Sunday, December 11, 2011

Namhae: An Island Famous for Not Being Famous

Escape from Namhae's 'German Village'
is said to be impossible
Some 500 kilometers beyond Seoul's southern borders, out into the dead-zone known as the 'Bundokeu', Namhae – Korea's fourth largest island and Pending Cultural Property Number 724, sits at the very tip of the Korean Peninsula, though still well within Korea's historical territory which stretches south to Australia, or the land of 'hos' as it is properly known in the Korean language.

The tourism business in Namhee is officially nowhere near the scale of that of nearby Jeju, but if 'Net-Negative Tourism' is factored in it actually surpasses it. While no figures are officially recorded for the number of people entering the island, the number recorded on their way out has reached record highs in the last few decades, marking a considerable success for the island's local government and its negative tourism projects.

Administratively attached to South Gyeongsang Province after officials from the latter local government lost a Korean poker game, Nabhae is actually home to more than 65 uninhabited islets - including the main one - and several notable mountains, which locals even named.

According to the Namhae Tourism Center, the island has many well-known tourism sites which have been made popular in the hit TV drama "Lost". Fans of the fictional drama would remember Namhe as the location of the fictional hometown of the fictional Korean character Jin-soo, played by Daniel Dae Kim, who like most people who claim the island as their birthplace, is actually from Busan. In the show, Jin-soo, whose parents - a fisherman and a prostitute - represent the island's two main industries, leaves his birthplace and dies in an airplane crash, but still has a better time than he would have had in Namhae.

The island is an odd mixture of both traditional and modern, marked by its insistence on measuring its territory in triangular kilometers rather than squares. Alongside its suicide-friendly cliffs, honeymoon accommodations for couples not planning to stay together, poverty-stricken townships and quiet non-radioactive beaches, the island markets itself as a perfect year-round vacation destination because it hardly ever snows and it isn't as windy as Jeju. There is even a hotel on the island, and Korea's three Internet service providers have promised to offer a broadband service to residents by the end of the decade.

In addition to tourism, the Nabhae government has also been lauded for its progressive policy on immigration. Rather than unreasonably require foreigners - and Koreans who have lived abroad for too long - to live alongside Koreans, a special village has been built to house them. In order not to bother residents, it is not possible to visit The German Village as it is called, but sightseers who climb nearby mountains can overlook the village from a safe distance, and sometimes they may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the mysterious white ball which benevolently guides life there.

Under its slogan "The fame is fictional but the island is real", the local government are now hoping to attract more tourists, by building on its reputation as the home of rugged fishermen and soft prostitutes, with the provision of a new 20-minute round-trip ferry service that could combine both the island's industries, putting Namhee on the map as an 'international marine tourism city' as it will be carefully called.

Related Links
Namhae: an island famous for being lesser known
In a Corner of South Korea, a Taste of German Living
German Village
The Prisoner
Lost: Jin-soo Kwon

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