Chinese painting of the Southern School), resided in his later years. The garden in front of the dwelling looks spectacular paired with the pond, lotuses floating on the water and grape myrtle trees encircling the shore. The beauty of the scenery is enhanced when the trees blossom in summer.
Next to the gardens is Ssanggyesa, where Buddhist monks roast tea leaves. The small leaves are roasted nine times a day on order to tease out the true taste. Ssanggyesa was built in 857 AD and gets its name from the Cheomchalsan creek that divides and flows on each side of the temple. The creek’s source is covered by a thick pine forest, designated the 107th Natural Monument of Korea. Different species of tree grow in this area, from camellia and holly to bilberry, and each individual tree is hundreds of years old. Intertwined vines climb the trunks and offer visitors a view of untainted nature.
The mysterious sea road of Jindo can be found past Cheomchalsan. The blue of the ocean captivates all those resting their eyes on its beauty after climbing the mountain. Amongst the deep blue are the small islands of the archipelago that decorate the ocean with each having its own distinguishing figures.
“You’re late”, a lady from Okcheon informs me. “The sea parts in March and April”. The woman manages a snack cart at the entrance to the sea road in Hoedong-ri, Gogun-myeon. With our hopes of walking the sea road shattered, we rest in the shade of the snack car, enjoying a dish of sea squirts while admiring the view. People from all over the world gather to witness the 3 km-long, 40 m-wide road that appears at a parting of the sea, a phenomenon that occurs from an exceptionally low tide. Another site that visitors should not miss is Sebang Sunset, where visitors can enjoy a first-rate view of the sinking sun into the deep ocean.
As I cast my eyes west to the horizon. I am once again reminded of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, feeling as he would have, greeted by this spectacular sunset. The brave admiral is known to have written poems and drawn up battle plans in the face of death, and I brace myself as well for life ahead, not to sacrifice today for tomorrow.
Source: Korea People & Culture Magazine, June 2011