"When I was in U-do, I trained for two weeks wearing only my underwear and a headband. I didn't really know back then what I was doing."
Go E-Hwa is the 87-year-old Haenyeo (women who dive into the sea to gather food) from North Jeju Island who received the first Jeju Haenyeo Award, created by the Jeju Haenyeo's Anti-Japanese Movement Memorial Committee to commemorate the women divers of Jeju. Grandma Go was only 16 when she joined the Haenyeos' resistance against Japanese colonial rule in her village. She recalls, "About 300 Japanese soldiers wearing armbands stormed into the village, and we all fell under their attack."
Haenyeos lived wretched lives during Japanese colonial rule.
"For 15 years, we moved from Daema-do to Chungcheong-do... We were shipped to so many places, always diving to gather turbines and abalones for the Japanese. We realized it was better to eat up everything than to sell it to the Japanese." Grandma Go kept talking about how she was exploited by the Japanese during her youth. "Isn't it only natural that I want compensation for 15 years of service?"
Even after the liberation, Haenyeos were still the scapegoats in modern history.
"I dived even when I was pregnant and lost three babies. My in-laws died during the April 3rd Jeju Uprising, and my hubby died when I was 31." Talking about her marriage filled her with sadness and gushed out in the form of a mournful tune. For decades, Grandma Go's life had been filled with hurt and bitter longing.
"With time, people no longer cared about history, but I have never forgotten. And because the truth is inside me, I will never turn senile."
The nearly ninety-year-old lady who brought up four sons and a daughter single-handedly still works as a diver at her age. Because she has grown lighter, she needs to weigh down her body with pieces of lead to reach the bottom of the sea. But she still feels more alive at sea than on land. Among the Haenyeos, Grandma Go is revered as the 'Great General,' but she has more pride in childhood nickname 'Baby General.'
"I was stupid, always working to the bone." But as she shows us her callused hands and feet, we can tell that she is proud of having overcome a lifetime of hardship. She has been diving for so long that she cannot hear very well even with hearing aids, and she cannot survive a single day without taking medicine for her raging headaches. But from dawn till night, this tough lady still does the housework, goes diving and makes Haenyeo suits.
"I have never run away from fate since the day I was born. I don't think about how my body aches but try to live young."