Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anheung's Foggy Dew

Woke up at five this morning. To the familiar sound of the surf.

Water almost reached the top of the concrete pier, at the feet of the wooden stairs leading to our small bungalow. A high tide day ? Good for seafood : shellfish are supposed to give more meat.

The time to enjoy a peaceful walk around the lake of Chollipo Arboretum and to wolf down a decent breakfast, sun has risen enough to timidly caress the small island facing us, a certain Dalkseom, according to the map. "Chicken Island"... Did they rescue a Rob-hen-son Crusoe on that goosebump over the West Sea ?

I can't see any chicken, but I can ear a few seagulls. They too are awake and eager to share the news.

Now small fishing boats are coming and going, one at a time, from and to the small port of Cheollipo. Not much of a rush hour, but horns are honking nonetheless in the distance.

Gotta go.

To the local fish market. Roughly in the same direction as the boats, only by car.

This time, we didn't come for bird watching nor for Taean Haean National Park. The arboretum ? A nice alibi. We just wanted to enjoy Taean-gun on a weekday, off season, when locals can be a little bit more themselves and a little bit less tourist attractions.

It's a short trip to Anheung - maybe thirty kilometers - but a magical mystery (mist-ery ?) tour through the early morning fog : first road 32 through Sowon-myeon, and then road 603 across Geumheung-myeon peninsula, all the way to Sinjindo and Sinjindo-ri, the village around Anheung Port.

The road is even foggier than yesterday. At times, you can't see further than fifteen meters. Almost no traffic, and only a few lost souls emerge from the grey wetness : the ghost of an old farmer, a woman waiting for her bus in a scene worthy of Hayao Myazaki's "
Spirited Away", a middle-aged man in an impeccable office suit, standing by the road and staring at nothing. Probably just beamed straight from the twilight zone (I got the explanation later)...

Parts of the scenery strangely remind me of Belgium in late winter, when the fog rules over patches of bare frozen land - here, the mirrors of unplanted rice paddies. I smile at the parallel, bringing up the mental picture of Seoulites harvesting witloof down Gyeongbokgung Station.

If we don't know when the auctions start, we do have a few clues : they depend on the arrival of the boats, and considering the tide and the traffic this morning on Chollipo bay, it should be about time. As we pass Anheungseong fortress and reach the small harbor, frenzied seagulls give us the ultimate clue : the boats have recently arrived. Indeed, the delivery of the day lies under the main hall. All items have already been packed for the auctions and outside, freshly gutted fish are being laid on drying nets for other buyers.

This is by no means a big harbor nor a big catch, but like all the ones I've witnessed in Korean fish markets, this auction reflects proficiency. Two animators face a perfect line of bidders : equipped with a head mike, the announcer reads a brief description of each lot, before letting the "screamer" do his gig. In French, the main animator is called "le crieur" or "the screamer", and this Korean guy perfectly honors the profession thanks to a powerful, steady note that only stops when a bidder wins. This time, the hallucination is auditive : it very much sounded like a muezzin's call to prayer (memo to myself : when you start seeing minarets and endives in Chungnam, go back to sleep).

I position myself in line with the bidders for a picture. Suddenly, one of them swiftly opens his jacket, gesturing not so discreetely as if he were pocketing back his wallet. A bribery attempt ? No : another one does exactly the same. This is just the official signal to up the bid.

In less than three minutes, they've finished the main dish. Shellfish will go even quicklier, before they move to the small crates and their delicate arrangements. The auctions finished, the ballet can start, orchestrated by buyers waving impatiently, their cellphones already overheating.

As we leave, customers are arriving for the open market.

Even if the fog has abated in most portions on the way back, we're still granted a few detours into the twilight zone. Between two layers of mist, we're welcomed by supporters of a politician : the man I saw earlier, with the nice suit and necktie, is now delivering a vibrant speech from a colorful podium facing an empty street. All dressed in the same blue uniform, his cheerleaders bow as we pass. I'm used to the ceremonium at every crossroads during election campaigns but not in the middle of nowhere.

We'll meet many rival factions in busier surroundings : as we browse Seosan Dongbu Market for our 11 o'clock lunch.

Seoul Village 2010

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