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 Part 1. — Ed.

I arrived on Jeju Island (named “Quelpart” for disputed reasons by early European explorers) in February of 1973. I was “sent down” to the island to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. If “sent down” sounds like punishment, then the joke was on the Peace Corps! Jeju City was to be my base of operations for most part of the next two years, during which time my impertinent curiosity took me here, there, and about into almost every nook and cranny on the island.

I usually roamed about Jeju Island alone, by choice. There was a Cat Stevens song from 1971 that stuck in my head a lot of the time during my Peace Corps training. That song was titled “Moon Shadow.” At some point early on in Korea I concocted an imaginary companion named “Moondoggy” that would shadow me around Korea wherever I ventured. Moondoggy had the shape of an Al Capp “Shmoo” and was blue — with spots. He had antennae tipped with eyeballs. He looked very much like a dog that might have come from the moon. So I was never alone on Jejudo, much less lonely.

What a stroke of luck! My high school fantasy had become reality. Moreover, to my surprise and joy I discovered that weight-lifting competitions were one of the oldest recreational traditions on the Island. There was a stone object that everyone lifted for sport in the old days. Apparently every village had a “lifting stone” dedicated for use in local tests of strength. The stone was called a tudum dol in Jejumal, the indigenous islander language. I asked a few island elders to describe the old stone-lifting competitions to me from memory. I have since published on this esoteric (but what I believe to be profound and significant) topic elsewhere, and so I will not repeat myself here — beyond just a few remarks.

A tudum dol in Seongup Village. Resident, Mr.  Song describes its significance. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

A tudum dol in Seongup Village. Resident, Mr. Song describes its significance. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

A tudum dol in Hallim Town. Resident Mr. Pak validates its significance. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

A tudum dol in Hallim Town. Resident Mr. Pak validates its significance. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

Both men and women participated in the stone-lifting competitions I learned, and the women were often better at it than the men — or so they said. I estimated that I had arrived about 60 years too late to personally observe the last of these customary islander weight-lifting competitions.

I later discovered that stone-lifting competitions were once ubiquitous events in locations worldwide during the Agricultural and early Industrial Ages. Traces and records of stone-lifting competitions are found for example in Germany, in Scotland, in Japan, as well as on Jeju Island.

Another thing: not every stone was designated as a lifting stone by the Islanders. Only certain stones anointed for that purpose were lifted for sport. The chosen ones had to be roundish, and the rounder the better. Plunge-pool stones from the deep ravines of Mt. Halla were prized the most. Photographed here is the near perfect-shaped and right-sized vintage lifting stone I photographed in Gosan Village.


The impressive tudum dol of Gosan Village. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

The impressive tudum dol of Gosan Village. Photo courtesy David Nemeth.

I pause here to wonder just where it might be today. Readers of this essay residing on the island might be able to look around and answer this question for me.


Next week: Body building at a dojo in Jeju City.

Tagged with →