It takes 80 minutes by train from Seoul to Ansan. And from Ansan station we were going to get a bus to Daeboo island. The bus is only once an hour and Kyoko and I couldn't be late for the appointment with Jieun (who is an assistant of Ssamzie Space) at Ansan station. But things, of cause, don't goes so well in the real life.
I was in the middle of the worst hangover and headache in my life. I had to travel to Ansan station in a really bad shape -- I lay down on the chair in the train; I wasn't even able to sit down on the chair. I troubled with nausea too. So I took medicine in front of the bus stop and then, at the bus stop, I was holding a bottle of water in my right hand and just being a vegetable. Kyoko told me I should go back to Hongdae if I feel so sick and Jieun agreed and worried. Frankly I couldn't get the train back to Hongdae right then because Hongdae was too far and I was sure that it might make me sick. I had no energy. So I said "No" and got the bus to Daeboo Island with them anyway. I was listening to "Born to run" sang by Bruce Springsteen in the bus over and over and crying all along. My hangover somehow made me very emotional. But, miraculously, Bruce CURED me!
We were slightly late but not too much and we were able to contact a woman from the Ansan City Community Center. We headed together for the first place without any trouble. On foot, it took only 5 minutes from the bus stop.
When we opened the sliding door of the living room I smelled something weird. However, as we got into the bedroom, that smell disappeared. There we met two women. One is the house owner Madam Kang (91 years old) and the other was her friend Madam Lee (86 years old).
Kang was in the bed. And Lee was sitting next to her. But Kang got out of the futon right away and sat on the floor with us. Both of them have lived on that island for more than 40 years and they said they were close friends.
Despite that Kang looked totally healthy she wasn't able to walk any more. The house seemed very old and hopeless. There were cracks on the wall in places and spider web in the tiny bathroom. When Kyoko went to take pictures of the living room she saw a mouse running crossed the ceiling and captured it on her camera, which I learned later on the train back home. The weird smell in the living room must be it's excrement... Even so Kang was proud of her house very much. She said she was proud of it because a half of a century ago, she bought the land and built the house on her own. She said the same thing to us at least 4 times!
Near the ceiling high on the wall there were two framed portrait pictures. One portrait was very good-looking young man and next to it was about sixty years old Madam Kang herself. She told us that the young guy is her deceased husband who passed away when he was 25 years old during the war, and to whom she got married when she was only 16 years old. Therefore she had to raise three children alone. She became a peddler carrying her wares on her back from one hamlet to another, buying and selling used/new clothes and household utensils. No wonder why that house was so precious to her, one can imagine. She said again and again this that "I don't get it how come I have lived so long. I get sick of it. I wish I could die." And soon after we learned that her son and daughter were already dead and only one daughter is still alive, and she is 72 years old. And now her niece takes care of her who lives near by.
Still she is the lucky one, I think. She has a close friend who drop by every day and cares for her a lot. Compared to people as old as her who live in a metropolis like Seoul the life in the island is much slower and peaceful. The village people take care of each other.
I respect her tough life and hope when it ends it ends peacefully.
After visiting Kang's place, we had lunch nearby and afterwards we were waiting for a phone call from Miss. Song (of the Ansan City Community Center) at a Nonghyeop [agricultural cooperative] Market, and buying small things for our next visit. Right after we paid for a bag of tangerines, we got the phone call and learned that we couldn't visit the next woman. She was in a bad condition out of the blue and her son didn't want us to come.
All of a sudden we didn't know what to do. We came all the way to the island and had visited one place and nothing else?
I was so disappointed by that news but Kyoko cheerfully said "Oh well, let's go out and walk around! It's a good sunny day!"
On the street Jieun bought a bag of popped rice from an middle aged woman (I wonder if she will live to be 91?) and we rambled about aimlessly.
We came upon a halmeoni [old woman] in front of her door and asked if we could take pictures of her house. She looked at us suspiciously and said "No" coldly. Then I sticked out some tangerines to her. But she said "No, no. I ain't needing anything" and shut the door tightly.
Finally Jieun said "Let's check the bus timetable at least. There is a police station." We agreed and went into the police station. They consulted for a while and told us they didn't know the actual time, but right before we came they said a bus passed, so we probably should wait for an hour or something. And they offered us instant coffee. They were very kind.
The police chief asked us where were we from and why we came. So without any real expectation I asked him, at Kyoko's suggestion, if he could introduce us to people over 80 years old around there. He checked our Resident Registration Numbers first and the aim of our activity, and then immediately he printed out from a computer a list of 40 people in the island. And he said "We police are very helpful for the people's needs, don't you think?" and laughed. They were truly helpful, so much so, one of them even drove us to a place by his patrol car and introduced us to a small village headman.
The village headman and we went into a house. The house had an old fashioned wood door and two meters dark hallway beyond. The inner court was surrounded by many rooms. The house was composed by three small apartments which each had a few rooms but shared a bathroom. And one person lived in each of them.
A guy appeared. The village headman asked him "May she take picture of your room? She is a photographer who takes picture of old people's rooms," and he opened the small door next to the hallway. It was a kitchen and there was a sliding door for a room. It wasn't locked. He opened it too without any hesitation. What surprised me the most was that it wasn't the guy's room. And later I learned that the guy was just the landlord. He and the village headman gave Kyoko their permission to take pictures of her room. They kept telling us "Feel free! It's OK, totally OK." The guy soon disappeared.
The village headman was still with us and Jieun and I chitchatted with him, standing in the court yard, while Kyoko was doing her work. He was nice. He told us about his life on the island and living in a countryside. He said he likes it. And he went on about their vineyards, and the island's vine festival. Also, apropos of nothing, he told us about how fake-medicine businessmen come to the village and deceive old people there. He said "At the moment, today, the fake-medicine businessmen is in the village and the room owner, an 82 years old woman, is surely there. All the old people must be. That's why there are no people on the street." But a young man like him (he was in his early 50s, I guess) was not even allowed to get into the place where they were selling the terrible fake-medicine. I asked "Why don't you stop them and protect those old people?" He answered "It isn't illegal."
With the policemen and the village headman's help, we luckily could visit and take pictures of two more places. It turned out just like the saying "転禍為福 A misfortune turns into a blessing" by end of the day.