Jindo Sea Parting Festival

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Every year thousands of people trek to the Southern edge of South Korea to view the miracle of the Jindo Sea Parting. Dramatic tidal changes cause a land bridge to appear between the island of Jindo and a smaller nearby island, allowing people to walk through the ocean Moses-style from one to the other.

We hopped on the bus early Saturday morning prepared for the 6-hour bus ride, about as far as you can go from Seoul while staying in mainland Korea. When we first arrived in Jindo we went to a traditional Korean concert and opera, complete with awesome drummers, serious singers, and some talented hat tassel dancers (really, they swing around in unison).

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Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

Jindo 5

Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

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Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

After the show we headed to the Jindo Training Center. We’ve noticed an interesting love-hate relationship with dogs, particularly large ones, here in Korea, but the Jindo is an exception. The Jindo dog is designated as a National Treasure in Korea (Natural Monument #53, to be exact), and is known for its loyalty. Jindo (Island) takes its dogs seriously; any dog that isn’t a purebred Jindo that comes to the island must be sterile, and purebred Jindos born on Jindo Island are microchipped and cannot legally be exported (or so we have heard.) We stood out in the rain to watch the Jindo show.

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The dogs jumped through a lot of hoops, including hoops lit on fire. The announcer assured us, “This is not animal cruelty!”

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That evening there was a festival party, which was a blend of 50-year-old ajummas dancing on the stage, a horde of foreigners with our tour group, and k-pop groups doing choreographed dances over the most recent k-pop hits.

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Jindo 7

Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

Jindo 9

Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

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Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

The next morning was an early 4 AM wake-up to catch the low tide. We were informed the night before that it was unlikely we would be able to walk all the way; the real official sea-parting would be happening Monday night. We donned $8 neon-orange waterproof boots and set out to wade through the ocean with hundreds of other people, torches in hand.

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Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

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The water was mid-calf height most of the time, so it was really more like wading far into the ocean than actually experiencing a miraculous sea-parting. Smart quips all around us commented that it was a “somewhat-parting”. Still, it was a unique experience to walk out into the ocean, surrounded by water, giving the illusion of walking on water. We didn’t make it to the other island before we were told to get out of the water (we didn’t even see the other island the whole time), but did get to enjoy a lovely fireworks show while standing in the middle of the water.

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Jindo 1

Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

After getting more sleep, we woke up to a somewhat clearer day and got to see the other islands for the first time.

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The tale behind the Jindo Sea Parting is based on an old Korean legend. Sometime around the 17th century a small village on Jindo was plagued by a pack of tigers. Seeking to escape the tigers, the villagers traveled by raft to Modo, a nearby island. But lo and behold, they forgot Grandma Bbong behind. (I wish they would explain exactly under what circumstances Grandma Bbong got left behind, but alas, it doesn’t say). Everyday Grandma Bbong prayed to be reunited with her family. In answer to her prayers, a land bridge appeared and she was able to walk to her family on Modo.

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All accounts of the story say Grandma Bbong died shortly thereafter, some even stating that she died from exhaustion after walking the land bridge, dying in her family’s arms. At the festival people pay their respects to statues of Grandma Bbong, leaving money and messages behind.

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After visiting Grandma Bbong, we finished up the festival visiting the Jindo puppies. One of the girls from our group bought a puppy here. We are curious (and somewhat concerned) about the fate of the puppy, with the restrictions on “exporting” Jindo dogs, but hope that the adorable fluffball has found a happy home. Coo away:

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Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

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Jindo 3

Photo by Kari Killion Stiles

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