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Happy Last Days on Jeju Island, South Korea

Thoughts on returning to Jeju Island

I am so glad I returned to Jeju Island after New Zealand.  The weather was so much cooler than it was a month ago and that alone changed my whole perspective.  Maybe because I was arriving in Jeju for the second time, I felt much more at ease with the situation, despite the same struggles with not knowing the language and a vastly different culture.  Without the oppressive heat, I was able to stroll around and take in the sights and not just think of where to find an air-conditioned hiding place.

South Koreans and Beauty

My first beauty treatment did not work!

My first beauty treatment.  Things got worse before they got better!

Perhaps I haven’t mentioned that South Korean women are extremely beauty conscious.  It seems at every turn there is a beauty store.  Many days I have felt like a grizzly lumberjack of a woman in comparison to all the dainty, sweet smelling, flawless-skinned women that surround me.  So “when in Rome” I went into several beauty stores, emerging with face packs, creams, and perfume.  My face does look better after these treatments, however the lumberjackyness can’t be totally helped.  It’s just me.

Jeju Olle Trail Followup

I spent the good part of one day writing my letter to the founder of the Jeju Olle Trail about my experience and my suggestions for how to improve the experience for foreigners.  Jim Saunders, the English speaking volunteer for the Jeju Olle Trail promised that it will be delivered to her directly and felt that my comments were constructive.  I am pleased about this as it makes me feel that my struggle (and it was a struggle!) was not in vain, but might help the next nutty foreigner that attempts this.

A Great Day on Jeju Island

Jim Saunders again graciously extended an invitation to guide me on some walks.  He planned out a great day for me and I got to see so much!  Our first stop was the Seokgulam Trail located in Hallasan National Park.  The trail was only 1.5 kilometers but included a lot of steep stairs to the finale which was a Buddhist temple.   I heard chanting as we approached which was telegraphed over speakers in the forest with the sound carrying through the stone canyon.  Inside the temple, a female Buddhist monk, and the source of the chanting, recited names of local people in prayer.  The locals make a visit to the temple and there they make a donation in exchange for their names (and addresses) being said aloud in prayer along with their requests for higher support.  I was most struck by how similar the chanting sounded to the shamanic chanting that I have heard in the Peruvian Amazon.  Seeing the connections and similarities between cultures is one of my favorite parts of traveling.  And the more I travel, the more I see it!

Buddhist Temple, Seokgulam Trail

Buddhist Temple, Seokgulam Trail

We stopped at a cart on the side of the road where Jim enjoyed one of his favorite treats of fish on a wooden stick and I had a refreshing cold beverage that was made of milk, ginseng, and some plants.  It tasted like lettuce-flavored milk.

From there we hiked an oreum (volcanic cone) and found ourselves enshrouded in fog at the top.  We quickly explored the remains of an old Japanese bunker there.  A single crow greeted us at the top and would not stop talking the whole time we were there.  I wondered if he was a disgruntled spirit.  Sidenote here: Did you know that in Sweden, ravens are believed to be the souls of murdered people?  True.  Anyway, I felt he WAS a spirit, and not a happy one, but I could not understand his words.  Or maybe he just wanted a cracker.

Chinese tourists are everywhere and evidently this has caused a great deal of tension between the locals and the visiting Chinese.  Some shopkeepers have gone so far as to refuse to serve Chinese people.  Jeju accepts Chinese tourists without a visa whereas a visa is required for mainland South Korea.  The tension arises from a great deal of money being spent by Chinese tourists that doesn’t remain on Jeju but goes to Chinese tour companies and Korean companies on the mainland.  It’s a political touchy spot for Jeju right now.

Acupressure footpath near the beach.

Acupressure footpath near the beach.

From there we continued on to a popular beach.  Walking down to the beach there was a three-foot wide path paved with smooth rocks.  This path can be used for therapeutic purposes, providing (painful!) acupressure when walked on with bare feet.  The beach was loaded with people.  Jeju has been compared to Hawaii and I’m going to be honest with you here.  From what I saw of Jeju, Hawaii is far more beautiful.  Sorry, Jeju!  Jeju’s beauty is understated, quiet, peaceful, and subtle.  It is not the flashy natural extravaganza you get in Hawaii or New Zealand.

We left the beach rather quickly because it was too hot.  We then went to another oreum and climbed a million stairs for about 15 minutes.  At the top, we could see forever – crops, other oreums, and the ocean.

We then went to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner!  I was so excited to eat something besides ramen!  I was the only tourist there and thankful that Jim did all the ordering in Korean.  I had bibimbap which was a bowl full of greens, beans, lettuce, mushrooms and other stuff which I then mixed with a red hot sauce and rice.  Yum!  One thing that I have noticed, especially when eating with Mr. Joe’s family, is that Korean food is so healthy with so many greens.

Our last stop was a riverbed with huuuuge cream-colored, smooth boulders.  Korean writing was etched into many of the boulders.  It turns out that this area was once a hangout for many exiled artists and poets (Jeju Island used to be where free thinkers and convicts were exiled from the mainland).  Many of these inscriptions were left by Taoist hermits between the years of 1609 and 1750.  So basically what I’m saying is that these hermits were hoodlums graffitiing up the place.  It was a beautiful area and the white rock was so entirely different than the black volcanic rock that is all over the island.

All in all, it was a splendid day that Jim so graciously planned and provided.

Final Thoughts

In leaving Jeju Island this morning I felt as if I had reconciled my bad feelings towards the place that I had acquired last month.  I am thankful I got to see Jeju Island in a new light, partially because the weather was better but also because my traveling confidence has improved.  I wasn’t scared upon returning like I was when I first arrived.  Jeju Island is a special place.  It stands out as the place with the nicest people I’ve ever encountered in my travels.  It is the people of Jeju Island and the constant kindness that I will remember.

Photos of Jeju Island:

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