Written by Elizabeth Kaye Corpuz
Photos courtesy of Slow City Cheongsan-do

“Nothing.” Does this word scare you? What kind of emotion does it elicit?

“I have nothing,” as the Whitney Houston song goes. When we come into this world, we have nothing in terms of possessions. As we grow, we gain things piece by piece. We pick up and develop things that will make us who we are. But, more often than not, the word “nothing” somehow equates to material possessions, and whether we accept it or not, what we have somehow defines us. Personally, I could equate “nothing” to Cheongsan-do, an island in the southern part of Jeollanam-do: a place designated as a “slow city,” and a famous location site for the Korean movie Seopyeonje and drama series Pinocchio and Spring Waltz.

Yes, I felt anxious to have nothing on Cheongsan-do.

Due to a long trip the night before, my sister and I woke up late, as opposed to my original plan, which was for me to travel alone to Cheongsan-do from Gwangju by taking the first morning bus. I had set the plan already: take the earliest bus from U-square to Wando, then take the boat to Cheongsan-do and spend half a day on the island, then go back. My sister asked if she could join, and I gladly welcomed her into my plan.

We woke up late, so the earliest bus we could get was the one departing at 2:00 p.m. I informed my sister that my remaining money might not be enough, and there was no ATM that could accept my card within the area, so we might have to go downtown to withdraw money… but then we might miss the bus at 2:00 p.m. In the end, we decided to just pool our money and go.

We were not early birds, but I think we still caught some worms, despite our difficulties. Because we left so late, the possibility of having an overnight stay on the island was very likely. In addition, we did not bring any extra clothes and the battery of our power-bank was not fully charged. So much for the thrill. We forged ahead to the uncertain.

Was it worthwhile? Yes, definitely. Nothing beats these kinds of adventures.

We rode the last ferry going to Cheongsan-do. During the ferry ride, I felt at ease, without any worries, not thinking about our dilemma, not thinking about where to stay on the island. It was my first ferry ride in my entire life. I thought I would be frightened, but I enjoyed the ride, especially when I stayed on the upper deck. My feeling of being somewhere, to be away, was satisfied. I felt a sense of fulfilment of my longing to be lost. I felt that it was a representation of my independent self. I had no idea what would happen to us at our next destination, but my feeling was that that moment was priceless. I felt like I was a free bird. As the ferry was in the middle of the ocean, I felt that I was getting away from the bustling life of modern living. I told myself that I was getting too far away in my exploration. Was I scared? Yes, maybe because I did not know where or what I was getting into. However, I have learned that the farther I get away, the more I discover about myself.

We arrived on the island exactly as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful sight. The remaining sunlight struck the clouds violet, emphasizing their presence in a fiery orange sky. We could have walked in the fields and watched the darkness unfold in front of us; however, the stillness of the place made me uneasy. We had to find some place to stay. Without a prior reservation, we navigated through the alleys to look for a minbak (민박, a room for overnight rent in a family house), yet we did not know how it worked. Aside from the people at the port, there were no people walking around, and it was quite depressing because we could not ask anyone. After some time, fortunately, we met two ladies who wanted to find a place to stay, too. This meeting led us to our spontaneously fun night that continued until the following day.

Honestly, I did not fully enjoy the trip because I was in constant worry. It was only after a day that I realized that I almost missed the chance to be refreshed. I should not have worried too much because we had food, shared by the two ladies and cooked by the owner of Mother’s Minbak (어머니 민박), the shelter. We still had clothes, only a bit soiled. Neither our cellphones nor the power-bank were very significant as compared with the food, the house, and the bonding we had with the two ladies. We pretty much had the basic necessities. If a cellphone represents the social needs of man in the digital age, then the unexpected conversations and stories we had were testimony that personal communication is unfathomable and unequal to any technology-driven communication. I was really amazed that with the few Korean words we knew, we built a connection with the two ladies: the one we called Halmeoni (할머니, grandmother) and the one she called Halmeoni.

I had to step back in life to get a better view of it, and I got a 360-degree view of life at that moment as we absorbed the beauty of Cheongsan-do and its people. It is a slow city, indeed, that will make you reflect and heal. It allows your mind to drift away from impending deadlines and worries, and to be with nature.

To have nothing in this trip meant I had the time to gain new friends and enjoy a feeling of lightness. Sometimes, no, most of the time, being nothing or having nothing is a scary idea. But to embrace nothingness, it is as if we are embracing our true nature. Had I not let my sister join, I might not have gone, and would therefore not have been reminded that places like Cheongsan-do show us how life is supposed to be simple.

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