National Geographic : 1975 Sep
weed. Behind some rocks-really?-some of those ravishing Korean diving women! Well, not quite. These ladies putting on black wet suits aren't the ones who pose for travel posters. But what workers they were. Down they plunged with face masks and hooks, up they came with sea urchins, sea slugs, and assorted mollusks. One came ashore. Her face was seamed and weather-beaten. "Rain, snow, I go out every day, except when the waves are too high," she said. "I won't get rich but maybe my son will." She was so proud of him. She was sending him to Korea University in Seoul, to study business management. Between-meal Treat Lures Fleet Fifty miles on, at Mukho, I learned of 700 to 1,000 boats going after ojingo. Thousands of families devote themselves to stringing it on racks to dry. It's a national snack. Could I go out to help catch it, this squid that launched a thousand ships? No, the sea son had just ended. Soon it would be time for myongtai, or pollack. But carefully collected ojingo innards still bubbled away in factory vats, producing unforgettable smells. Also fertilizer, and ingredients for paint. Near Sokcho the moon rose reddish from the East Sea, and I stood there shivering in the wind until it was high and silvery. The beach and the rocks were dark and silent. And the silence was alive with watchers: soldiers in bunkers along the beach, in machine-gun nests on the rocks. Patrols with dogs, regiments on alert two miles inland here and along the south and west coasts too. An obsession with security is a prime fact of life in the Republic of Korea. The prime threat has come from the Dem ocratic People's Republic of Korea, which en compasses the northern half of the Korean Peninsula (map, facing page).* This splitting of one country occurred as a consequence of World War II, and the two halves have been at war, hot and cold, ever since. I was told in Seoul by Lt. Gen. Lee Byung hyung, the head of the Counter-Infiltration Operations Command, that his day-by-day concern was North Korean agents infiltrating, bent on espionage and subversion. He said they come not only by land-across the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone along the boundary - but also by sea. *H. Edward Kim gave readers a "Rare Look at North Korea" in the August 1974 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. "And some come directly to Seoul by com mercial airliner, from Tokyo or Hong Kong, disguised as businessmen or tourists." Such a supposed tourist, a Korean resident of Japan, came to last year's Independence Day celebrations and fired a revolver at the South Korean President, Park Chung Hee. President Park was unhurt, but his wife was fatally wounded. The assassin was hanged. General Lee showed me North Korean leaflets sent south by balloon. "Their propa ganda says South Korea is near starvation, that the people are being oppressed in every way. But you can see that our people are not starving, and not being oppressed." On the surface, certainly, I found Seoul full of cheerful diversions, as expectable in a modern city of 61/2 million-notably in the central area called Myong-dong, the "bright district." It hummed nightly until shortly be fore the midnight curfew. Music halls with stage shows. Beer halls featuring rock music, or secluded alcoves. Quiet places for soju and nakchi, white liquor and octopus. And so many good-looking hostesses! "This is the best place in the world," a young man assured me, "for playboys of any age." Grappling Dogs Don't Bite In a glass-and-concrete building devoted to taekwondo, the venerable Korean version of karate, men belabored each other with elegant chops and kicks. Many fell but none seemed hurt. In a drained swimming pool in a park a boxing ring had been set up, and fighting inside were-two big dogs! In fact wrestling, one getting the other by the neck with his paws and wham! No biting allowed, and no barking! The contestants' trainers gesticu lated, the crowd surged. Top dog was Julius Caesar, winner on points. He won a wreath, a certificate, a trophy, and a television set. One afternoon, after admiring the National Museum's remarkable ceramics, especially the blue-green celadon animal figures of the 12th century, I emerged onto the grounds of Kyongbok Palace. In front of its Throne Hall, primary school girls on an outing sat in a cir cle and cheered classmates wearing sashes with the names of other countries. "Miss France" did a cancan, "Miss En gland" strutted in a blazer. "Miss Congo" wriggled. "Miss Korea," fluffing a big fan, was elected "Miss Universe" and did a tradi tional dance, while everyone sang "Arirang" South Korea: What Next?