Top times at the bottom of the world

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Top times at the bottom of the world

When it comes to exotic, out-of-the-way locales, few places are more out of the way than the Antarctic. But that hasn’t stopped Jeong Ho-seong from going there 15 times.
Mr. Jeong wasn’t sight-seeing on any of those trips. He was working there, most recently on a one-year stint as the head of the winter research mission at the South Pole Scientific Research Center.
“The South Pole is the most optimal place to study the changes in the earth’s environment, and nature’s resources,” he says. “In the past 15 years, Korea has been able to accumulate much experience in Antarctica. We must continue to pursue our study of the South Pole’s natural ecosystem.”
Life my be lonely and arduous in that white, barren land, but Mr. Jeong says he loves the challenge of the job and the opportunity to study such beautiful nature firsthand. He considers himself lucky to be a “South Pole man.”
“I went back to the South Pole early this year because of my responsibilities as a botanist,” he says. “Unlike Korea, the summer comes in January and February in the south pole. That’s when the snow melts and life starts to bud out of the ground. It’s the best time to observe and study ecosystems in the midst of the changes.”
More than just the work, Mr. Jeong loves the life there, and even though his research project ended in December, he stayed on until late February.
“I can virtually see the ‘millennium ice cocktail’” he says, recalling his name for a cocktail made from the ice of the South Pole. “If you drink it with a side dish of fresh cod, just caught from the sea, there’s nothing more I want in life.”
The first time he made the journey to the bottom of the earth was in 1985, when he was the secretary general of the Korea Ocean Youth group. At that time, Korea did not have a base camp in the South Pole so he had to stick to the coastal areas.
The permanent King Sejong Station opened in February 1988, but even with that building, life was far from easy. “The building swayed at night because of the blizzards,” he says, “and I was afraid it might fly off.”
In those early years, he says researchers often underestimated how much food they would need to make it through the tough conditions, and more had to be flown in by the Chilean Air Force.
Mr. Jeong says it is difficult to work during the winter season, from April to September. where there are only four hours of sunlight a day. But since 1999, Internet access has made life a little more bearable.
“If the weather was fine, we would climb up the top of a hill on a snowmobile and ski down to Sejong base camp,” he says.
All told, he has spend about six years living in the Antarctic.
So how does it feel to be back in civilization? “I haven’t used my credit card in a year, so my card limit had decreased,” he says. “I already miss the life of the South Pole where money was rarely needed.”

by Ha Jae-sik
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