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.
It did not take me long to discover what appeared to be a body-building/weight-lifting dojo in Jeju City. Call it a “gym” if you don’t think body-building/weight-lifting is a martial art. However, “dojo” translates into English as “the place of ‘the Way’” and so, to the extent that the gym I discovered is the “place of ‘the Way’” to learn body-building, it qualifies as a dojo.
Or. Perhaps what I thought to be a dojo at that time was merely a hangout or clubhouse — or even something more sinister having to do with the organized informal or underground economies on Jeju Island at that time. The trash collectors, the sidewalk vegetable vendors, even the shoeshine boys, were organized and territorial I discovered.
Whatever; the dojo was located on the third floor of a four-storey warehouse near the waterfront in the heart of the red-light district. The ground-floor of the warehouse was mainly prostitute cribs. I don’t know what was behind all the locked doors I encountered on the second floor. In contrast, most of the third-floor rooms were not secured and easily accessed. These rooms contained a lot of brooms, mops, and plastic jugs of chemicals. In most of these third-storey rooms there were rows piled high of hemp bags stuffed with what my nose told me was dried sea food.
The dojo itself was the first door up the staircase on the third floor, just opposite the stairwell. The door to the dojo was always open. There was a naked bulb hanging above the top step that burned around the clock. Just inside the open door of the dojo there was a wooden chair visible from anyone standing on the last riser at the top of the staircase. The chair faced a wooden desk. That desk, however, was hidden from view until finally crossing the threshold of the dojo. The chair was always occupied. No one could come up the stairs without being seen by whoever happened to be occupying the chair at that time. That person would most often be Mr. Bu, the owner and manager of the dojo.
Mr. Bu was short, dark, and curly haired. He was built like a fireplug. I observed over many months that he ran a tight ship and was a strict disciplinarian – and perhaps a tad sadistic. He received plenty of respect from his students. I was not a student. I just paid to lift weights there.
Mr. Bu invariably wore a muscle-revealing “Hey Stella!” T-shirt. He wore it in the spring, in the summer and deep into the fall. In the dead of winter he covered the T-shirt with an old brown leather jacket. There was a battered one-yeontan (briquet) coal stove next to the chair. A tarnished stovepipe led from behind the stove top straight up to the ceiling. From there it stretched toward its terminus at the closest window, where it disappeared through a plywood board.
If you have read Charles Dickens and know of Fagin, and if I told you that my dojo was “a Fagin’s Den,” then you might imagine more easily the unusual premises I will describe to you next week.