For those who may not be aware, I moved this blog to a different website. This location is now, essentially, inactive. My new web address is http://www.twixting.com. Go there now to read new posts.
Here are some more photos I took while in Jeju-do. The previous submission was too long and cluttered already. There just wasn’t anywhere for me to put these so I had to save them for a separate post.
Check out the orange building I discovered walking away from Yongduam (Dragon Head) Rock?
Then there’s the beach Jong Chan and I stopped at very briefly. The sand was incredibly soft and on a sunny day I suspect the water glows as blue as the water at Udo’s Coral Sand Beach. But it was cloudy, giving things a moody, muted look.
I also played around with my waterproof camera in some tidal pools. I got some interesting reflection and perspective shots.
Then there’s the random grasshopper I spotted on the road.
Another thing Jeju is known for are the haenyo (해녀). For those who want to learn more about these incredible female divers there’s at least one museum on the island (along with tons of resources online). It’s a dying art but there are still some women who still do it.
And if you go to Gueom Village (North Western part of Jeju past Hagwi-2 ri if you are coming from Jeju city) there is salt rock farm on Aewolhaean-ro road (애월해안로 – the Seaside road), at the water’s edge. When I was there, it was a rainy mess of a day. But if you go the right time of year you may be able to observe it in use. If not, you can still enjoy exploring the rocks there.
I probably took several hundred pictures just of the waves crashing against the rocks, trying to get one that was satisfyingly stunning. In that, I’m afraid I didn’t do any better than this. But I still enjoyed myself.
One last bit. For those interested in checking out the guesthouse I stayed in, in Hagwi-2 ri on the northwest coast, you can check out the website here. It’s a little hard to navigate since it’s all in Korean but the owner speaks some English and you can make a reservation by phone if you call the number 010-2365-1807. The hostel is called 바람이 머물다 게스트하우스 which roughly translates as the Stay Breeze Guesthouse. There’s no specific check-out time. Beds are 20,000 won per night with an added 20,000 won if you want to participate in the group dinner (a lot of delicious food).
Since time shows no sign of slowing down – indeed, I’m starting to believe it’s speeding up – I’ll try to be more succinct in my writing and try to keep out the unnecessary details. But it’s not easy.
So without further ado, here’s the last chapter of my vacation, the Jeju-do portion.
When making preparations for my vacation, my energies were unevenly spread. That is to say, I spent a good deal of time and energy organizing, planning and simulating that first week. My thoughts rarely moved beyond that. Luckily I had the benefit of a magic-planning-genie named Greg who ironed out all the major details for me in Japan. When it came to Jeju-do, though, I was flying blind. I had no room reservations and my “plan” was little more than a vague list of the things I wanted to see on the island. But as, you’ll see, it all worked out anyway.
Honestly, by the end of week two, my introverted self felt drained and rather angry at having to share earth-space with other human beings. A full day hiding in a hostel room in Busan helped me feel a little more gracious towards humanity by the time I boarded a plane once again.
Jeju-do (제주도) is also known as the “Hawaii of Korea” though it’s too far north of the equator to be tropical. It’s a popular honeymoon destination and has a plethora of (often strange) museums and parks as well as natural wonders like caves, mountains, and beaches. The most iconic image of Jeju-do is the stone man. Guardians or markers of some sort, they are volcanic stones carved in the shape of…well, a man. The other symbol of Jeju is Hallasan (한라산): the main volcano that formed the island.
My first task when I fly into Jeju city is to find a hostel and establish a home-base for the day. Luckily, I’d done a little research the day before and found a place close to the airport with decent prices and reviews: Yeha Guesthouse. I take a bus there, get a room, grab some maps, and go back out to explore the downtown area.
Right next to the water is Yongduam Rock (용두암 – Dragon Head Rock). It’s swarming with busloads of Chinese tourists clamoring to take their picture in front of the lumpy piece of volcanic stone that’s much smaller than I expected it to be. I’m less interested in the rock itself than in the things around it.
It’s not long before I realize that there isn’t much I’m actually interested in seeing downtown, so I take a bus from the terminal to Loveland. Yes, Loveland. Such an innocuous name for something dedicated solely to the obvious manifestations of love (ie: sex). Actually, it was Grrrl Traveler’s blog review of Love Land that initially sparked my interest in coming here. It just sounded so strange (like a lot of other things in Korea).
Pretty much everything in the small park pays tribute to the human body and sex. Most of these are in the form of statues and miniatures – some more realistic than others – but all rather tasteful or whimsical. Even the bathroom doors can’t escape special decorations.
While I genuinely admire some of the larger than life statues, I think it’s the signs that amuse me more.
The car in the background of the third one is rigged to jiggle back and forth while producing recorded moaning sounds. How is that not funny?
My primary interest in Jeju-do is the natural beauty, however. Love Land was the exception.
I head out early the next morning to hike Hallasan (the main volcano). There are several trails, two of which go to Baengnokdam Crater (백록담) at the top, but only one trail is accessible by bus: the 9.6 km “easy” trail. I don’t mind, particularly since I have all day and want to see the crater.
The morning is foggy with a chance of rain. I buy a plastic raincoat at the store, just in case. I’m feeling pretty prepared, with water and snacks to eat along the way. The only mistake (as I later learn) is hiking in my Chacos.
Hey. I know people who’ve hiked in those shoes and this trail was advertised as “easy” and “not dangerous.” I’ll let you judge on that last one.
See? Totally “safe” right?
Needless to say, I find myself scrambling over rocks and half-formed steps much more than I expected. I discover a new pet peeve of mine: the sound of people walking behind me, particularly if they’re breathing heavily. It’s like being chased. I hate it so much I often just stand to the side and let them pass. Thankfully, I spend a good chunk of my time relatively alone on the path.
The smell at the restroom stop halfway reminds me strongly of the Skate fish I ate with my parents a couple weeks ago. The thought is simultaneously funny and revolting.
The gloomy weather and the predominance of leafy trees most of the way prevents me from taking many pictures. There’s not much to see anyway. That and the fact that the path becomes more challenging as I get closer to the top. As I slip over porous and slime covered rocks, I try to avoid thinking about how I’ll make it down.
I finally reach the top and am, to say the least, a little underwhelmed by the view. Even a little disappointed. Just check out this comparison between expectation…
The view away from the crater – with the clouds covering the base of the mountain – is more interesting. I meet a friendly German couple, on vacation from studying in Seoul and a group of Koreans (university students I presume) who share their snacks with me and call us their “mountain friends” (as in: we just met while hiking).
And I finally have to use my glorified trash bag poncho when it starts to sprinkle.
Descending the mountain is painstaking work. The rain makes the already slippery rocks more treacherous. I stumble a few times and am forced to slower than I did when coming up. I start to feel grateful whenever other hikers are nearby. I’d hate to have an accident and not have anyone around to help me. Thankfully, it does get easier the further down I go and by the end I practically run to the trail head. Never thought I’d be so happy to see a parking lot.
I make my way back to the hostel hoping to avoid movement for the rest of the evening. The girl working the front desk generously shares her dinner with me. She even helps me make reservations for the next day. I plan on going to a guesthouse in the Northwest part of Jeju. A friend from church recommended it, saying it was a good place to get out of the city and enjoy the coastal view.
Unfortunately, I wake up to rain. It’s the first time this whole vacation that the weather hasn’t been conducive to outdoor activities. Too late to change my plans, though. I take the 30 minutes bus ride to Hagwi-2 ri and check into the hostel there. Unlike Yeha Guesthouse, which had the professional attitude of a hotel, this place is more casual. It feels kinda like crashing at a friend of a friend’s place for the night: awkward at first but ultimately good. I’m notably the only non-Korean there.
Refusing to let the weather limit me, I don my trash bag poncho and go out to the water. The rain keeps fluctuating from a barely perceptible spitting to full-on pouring. The seacoast road is an actual road, not a walking path like I’d imagined. With the wind and rain, it seems dangerously stupid to walk along the narrow shoulder but my other option is turning back and staying inside. Yeaaaaah, no thanks. Most of the cars I see are going the opposite direction anyway.
Partway, I meet a family doing the same thing. Good, I’m not the only crazy one. The husband is quite chatty. His wife and son don’t speak to me at all, whether from lack of English skills or just withdrawn personalities, I’m not sure. They’re nice enough though. The dad even invites me to have dinner with them but I have to decline. I already paid in advance for a group meal at the hostel. We reach the end of the road together and taxi to where they joined me. From there it’s just a short walk back.
I stay silent during dinner – everyone is speaking quickly in Korean – but I understand just enough to get the gist of some of the conversation. I get to know some of the other guests while playing card games and during the post-dinner drinks.
“Where are you going tomorrow?” a few ask me.
“I’m going to the eastern side of Jeju to explore the caves and to see Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak).”
“I’m going that direction. Do you want to go together?” my current conversation partner, Jong Chan, offers. “I have a rental car.”
I consider the question for a second. I’ve been perfectly fine taking the bus so far, but the convenience of a car is highly tempting. Plus, from him it feels like a genuine offer. I decide to trust my gut. “Sure.”
It’s amazing how much smaller Jeju-do feels when you travel by car. The first stop the next morning is Manjanggul Cave (만장굴), a UNESCO world site. It’s a lava tube meaning that the whole system was formed by underground lava flows. I haven’t been in many caves (none come to mind actually) but even I can see what makes it different than a typical cave.
The temperature drop is quite noticeable even from the entrance. The floor of the cave is bubbled and uneven – pockmarked with little puddles formed from the water constantly dripping from the ceiling. It’s so dark, even with the dim lights illuminating the path, that most of my pictures come out blurry. I refuse to use flash though; I hate how it looks.
The next stop is Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (성산 일출봉). It’s a small mountain crater on the coast. The aerial photos of it online are quite striking (just Google it). It’s one of those places that is more stunning from a distance. The crater itself is too big to take in when you climb to the top.
The sun finally comes out (it’s been cloudy all day) as we hoof it up the stairs. It’s nothing like my Hallasan hike but my legs are still sore and the 15 minute climb is pretty steep. The sight from the top (the view away from the crater), and the wind, make it worth it.
The next morning – still traveling together – we take the ferry to Udo (우도): a small island near Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak. It’s possible to travel around the island by car, by foot, or by bike if you plan on staying the whole day there. We only have a couple hours so we rent a motorcycle and explore what we can in that time. The Coral Sand Beach is pretty stunning, if for nothing else than the vivid blue of the water there.
Jong Chan and I part ways at the airport (he’s returning to his home in Seoul). I have a few hours left so I walk along the coastal road (walking by Yongduam rock again). Incoming flights pass right above me in one place, flying so low I have to plug my ears from the deafening noise.
I take more random pictures until it’s time to leave. It’s been an incredible vacation but I am more than ready to return home.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect blend of experiences. When I finished my first week with my parents, I thought there was no way the next two weeks could top that. And I was right. But neither were they inferior. Each chapter was so different; it’d really be unfair to compare them. The whole thing reads kind of like pieces of a story (which is why I referred to them as chapters) with a slow progression from family to traveling independently and (mostly) alone. From plans to flying by the seat of my pants. And of course, I met so many people along the way and had interesting conversations with all of them.
A quick overview:
Time spent in Japan: 5 days from Monday, September 15th — Friday the 19th. Primarily in Kyushu, Japan’s southern island.
Monday: in Fukuoka
Tuesday: On my own in Kagoshima. Highlight: the active volcano on Sakurajima.
Wednesday: Spent in Kumamoto. Highlight: visiting Greg’s workplace and meeting his students.
Thursday: In Hiroshima. Highlight: Bomb memorial park and the museum.
Friday: On Miyajima island. Highlight: the floating torii.
For a map of Japan or more information about the places I visited, use your fingers and highly evolved brain to Google them. All of them are famous enough to have multiple webpages dedicated to them if not their own official site. 😉
A month or so before my vacation started I ran into Greg, someone I knew from Emily’s church. He’d been an English teacher in Korea for a number of years before moving to Japan. Now he teaches at a Kindergarten/daycare of sorts run by his cousin. When he heard that I planned on spending part of my vacation in Japan, he invited me to visit him and crash on his couch. Within minutes he’d mapped out a rough outline of what he thought my schedule should look like. How could I refuse such a tempting offer?
I arrive in Fukuoka and meet up with Greg at Hakata station. We grab some convenience store bentos and walk to a lake park to eat. A bridge allows us to access the island in the middle. Amused, he points out the signs that remind people to pick up their shit, and at the signs marking where fishing is and isn’t allowed.
After a lunch, we decide to hop on one of those swan pedal-boats and explore the lake a little. They’re slow but there’s a nice breeze and we aren’t in any hurry.
We relax later with tea and cake, then ride the elevator up Fukuoka tower to get a panoramic view of the city.
For dinner we eat ramen.
For those who, like me, tend to associate the word “ramen” with the unhealthy, sodium-laden, instant stuff of the poor university student diet, throw away that thought now. Admittedly, I found the ramen to be a bit salty for my taste, but it was otherwise deliciously fresh and not too oily. Naturally, the taste was completely different.
We part ways on the Shinkansen – a high-speed bullet train in Japan – when Greg gets off at Kumamoto. I continue south to Kagoshima.
The next morning, following Greg’s plans, I buy a day-pass that lets me use all kinds of public transportation for free, as well as discounts for certain things. Then I go to the ferry terminal. I have time before boarding, so I explore the aquarium next door.
11:05 – I take the special 50 minute, detour/tourist ferry to Sakurajima. Normal ferry rides are just 15 minutes but this supposed “tour” ferry gives people, as far as I can guess, more time to take pictures of the same thing. I find it a little dull actually and the repetitive musical track playing on deck starts driving me crazy.
The volcano is puffing billows of clouds and the sooty evidence of its constant eruptions are everywhere. I always thought eruptions were big catastrophic events but apparently volcanos can have small eruptions, akin to burping. It’s safe enough that people still live at the base of the volcano. I’d be rather annoyed by the constant accumulation of soot on all surfaces but I guess they get used to it.
My plans get a little derailed when I can’t find the place Greg recommended for lunch. When I do find it, it’s closed and I have to settle for a convenience store bento. There are a couple of different bus routes around the island. The shorter one is a “tour route” meaning it stops at several key places and gives people a few minutes to get out and take pictures before continuing.
I soak my feet in a naturally heated outdoor foot-bath while waiting for the tour bus. A guy with a nice camera approaches me and asks if I can speak french. “Ah…Just a little” I reply.
The Frenchman is in Kagoshima for the sole purpose of taking pictures of the volcano. He’d been here since early in the morning trying to get clear shots of the eruptions and of the mountain itself. When he opens his backpack to put away his camera, I spot a second camera body along with at least 2 other lenses. Lucky.
The smoke plumes over the volcano are clearing up a little and he decides to take the ferry back and get shots of it from a different angle. “Want to join me?” he asks.
“Sure.” I was never really invested in the tour bus thing anyway.
On the way, he tells me all about his job as a photographer (mostly landscape and macro) and gives me a mind-boggling list of all the places and countries he’s been. It sounds a bit exhausting yet I can’t help but feel a little jealous, too.
Before getting back on the Shinkansen I hop on a Ferris-wheel, riding the glass car. It gives me a nice view of the sunset as well as a dizzying one of the street below.
In Kumamoto I once again meet up with Greg who takes me to a restaurant near his house. It’s a sushi bar where you pay by the plate. Special plates run by us on a conveyor belt while all the dishes we order are delivered via a tray on a motorized track. The tray is shaped like a mini Shinkansen! Greg insists I try the melon soda, unique to Japan. It comes out looking unnaturally green and the taste reminds me faintly of Bonbon Anglais (a soda from my childhood), but not in a good way. It’s entirely too sweet for me.
The next day I follow Greg to work and observe him with his classroom of 6-7 year olds. I’m impressed with how well they follow instructions (in English no less) and how responsible they are but maybe that’s just because I’m rarely around kids this age.
They go outside to prepare for Sports day. Their preparation consists entirely of running a lap around the playground (half a lap for the younger kids), coached along by an adult.
I admire the creatively decorated bento’s during lunch time: carrots cut like cartoon characters, mini sausages with cute toothpicks stuck in them, and rice balls shape like animals and decorated with seaweed. One girl proudly shows me her new Elsa chopsticks; she’d recently learned how to use them.
After lunch, it’s back outside to play then inside to cool off and listen to some songs. The kids eagerly take turns singing along with Frozen’s “Let it go.” Will that song never die? Actually, I’m amused by it. We finish at 2 – an early day for Greg – and spend the rest of the afternoon walking around Kumamoto.
We go to another garden and explore Kumamoto Castle. It’s a pretty impressive structure. On its own hill, the castle complex rises above the trees surrounding it, looking like a piece of history transplanted and stuck in the middle of a modern city.
The next day I take the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. It’s a sunny day but I spend a chunk of it inside the somber darkness of the bomb museum and memorial. The testimonials are powerful reminders of humanity’s potential for destruction. As someone who’s never lived during that part of history, the stories and drawings bring a kind of immediacy to something I’ve only read about in dry, impersonal textbooks. Walking back outside into the sunlight feels disorienting, to say the least.
My last day, I take a ferry to Miyajima island where the famed “Floating Torii” is. The island was considered sacred so when the temple and torii were built, they built them in the water next to the island. During low tide, the water recedes away from both structures, exposing the base and leaving them to dry until high tide. The torii is still surrounded shallow water when I get there.
I strike up a conversation with a Mother-daughter pair from the US, also on vacation. They’re incredibly nice and we end up exploring the island together, talking about all manner of things, until they leave.
I stay until I can walk closer to the torii and take more pictures. It’s the last thing I really do in Japan. After that, I take the Shinkansen back to the airport in Fukuoka and then back to Korea.
(Coming up next: the last installment of my vacation: the Jejudo portion!)
Here it is, the second part of my week with my parents.
The bus ride from Seoul to Gwangju was largely uneventful; though Dad may like to point out the oddity of getting off at the rest stop and seeing a group from Ecuador dressed in full-feathered Indian regalia and blowing on their flutes for any who’d listen.
It’s not that unusual of a sight to see if you go to a lot of festivals but it’s definitely strange the first time.
As for Mom and Dorothy…well, they couldn’t stop laughing after their trip to the bathroom. While everyone had stood in an orderly line waiting for their turn to use a stall, old Korean ladies just walked past us and into whichever doors opened first. Many of them were doubled over, leaning on walking sticks and half a foot shorter than me. The rules clearly didn’t apply to them. No one reacted or said anything because that’s just how Korean halmonis (grandmothers) are. Someone once told me that after the history they’d lived through, they deserved to do whatever they wanted. Mom and Dorothy found it incredibly amusing. I suppose you kind of had to be there.
We get to Gwangju in the afternoon, drop by the hotel, then walk to my apartment building. I introduce them to all those aspects of my mundane daily life that I’ve been eager to share with them: my tiny closet kitchen, the shops downtown, the culture complex, the underground shopping center, and the couple from Cafe Florida. We finish the afternoon with one of my favorite meals: shabu-shabu.
I found myself rather out-of-sorts that afternoon. I didn’t feel like myself, in part because I wasn’t sure what “self” I was supposed to be: my parents’ child or the person I’d become after living here for a year as an independent adult. The first few days in Seoul had configured me into my “parents’ child” version. Experiencing my home in that mode felt incredibly strange and uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the feeling passed and I was able to to continue my week quite happily.
Wednesday: a sunny day, perfect for flower viewing. we take a bus to Suncheon where we plan to explore the international gardens (the site of the 2013 Expo). We pretty much spend the whole day walking around, looking at flowers, watching the flamingos (Dorothy keeps mistakenly calling them penguins), eating ice cream, and admiring the impressive landscaping.
The “American” garden section is underwhelmingly nondescript. The Spanish style garden is a patio with some citrus trees and little water fountains artfully arranged. It’s quite popular, as evidenced by all the children playing in the water.
Thursday, Boseong Green Tea Plantation: It’s another day perfect for being outside; sunny with a bit of a breeze. Mom, Dad, and Dorothy hike the trail to the top while I opt to stay at the halfway mark. Once was enough for me. While I wait for them to come back down, I take pictures of the dragonflies sunning themselves, flowers, and anything else that captures my interest.
We eat green tea ice cream and peek at the bamboo grove nearby before leaving.
Friday is an overcast day but this hardly matters since we don’t have many plans. We meet up with my co-worker and supervisor, then walk over to the restaurant where the academy owners treat us to a traditional Korean meal.
Banquet is a more apt description. We’re served at least 4 courses, each consisting of numerous dishes of artfully arranged food and requiring a bit of rearrangement to fit them all on the tables. Slices of raw fish, rice cake, various kinds of cooked and stewed veggies, oysters, squid tentacles, and…..skate fish.
If you haven’t tried this expensive Korean delicacy then let me give you just a whiff of what it’s like. That’s what you’ll notice first, by the way: the smell. The way it is fermented or preserved gives it a strong ammonia smell. Never stuck your nose in a bottle of that? That’s fine. Just head to the nearest outhouse or visit that elderly neighbor with 20 cats. Breathe deeply, then imagine eating that with a slice of pork and a little kimchi. That’s samhap, a popular way to eat the stingray-like creature. The other two components help keep your taste buds confused while you chew, which means it’s a much more pleasant way to eat skate than it would be to eat it as a stand-alone item. On the upside, it clears your sinuses. On the downside, the taste and smell of it can linger long after your meal was but a distant memory. It’s something of an acquired taste, I’m afraid.
After that experience of a meal, we take a trip to my workplace so Mom, Dad, and Dorothy can see it in person. My co-workers have a busy day ahead of them so we don’t stick around long.
We spend the rest of the rainy afternoon at a jimjjilbang (spa) called Hyundai Wellbeing Land.
Saturday, Wando beach: Even though it’s a Saturday, it’s not unusual for kids to spend several hours at a hagwon or two. Still, I’m surprised by how empty the beach is. The showers and many of the nearby shops are closed, too. I guess beach season ends along with the students’ summer vacation.
We manage to find a fried chicken place open for business and order lunch there. Then we relax in a perfect combination of sun, sand, and water.
Sunday: We attend church (a rare communion day), then take a bus to Busan with all our bags. Mom, Dad and Dorothy plan to take the KTX (a high speed train) to Incheon airport in the morning. I, on the other hand, will leave for the Japan portion of my vacation from Busan. We say our goodbyes that night, feeling incredibly blessed to have had such a wonderful time together but sad to part ways once again.