Ungdo Island and Clam Digging near Seosan

IMG_8245We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has congregations all over the world. We have not always lived close enough to a congregation to attend each week, but here in Korea we live about half an hour from the church building in Seosan. Even though it is a Korean branch, there are a few members there who can also speak English. One of the sweet sisters in the branch invited us to go clam digging, so one Saturday, we met her at the main grocery store in Daesan and headed out. She brought her daughter, another woman from the branch who is Filipino and speaks both English and Korean, and her daughter Cutie, who does not speak English. Cutie is seven or eight, but lives up to her name in energy and excitement for white babies! We brought Austin’s co-worker and friend Scott.

IMG_8248Our friend was an excellent tour guide. First, she turned off the main road onto a single lane road through rice fields. I really wondered where she could be going. Eventually, we popped out on the coast and drove across a low bridge to an island. Ungdo island is accessible by car, but only at low tide. At high tide times, the bridge is covered with water! Ungdo island is famous for its oysters during the winter. When we got out of the car to have a look around, Landon thought we were digging for clams there and took off down the hill to the mud. Almost immediately, he got sliced by an oyster shell, because we were parked right by where they process the oysters. Scott went down to help him because I was still getting Owen situated in the baby carrier, and pretty soon he had also gotten sliced. At that point, they decided to get out of the sharp area and walk around with us. Our host had lavender essential oil and band-aids for the wounded.

IMG_8250 Off of Ungdo island were more small islands. The west coast of Korea has so many islands and peninsulas! We learned how the workers use machines to process the oysters, then wash off in the pool that is in the background of the picture to the left. Here we have Annabelle, the Filipina, and our shy friend Keun Gi Bin (translated from Facebook) who speaks awesome English, but I’m not sure how to pronounce her name! The west coast of Korea is also very tidal. Our guide had picked a very low tide day to go clam digging, and it was so cool to see whole expanses of mud that are covered by water at high tide.

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Family picture with Cutie!
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Lone boat in the mud

IMG_8275After heading back to the main road. we headed west until we reached “the spot.” We parked on the side of a dirt road, and then walked at least a quarter mile to a shady picnic spot on the edge of the mud flat. The view from our picnic spot is pictured below. Our guide had come prepared with picnic mats and gimbap (Korean rice and seaweed roll with ham, kimchi and egg inside.) Our fellow clam digger brought Filipino food-cap chay (a noodle and veggie dish that is really good) and egg bread. We brought peanut butter and jelly… which ended up being a hit after clam digging! I knew we were all supposed to bring our own lunch, but everyone brought enough to share and have a ton of food left over. After a satisfying picnic, it was time to do the digging.

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First, everyone had to be properly outfitted. Each digger received a clam shovel, gloves with silicon tips, and a bucket. Next, we were given a short lesson in clam digging. Basically, look for holes in the rocky sand. Dig around in said hole, scraping the sand to reveal (hopefully) clams. I found it difficult to differentiate between clams and rocks. It took awhile to get a good rhythm going, and to find good places to dig. We were planning on gathering enough clams to eat them for dinner… and it did not look like it was going to happen at first! Each clam was about the size of a quarter, so we knew we needed a ton!

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Ready to dig!
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Austin demonstrating the scary shape of the clam shovels!
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Technique is key…

IMG_8281Initially, Landon was very interested in digging. After a few minutes of not finding any clams, he went off with Cutie on other adventures. For about an hour, they became crab hunters! She was scared of the crabs, so she would lift up rocks, and Landon would grab the crabs with his gloved hands. He wasn’t scared of the pincers because his gloves protected him! He was definitely in his element running around in the mud and sand, peeking under rocks and just being a kid!

IMG_8283In the end, there were probably over 20 crabs in the bottom of this bucket. Landon wanted to keep them all as pets, but we opted for catch-and-release this day.

Meanwhile, Owen was not thrilled to be out on the mud flat. It was a little windy, and there was just not much for him to do, besides dig around in the mud, which he was not interested in this particular afternoon. So, our host and her daughter took Owen back to the picnic area to play. He was much happier in the dry sand/dirt, and played happily until I was done clamming.

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IMG_8304Clam digging takes practice. I did not have great success finding the clams. I just didn’t dig in the correct areas, or mistook clams for rocks.I appreciated the silicone-tipped gloves, though, because it made it so much more comfortable to pick up the little clams with gloves vs. fingers! Austin found it incredibly stress relieving  and stayed out the longest of anyone. I think he might need a little Zen sand table for his office one day!

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Once I had my fill of digging, I traded with our gracious host and she dug while I took care of Owen. I think she found at least 60% of the clams by herself. She was a clam digging machine! Once we all had buckets full of clams, the sifting began in big sifters. The clams were covered in mud when we dug them out, and so she washed them in sea water so they were all clean. Then, she put them in a big bucket and covered them in sea water to keep them alive. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but apparently if you let the clams die, they are not good to eat anymore. So, seawater it is!

IMG_8310Our instructions were to let the clams sit overnight, and cook them the next day. Later, we found out that by doing that, the clams cleanse themselves and turn out less sandy! We went home with great memories, and a big container full of clams! I’m so grateful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the friendships we have made and the people we have met around the world. We had such a great time and can’t wait to go again!

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When we got home, we put our clams in a container of sea water, but soon had to refill it because these buggers spit like crazy! Also, we inadvertently had a sea snail mixed in with our clams, a sea snail that EATS clams! It cracks their shell and eats the inside! When we went to wash and cook our clams, several of them were empty because of this snail. I prepared boiled clams with salt, onions and garlic. They were pretty good. Austin chose to go a more gourmet route and sauteed them in garlic and butter. Those clams were AMAZING. We learned some things about cooking clams along the way. You want to cook the clams when they are still alive. If they die before you cook them, at least here in Korea, they are no longer good. The way you can tell is that only the ones we killed in the pan/pot opened. All of the closed clams we threw away. I was sad about killing the poor clams, but they were yummy to eat. Even Landon ate some! The clams were such a success at a co-worker BBQ that we hope to clam digging together some time soon. Yay for clams!

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