Culture Shock and Kelp in California

Surfacing at Laguna Beach

Twelve days ago, my plane dropped down onto the tarmac of the LAX airport. The sky was clear as we landed. Houses aligned like Legos. On the horizon, mountains stood blue and distant, their silhouettes crisp against the empty sky. I knew almost nothing about those mountains. Michelle and I …

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The Haenyeo Dictionary

Muljil means “water-work.” On Jeju Island, South Korea, this word refers to the work of the haenyeo, the elderly diving women who live as the real-life mermaids of Jeju’s volcanic coast. Or so muljil means on Jeju, at least. Dropping the phrase 물질 (muljil) into google translate, I get the word “substance.” The same …

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How to Lose a Volleyball Tournament with Style

This weekend brought Jeju’s largest waygook event: the Jeju Furey Beach Volleyball Tournament. For two days each May, Hamdeok Beach becomes home to oddly-shaped sunburns, stray volleyballs, and a moving mosaic of team t-shirts. There are moves that people in the know might possibly call sets, or spikes, or rallies, as …

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Why I Chose to Become A Mermaid

Jeju Island has real-life mermaids. They do not look like what you might expect. Instead of smooth porcelain skin, their faces are mapped with wrinkles. In place of long, flowing hair, they flaunt ear-length perms. Their backs bend permanently at the waist. Most are missing teeth. But underwater they move …

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