|The Mysterious Island lurks just ahead.|
I sat down on the ferry to Ulleungdo and looked around. There were crowds of middle-aged Koreans wearing their matching, neon jumpsuits, curling up comfortably in their padded seats, the flat-screen televisions at the front of each row were playing an all-male, slapstick comedy show, and everything was so...clean... Even the crew looked and acted more like flight attendants than sailors. What kind of ship was this?!
Neat and frilly seems like sacrilege in a world where nearly every seaside culture crafts the ideal image of a sailor as a gruff, surly man's man. The ocean is one of those few, remaining places of male dominance left, where physical strength and single-minded determination reign supreme. Just getting near a boat made me long for adventure upon those masculine seas and rediscover my true inner toughie.
Now I know I just used the term "inner toughie," which probably doesn't make me sound particularly tough, but that's what the ocean is for. It'll make a man, a real man, out of the weakest boy! I also used the word "rediscover" because I remember the boats of my youth being markedly different from the ferry to Ullengdo. I recall the ferry rides off the coast of Maine or to Put-in-Bay, where the boats were rather ugly, the seats were hard, and you could stand on an open deck and watch the sea as cold sprays of wind and water hit you. You'd bite down on your lip and bare it. (Faulty childhood memories granted)
There's something about weathering harsh environments that makes you feel truly alive, like you're really going on an adventure. A good adventure should always begin with a struggle and a tinge of danger. By battling through adversity, you will ultimately feel more satisfied by reaching your goal. Besides, the ferry was headed to a place often referred to as "The Mysterious Island" and what is better at killing a mysterious atmosphere than comfort? I wanted the cruel, oppressive conditions with all the fog and rain a title like "Mysterious Island" should accompany.
I wanted to feel like a hardened, seafaring man when I arrived at that mysterious land, despite my being from an entirely land-locked town in the hilly, Miami Valley region of Ohio. Because there was something Crane and Melville inside me longing to experience one of the rare, last bastions of masculinity. Oh the sea, where women are nothing but bad luck and you spend days fighting against tireless waves and blistering winds, growing hair on your chest and grey in your eyes, facing off against the cruelest opponent man knows - nature itself.
I watched two crewmen tossing ropes from the dock to the boat, smiling and young. Their hair was perfectly quaffed. Their faces perfectly soft. Their clothes perfectly pressed. Lord, the only danger here was that our ship was staffed by children...
Then the boat swayed slightly to the left and my stomach churned. How long had it been since I'd been on a boat?! This was nowhere near as comfortable as flying the friendly skies. If I was going to be like this for the next three hours, it would ruin me. In the thousands of yeas of sailing, you'd think someone would have figured out how to make the ride a little smoother... Christ, I thought to myself. This is why I hate the ocean.