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Lost and Found Again on Jeju Island, South Korea

Middle of nowhere. Jeju Island

Middle of Nowhere.  Jeju Island

I didn’t want to take a bus.  I really didn’t.  But when I asked an employee at the hostel to call Mr. Joe as he had requested to let him know that I was on my way, he told the employee that a cab would be too expensive and that his wife would pick me up if I insisted on taking a cab.  Well, I was not insisting.  I was begging to take a cab and not go through the bus ordeal I had been through before.  But I certainly was not going to put out my host, so bus it was.  The employee insisted it was easy to take the bus.  I’m sure it is.  If you can read or speak Korean.  The employee was nice enough to show me on Google street view what the bus stop looked like, and how to walk from there to the guesthouse.  He wrote out my destination in Korean.  “Good luck!”

Naturally, and as could have been predicted, the driver told me to get off at a stop that did not in any way resemble the bus stop I had seen on Google street view.  Realizing this , I dropped my pack on the sidewalk, clutched the bouquet of flowers I had bought for my host (Mr. Joe was away, so Mrs. Joe would be my host) and stood there on the street like a statue.  No adrenaline rush — simply resigned to the fact that once again I was lost.  After a cigarette which failed to solve my problems or relieve any stress I approached two men resting outside a shop.  Both were drenched in sweat and wearing the traditional brown clothing of Jeju which is dyed with persimmons and said to be effective at cooling a person down.  I showed them the business card of the guesthouse and after turning it upside down once or twice the men started conversing loudly.  Within a minute, there were six people on the case, talking amongst themselves and pointing in different directions.  One man made a call.  Another man arrived on a scooter and motioned for me to follow.  While following, another man yelled at me to come back.

Here’s where Korean body language is confusing.  Rather that motion “come here” as Americans do, palm facing the beckon-er with fingers pointed upwards and motioning towards the body, Koreans have their palm down and the gesture looks more like a toddler’s wave of hello or go away.   Using hand gestures like an American would be a sign of serious disrespect as if you were calling a dog.  So as I looked back and forth between these two men both making this motion I could not figure out if they were telling me to “come here” or “go back”.  Eventually, I just randomly picked one man and he was the jackpot because he motioned for me to get in his truck.   Down we went on a country road and five minutes later I was delivered to the door.  Nobody was there so he opened a door and looking at me he made the universal sleep sign of praying hands beside his tilted head.   I thanked him and went inside.   And waited.  I read David Sedaris’ new book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls in order to keep my sense of humor.  After two hours I worried that nobody would come and I would starve to death so I walked to town and found a place to eat.

The oddball sign in English said “Coffee and Curry”.   Inside was a couple.  The stereo played a Helen Reddy song (Helen Reddy seems to be wildly popular here). The Korean man spoke a little English and introduced himself as “Captain”.  His wife’s nickname was “Laura”.  I had delicious vegetable curry that was filled with pumpkin and sweet beans with a side of cool marinated radish and cucumber.  Captain was quite inquisitive about where I had come from and where I was staying.  I haven’t seen another tourist since I left the hostel and in this sleepy village in between nowhere and nowhere I was clearly a novelty.

On another note, have I mentioned the size of the cockroaches here?  It’s unspeakable.  They are mammal size.  Their brains are so big, I’m fairly certain they could solve calculus problems or discuss quantum theory.  And the dragonflies are the size of pterodactyls.  For real.  It’s like I have entered the Land of the Lost (which for my younger readers was the greatest 70’s TV show ever, second only to the Love Boat.)  If I see a sleestack, I’m bailing on South Korea. No questions asked.

Dinner companions

Dinner companions

So it’s getting dark now and still I am alone in the guesthouse.   Just me on a country road, seven empty beds beside me, the sticky wet air and the disconcerting high-pitched buzz of locusts.  Just another day on Jeju island!

Update: At 7:30 pm, three women and seven children arrive.  One is my host and her face is as kind as her husband’s, Mr. Joe.  The children, too young to be trained, stare at me all at once and with intensity. I’m scared of children, so this is terrifying. There is no denying however that they are all cute.  My host brings me water and smiles excessively. As do I.  No language is exchanged.  But smiles say it all.

Update to the update: At 8:30 pm my host motions for me to come.  We walk across the garden and step into a room with a table full of food.  One woman cooks meat on a stove on the floor and all the children point, stare, laugh and touch my hair while I make expressive faces like a moron.  Ten minutes later and the host joins the table bringing rice with her.  She spoons rice into each person’s bowl and then we are free to add any of the numerous items on the table to our bowls.  The women introduce me to the foods, preparing each properly for me.  Rice is spooned onto fresh leaves of lettuce and other leaves I can’t identify.  Then a little bit if this and a dab of red sauce and it is pulled into a little pouch for eating.  Delicious! And spicy!  So many new flavors especially from the many types of greens.

Again, not a word is spoken except thank you on my part.  I really need to get “thank you” down in Korean. It is a word that seems necessary every five minutes here on Jeju island! That will be my goal for tomorrow.

Child self portraits.

Child self portraits.

Update to the update to the update:  At 9:30 pm, I am summoned for more eating.  I join the group which now includes an additional woman.  The kids eat ice cream and the women eat the tangerines that Jeju is famous for. Very sweet and juicy!  The kids grab my phone and start taking ridiculous photos.

There is a miscommunication that I can’t seem to correct. I was asking my host if there was wifi on the property (I could see on my phone that there was wifi close by) and she thought I needed a charger for my phone.  Women make phone calls.  Twenty minutes later a charger for an iPhone 4 is delivered!!!  I am telling you, never, ever have I met people as hospitable and generous as Korean people.

At 10:30 pm the oldest boy comes to my room to show me the model planes he just built.  After laughing at me for having my shoes inside (There is a huge roach in the shoe area!) and placing them outside he says “Goodnight”.  Yes.  Good night.

Photos of the Day:


  1. Wow…just being in this home with these kids and eating the home cooked food is an amazing experience!

    • Agreed. It was pretty special.

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