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.
Harlot’s web; the battle intensifies.
My victory was short-lived. I slept well, woke up at dawn with a full bladder and headed for the outhouse via the shortcut. Guess what? The orb weaver was back with a new web. She occupied the very center of the orb again. We stared at each other eye to eye.
It was as if nothing had changed; as if yesterday never happened. Who would stand aside today? I blinked first. I had to pee so bad that I had to turn on my heels in a mad rush to the privy via the long route around the east side of the storage choga (grass-roofed residence). As I turned the first corner at a trot I spied the manager’s room alit and the hallway sliding door ajar. I presumed she was watching me. I wondered why? A man on the way to the privy couldn’t be all that interesting.
I yanked the rope on the outhouse door. An eye-watering wafting stench emerged from the pit to greet me. I quickly did my business and emerged from the privy with dark thoughts of revenge. Meanwhile, before me on the shortcut path, my eight-legged nemesis rode high and happy upon her gilded web. She and her newest creation glistened with the morning dew at daybreak. The aesthetic of the view ahead along the narrow path that framed the courtyard, as seen through her shimmering orb’s web lattices in the dawn’s early light, was breathtaking. But I had no camera, nor was I in any mood to snap a photo. So what if the harlot spider was a bit of a talented artist and engineer? In my opinion she was mainly a show-off and a nuisance. Her back was to me. Did she know I was there? Did she care?
I picked up the nearest stick, and for the first (but not the last) time bellowed “Whore!” as I charged at the web with my right arm and weapon aloft, making great circular motions like a swashbuckling Scaramouch. It took me about 15 seconds to demolish her web. When I had finished, the stick again resembled a cone of cotton candy. One thing that I noticed as I tossed the big-spider-ball-on-a-stick over the west wall of the compound was that it seemed slightly larger and heavier than it had the previous night. This got me to thinking. Perhaps I had initially underestimated my adversary? If so, I should better gather my thoughts and learn a few things prior to future encounters.
Subsequent days, weeks and months, proved me correct. I had a sneaking suspicion that the spider was indeed getting bigger and her web stronger every time I tore it down. This was disconcerting and I surmised could lead to no good. And other strange events were occurring in and around the outhouse related to the spider. Some of these I could not fathom.
For one, boardinghouse management was becoming perplexed and perturbed at my erratic behavior around the outhouse. Word got back to my workplace and to my sponsor/colleague, Mr. Kim. He began to display an exaggerated concern for my health and welfare. I reassured him I was fine, but then inexplicably, my workload was reduced and I was invited to go home early to rest and eat. Simultaneously, Mr. Kim had begun to complain of an ulcer.
Surely this was not my fault. Was I not successfully living a normal Peace Corps down-country volunteer life? Acclimatized to my new environment? Persevering against any and all adversity? Fitting in? I was certainly keeping busy: I had my day job, my gym, my nights out on the town, and my weekends to trek about the island. Case closed. There was nothing wrong with me.
Something else: I had not been a resident of my boarding house for even three months when I suddenly noticed one morning that there were no loose branches laying about the outhouse when previously there had been sticks aplenty. Spring was fading into summer. The flora and fauna populations of Jeju were exploding with vigor and vitality. The outhouse was also abuzz (if you catch my drift). Meanwhile the harlot’s web (even if aloft for a short time) would grew heavy with flies, moths, crickets and such. The bushes and trees already hugged, and now began to drape over, both outhouse paths. So why were there no sticks lying about? Something was up.
My first thought was to attribute fantastic agency and intelligence to my adversary, the orb weaver, who had in fact grown remarkably larger in size since our first encounter. I had been asking around about the peculiarities and habits of her sort and discovered that, for one, she is prone to eating her dismantled webs (not to mention eating her little husbands!). Ingesting so much protein is necessary for her to amass the energy and materials to spin more prolifically and elaborately day after day. This would explain why my harlot spider had taken on girth and extended her reach in such a short time since my arrival. She was a good three inches across by June. The more I barged through her web the bigger she grew.
This would also explain why, day after day, week after week, her golden orb had become more resilient to my attacks. Rumor had it that the web strands spit out by the orb weaver could achieve the tensile strength of steel! Holy Spiderman! Hearing this, I imagined the harlot might eventually weave an orb as substantial as the Eiffel Tower along the shortcut between my boarding house room and the outhouse if my daily destruction of her web were to continue on for, say, a year or more. Thus I surmised that the harlot would 1) eat her way out of the shambles of a web I left in the wake of my daily attacks, 2) cough up an even bigger and better web for the next morning, and then 3) hide all the sticks and branches leading to the privy, all in anticipation of my next return. Removing the sticks and branches every day was her intelligent plan to disarm me. It was all becoming perfectly clear.
But it turned out to be the boarding house manager who had suddenly made it her business to deprive me of my access to web-busting sticks. She collected them daily while I was at work. She disapproved of my aggression toward the harlot spider. This I discovered during a climactic meeting between us over the issue. I had to sit politely through my landlady’s elaborate yarn (translated into bad English by her eldest daughter) about how the shortcut path to the outhouse was actually “owned” by the spider, and how everyone in the compound considered it fortunate for themselves that a luck-and-wisdom-bringing-orb weaver had long ago chosen that particular place on the premises to occupy, and how they all respected the spider, and so on and so forth. She neglected to mention that, in addition to all this folklore and myth, having a giant carnivorous spider that loves eating flies, moths and crickets and hangs out adjacent a privy is perfectly logical.
Management concluded her gentle reproach by more or less warning me as a newcomer to also respect the territorial rights of the spider and to take the long way to the outhouse in the future. She also asked me not to shout “Whore!” every time I went to the privy — and especially in the early hours of the morning.
Next up: 10,000 crickets