Saturday, February 5, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas (27 December)

Our final night in Jeju is rather quiet and my roommates and I spend several hours chatting about paranormal activity and other strange subjects before finally calling it a night and falling asleep.  Catfish and I had agreed to help KiwiKat organise breakfast on the last morning but wake up when breakfast is halfway through so we start the day feeling somewhat guilty although KiwiKat says not to worry.  After breakfast, we load our bags onto the bus, take photos of the random goat that has suddenly appeared outside of our hotel and head to the Oedolgae trail which is our first stop for the day. 

The trail is beautiful and fairly flat so we have lots of fun fooling around as we take lots of photos.  The views on this trail are more in line with the promotional slogan of Jeju as a ‘tropical’ island and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.  Naturally, halfway through the trail, there is gym equipment which we have to take advantage of before moving to our next location.  I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with my cellular phone which has been dying a very slow and miserable death: I can see that I have several text messages but I can only read the first line of each message – several of which are from my co-teacher with rather unpleasant news if the first lines are accurately judged.

Strength of Nature

Our next stop is the natural rock formations where we’re greeted by the rather unpleasant smell of a Korean delicacy: silkworm larvae.  The rock formations themselves, however, are incredible and we spend a considerable amount of time taking photos of rocks and the waves crashing against them below us.  As each wave assaults the rock face before making a hasty retreat, we watch, mesmerized, by the smoothness of the rocks clustered together in defence.  All too soon, it’s time for us to start heading back to the bus.  When we see the hallabangs (scholars and warriors), Catfish decides that she wants to be a scholar and rushes towards the ones on the left.  Encouraged by KiwiKat, both Catfish and I sport beanies and strike the scholarly pose between the hallabangs making ourselves honorary scholars for just a moment. 

As we pass a display of rock engravings, a Korean family notice KiwiKat’s beanie which proudly states ‘New Zealand’ in Korean.  This prompts them to comment that their daughter has just come back from New Zealand and they quickly summon her over to talk with KiwiKat.  Naturally, a family photo with an actual Kiwi is the next logical step before asking if we like Jeju and bidding us farewell.  By now, we’re hungry so we’re only too happy to be back on the bus and heading to the restaurant where we’ll have lunch. 

Lunch is an interesting affair of the usual side dishes and a dish of octopus which surreptitiously gets moved to the very edge of the table.  The piece de resistance to the meal, however, is grilled mackerel served Korean style; this means that the fish has only been gutted and spatch-cocked so it still has it’s head and tail.  Foreigners don’t like having their food looking at them and it’s extremely disconcerting eating a fish that is staring at me with a rather accusing expression.  Catfish seems to think I’m being silly so I turn the plate so that the fish is looking at her.  She glances at it once while eating more fish before placing her napkin over the fish’s head so that it can’t see us.  We’re then able to finish lunch peacefully.  On our way out of the restaurant, we look at the different fish in the restaurant’s tanks, take silly photos kissing the fake tortoise on the desk and look at the meal options on display outside where Seokjin is pointing out the snapper fish that we had for dinner last night; this prompts KiwiKat to point to the photo above the display cabinet and comment, “I wouldn’t mind having him on a dish!”

More Gardens

After lunch, we’re off to Yeomiji Botanical Gardens where we head straight for the observation deck.  Since elevators here seem to only be able to hold about three foreigners at a time – we’re all ‘Big Size’ as many Koreans love to point out! – we wait a long time to get to the observation deck.  Impatient as I am, I decide to take the stairs since it’s only three flights; unfortunately, it’s another three flights after that to the actual observation deck since the elevator only goes half way.  I’ve no sooner made it up the stairs and to the observation deck where KiwiKat and Catfish are already waiting when they tell me it’s time to head back down again.  I snap a few random photos and follow them back down the stairs I’ve only just conquered.  From there, we choose a garden path to walk through and generally joke around. 

As we walk outside, we notice that the train that leads around the garden is about to depart.  Like small children, we all start sprinting towards the train and dive into a carriage much to the amusement of the Koreans already on the train.  When the driver comes around to collect tickets, we feel somewhat dejected as we get off the train.  He kindly points us in the direction of the ticket machine which is currently being repaired so we place Catfish in the queue while we make sure that the train doesn’t leave without us.  Tickets in hand, we once again enthusiastically board the train and get our cameras ready for the tour.  Each garden is themed according to country styles so the train trip is like taking a mini tour around the world as we pass the Italian, French, Korean and Japanese gardens and more.  Our train also seems to have picked up a hitchhiker along the way so when we stop to let this person off, we assume that we’re all getting off.  Catfish is the first one off and, as KiwiKat and I start attempting to get off, the doors close once again and we stay firmly in our seats.  Fortunately, the driver is paying attention in his rear view mirror and the doors re-open to let Catfish back on the train.

Messing With the Zen

All too soon, our train ride is over and we head back towards the Grecian style bridge to take photos.  When we spot mini-Holland, we head towards the windmills enthusiastically where Catfish and I attempt to do several cartwheels – once again, much to the amusement of several Koreans standing around and watching us.  When we tire of the cartwheels, we head over to a tree which Catfish attempts to climb and we do a few rather poor ballerina poses on the stumps.  We then move over to what looks like half of a giant Easter egg before making our way to the Japanese Zen-Garden where a little boy is happily running through the garden.  This leads to KiwiKat telling Catfish to go and play in the garden too.  The result: Catfish gathers a handful of stones and throws them in the air over her head – only to remember that what goes up has to come down at some point. I wonder if there'll soon be a new sign outside of the Zen Garden: Please keep children and foreigners out of the garden!

Where Do I Look?

Our final destination for the trip is
Ghost Road
and Loveland.  We’re still watching K-pop music videos on the bus and enjoying the quirky (and sometimes silly) differences in the style of the videos and outfits as we head to
Ghost Road
.  This road is an optical illusion: We are actually travelling downhill but the shape of the road creates the impression that we are travelling uphill instead and so, when the engine of a vehicle is switched off, we continue to move ‘uphill’ as though some paranormal phenomenon is occurring.

Loveland should probably be a blog entry of its own so I’m going to just gloss over the main points of it.  If you’re not comfortable with the idea of 80 foot penises and very sexual images, this is probably a good place to stop reading!

Billed as the honeymoon vacation spot of Korea, Jeju’s Loveland is popular with newlyweds and seems to almost serve as Korea’s limited sex education programme.  For westerners who are generally far more comfortable with overtly sexual things to begin, Loveland is extremely entertaining!  In 2002, graduate art students of Hongik University created the sculptures which are, of course, all themed around sex.  For a country that it generally viewed as fairly conservative, it’s interesting that such a project was even assigned!  Loveland has a sex shop, sex museum displaying various toys, videos, and graphic statues showing various sexual positions.  It also has the largest penis statue in the world.  Being foreign, our first thought when we see this statue could only be: GROUP PHOTO!

The Korean couples walking around the park are far less engaging with the statues than the foreigners.  For us, it’s entertaining to turn the handles of interactive couples bonking and posing for photos behind rather comical and somewhat graphic cut-outs.  We take our time laughing over the absurdity of the park while the Koreans seem to hurry through it as something simply to check off an itinerary list.  They do, however, appreciate laughing at our apparent openness with sexuality even if we’re so embarrassed we’re not quite sure where to look at times.  Everything about Loveland is sex-oriented including the handles on the restroom doors: a penis for the women’s bathroom and breasts for the men’s room.  It’s a highly entertaining, if not very awkward, place to visit.

With our activities over for the day, we start our final trip to the airport where I’m surprised to discover that my suitcase has gained nearly four kilograms on this trip.  An unsatisfying burger and coke precede our departure to Seoul which has also experienced heavy snow in the three days we’ve been gone.  As a result, our flight is an hour later than scheduled although we’re grateful for this delay which means that subway traffic should be less daunting (and it is) as we make our way from Gimpo Airport to the Express Bus Terminal and back home to Gunsan to rest.

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