Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Getting to Dokdo

To get to Dokdo, one can either depart Ulleungdo from Jeodong or Sadong. Ferries typically run twice a day in peak season, but frequently get cancelled because of high seas. And even though people board the ferry doesn't mean that they will be able to disembark at Dokdo, because if there are any swells, the water would beat the ferry against the low dock, or it could sweep people off the dock and into the sea. A person wouldn't have a chance of survival if that happened. So if swells are too high, then the ferry will simply circle the island and return to Ulleungdo. According to workers in the Jeodong ticketing office, people disembark onto Dokdo only one in five times. Wikipedia offers different information, "If the swell is greater than 3 to 5 meters, then landing is not possible so on average ferries can only dock about once in every forty days." The day we went to Dokdo and the following day were particularly calm and both morning and afternoon ferries could allow passengers to disembark. Very unusual! In the winter months, December to February, no passenger ferries to Dokdo are in operation.

Aerial shot from the Ulleungdo-Dokdo tourist map
Beyond ticketing but before boarding the ferry is the "last place to buy food and drink" before going to Dokdo, the rock without water. A young girl was soliciting passengers to buy a small, medium, large (W30,000) or extra-large box of snacks for the soldiers on Dokdo, or even a case of water bottles. About 40 soldiers are stationed there on the peak of one of the sharply pointed islets. They live in very cramped quarters and must ration their water and only eat the food provided by the military, which was described as very basic and not much. 

The boxes contain chips, cookies, choco pies, ramen--in short, junk food. Different prices for different sized boxes, but it seemed like a good idea since the soldiers have no entertainment other than their phones and are rather dependent on tourists to bring in their extras as going out and buying something isn't an option. I would rather have taken a box of carrots, cabbage and potatoes or something fresh. Junk food is fine for a treat but not as a staple. Quite a few people bought boxes, and when they were delivered to the island, they were stacked up beside the platform that has a cable lift for hauling up heavy or large items to the soldiers' quarters on the peak. If the ferries come even once every 4-5 days, then those boys in uniform sure get a lot of junk food! But if it can't come for 40 days, wow, that would be awful. To me, giving water is the more practical ideas, but on our ferry, most people who gave a gift had it in junk food form. 

We had a very unusual ride over to Dokdo. The entire ferry was filled with soldiers. We two, a busload of Korean language-study students from Kyunghee University, and a tiny handful of Korean passengers were the only non-military personnel on the ferry. Those soldiers were traveling in uniform (of course) and were there for military tourism. A professional photographer accompanied them and I got the impression this trip was for political reasons--to take lots of pictures to publicize widely for showing Korean strength and military solidarity and to assert Korea's claim that "Dokdo is ours", the Korean slogan universally heard when discussing the island. The controversy between Japan still exists--on which side of the islets Dokdo belongs to. The soldiers, also like us, were only there for the 20-30 minutes or so to walk around, "see" Dokdo, and say that they had been there.

Basically, Dokdo (Dongdo and Seodo, respectively East and West Island) is a pair of rock islets that rear upward to 87.4 meters and have precipitous cliffs. According to the travel brochure, there are 89 outcroppings (why would anyone count or feel that important for a simple tourist map?) The whole island has staggeringly steep cliffs except for the southern side of Dongdo where a small flat beach allowed the building of the ferry port. 

The documented history of Dokdo goes back several centuries, and both Korea and Japan have visited the islet over the centuries. I don't know much about Japan's history but here's a clipping from Visit Korea of Korea's history of Dokdo:
Located 87.4km away from Ulleungdo Island, and formed entirely from volcanic rock, Dokdo is an isolated island off the east coast of Korea bearing a latitude of 37°14' north and a longitude of 131°52' east. Collectively, both Ulleungdo Island and Dokdo once belonged to a country named Usanguk. According to geographical records, Usanguk became part of the Silla Kingdom (57B.C. ~ 935 A.D.) in June of the 13th year that King Jijeung ruled Silla. Isabu (a general and politician of Silla) gained significant strength during this period to overtake Usanguk.  
In the Seongjong Memoir of the Joseon Dynasty, there are passages by Kim Jaju describing Dokdo, which was referred to as Sambongdo at the time. Dokdo was initially called 'Sambongdo', 'Gajido' or 'Usando', but the name was later changed to Dokdo in 1881. The name 'Dokdo' was first used in 1906 by the Headman of Ulleung County Sim Heungtaek. In 1914, Dokdo officially became an administrative district of the Gyeongsangbuk-do.  
After the Japanese Invasion of Korea (the Imjin War) in 1592, Japanese fishermen often came near Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Sukjong Sillok, the Annals of King Suk Jong (1674-1720), records that An Yong-bok went to Japan twice in order to protest against Japanese nationals trespassing into Korean territory. He asked the Japanese authorities to recognize Korea's sovereignty over these islands and to forbid Japanese nationals to sail to Dokdo.  
Dokdo is comprised of two main islands: Dongdo, or East Island which sits 98m above sea level, and Seodo, or West Island, which sits 168m above sea level, together with 36 smaller rock formations. Separating Dongdo and Seodo is the Hyeongjegul Cave, together with Cheonsanggul Cave on Dongdo. Over time, other caves and topographic features of the island formed due to weathering and erosion.

Japan acknowledged the value of Dokdo after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Japan unilaterally transferred Dokdo to Shimane Prefecture, Japan and renamed it "Dakesima". Several authorities in Japan have continuously declared their dominion, over the island, which led to diplomatic conflicts between Korea and Japan. Such conflicts have yet to be resolved. 
And interestingly enough, Dokdo to Korea, Takeshima to Japan, is Liancourt to France. That name is derived from the French whaling ship, Le Liancourt, that was wrecked on the islet's rocks in 1849.

Military installations near the top of Dongdo, Dokdo
Chotdae-bawi (Candlestick Rock), and Samhyeongje Bawigul (Three Brother Rocks with Holes)

Passengers are limited to a very limited area. Of course they are not allowed to the military installations on the peak. In fact, only a few officers were allowed to go up. The rest of the soldiers milled around like us, taking selfies, and posed as a group for a few select shots by the camera man.

The professional camera man principally focused on these four soldiers--two men AND two women. They will be representatives of the whole group, probably in fact, represent all of the Korean miitary. While the camera man was getting his posed shots, I was happily getting mine.

The soldiers in camouflage were from the mainland while the tiny handful of soldiers in navy were soldiers stationed on Dokdo. The Dokdo soldiers that I saw were taller than the average Korean. I wonder if there is a height criteria to be sent to this location?

I didn't even know that there were female soldiers mixed in this large group of male soldiers until we got to Dokdo. There were only a tiny few, but like everyone else there, they were enjoying the natural wild topography and the good luck to actually be able to disembark from the ferry.

Haha, gotta get those selfies and take advantage of the wi-fi!
Gathering around Sutdol-bawi (Whetstone Rock)
Getting into formation for the last group picture ... and departure

Our very large ferry boat waiting to reload us and haul us all back to Jeodong, Ulleungdo.
The whole area of Dokdo has been designated as a Natural Preservation Zone. Like Ulleungdo, it's rough, jagged and is one of the scenic, very jurassic-looking geoparks of Korea. 

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