One of the urban legends any new GI in Korea hears about is that if you contract the “black syphyllis” you will not be allowed to leave Korea and will be put on a island. I always thought this urban legend was fiction but it appears there is actually a grain of truth to it.
Christmas on Sorokdo Island isn’t about standard holiday festivities where family members gather and lavish gifts on each other, and exchange visits with well-wishing neighbors and friends.
This tiny deer-shaped island off the southern tip of the peninsula has long been a sanctuary for people with a disease once considered taboo; Hansen’s disease or, as it is more widely known, leprosy.
What is really interesting about the island is that the residents cannot leave due to their illness but tourists are allowed on it.
The island was quarantined for decades, but parts of it opened to the public in 1986 to help show people from the outside world the illness is not a social taboo.
Entering the island now after a 10-minute ferry ride from the mainland is possible for regular tourists, who are permitted to venture a third of the way into the island’s hilly areas where Sohn and others like her live.
Sorokdo is full of deer of all colors which run freely in the hills. It is extraordinarily picturesque, with wide green expanses and many varieties of trees and flowers in a park in the center.