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.
Our man in Kimnyoung…
To me Fred will always be the “China Smith of Cheju Island” though my imaginary association of an unsavory television character with the gentlemanly Real Deal has turned out in the long run to be completely self-delusional and mostly an elaborate fiction crafted of childhood fantasies.
My own opinions aside, most Cheju Island PCVs over the years that Peace Corps Korea existed (1966-1981) had ample opportunity to form their own opinions about Fred. I’ve recently been conducting a little survey on the topic among Cheju Island Peace Corps Volunteers. One example response to my question “What do you remember about Fred Dustin?” is a direct quote provided by Jim Shon, a “K-12” (circa 1970):
“OK Fred. Among my colleagues at the time, few seem to remember Fred as much as I do. Part of this is that I remember meeting with him several times, and later, when I arranged a sister state relationship between Hawaii and Cheju, we had a number of conferences. I remember one when Fred was one of our most knowledgeable panel members. I’d have to dig thru my papers but I think he did a paper on Cheju’s Mongolian small horses. But for most of the time Fred was a man of mystery. I have this picture of him with his chiseled face engulfed in pipe smoke… our man in Kimnyoung… He was the American who seemed to have connections and relationships that were beyond the norm. He seemed to own land when that was not possible. He lived out on a rural place near the caves, a nice hot hike from the bus stop. He claimed to be selling eggs to the hotels. I do remember a debate among some Americans as to who he was, and speculation that he was actually CIA!!! (But actually many of our Korean teacher colleagues and their friends thought WE were CIA, since we spoke Korean. For them, being CIA was a compliment!! It was the height of Viet Nam and Koreans were very much into supporting the war.)”
Another CPCV (a K-30, Edith Jensen, circa 1975) recalls:
“OMG, I remember Fred! We went to his place for pheasant and ended up with grilled cheese sandwiches. LOL”
A final example. Charlie Kelly, a “K-41” recalls:
“I was a PCV on Cheju-do back in 1977 – 78, and taught at Cheju University [Jeju National University] (I have a hard time using “J”), and have to say my times in Cheju were pretty wild. I was a regular at the bars, mostly subsisting on soju, and everyone once in awhile would bump into Fred who was always kind enough to buy me a beer or two. Seems like Fred had his favorite restaurants, one being a teppanyaki place (forgot the name), where he’d like to hold court and opine on things. Also, I remember his place out in the country, and it was nice to hang there every once in awhile, again because he was always generous with his beer. I considered Fred to be a role model of sorts, in a not so positive way, as to what happens if you stay in Korea too long! Ha. I remember a professor Park (a youngish professor who was very much the ladies man) telling me he really didn’t know how to deal with Fred. Was he an American? A Korean? Or what? He was very hard to place, which as I get older and on in years, can totally appreciate. Let’s say, Fred was his own man who lived by his own rules, and was all the better for it. I saw an article awhile back about the maze on Chejudo that Fred made. Awesome stuff. Good luck assembling memories of Fred, and wish him my best.”
Charlie’s statement here reminds me that when I was on Cheju in 1973-74 Fred had not yet moved full time out to his “ranch” (which is now the site of his world-famous Jeju Kimnyoung Maze Park). Edith mentioned that circa 1975 Fred was experimenting with raising pheasants for sale on that property. Later he would raise chickens, plant tangerine trees, and grow kiwifruit vines as an experiment. God knows what else! Fred was a pioneer entrepreneur and intrepid to the core. Also, let it be known that most CPCVs in my experience preferred toasted cheese sandwiches to pheasant any day and twice on Sunday. This, Fred knew well and so acted accordingly.
I visited Manjang Cave (adjacent to Fred’s spread) several times during 1973-74. To save taxi fare and forego the bumpy ride into the bush, I got off the bus at Gimnyeong village and hiked uphill for about an hour. I enjoyed the walk. Sometimes I hitchhiked.
Back then, good-natured gangs of rowdy rural women working in the rapeseed fields above the village would wave, shout out, make obscene gestures and laugh like crazy as I passed by. They didn’t get to the city very much back then. Americans passing through on foot were still exotic fare. One of the greatest contributions made by Peace Corps men and women to the toiling rural folk back in the day was our amusement value: I was always good for a laugh; at the same time, I could dish it right back — and did. “When in Rome …”
Well, let me say to Fred here, in case he reads this rag, that Charlie Kelly and all the Cheju Peace Corps Volunteers send their regards and Best Wishes! We are trying to compile a complete list of Volunteers and collect more Fred stories. My rough estimate is that close to 60 PCVs served on Chejudo between 1966 (when PCK was launched) to 1981 (when the U.S. State Department finally threw in the towel). More than 1,800 Peace Corps Volunteers had served in Korea during that time.
Charlie seems to have captured the general consensus of the Volunteers back in the day who have thus far responded to my invitation to offer their current opinions about Fred: “Let’s say, Fred was his own man who lived by his own rules.” I agree. My own experience with Fred during 1973 and 1974 sums up to my opinion that “What you saw was what you got.” I saw a lot of the “China Smith” in him, but that view matured over subsequent decades. Fred Dustin it appears was significantly more rumored than known. He was an enigma to many. He was in my days of Volunteer service on Cheju Island, anyway, very much a diamond in the rough and a work in progress.