Plot Spoiler: this won’s windy~! this post is meant to be pretty informational for my co-conspirator EPIK pals, so my apologies if it’s lost some of my usually self-deprecating voice.
is a funny place where things always seem to happen that make us go…”oops
.” Like the first time John and I visited, and were kind of disappointed by its same-sameness, and yet had ourselves a really good time. Or like the time the guys went and drank bags of rubbing alcohol. Or the time we went after the awesome bullfights in Cheongdo, only to suffer pulmonary arrest stimulated by a freak yellow dust
storm and subsequently turn into Betta splendens
. It’s the shopping epicenter of the east coast, but otherwise has little to offer an Ulsaner on the weekend. The reason we go is purely to leave Ulsan…rather silly, when you consider it thoughtfully. Oops.
***Note: upon relating these things and some of Korea’s terrible city slogans
to Andrew, the three of us decided to rebrand
”Colorful Daegu” (obviously hysterical to a weigukin due to the intense homogeneity of even Seoul, the most culturally diverse place in Korea) with the more appropriate moniker “OOPS! Daegu”.
(-do), on the other hand, is a Korean Hawaii
supplying the country with citruses like Cali does for the states. It’s a volcanic island popular with Korean honeymooners, and it’s only a fifty-minute flight from Busan. It doesn’t have quite the climate of HI, but it’s my new favorite weekend getaway. Why it wouldn’t be everyone else’s as well is beyond me.
Despite a cough lingering from the yellow dust and some chronic knee pain I’ll attribute to laziness, I was super-pumped for our little getaway. I’d never been to a volcano
, and I had Monday off! We had to cab all the way to Taewahdong Rotary (about 11,000 KRW from our apt in Donggu) to catch the express bus
that would take us straight to Gimhae
airport in Busan. For 7,900 KRW each we got to Gimhae in an hour and had a late lunch (해물 Pho, yumyum-really impressive for cheap airport food!) in space pods when we got there. At only $111 for a round trip ticket, we had decided to go with the 2pm Saturday flight (which was perfect, anyway, after a long work week). We even got off on the right foot and met a nice Korean guy at our gate.
On the plane, we chatted with an older, wonderfully friendly man who’d lived in the U.S. for fifteen years and sent both his sons to NYU. His English was excellent and he was just the kind of flight companion you remember for years to come. Just before we entered landing formation, he handed us each a business card. In a weirdly LOST moment, we realized that the man we’d been chatting up the whole flight was a neurological surgeon on his way to Jeju for a surgical conference. Mr. Kim said if either of us ever needed anything, that we should call. Not surprising that our lives mimicked television; I already have my very own CSM
at school and feel like I’m learning more about Hilary
with each development in the life of Starbuck.
First thing I noticed about Jeju: the farms here seem to have sprung up from the Earth organically, like a spreading wildflower. When flying out of Busan, I had noticed (because the weather last weekend was oh-so-beautiful) that the thousands of farm plots and greenhouses formed a beautiful geometric pattern on the ground below. Squares of various shades of green, brown, and silver faded away with the camel beaches, dirty-laundry apartment towers, and unspoilt mountains. The ocean overtook them all and I stared in wonder at the thirteen or so shiny grains of rice suspended just outside the harbor, going or coming on some commercial errand or other.
But when Hallasan and its basaltian skirt came into view, I realized just how sterile that scene had been. Check it out:
Next time I fly out of Busan, I'll snap of a comparison shot. This is not the only cultural difference between Jeju and the mainland, but one you can only appreciate from the sky!
At the airport, we immediately rented a car for 52 hours. They ‘only had’ new ones, but they did have small ones. So with insurance, we spent about 148,000 KRW. Not bad, considering that we got to drive this little beauty:
Awesome parked off of Jungango in the City Hall area. SO PARKABLE.
"My" car Awesome, under the cherry blossoms outside the Lava Tube.
She was fabulous. Very maneuverable, very flirty.
Easy on the gas mileage.
I miss her very much.
AND, she had (an entirely Korean) GPS. We could punch in the phone number for our desired destination and…
WHAM! Instant navigation.
The easiest and most fun way to get around Jeju-do.
The eight minute drive to our chosen house of rest turned out to be more like fifteen, but it was wicked easy (not to mention fun! because other than one stressful day in Phuket, I haven’t driven in 8 months): Korean drivers in Jeju-si (the cap city) seem to be much less aggressive than the mainlanders. But then, my only experience with Korean drivers on the mainland is usually as a pedestrian, scooterer, or a nauseus bus passenger. So how can I truly compare?
We’d wanted Yeha Guesthouse
, but they only had a room available for our first night. So we chose Chincheol Minbak, a friendly little guesthouse listed by LP
. SCORE, LP! 친절 rocks. It’s old and cluttered, but clean and friendly, and *insert drumroll* only 18,000 KRW/rm/night. Woot! So I’d like to try Yeha sometime, because it has free computers, the cozy int’l hostel feel, and great online reviews, but I would also go straight back to Chincheol. The owner doesn’t speak much English, but he’s super friendly and helpful, and liked joking around with us. Bonus that he’s a sweet old man who remembers the war and praises even us young pup Miguks for helpin’ his peeps out.
After check-in, we hit the road for Seongsan
Ilchulbong, a volcanic crater also known as Sunrise Peak
. We stopped for gas and found out about the Rape Flower Festival (aka Rapeseed
or Canola, why did the translator have to call it Rape?) and made it out to the crater in about an hour.
I couldn't feel more welcomed.
Donning windblown hair and Thai sunglasses, we jumped out and headed up the hill/steps. See, Koreans like hiking so much that they’ve made it accessible to children and oldsters by putting in steps and ramps wherever possible. Way cool. But there are still plenty of steep stone step sections that are daunting even to the most nimble. I suppose this salvages some authenticity?
A view from the top:
That's Hallasan on the Left
Some steps and a cool rock formation:
One of the Rare Moments when there was a break in the flow of people up and down the "Sunrise Peak"
The climb only takes about 20 minutes for the nimble, and longer for those who need breather breaks. At the top, we were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful crater surrounded by ocean, as well as an awesome sunset over the island. We took our time meandering back down the northwestern slope, where you can climb down to an inlet where you can still watch Haenyeo dive for seaweed and sea creatures. We played around in the inlet and John skipped some rocks, and enjoyed the sea air and the fiery sky.
Sunset Seen from Seongsan Ilchulbong
For din-din, we drove ourselves down to the City Hall area in search of some Indian food. LP recommended the Bagdad Cafe, and man, SCORE 2 for LP. The Indian food was 맛있다! And the atmosphere was lovely. There were lots of young Koreans around, and the theme was successfully ‘western’. Lighting? Low. Each table had a candle. We sat at a booth just inside the front window, which had cute green shutters and silky red curtains, outside of which you could just see two tall rose bushes wrapped in white christmas lights. Behind me on the brick wall were hung (only slightly) edgy montages of black and white photos of jazz musicians. John Mayer played and there were Indianesque cushions strewn about the bench I was seated on. It was absolutely lovely. Also, the waiters refilled our glasses from pitchers of water they carried…a western restaurant convention I had forgotten to miss! We were quite enjoying all of this when two native English speakers walked in and sat down at a nearby table. One of the two ‘men’ proceeded to speak in loud, offensive tones in a completely uninhibited manner. I got the sense that the six Korean peers to my left understood most of what he was saying, which only added embarrassment to my headache. I glared in his general direction a few times, especially when he said something like “I just don’t know how you fucking do it. How do you just fucking walk up to a bunch of Korean girls and get them to fucking talk to you?” . I added an “I think you just answered your own question” to my glare that time, but to no avail. Assholes tend to be deaf to gentle admonishments. Needless to say, we quickly paid our bill and got outta there. A toasty electric blanket awaited us at the minbak.
Sunday was Hallasan. Hallasan is the peak at the center of the island, aka the tallest peak in South Korea. Being out of shape and inexperienced mountain climbers, we obviously chose the most difficult route to the summit.
To Be Continued…