Tuesday, December 18, 2007

월미도의 이야기

In the early morning of 15 September 1950, hundreds of ships assembled in neat formation off the sea of Wolmido. At dawn, the landing operations at Wolmido beaches commenced with thousands of UN troops being sent ashore to outflank their enemy from the rear. Meanwhile, the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) was threatening to overrun the Busan Perimeter. The unification of the peninsula under the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) was almost within sight before the successful Incheon landing reversed the tide. NKPA, now under the threat of being dislocated and cut off from its reinforcement and replenishment line, retreated in disarray back behind the 38 parallel. Fuelled by the success of the Incheon landing, the ambition of General Douglas MacAurther grew. He was determined to take the fight all the way to the Yalu River, right to the door-step of China.

The Communist government which had just won their civil war not too long ago was again forced into action. They understood the "lip and teeth relationship" between Korea and China. When the lip is lost, the teeth will be left to shiver in cold. They learnt their lesson when Japan annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910. Using the peninsula as a staging ground, the Japanese forces invaded and took over Manchuria and from there, they started the invasion of China. The Chinese leadership was quite clear that they could not afford to have unfriendly forces right at their backyard and because of that, they could not afford DPRK to fall. Their concern was justified. General MacAurther harboured the plan to strike deep into Manchuria to destroy the Chinese bases there and through it, neutralised China as a future threat. His plan was met with disapproval from Harry Truman, the US President then. His action also forced the Communist government to send troops, in millions, across the Yalu River. For dragging the Chinese into the war and for openly defying his political master, the hero of the Pacific War, was removed unceremoniously from his command. The Korean War finally ended 3 years after it was started with the signing of an armistice in July 1953. An armistice is an agreement to cease fighting but not a peace treaty so technically speaking, the two Koreas are still at war.

The landing of the UN forces at Wolmido that dawn in 1950 had essentially changed the fate of the Korean peninsula and the hero of the Pacific War. Since then, Wolmido is no longer an island. It has been connected to the mainland of Incheon by sea reclamation. Wolmido (월미도-月尾島) was named as such because as an island, it had the shape of a moon at the tail-end of a lunar month. Wolmido today is better known as place for relaxation and recreation. It has an amusement park, a long stretch of beautiful promenade and many seafood restaurants.

A trip down to Wolmido took me to Incheon station. The subway trip was about 1 hour and 45 minutes long from Jongno 3-ga station. Upon arriving at Incheon station, I got onto bus number 45 that was waiting right outside the station. I paid 1,000won for the bus fare and the bus trip to Wolmido, about 4km away, took only 5 minutes. After I got out of the bus at Wolmido, the first thing that greeted me was the amusement park or perhaps parks. It isn't a very big area but incredibly, it houses about four Viking rides on top of many other rides. It was late Sunday morning then and the park was crowded with people.

In front of an amusement ride called "Tagada", a large crowd gathered. They were amused by those people who were trying to hang on to their seat as the machine spinned, jolted, tossed and shaked with great intensity. A disc jockey, who was controlling the ride, was enjoying his time teasing the helpless riders over the air. Long queue formed outside the gate as people eagerly await their chance to be thrilled.

Outside the amusement park, "pojangmacha" or roadside stalls lined the street. An instant relief to my hungry stomach. I picked up a few things and ate along the way. A few minutes of walk later, the view in front of me suddenly opened up.

The promenade or the "Street of Culture" in Wolmido is flanked on one side by cafes and seafood restaurants and the other by the "Seo-Hae" or the West Sea. Along the promenade, sea breezes blew, seagulls flew and anglers fished. A friend used to tell me why he is so passionate about fishing. To a seasoned angler, he gets kick from battling with fish which is hooked. The greater the resistance by the fish, the greater is the kick. To "fight" with fish, an angler needs to first let the fish pull away before taking in on the line. After that, the fish is allowed to pull away again but not for long. The angler will take in the line again to prevent the fish from swimming too far away. This action of releasing and taking in is repeated many times in order to tire out the fish. When the fish finally gives up its struggle, the angler will pull it up from the sea with a sense of satisfaction that he has a "good fight". Walking along the promenade, it didn't take long before I felt refreshed and revitalised. That Sunday afternoon, time seemed to slow to a crawl.

It is said that one main reason people go to Wolmido is to see the sunset. Cafes and seafood restaurants with good view are usually filled up with couples during sunset time. I left Wolmido in the late afternoon leaving the sunset behind. On my departure, I have learnt what is meant by not to be defeated. By remaining undefeated, I shall come back years later to show you a better me.

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