I was reunited with my suitcase containing my pants and suit jacket on the eve of the big Jeju Studies Symposium event, and just in time to be able to face my academic and scholarly audience looking presentable. I had packed a bolo tie thinking I would be the only presenter wearing one.
Instead I discover that bolo ties are the current fashion among male Korean academics. I recall that during my Peace Corps days nearly all university professors and independent scholars I encountered were wearing wine-red berets. Forty years later I didn’t see even one beret in the lecture hall. The presentations that day were all on significant topics and delivered with passion. The audience responded with spot-on, intelligent comments and questions. Throughout the day perhaps 10,000 business cards were exchanged. All considered, the symposium was a terrific success.
And so was the private banquet hosted two nights later by Fred “China Smith” Dustin (see JWW essays 16, 17 and 18). I composed and sang a little ditty to the tune of a classic Korean drinking song for the affair, to honor Fred’s entrepreneurial spirit as played out on the island over many decades and for which his diligence, enterprise and ultimate success are legend:
Frederick Dustin hanguk e
Daume Hallasan gachi gaso.
Frederick Dustin came
to Korea as a soldier.
Then he ventured down to Halla Mountain
and strived mightily
to become the wealthy and respected man he is today!
So, to answer the question posed in the titles of my last three essays: Yes. You can return as well as go back. In my own case the journey is to Jeju Island: The Islanders still remain cheerful in the face of adversity and generous to a fault. There are still pockets of inspirational isolation amidst visual grandeur. Cold makgeolli flows thick, sweet and powerful from the same sort of long-necked plastic bottles as it did in cheap rib joints 40 years ago. And some untidy rib joints yet remain, resilient to change and resistant to domestication. Plus, I rejoice that the sun has not yet set on Bacchus-D™ in Jeju City.
Yes. I discovered that one can go back and at least partially re-live his or her Peace Corps Volunteer days of yore on The Blessed Isle — even in the midst of runaway mass tourism. But why would one want to? Life is too short, and who with an adventurous bent really wants to live even the Best of Times twice over in the same place?
Between you, me and Google maps, I recently ran across what appears to be the fraternal twin of Jeju Island. It holds the promise of twice as much peace and quiet as there once was on Jeju Island — before the arrival of the 747-400s.
Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but I am hopeful that the two calderas on this island portend of twice the makgeolli, and twice the diving women and twice the privy pigs, and so on. The natives of this island still wear loincloths I hear — and mass tourism is not even a speck on its far horizon. So I must go there. I just added it to my bucket list (near the top).
Fifty dollars goes to the first JWW reader who sends me the correct name and GPS coordinates for this mystery island. If no one comes up with the correct answer before Dec. 24, the publishing date of my 52nd and final JWW essay in this series, I will spill the beans at that time…
Getting back to Fred: The morning following his wonderful banquet was the morning of the last day for Haesook and I on Jeju Island. We could have done many things, but I was most curious to visit and lurk around Fred’s famous Maze and Cattery. Something unusual seems to be going on there that I was anxious to explore firsthand.
Just before my trip to the island I carefully examined some satellite photos of Fred’s Maze and was surprised to discover a secret compound on or near the premises:
Obviously of deliberate human construction, this secret compound carved out of the pine forests near the maze has the unmistakable shape of a cat. On first observing the details of this satellite image I was immediately reminded of the ancient Nazca lines in the high Peruvian desert, some of which seem to represent animals, including what also appears to be a cat:
Although it may seem incredible, in the following image the Nazca lines appear to be extensions of a maze into the shape of a monkey!
One popular hypothesis explaining the origins of the ancient Nazca lines in Peru has yet to be refuted: that they were constructed by intergalactic travelers. So I ask you: Was the compound in the shape of a cat adjacent (and perhaps attached to) Fred’s Maze also constructed by aliens?
I think not. Applying Occam’s razor, there is a much more rational explanation based on what we know about Fred Dustin, cats and the global economy.