My Trip to Jeju Island (April, 2012)
What a trip! Today, I returned from Jeju-do, an island off the coast of South Korea... It was an adventure! No, not an adventure — an odyssey... No! It was... A LEGEND! While on the island, I...
...trekked 19.2 kilometers to the peak of the volcano, Mt. Halla, and back, earning the nickname "Bongdari" from the locals!
...made some new friends from Gyeongsang Province and elsewhere!
...discovered the secret of the dol-hareubang, or "stone grandfathers" that stand mysteriously all over the island, the last remnants of the ancient kingdom of Tamna and its Gija cult!
...traveled 1 kilometer into the bowls of the earth at Manjanggul Lava Cave...
...climbed Seongsando Ilchulbong and then debated politics with Kim Yeong Hwa, the CEO of of the ARUMNURIiT Corporation during a very awkward car ride!
...and descended to the bottom of the sea on a submarine called the VOYAGER, the captain believing the whole time that I was a Russian!
The First Three Days on Jeju-do: Arrival and Climbing Halla-sanOn Wednesday, I set out for Jeju-do with a single carry-on bag, taking a bus directly to Chuubu International Airport in the Nagoya area. This was it — my chance to visit Jeju-do, something that I had wanted to do since at least 2005 (when I started taking Korean lessons and hanging out with the Koreans at the 7-Eleven where I was working in the US). Even during my five years in Korea (two as a small child, three as an adult), I had never set foot on the island. Now was my chance.
The plane trip was uneventful. The meal was a sushi platter with beer and a side of miso soup... Not bad...
And in less than two hours, the plane began to descend. I wondered what would await me in Korea. How much had my once-sharp Korean skills degraded in the nearly three years since I had lived there? Would I be able to fit my full itinerary into just five days and four nights? And before I knew it, out the window, I saw the following...
Well, the first order of business after exchanging some money and getting a cab was to check into the youth hostel. I had been counting on paying 17,000 won per night for a bed in a dormitory, but was very pleasantly surprised to find that the hostel (HKjeju) was having a promotion and dorm prices had been slashed to 9,900 won per bed! Sweet! I quickly met and got acquainted with the hostel staff, Justin (Korean), Tashya (Korean), and Yi-ting (Taiwanese) and the manager (Wan-jin, Korean). They seemed like very nice people and we would later drink makgeolli nightly late into the night.
Well, at that point, I was pretty hungry. And there's this dish that I had been missing for, well, years — jeyukdeopbap. It's spicy pork that is fried up with kimchi and chili peppers and is served with rice. I haven't been able to get it since I left Korea (I usually have to settle for jeyuk boggeumbap or something similar, which is usually also very expensive). So it was great to be able to eat the following meal for only 5,000 won...
After eating, I looked around eMart and located one of my goals for this trip: Mabeop Cheonjamun DS II. The original Mabeop Cheonjamun DS was a Nintendo DS game used for learning hanja (Sino-Korean characters), and it absolutely rocked; I used that game back in 2009 to master my first 1,000 Chinese characters, playing as the main character, Son O-gong, a monkey that has been granted the power of hanja magic. In the original, Son O-gong has to save the world by going to various locales like the Palace of the Blue Dragon under the sea, Hell, and various other places, and doing battle by writing hanja with the stylus. I loved the original, and therefore bought the sequel for 39,000 won (I hope this will be worth it).
When I returned to the guesthouse, I found out that I had apparently become some sort of a legend... I guess Jeju-do doesn't get too many Korean-speaking westerners. Here's a picture of me with (from left to right) Tashya, Jihyeong, and Areum, holding a sign that says "Jeo-neun Chal-seu-im-ni-da" ("I am Charles"), which they requested I make and hold up...
Furthermore, Jihyeong and Areum told me that they were planning to climb Halla-san (the highest mountain in Korea, at 1,960 meters) on Friday. We agreed to climb it together.
Well, I had something to drink with Wan-jin, the manager, the aforementioned girls, and Justin, and then went out to find a Kimbap Cheonguk, my favorite budget Korean restaurant chain. And I found one! For the first time in nearly three years, I was able to eat ojingeodeopbap, or spicy squid on rice, complete with sides of kimchi and acorn pudding (which I grew to love during my stint in Korea from 2006 to 2009):
Another highlight of that night was talking with a Jeju native, a hae-nyeo ("sea woman") who told me she had caught an octopus and that her mother (who must have been quite elderly since this woman was not exactly young) still dived. After talking to her for a while, I returned to the hostel and hit the sack.
The next day was fairly uneventful. It mainly consisted of shopping for things and planning out my week. I met with Areum and Jihyeong to discuss the details of the trip to Halla-san. We decided to meet at 6:30 AM (ouch) and then climb the mountain via the Seongpanak Route (the longest one — 9.6 kilometers each way, for a grand total of at least 19.2 kilometers of hiking). That night, I got some sneakers and a windbreaker in preparation for the hike (I had been wearing sandals up to that point).
Unfortunately, that night, I spent way too much time with the people around the hostel drinking makgeolli and soju and beer. The result was that I didn't get to bed until ~3:00 AM.
I woke up at 6:00 AM with a nasty hangover and very sleep-deprived. But did I call off the hike to the top of Halla-san? Hell no! I ended up throwing up a total of three times (before we hit the mountain), once on the bathroom floor, once out the window of a taxi, and once outside the base station, but after that, I was fine, especially once I consumed some ugeoji (another food that I really missed from my Korea days, which is a vegetable soup that is not only delicious, but renowned for its haejang qualities [ability to cure a hangover]). The ajumma in the cafeteria complimented my Korean and even went as far as to ask me in Korean "Have you become a Korean citizen?" When I replied "not yet," she asked "Well, when will you become one?" I guess it was flattering to have a Korean express the opinion that I would be eligible for membership in the, uh, Great Han Society. That was kind of cool. Kind of the sincerest form of flattery.
Areum and Jihyeong and I began our ascent of Halla-san early in the morning (probably around 8:00 or 9:00 or so). Fortunately, despite having thrown up three times and having had only three hours of sleep, I did not find the climb up the mountain to be overly difficult, just time consuming. But there was plenty of time to chat with Areum and Jihyeong about various topics.
I guess I'll talk about Jihyeong and Areum a bit. Jihyeong is a kindergarten teacher. Areum is a part-time worker at the CGV movie theater who is taking some time off from her university studies (European Studies major). They're both from Daegu in Gyeongsang Province. It was fun to talk with Jihyeong because she had experience working with little kids, and so do I, so we got to talk about fun things like chain vomiting and ways to get the class to be quiet (the classic line from Korean classrooms "Hapjugi-ga doepshida! Hap!" — "Let's become toothless people! Toothless!" when literally translated).
As we climbed the mountain, my shopping bag earned me a nickname from the fellow climbers — "Bongdari." This literally means "shopping bag." These men from Gyeongsang-do repeatedly called me Bongdari. It was mildly amusing, but what was annoying was that the Gyeongsang group kept speaking to me in extremely heavy Gyeongsang dialect. Finally, I told their leader that if they kept doing that, I would reply to everything they said in "Southern American dialect." I then carried through on this threat! It was somewhat humorous. Anyways, here are some of the best pictures from the ascent and descent:
Jeju-do is often referred to by Koreans as "The Hawaii of Korea:"
From left to right, Jihyeong, Areum, and I at the summit of Halla-san:
Baengnokdam, the Crater Lake Atop Halla-san:
Some people cheated and used a vehicle on a rail to descend the mountain... We, however, hiked all the way down in the snow!
Drinking soju and eating pork and potato snacks with the ajeosshis from Gyeongsang Province, Jihyeong, and Areum at the summit of Halla-san (special thanks to Areum for sending me this picture):
Well, we eventually descended the mountain. It began to get dark, but we reached the Seongpanak entrance (the base of the mountain) before nighttime hit. We returned to Jeju City and I treated the girls to McDonald's (remembering all the times that wissaram, or "older people" treated me to stuff when I was an early-20-something in Korea). We all decided to get Big Macs. What better way to celebrate adding 33,000+ steps to the pedometer than by eating enough calories to negate most of it? :-) That night, I once again had some makgeolli with the folks around the youth hostel and hung out with Wan-jin and Millie Chow (from Hong Kong). Millie showed us her various pics from both the Korean mainland (like Mokpo) and from Jeju, including the folk village. I showed them my photos from Geumgangsan, North Korea that I had taken in 2007 when it was still possible to go there. Then I hit the sack, getting some well-deserved sleep.
Day 4: Dol Hareubang Gongwon (Park), Bukcholli Prehistoric Site, Manjanggul Cave, and Seongsan-do IlchulbongWell, on Day 4, I knew that if I wanted to complete all 11 of my goals, I'd need to work hard. I still had to go to Manjanggul Cave, the folk village, and Seongsan Ilchulbong, as well as do some other assorted things like eat Jeju black pork and abalone (note that I modified a couple of these goals without entirely deleting them in spirit — I ended up eating a Jeju-do specialty, galchi jorim, instead of the black pork and the abalone [but still ate a hallabong] and ended up going to the Bukcholli Prehistoric Site and the Dol Hareubang Park instead of going to the folk village to get a sense of what "Tamna" was like).
My first step was to get on the bus and head towards Manjanggul (a cavern, or "oreum," formed by lava from Halla-san and a UNESCO World Heritage Site). But then, as I was riding the bus, I passed Bukcholli and suddenly realized that Dol Hareubang Park plus the Bukcholli Prehistoric Site would make possibly just as good a sightseeing destination for Jeju in its pre-Korea days (when it was an independent country called "Tamna"). So I got off the bus early at a moment's notice and went around Bukcholli and its Dol Hareubang Park/Prehistoric Site. Here are some photos from Dol Hareubang Gongwon (admission fee: 5,000 won):
There are 48 original dol hareubang (and likely millions of replicas sold as tourist souvenirs). When they were made is unclear. However, one source I have seen says they are from the 1700s. However, I believe this date is unverified and they may be much older than that. None of the plaques in the park stated clearly how old the dol hareubang are, which was something of a disappointment.
More Dol Hareubang (originals, not replicas) Close to the Entrance of the Park
And here, we have a classic example of Koreans espousing only the good part of their culture to foreigners, while hiding the ugly part. Read the English plaque. Nothing so bad about that, right?
Women who wanted sons ground up the noses of the dol hareubang and drank it. They sometimes miscarried, which presumably wasn't what they had hoped for, right?
However, analysis of the Korean text leads to a different conclusion, as this sentence was not translated into the English version:
유산을 원하는 여인이 돌하르방의 코를 쪼아 가루를 먹으면 아이를 지울 수 있다는 속설도 있었습니다.
The park's official English sentence on "miscarriage:" "But at the same time, those who drank the water also miscarried." <- Makes miscarriage sound like an unintended, unexpected result.
My Literal Translation of the Omitted Sentence: It was commonly said that, for women who wanted an abortion, if they ground up the nose of the dol hareubang and ate it, it would be able to erase the baby. <- WHOA!!! HOLY SHIT! Little detail left out of the park's official English text there!
Another part of the English text that was left untranslated:
돌하르방과 기자 신앙 (남근석)
The Park's Official Translation: Dol-harbang (sic) and Gija Belief
My Literal Translation: Dol-hareubang and Gija Belief (PENIS ROCK)
Yep, that's right, the English translation completely leaves out the important facts that 1) the nose of the hareubang was an abortifacient, and 2) that the dol-hareubang-based Gija cult was a PHALLIC WORSHIP CULT! Note that this is eminently apparent if one looks at the back of a dol hareubang, which looks like a penis.
So...nice try trying to hide all those unsavory details, Koreans...
A Bangsatap, a Tower Made of Stones
Statue Outside the Bathroom with No Explanation
A Stone Turtle Without any Explanation Offered By the Park
However, I will note that it must be somewhat famous since I have seen replicas in gift shops. I wonder if there is another detail they are trying to hide from us, similar to the phallic cult/abortifacient dol hareubang noses.
While in the Bukcholli area, I took some pictures of some nature-oriented things. Here is one of my prize Jeju pictures, a picture of a honey bee drinking nectar from a yuchae ggot (a yellow flower found all over Jeju-do that thrives in its volcanic soil).
A ladybug, also known as a "mudang beolle" in Korean. This literally translates to "shaman bug," since ladybugs resemble a shaman's robes.
Hallabong Fruit Just Waiting to Be Picked
I could be mistaken, but I think this is cotton. I found it growing wild by the side of the road.
After getting lost and hitchhiking, I finally reached the Bukcholli Prehistoric Site. There was really fairly little to see. Apparently this cave was originally part of a lava tube and was inhabited approximately 1,000 B.C. The plaque also talked about the "Bronze Age," but I've heard varying theories on the Bronze Age in Korea, including that Korea received both bronze and iron at around the same time, so I am not sure of the veracity of this claim.
Apparently, in this cave, they found pottery with bissal markings (bissal markings have been found on pottery in various parts of Northeast Asia from prehistoric times). However, this pottery had a different bissal design from that typical of mainland Korean pottery, showing a possible disconnect between the people of Tamna (pre-Korean Jeju) and the people of the ancient Korean kingdoms like Gaya, Balhae, etc. Unfortunately, none of the pottery was viewable at the prehistoric site (likely moved to a museum).
I then took a bus to Manjanggul Cave. To be honest, it was a rather disappointing place as UNESCO World Heritage sites go. I have definitely been in better caves. I learned a thing or two about lava rafts and so forth, but overall, the formations weren't that appealing. The cave basically just looks like a tunnel through a mountain. I gather that UNESCO recognized the whole cave system, not just Manjanggul, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, so I'm guessing the other oreum (caverns) are more visually appealing/important.
And here is a plaque for Manjanggul...
After walking a total of 2.0 kilometers underground (1 km in and 1 km back) through Manjanggul, I caught a taxi. "Oh shit," I thought — the taxi driver was an ajeosshi who was also an ex-R.O.K Marine (as the sticker on his dashboard attested). Just the kind of guy I try to avoid. Probably speaks impossible-to-understand Korean and is boorish.
But I was wrong. Totally wrong.
The taxi driver was awesome. He was very calm, patient, and friendly and spoke very easy-to-understand Korean despite having grown up on Jeju Island, which speaks an extreme dialect (often classified as another language separate from Korean, called Jeju-eo). He was an awesome taxi driver — the whole ride he pointed to various landmarks and told me all sorts of interesting things. He told me about how the volcanic soil makes Jeju-do poor for rice agriculture, and better for orchard agriculture. He told me about the saddo, or village elders. He told me about being in the R.O.K. Marines and confirmed the rumor I had heard that they have to hold their breath underwater for two whole minutes to simulate North Korean torture conditions (however, this requirement has since been abolished for being too extreme). He told me that Jeju people speak louder than most other Koreans because there is so much wind there. It was such a pleasant taxi ride, I actually tipped him (tips are almost unheard of in Korea, so I made sure to tell him "this is for good service").
Here are some pictures of Seongsan Ilchulbong. It is an extinct volcano with a crater at the top that is covered over with greenery. From the air, it looks something like a natural soccer stadium (a round thing with "walls" formed from the sides of the volcano and "astroturf" inside those walls). It was a nice place to visit, but definitely not as impressive as Halla-san. Here is a picture of it from afar:
Jeju is famous for its wild horses, even featuring them in a movie called "Gakseoltang" (literally "Sugar Cube," but with the erroneous English name of "Lump Sugar," which I saw at Yonsei University Korean Language Institute in an after-school showing way back in 2007 if memory serves correctly). I am not sure if this one was really wild or domesticated and just there for show (I saw people riding at least one), but hey, why not put the photo on here.
The Greenery-Covered Crater of Seongsan Ilchulbong
Me at the Summit
As I descended Seongsando Ilchulbong, I spotted an attractive 30-something woman. She had glasses and her hair was done up in a clip. She looked like one of those intelligent-looking models for office furniture or multimedia computers from 1998. And then I noticed that the guy she was with was talking about me — he was commenting on my sandals and laughing about me wearing sandals. Then the guy and I had a conversation that went roughly like this (except in Korean):
Me: That's correct. I'm wearing sandals. So what?
Him: It's bad manners to wear sandals on a mountain!
Me: But this isn't a mountain. It's not even 300 meters. It's a hill.
Him: Yes, it's a mountain!
Me: No it isn't. It's just a hill. Halla-san is a real mountain. It's 1,900 meters.
Him: 1,960 meters. And this is a mountain, too.
Me: Fine. I'll wear shoes the next time I hike a mountain.
At that point, the attractive woman with the glasses and the hair clip, in her late 1990s Dot-Com Era model glory, knew that she had to defuse the situation, so she complimented my Korean and asked me questions like how long I had lived in Korea and where I had learned my Korean and stuff like that (she was actually fairly nice — the man was the instigator).
Okay, so we came down the mountain, and then, when the man (Yeong Hwa Kim) had gone off to use the bathroom, I referred to him as her "husband," and it turned out that he wasn't — he was her boss! And when he came back, he suggested they drive me back to Jeju-shi and that we get drinks once there. So I thought "Sure, why not get officially-sanctioned drinks with this gorgeous 30-something woman (heretofore to be referred to as "Churan")?"
The car ride, however, proved extremely awkward. To put it in Mr. Kim's words, "I have never been to America, because I hate American bastards." Whoa. Dude. Way to be diplomatic. He had all kinds of theories like about how America had signed an agreement with Japan to "give" Korea to Japan (even if true, I don't see how Japanese colonialism was America's fault since there are hundreds of other countries in the world that also could have had a say in the issue — it's not like America owned Korea in the first place). I rebutted them in various ways by pointing out the American landing at Incheon in 1950, pointing out that even if America had "handed Korea over" to Japan, that it was better than what would have happened had Korea allied itself with Russia as Queen Myeongseong had wanted (because Stalin would have moved Koreans to another part of the USSR the way he did with other indigenous groups and they wouldn't even still have their homeland). But it was kind of difficult to argue with Mr. Kim. Kind of like debating with a Southern Baptist. How was this going to end? I was a little bit worried.
However, about halfway through the car ride, the weirdest thing happened. Mr. Kim handed me his business card and said "If you come back to Korea sometimes, give me a visit! We should hang out!"
What the hell?!
And then he went on to tell me that if I came back to Korea, he could introduce me to many private English students and I could make a lot of money. So I guess he actually enjoyed debating with me. Weird! A very awkward ride back to Jeju-shi, I will say that. He goes on about the evil American bastards, yet he's driving me back to my hostel, giving me his card, and telling me he can set me up with jobs if I come back to Korea. Word.
And on his card, I realized that this wasn't just an ordinary dude — he was the CEO of a conglomerate! Holy shit!
The drinking never materialized. Which was unfortunate from the angle that I didn't get to do soju shots with the sexy, refined Ms. Churan, but probably fortunate from the world peace angle.
That night, I ate galchi jorim. I had hoped to eat heukdoeji (black pig) and jeonbok (abalone), but couldn't find a restaurant that could serve me those things late at night, at least not for a reasonable price. But I did find a restaurant that had galchi jorim (cutlassfish stew, a Jeju specialty recommended to me by Areum and Jihyeong).
Day 5: To the Bottom of the Sea and Returning to YokkaichiOn the fifth day (and the last day), I traveled by bus to Seogwipo-shi (the city on the southern half of Jeju Island). I had made a submarine tour reservation on Thursday. I was very excited about getting to ride a submarine for the first time in my life. The total cost of the submarine ride was 50,000 won (there was also a fee, but for some reason, the cashier only took 50,000 won from me and told me I didn't need to pay the fee — not exactly sure why).
People kept trying to speak English to me, which annoyed me because one of my specific reasons for being in Korea was to practice Korean (the official language of Korea, unlike English), and because my Korean is more than adequate to communicate with people — I find it rude when I am in Korea and I speak Korean and get an English reply. Besides, without seeing my passport, how can people even tell that I speak English? I could be Russian. I could be Serbian. I could be French. So...one man asked me my nationality, and I told him "Russian." Because I was so sick of asking people questions in Korean just to get English replies. It turned out, however, that that man was the captain, so...
Anyways, here are some pictures. I also took a video, 4:00 in length, which I may post at a later date.
This is the boat that brings tourists out to the island where the submarine launch bay is located. This boat does not submerge. The submarine, however, goes to approximately 30 meters. To see a photo of the submarine, scroll up to near the top of this photo essay.
The Captain's Chair
A View Out a Porthole Before the Submarine Launched (this is the launch bay)
The Interior of the Sub with Various Tourists
Fish (I wish I had more detailed information on the fish, but the explanations on the fish were difficult for me to understand — my knowledge of Korean marine biology terms is extremely limited and I was too busy trying to get perfect shots to focus on what they were saying over the intercom)
Fish and a Reef
A Sea Fan and a Diver
A Coral Reef and Various Organisms
After the Submarine Ride, Returning to Port in Seogwipo and Viewing the Island (I believe we launched the submarine from Marado, but I am not 100% sure)
That afternoon, after taking a fairly cheap 20,000 won taxi ride back to Jeju-shi (and eating yakgwa, a Korean type of cookie made from honey and so forth, and a Spam sandwich [Spam is expensive in Japan]), I arrived back at the airport. I boarded the plane. Good-bye, Jeju, and the friends I made there! Hope to see you again!
Original Plans That I Made Prior to the Jeju TripJeju Island (an island off the south coast of the Korean Peninsula) was one of the reasons I wanted to move to Korea in the first place, back in 2005 and 2006. I read about the beautiful beaches and the subtropical climate and fantasized about living there. At one point, I even looked at real estate ads there. As I lived in Korea, I always hoped that my trip to Jeju would be right around the corner. Unfortunately, I was putting myself through both Korean language school and college at the time, so I had to be as careful as possible with money; going to Jeju Island just never seemed like an option, so I never went.
However, now that I'm living in Japan and working for a paycheck, I have repaid all my student loans and credit cards and have some money to spend. Not only that, but I have a six-day paid vacation in the middle of April (a time when airfares aren't too expensive), so I would almost be a fool not to travel somewhere during that vacation. My boss wants me to teach a beginning Korean class to some of the mothers of the students who are taking my English classes after the break, so I figured Jeju Island would be a good place to go. I can get my Korean back in shape in preparation to teach that class, and also have lots of fun.
Here is a list of the things I want to do:
If I accomplish these things with no major travel disasters, then the trip will be a success, in my mind. So that's my itinerary. And according to the travel guides, Seogwipo is closer to the main attractions of the island, so I should probably rent a room in a goshiwon in Seogwipo or perhaps pay 30,000 won or so for a motel room there.
- [COMPLETE] Have lots of Korean conversations. My Korean has gotten a bit rusty in the nearly three years since I left Korea. My boss, Kaori, wants me to teach a Korean class. Therefore, the best way to get my Korean back in shape in a short period of time is to spend five days in Korea doing nothing but conversing, conversing, conversing in Korean!
- [COMPLETE, except that I found that there was no Pizza School on Jeju-do, most unfortunate] I want to enjoy some of the things I used to enjoy in Korea: Kimbap Cheonguk and their Jeyukdeopbap (spicy pork on rice) and their Ojingeodeopbap (spicy squid on rice) and Pizza School's sweet potato pizza (5,000 won a pie last time I was in Korea). I want to obtain the sequel to my favorite edutainment game that I played from start to finish back in 2009, Mabeop Cheonjamun DS (for learning Sino-Korean hanja characters — that's how I worked my way up to 1,000 Chinese characters). I recently found out there's a sequel!
- [COMPLETE] I want to visit Halla-san and hike the longest route that is open. Halla-san is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- [COMPLETE] I want to visit Manjanggul Lava Tube, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- [COMPLETE] I want to see Seongsan Ilchulbong, the third of the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Jeju Island.
- [COMPLETE] I want to ride the submarine and take lots of pictures of the marine life.
- [COMPLETE] I want to see a gyul/hallabong orchard (two fruits that Jeju Island is famous for).
- [COMPLETE, but modified to a prehistoric cave and Dol Hareubang Park, both of which also give a sense of Tamna] I want to visit a folk village and learn about Tamna, the former name of Jeju Island (back when it was an independent country and not part of Korea).
- [COMPLETE, I debated Korean Peninsula issues with the CEO of a conglomerate] I want to do something off the beaten path that a gazillion other foreigners haven't already reported on.
- [COMPLETE, but modified to just hallabong and galchi jorim, both specialties of Jeju-do] I want to eat some hallabong (fruit), some heukdoeji (pork from a black pig), some abalone, etc. — things for which Jeju Island is famous.
- [COMPLETE] I want to get some stuff to bring back to Japan. This includes omiyage (gifts for people that one brings back from a trip) and also some Jeju Island art to put in my home in Japan (perhaps a stone replica of a dol hareubang ("Stone Grandfather" statue for which Jeju Island is famous); and by the way, on this topic, I want to see an authentic dol hareubang).