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Understanding K-Drama: The Women Divers Of Jeju Island

BY Julie Jones | May 29, 2015 09:37 AM EDT


If you're watching "Warm and Cozy," you have learned that most of the divers on Jeju Island are women. They are, in fact, known as the Mermaids of Jeju or Haenyeo. And women divers are part of an island tradition that dates back almost 2,000 years.

It's not an easy job. These women dive in the ocean, using flippers and goggles, descending more than 20 feet into the icy water without breathing equipment. They gather the clams, seaweed, sea urchins and even the abalone that Kang So Ra was happy to find and that Yoo Yeon Suk so desperately wanted to feed his first love.

The Jeju Mermaids use a weeding hoe to dig up the shellfish that cling to the lava rocks and a net to hold their catch. They are really good at holding their breath and when they reach the surface make a whistling sound when they exhale.

In most of Korea families were traditionally eager to have a baby boy to carry on the family name but in Jeju Island the birth of girls has long been valued because girls became divers. Traditionally girls began gathering clams and abalone when they were around 10.

Diving is hard and dangerous work. But has been a good source of income and provided freedom and independence for women divers. It's also the source of a social life as the divers not only work in groups, but share meals and spend time together after they are done working.

There's a museum dedicated to Haenyeo on the island and there you can learn about the history of women divers. While visiting the island many people also visit restaurants that are operated by haenyeos, because these restaurants serve delicious, freshly caught seafood. That's why Kang So Ra's character so badly wants to learn how to dive. She wants to catch fresh seafood to prepare at the Warm and Cozy restaurant. Hanyeo restaurants serve dishes such as sea cucumber, sea squirt, octopus, abalone porridge, and hand-cut noodles.

Lately, the number of divers has dwindled dramatically, as women have more career options. Most of the island's women divers are 60 years or older. An effort has been underway to attract new recruits.

Hopefully Kang So Ra's character will get a chance to learn the basics.

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