Monday, April 12, 2010

I Heart Jej!

This weekend, Dana and I took a trip down to Jeju Island (or, Jej, as we liked to call it) with Adventure Korea, an organization that basically runs trips for expats living in Korea interested in seeing some cool destinations, festivals, activities, etc. I had signed up for this trip over a month ago and I can't believe how fast it came! Jeju is a large island off the southern coast of Korea that has warmer climates, volcanic craters, palm trees and beaches. While it wasn't quite summer weather down there yet, it was still at least a little warmer than Seoul. I wish it had been sunny...but we did alright in the overcast and rainy weather. It was still a lot of fun!

We flew out of Gimpo Airport (the little airport that is actually in Seoul) and since we had to meet at 8:10am, I left my apartment at 6:40am. Too early! But, as my brother was fond of reminding me when visiting, I basically live in New Carrollton, not DC. Haha. (I know most of you don't get that reference, but I take comfort in knowing that at least my Mom reads and knows what I'm talking about!). Anyway, I got to the airport about five minutes early and I was the last to arrive, which I thought was pretty stunning. I'm so used to expats being late, I was impressed that we all arrived before the scheduled departure. But I would soon find out that we had a pretty awesome tour group so that really helped things move smoothly. Originally there were supposed to be 40 people on the trip, but Adventure Korea couldn't get enough plane tickets down to Jeju (as the temperature finally begins to warm up people are going down a lot more frequently for hiking, etc) so there were only 20 of us. More than once over the course of the weekend we discussed how happy we were that there were only 20. It was a great number. Almost all of us were teachers (save for one person working at a construction company, one guy who was a computer programmer, and a girl who didn't specify what she did) and we hailed from the US, Ireland, England, South Africa, and Indonesia. Everyone was really laid back and a lot of fun, so that was awesome. After arriving at the airport and finally getting in line near our boarding time we found out that our flight out was going to be an hour delayed. Later we learned that a fire truck had overturned on the runway in Jeju and they needed time to clear that off. The flight was only about 55 minutes in the air and fairly uneventful. I will say that every time we hit turbulence I thought of Lost...not the greatest association, lol.

When we arrived in Jeju we boarded our bus and headed out to lunch at a seafood restaurant. Seafood (and by that I mean fish) was a common theme in meals over the weekend and I'm not sure whether our diet was more affected by the fact that we were staying on an island or the fact that we had a couple vegetarians with us. This lunch was a huge pot that came out boiling with big chunks of fish, potatoes, etc. Then there were the ever present side dishes. It was pretty tasty, if not difficult to grab with chopsticks. I am fairly certain I ate about 40 fish bones, but I think I padded it with enough sticky rice to protect my insides.

You might think that those things in front are fried shrimp, as we did. Wrong. They are fried whole anchovies. Something about crunching through entire fish skeletal systems is less than appetizing to me.

After lunch we headed over to Bird Island. Honestly, I'm still not really clear as to why they call it Bird Island, but in the grand scheme of things I suppose that doesn't really matter. Jeju has a bunch of satellite islands ranging in size and shape, and this one is connected to the mainland with an interesting bridge. We walked across the bridge and then walked about halfway out on a peninsula made of deathly lava rocks. Then we walked around a little on some wooden walkways, pausing about 100 times to take pictures. We would have explored a little more, but we were pressed for time thanks to the delayed flight.

The bridge is supposed to look like a bird's head? We don't really see it. Personally, I think it looks much more like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai (see photo here).


Dana posing on the bridge.

Walkways through the pretty lava rock formations.

The peninsula of deadly rocks.

Dana was counting to take this picture and just after she said "one" a little, tiny, old Korean lady sprints between us saying "TWO THREE!" Hence the laughter.

Quite pretty. Even with a lack of birds.

After the island it was time to board the ferry and take a little jaunt out into the waters around Jeju. Since it was narrated by a Korean tour guide only, we probably missed a whole lot of information, but it was still quite pretty. We found a spot up on the top deck and I got to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Semester at Sea, so it was a good time for me! We took some pictures of some other little islands and relaxed for a while until our tour guide came up and told us that a performance was going on downstairs. We crammed into the little cabin with about 200 ajummas (little old Korean ladies) and ajosshis (little old Korean men), 99.5% of whom were tuckered out after a day of hiking and were dozing off. The performer played some music at the end, right before we docked, and suddenly we found ourselves in an ajumma dance party! It was...hilarious.

Island, complete with cave created by the Japanese during WWII to store ammunition, weapons, and supplies.
These two island were almost touching.

We couldn't figure out how the hell those fishermen got out there. There was no boat around and no where it looked safe enough to dock. I guess we'll never know.

Hahaha, Dana got pulled into nap time! (This was before the dance party, obviously.)

When we got off the ferry we headed over to the Jeju International Convention Center where they had some big rape fields you could take pictures in. I know...unfortunate name. Rape (or rapeseed) flowers bloom in a brilliant yellow and the fields were absolutely beautiful. There is actually a festival that goes along with their blooming time, but we weren't able to squeeze that into our weekend. It was still great to go take pictures, though!

Profile picture on Facebook? Check.
Dana and I in front of another field. So pretty!

After the rape field we headed to another field, but this one filled with green tea hedges. We quickly popped down to the O'Sulloc Tea Plantation to snap some photos with the green tea. I can honestly say that before coming to Korea I never knew (or, let's be honest, even thought about) how tea grew. I mean, I figured it didn't grow on a tree, but I don't know...I thought it was a closer to the ground kind of plant. You could easily have green tea hedges around your house in America. They are very generic looking. Now when we got out of the bus here I forgot my camera, so you'll have to wait until Dana posts her pictures on Facebook to see me in a tea field. I know...the suspense might kill you. Just hold on.

Basically remove that guy and put me in his place.
(Stolen from a stranger's blog via Google image search.)

After the tea farm we entered the world of the bizarre by attending a Chinese acrobatics and motorbike show. I'm not really sure what was Korean about this...but whatever. The acrobats were all young and were a little iffy at the beginning, but they pulled it together. Then they had the motorbikes riding around in a huge steel hamster wheel. It was intense. In fact, it made me so nervous that I could barely enjoy it. It was nerve wrecking!

A pile of young Chinese girls covered balancing umbrellas, haha.

More crazy balancing tricks.

They made me think of Katie Eisenhart from elementary school.

video
This was only with four bikes. At the end there were SIX. It was stressful just to watch.

After the show we headed to dinner, which turned out to be my least favorite meal of the weekend. At least there was unlimited delicious japchae! By the time we were finished with dinner it was fairly late and many of us had been up for a long time so we headed to the supermarket to buy some snacks for the next day, including the famous Jeju oranges, which we referred to as nipple oranges.  I think you can tell why by looking at the picture.

Nipples, googly eyes, whatever.

After the supermarket, we went to our pension (kind of like a self-catering hotel). One of the great things about this trip was that we got to meet some really fun people. Natalie (from Minnesota), Jaime and Angie (both from Maine) shared a room with us at the pension. We had a lot of fun together and got to talk about all the differences between working at a hagwon (all of them work for private schools, Natalie in Seoul- she lives at my metro stop!, Jaime in Daegu and Angie in Busan) so that was really interesting. I had brought "A to Z", an electronic game my mom sent me, and we played that for a long time before watching part of Get Smart on TV and finally crashing. Angie and Dana both talked in their sleep (possibly to each other, haha) but we were all so tired it didn't bother any of us. The pension didn't have any beds and did not have quite enough padding to make it comfortable. I agree with Brigid when she says that she's slept on the floor more in the past year than in the past ten years combined. The only other downside was that the ondol (floor heat) was turned up so high that it got waaaay too warm (especially for me, who sleeps with the windows open every night!).

The next morning we woke up found out that they weren't kidding when they said we were right on the ocean. Our balcony had a pretty view of the sea which we enjoyed for a bit before getting ready for the day, eating breakfast, taking a few pictures, and piling on to the bus for more sightseeing.

Posing with our awesome roomies: Angie, Jaime, Me, Dana, and Natalie

Probably one of the best group pictures I've seen in a while.  Everyone looks like a normal human being!

We started our day of touring at Seongsan Ilchulbong, a huge volcanic crater that you can climb.  At this point it was drizzling and VERY windy, so the rain became a weapon.  It was also quite cold with the wind.  Dana and I took one look at the slippery mountain teaming with ajummas in ponchos and opted not to climb.  We walked around the side of the mountain and took some pretty pictures of of the coast as the wind nearly blew us over.  Then we did a little shopping before getting back on the bus with everyone else.


Brrr!

Look at all those people who were braver (?) than us.

Pretty coastline.  I would love to come back to Jeju in the SUN.

For real...it was windy. 

Upon everyone's return to the bus we headed off to lunch.  We had black pork BBQ and it was soooo tasty. Our table basically combined a bunch of other ingredients with the pork (throw in some garlic? sure.  kimchi? why not.) and ate until we couldn't move.  It was excellent.  When lunch was over we went to a place where you could ride these little horses around a lot or take a go-kart for a spin in the rain.  We opted to stay on the warm, dry bus and read/watch a movie on my iPod.  I feel confident that this was the right choice, haha.  We were only there for a about a half an hour before heading to the Trick Art Museum.  This place was so odd.  It reminded me of the type of place beach/tourist towns on the east coast would have (think Ocean City, MD or Gatlinburg, TN) to entertain your kids when its too rainy to be outside.  Basically this museum consisted of a variety of paintings/art pieces that you could step into, look like you were interacting with, etc.  Many were optical illusions and it was just kind of a bizarre little place.


Why yes, George Senior, I will have some wine.


Dana wants to be a Chinese acrobat.


Trapped in a mirror.

Dana is a giant! (Man, that room was apparently dusty.)

When we had taken our fill of strange pictures we were off to the Manjanggul Lava Tubes.  They are one of the largest networks of lava tubes in the world.  There were about a million wet, uneven, stone steps (my favorite!) leading down into the tubes that go on for about a kilometer underground.  I went to the bottom of the stairs and opted not to go through the rest of the very dark caves where 38 species of cave spiders reside.  Again, I feel confident in my choice, haha.  There have been a few too many mine and cave collapses in the news recently for my comfort.


Entrance to the lava tube.

Korea is clearly a non-litigious society.  I kept walking around thinking "God, its so dark.  Someone could easily get hurt and sue.  Oh...wait...we aren't in the US."

Next, our bus took us on a roughly 1.5 minute ride over to a big hedge maze.  Armed with a map, Dana, Jaime, Angie and I set off and were victorious in finding the exit.  We weren't the first...but I'm pretty sure we weren't the last!  Afterwards we had some interesting orange and cactus blossom ice cream on our bus ride to the most bizarre destination of all.


Maze map.

Jaime and Dana ready to lead the way.

That's the bell you got to ring when you reached the end.

Angie, Jaime and I posing with our ice cream.
Sidenote: Can you tell it was misting all day?  Check out my curls, man.

As I mentioned, our last attraction of the day was by far the most bizarre place we went in Jeju.  In fact, it was absolutely the most bizarre place I've been in Korea and easily in the top three of most bizarre places I've been to worldwide.  (Truly nothing more bizarre comes to mind.)  And I will keep using bizarre because I feel it is really the only word that truly captures Jeju Love Land.  According to their website, Love Land was started by 20 people who graduated from Seoul's Hongik University (one of the most well known art universities in Korea) in 2002.  It is basically a collection of extremely graphic erotic art.  Sculptures, carvings, statues, paintings, clay models, you name it.  As though walking around Love Land with friends wouldn't be awkward and strange enough, the entire park was FILLED with old people.  I do not exaggerate when I say at least 80% of them were over the age of sixty.  And they weren't just walking around, they were posing with the statues, and being TOTAL creepers.   Ugh, it was so awkward and bizarre.  I want to stop thinking about it now.  I was walking around taking pictures and then I stopped, thinking "what the hell am I going to DO with these pictures?"  I mean, I'm not going to post super graphic pictures here for strangers and my grandparents to see; I'm not going to post them on Facebook for students to see; I'm not going to put them in a scrapbook for my future children to see.  So I stopped taking pictures, hahah.


The only non-graphic picture of Dana and I taken at Love Land.

I kept looking for the gross addition to the statue, but upon finding them both completely clothed I thought this sculpture was really cute with the cherry blossoms in the background.

We left Love Land (I wanted to bathe my body and mind with hand sanitizer) and made a quick stop at a souvenir shop to pick up a few things (like cactus and orange chocolate for my co-workers and a little gift for my mom) and then we were off to the airport.

We sat around at the airport for a while waiting for our flight and attracted a LOT of attention.  A single, normal looking white person is something to stare at. But add in a bunch of other people, some with red hair, some with Kindles, one who was black and had her hair in twists and it is a slam-on-the-brakes-and-stare kind of situation.  So that was fun.  Our flight was delayed again, this time for only about 20 minutes, so the foreigner sideshow lasted a little longer than planned.  It was nice just to sit and talk with people and hear their stories.  I also did my best to sell some more Kindles, haha.  I need to start asking Amazon for a commission.

We got back to Gimpo around 10:00pm and juuuuuust missed a train to Sangildong so Natalie and I had to wait for two more trains.  Thankfully Gimpo is pretty close to the opposite end of the purple line so we got seats with no problem.  We sat kind of spaced out and there weren't enough people that we needed to squeeze together until about three stops before Gildong.  Up until that point we had just been talking about life, teaching, Korea, etc and discussing the old man standing in the handicapped area who was hacking and gagging up a lung.  Lo and behold, this man decides he wants to sit down.  Rather than sitting in the open seat in the area SPECIFICALLY RESERVED for the elderly, he decides to SQUEEZE in right between us.  Effectively killing conversation.  Then he proceeds to talk to use, animatedly and with the use of many gestures, completely in Korean.  There were roughly three English words in the hundreds that he said, but I think he was trying to tell us that he was a captain in the Korean army for 13 years.  I got this from the word "captain", a gesture of firing a rifle, and the words "ten, three".  So...really it could have been anything, haha.  The young Korean girl sitting across from us could not stop laughing as we shrugged at the man rattling on in Korean and said "sorry, I don't understand!" over and over again.  She tried to hide it, but I'm sure it was comical to watch.  Finally we arrived at our stop, said our "annyong haseyo"s to our new friend and went our separate ways.  I finally got home at about 11:30pm and crashed soon after.  

Today I didn't have work (thank god!) because it was a school holiday.  I planned on sleeping late, but as though they know when it will annoy me most, they started construction downstairs again.  I cannot WAIT for whatever that new shop is to be done.  Just so they SHUT UP.  They started at 10:00am this morning and are still going strong at 7:48pm.  I do not love.

Tomorrow its back to the grind at work.  I have something planned for every weekend from now until June, so I definitely have lots of things to look forward to.  Next weekend is the Cherry Blossom Festival and Picnic at Namsan Park and we might go check them out at Yeoido also.  We are also having a meeting of the Brunch Bunch in Itaewon on Sunday morning. The following weekend is a visit to the makkolli (traditional Korean rice wine) museum and a make your own makkolli event.  May 1st we're going on the wine train and May 8th is a trip out to some caves and on a ferry ride in the next province over.  The next weekend Monica and Carl will be here (SO SYCED!) and we'll be hitting up the Lotus Lantern Festival and spending a weekend in Jeollanamdo.  After that, its June!  Crazy how time flies.  

2 comments:

  1. Wow, really looks like a great trip. Been reading it, because I can't sleep, I'm soon flying to Seoul for the first time. Jeju-do is also on my list, but I won't see it this time.

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  2. Meaghan! What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing all the photos. :)

    ReplyDelete