For the entire 52-week account of Dr. Nemeth’s time on Jeju Island as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1970s, you can download his new e-book free of charge. JejuWorldWide would like to thank Dr. Nemeth again for his generous contribution. — Ed.
Click here for the first part of Hwasun Memories. — Ed.
I had seen enough. I adopted this remote spot on Jeju Island as my summertime hideaway. As often as possible I would pass the days and evenings away alone, beneath a small makeshift shade perched halfway up the sand dune facing the sea. The sea at Hwasun had remarkable clarity. I bought a mask and fins and a snorkel. The sandy bottom of the bay was crowded with clamshells. The waves were usually good for body surfing, and offered sizable board-surfing waves on occasion (but alas, Jeju at that time had no surfboards). The summer typhoon season introduced jaw-dropping 40-foot waves on a big day. Some say the site of the famous 1653 wreck of the Dutch ship De Sperwer was at the west end of Hwasun Beach. I contemplated that possibility and many other things both small and profound while watching these monster August waves crush the beach at Hwasun and sipping OB beer and chewing on dried octopus. Those were marvelous days.
With my thoughts as friends, the view ever mesmerizing, and many adventurous experiences waiting for me, I was far from lonely on any given day, though never entirely alone. While very few villagers roamed my strand of beach, having no reason to do so, they were invariable friendly when I passed through their village coming and going. There was a small wine house where I sometimes lazed about learning some Korean and local dialect, and where I purchased my simple food staples of beer and fish jerky. Occasionally mainland Korean tourists or urban islanders appeared, but left quickly and seemed bored, as there were not enough other tourists at that time to attract tent vendors. Hwasun in spite of its attractiveness to me, was at that time about as remote an alternative coastal destination from Jeju City and Seogwipo for others as could be found anywhere on the island. Other attractive beaches that were more accessible, and with crowds: my general impression was that Korean beach-goers enjoyed socializing not solitude, and thus they deliberately avoided distant, isolated and solitary beaches like Hwasun.
The exception to the above was the members of the American military who organized occasional rappelling expeditions to Hwasun’s high ocean-facing vertical cliff sides, looming above the sands, both for training and recreation purposes. These military were from their small base at Moseulpo, 20 minutes by bus to the west. The base was for rest and recreation purposes, and the Vietnam War was still raging, generating a lot of serious mental and physical fatigue among the troops. I heard some amazing war stories from these soldiers, who sometimes strolled the beach and out of curiosity and paid me visits in my little sun-shelter high upon the sand slopes. For example, I will never forget the stories of an Army sniper who specialized in assassinating Viet Cong village leaders with a bow and arrow. He was very psychologically disturbed from his experiences, and so was sent down to Moseulpo to recuperate for a few summer months.
Another interesting fellow I met at Hwasun was a young, tall, muscular Australian, with blond hair that hung halfway down his back. He worked on the Catholic Sheep Farm and Woolen Mill at Hallim, a town on the north side of the island. He was known variously on Jeju Island among the handful of American Peace Corps volunteers and expatriates there as “The Aussie Army,” “Conan, The Ghost,” or just plain “Arnold.” When off the farm, he was notorious for appearing out of nowhere; always at a distance, and never approachable. He would disappear as quickly and mysteriously as he would appear. He was thus a legendary figure.
Rumors were that he had done something very bad in Australia, and so was serving out his time on Jeju Island, supervised by the Catholic clergy. His drunken escapades in dockside Jeju City pork and wine houses were heavily rumored but never witnessed by the rumor-mongers. One story was that it took 15 minutes and a dozen policemen to separate Arnold from three American Navy Seals on July 4, 1972, during a midnight alleyway brawl. He was hardly scratched, the story goes. Two of his nicknames arose from his resemblance to the mighty Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, then famous for his movie role as “Conan the Barbarian.” The third nickname, “Aussie Army” derived from his surprise performance during a remarkable mountain climbing contest held shortly before I arrived on the island for the first time.
I cannot separate this story from my memories of Hwasun beach, so I will share it with you next week in the final installment of Hwasun Memories.