The Korean peninsula has thousands of islands on its fringes, but the seas around the coastal city of MOKPO (목포) have by far the most concentrated number. Though many of these are merely bluffs of barnacled rock poking out above the West Sea (also known as the Yellow Sea), dozens are accessible by ferry from Mokpo; beautiful in an ugly kind of way, this curious city gives the impression that it would happily be an island if it could.
Korea’s southwestern train line ends quite visibly in Mokpo city centre. The highway from the centre of the country does likewise with less fuss, but was not completed until fairly recently. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, public funding also ran out before it hit southern Jeolla – poor transport connections to the rest of the country are just one example of the way this area was neglected by the central government. For much of this time, the main opposition party was based in Mokpo, and funding was deliberately cut in an attempt to marginalize the city, which was once among the most populous and powerful in the land. Though the balance is now being addressed with a series of large projects, much of the city is still run-down, and Mokpo is probably the poorest urban centre in the country. Some Koreans say that taxi drivers are a good indicator of the wealth of the cities, and here cabbies have a habit of beeping at pedestrians in the hope that they want a lift, occasionally swinging around for a second go. Things are changing, however, especially in the new district of Hadang, which was built on land reclaimed from the sea, but it’ll be a while before Mokpo’s saline charms are eroded.