Jejudo is Korea’s largest island, famous both as holiday and honeymoon island. The island has been compared to Hawaii, Disneyland, and even paradise. While I admit the island is most striking because of its volcanic landscape and beautiful sandy beaches, my trip, which included biking, camping, and packaged ramen, was less than idyllic.
For my one-week Chuseok holiday (barely a month since my arrival in Korea), I joined my friend Warren’s Jeju tour.
A group of 60 or so participants, we were to travel down south from Seoul via bus, then boat to Jejudo. Once arrived, we would follow highway 1132, which circulates the island, and bike the entire 225 km (140 miles) in six days. I did a little quick math and saw that we would be biking roughly 60 km (40 miles) a day, which, didn’t sound too terrible, so… I went.
Unfortunately, being so clueless about distance has its setback. I discovered, with the island’s up-and-down volcanic landscapes and blustery wind, I was pedaling but barely moving. My muscles were sore and my butt hurt.
Lodging: Tents / Transportation: Bicycles / Food: Ramen / Facilities: Public Bathroom
Now, I can be tough and, in my own humble opinion, put up with a lot. But it is a trifle too much to not shower for 6 days! What have I signed myself up for?!
The thing about abandoning everything and living in a foreign country where all aspects of it — language, culture, custom, are unfamiliar, is shocking easy. Back in 2010, I was a newly grad fresh out of college who didn’t want her fun to end, and my decision to work in Korea was a no- brainer. With my airfares and apartment paid for, I figured that the year abroad would be a party.
It was, in a way, but it was definitely not what I had expected.
“Hello, I am Sherry Teacher”
I had envisioned myself teaching at an all boys high school in the heart of Seoul, sort of a teacher by day, glam girl by night kind of deal. In reality, I taught ALL-GIRLS high school and lived in SSangmun, a suburb that has more traditional rice cake (떡) shops than bars. Another aspect that I had failed to taken into consideration was: “Koreans speak Korean, not English.” Now this may seem obvious, but I had honestly believed that because Seoul is an international metropolis, I could survive with just “안녕하세요” (“Hello”).
I lived and worked in Seoul, Korea, from 2010 to 2011. Just to clarify, I am not, nor do I speak, Korean. Furthermore, I had no particular interest in Korean dramas or pop stars. Hence, you might ask, “Why did you go to Korea?”
Frankly, I do not not know myself. But I can most certainly retort with a “Why not?”. In Alastair Reid’s poem, “Curiosity,” there are two types of people — dogs and cats. A dog person opts for stability (e.g. family, work) while a cat person seeks the unknown. Contrary to popular proverb that “curiosity kills the cat,” the poem contends that it is the lack of curiosity that kills us. For only the curious, “have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”
WHAT TO EAT in Korea, click HERE to read more
I survived Korea splendidly. But that was luck and, I would say 87%, attributed to meeting a lot of great people. For those who don’t like to leave having a good time to chance, there are a thing or two you should know about the city.
Every year at Jindo, which is located in Korea’s Jeollanam-do Province, the ocean parts and reveals a 2.8 km (1.7 mi) path to an island in the middle of the ocean. I partook in the annual Sea Festival and the experience was, excuse my lack of better adjectives, totally wicked. It was surreal as my friends and I (armed with knee-high rain boots) made the crossing with water on both sides.
If you have any doubt that the narrow path you walked on was earlier submerged underwater, just looked around you and you will find plenty of proof. While the path looked like any regular post-heavy rain road, the path is scattered wit seaweeds and sea creatures. BTW, you can tell whom the locals were because they didn’t bother to walk to the island and chose to spend their time picking up kelps and sea delicacies like mussels and clams.
The ocean parts and reveals a path to a nearby island. (Apr. 2011, Jindo, Korea)
On the way back, the water rose quickly and I was shocked by the speed. The water level, which was at my heels when I initially made my way to the island, was well-over my knee-high rain boots on the way back. My friend and I walked quickly, but the tide caught up to us and at a point, the icy cold seawater came up to our thighs (brrr~).
We made our way back to land and when we looked back, the island had disappeared. The ocean once again returned to its original form. It was as if the path was merely a mirage and the whole thing never happened. The water had removed everything. Considering this, perhaps rather than walking to and back from the island, I should have spent my time collecting kelps and clams (see images above of locals collecting foodstuffs). At the very least, I would have gotten a free meal out of the adventure.