Saturday, August 4, 2012

Obligatory Korean Tourist Spot #6: Happy August From Jeju!

I'm back from my trip to Jeju. I've actually been back since, uh, Tuesday, but between starting intensives (read as: extra classes) on Wednesday and losing my phone (in my goddamn apartment and the first person to make a joke about how I need to clean gets their clock cleaned because MY APARTMENT IS SPOTLESS) I haven't had the energy to blog anywhere about anything.

Well, it's the weekend, and the phone situation will be sorted on Monday, so here's my BIG FAT VACATION POST!

Day 1: Lava Tube, Shamseonghyeol Shrine, Jeju Folk and Natural History Museum

Okay, a lava tube is a type of cave. Unlike the vast majority of the world's caves (solutional caves), these aren't formed by water over millions of years; lava tubes are the remnants of flowing lava. In some respects they are a totally different beast than solutional caves. (At least, if you're the kind of person to distinguish between different kinds of holes in the ground. Like me.)

The one I went to is Manjanggul, and it is (part of) Asia's longest lava tube. The part you can visit is 1 km in length, the whole thing is 7 km. They have bats but I didn't see any, they hang out far away from where the people go. :(

The entrance to the lava tube.

I believe this formation is technicially known as rope lava. The formation has to do with inner, hotter lava pushing the cooling, more hardened lava around, but I'm not entirely sure and there is no Wikipedia entry on this!

Also the lights look like Daleks.

Lava stalactites!

The midway point.

Close-up of the midway point.

A lava column.

This was the second of two literally breath-taking moments (I audibly gasped at each one). The first was unfortunately impossible to photograph without things like a tripod and extra lighting, but I can try to explain:

For a long while, the lava tube isn't very high. Maybe about ten feet from floor to ceiling. Then you turn a corner and suddenly opens up into a much vaster, bigger room, maybe fifty or sixty from floor to ceiling. Even more. And on your left is a beautiful rockfall of black volcanic rock, with splashes of what the signage says is quartzite. Amazing and impossible to photograph for obvious reasons.

This second one, the lava column, marks the end of the lava tube open to the public. Every cave has at least one trademark formation that you see on all of the brochures and ads and whatever else; Manjanggul goes with this lava column. So here's a picture of a better picture of it that I snapped after the tour:

(If you're wondering, my cave's trademark formation is The Chapel/The Frozen Waterfall, and The Giant Ear of Corn.)

Leaving Manjanggul.

Then, I had to hightail it back home because my pants were kind of ruined (sudden downpour, wet cave). The day was still young after I got myself situated so I decided to follow the brown road signs to some walkable sites. (Convention in Korea is that cultural/historical/touristy stuff is designated by brown road signs instead of blue, though also you could tell from names like Samseonghyeol Shrine anyway.)

The whole grounds had a very cool garden/park vibe to it. I would have sat and caught up on reading/writing, but mosquitos just thought I was too delicious. None of the pictures I took there really captured that garden atmosphere, except maybe this one.

This is the hole in the ground from which the first Jeju-ers were thought to have emerged, at least as far as the Jeju mythos is concerned. It's been a designated shrine/special area for thousands of years; this is the closest most people can come to it. They have assorted ancestral/shamanstic/(maybe touristy?) rites on April and October 10th where apparently they...I guess walk up to it and do stuff? The signs didn't really say.

Where people still prepare for the aforementioned rituals; also this used to house a prestigious Korean Confucian school.

It's so weird (to me) to see these buildings my brain parses as "old and historical" used in a contemporary/modern context.

Shrines/altars to the three important shamanistic gods of Jeju, at least two of whom are sea deities, if I understood my time in the folk museum correctly. Again, note how it's roped off.

Once I had enough of being mosquito dinner, I decided to go to a nearby museum!

The pictures are mostly really boring, I guess. The most interesting thing to me was a video about the rituals the Jeju women divers still do early in the new lunar year to appease the aforementioned sea deities.

The women divers of Jeju are really important. Each city in Korea has its own cartoon mascot. Seoul's is Haechi, some Chinese monster that, like, judges your soul when you die or something. Uijeongbu has a girl and a boy in hanbok that I'm sure must be important but hell if I know who they are. The mascots for Jeju are a cartoon version of a woman diver and the "stone grandfather" statues all over the island, like this one:

So I don't have many museum pictures, and the ones I do have suck and are boring.

Afterwards I caught a cab to a jjimjilbang that a friend who used to live in Jeju recommended. I find the jjimjilbang water is really great for drying out mosquito bites and I was really suffering from my walk around the shrine. I also have an unofficial goal of visiting as many jjimjilbangs as I can in Korea, so two birds and one stone. I wanted to relax outside my motel room a bit, so I brought some reading and writing to the co-ed hang-out part upstairs...and promptly fell asleep at 10.30. I didn't leave the jjimjilbang until noon the next day. Oops!

Day 2: Love Land, Students at the Beach

Jeju is a popular destination for Korean honeymooners, at least in part because of a surprisingly obscene (and yet sadly heteronormative) art park called "Love Land."

Have a truncated, G-rated version of the park!

I sincerely hope my boyfriend never makes a face like that when we kiss.

"American Love." If I had been a friend of the sculptor, I would have suggested the name "Love American Style," but I guess they didn't have any American pop culture junkie friends.


Yeah, I dunno.

After Love Land, I decided to be a lazy bum and go to the beach. I picked a beach off the tourist map that looked the closest and after some minor transportation snafus, arrived in the early afternoon. I think I was in the middle of my second or third go-round splashing in the ocean when I heard a familiar voice: "Katherine teacher!"

Two of my students were going to Jeju with their parents during the same vacation break, but I didn't seriously expect to run into them. Small world! I splashed around with them for a couple of hours, met their parents in my soaking-wet, bathing-suited, not-wearing-clothes-on-top-like-Koreans-do, hairy-legged, state and waved them off when they eventually left. (I stayed on much longer to finish reading my book.) I camped out in a PC bang for a couple of hours to charge my mp3 player and catch up on life, and then I had a quick shower in my motel room (no hot water!) and zoned out with a documentary on Arirang about Samarkand and Uzbekistan and some famous Imam from Uzbek or buried in Uzbek or something.

I had forgotten how awful, twee, and stupid Arirang can be, because after this really interesting documentary came a terrible PSA for Korean liquor, involving a foreigner in a hanbok rapping (poorly) about the different varieties of Korean liquor and why they're great.

Because the foreigner community in Korea is big-yet-small, I'm sure I'm only a few degrees of separation removed from him; I might have even met him or been at a bar or party at the same time as him. Nevertheless: seriously, man? Have some dignity.

Day 3: Seogwipo: Yakcheonsa, Cheonjiyeon

There are two major cities on Jeju island: Jeju and Seogwipo . I decided one day spent on the opposite side of the island wouldn't kill me and got a bus to Seogwipo, where I planned to see Yakcheonsa Temple and Cheonjiyeon waterfall.

The entrance to Yakcheonsa Temple.

The main prayer hall, which is the largest Buddhist prayer hall in Asia (supposedly).

I wonder what English camp at Yakcheonsa is like...

For the first time on a temple visit (because it seemed so very touristy), I worked up the nerve to go inside the prayer hall.

I love temples. Even with so many tourists it somehow retained an incredibly tranquil atmosphere. If there is any such thing as reincarnation then I must have been some kind of monk in a past life because a life full of thoughtful reflection a temple like this, or even the sesshin I did years ago, is so appealing that if the Boy and I ever break up I'll just run away and become a nun.

Cheonjiyeon was slightly underwhelming in comparison.

It's supposed to have mythic healing properties (and is apparently rare in that it's a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean but I don't know how true that is?); I guess it's more of a mythology site than an aesthetic site. Speaking of mythology:

A Greek mythology museum in Jeju? Dafuq....?

Proof that I was in Jeju!

Apparently Cheonjiyeon also makes dreams come true:

The familiar stone stacks where out in abundance at Cheonjiyeon. Here's an especially nice one I found opposite the entrance.

I made one next to it but like the moron I am forgot to take a picture when I finished! Oh well. This one is much better, anyway. =P

These two trips more or less exhausted my reserves (I went on a nature hike near Cheonjiyeon but the pictures of that are kind of boring so just trust me when I say I did it), so I got a taxi to the bus depot and hopped on a bus back to Jeju-shi. Just in time, too, because when we rolled into the terminal at Jeju-shi it was dark.

Day 4: Baller Pants, Beach

I promised myself I'd buy certain things in Jeju: miniature stone grandfather (check), Jeju chocolate (got at the airport), one piece of clothing. Clothes from Jeju are a distinctive orange/brown hue because they dye them with persimmons (I think it's persimmons?) and I like "local" clothing for souvenirs (my sarong from Indonesia, for example). Lucky for me, there was a tailor's near my motel, so on Day 4 I worked up the nerve to try and navigate a complicated economic transaction in my mediocre Korean.

And I was successful! I didn't get them until the next day but they are amazing and they fit perfectly and it's a color palette I love.

All of my goals were accomplished so I decided to be a lazy bum and spend my last day at the beach.

I picked a different beach than the one I went to before, because while it was close, it was also crowded (meh) and not very picturesque (bummer). This one was more famous, more expensive (meh), but beautiful:

The only downside was that at low tide the designated swimming area (go beyond the buoys and people get mad at you) was REALLY shallow: I'd be out way far and in water that was only up to my knees, at a distance when my feet would normally no longer be touching the floor. The waves were also not much to speak of (that is, just wake from motor-powered rafts going back and forth beyond the buoys).

It picked up at high tide though, and I got some good swimming in. I love the water. Maybe I should be a swimming monk.

I also tried some Mount Hallasan Soju (Hallasan being the big mountain in the middle of the island I didn't climb because SCREW MOUNTAIN CLIMBING AT 30*C I'M GOING TO THE BEACH), which is the same as regular soju, but whatever. I was drunk on the beach and I didn't care. I dried off at the beachside bar with some beer and kimchi bogeumbap, the first not-from-a-convenience-store meal I had the whole trip.

I hate when Korean meals come with a fork because I never know if it's just what that restaurant does, or if they associate white people with chopstick failure. There were no Koreans nearby for me to spy on, either.

And some light beach reading.

Once the sun started to go down, I paid my tab and went back to my motel room to shake the sand out of myself and have one last night of exploration.

I found Jane's Groove, my favorite bar/club from Seoul that moved to Jeju years ago, but it was closed. I had a few more drinks at a nearby bar, Cult, and then called it a night. And a trip.

1 comment:

  1. nice pics ---- sounds like a good time was had by all