Monday, October 31, 2011

Jeju-do Escapades... part 2

Day 3

We lingered a little in the morning and then took off to the other end of Jeju-do, the East coast, to catch some of those waves that had evaded Kent at Jungmun (중문) Beach and which never appeared on the West side. We cut right through the island, hitting all of the major country roads and at so many times we were the only people we could see. If you're reading this from some expansive location, the thought of being isolated from humans is no-big shakes but after spending some time in the city, as we have now, it's so obvious when we're alone. It's almost an eerie sensation like after waking up out of a coma only to find you're the only human existing... all the other humans are undead and looking for dinner (it's Halloween time). It's also a totally AWESOME sensation, like I can inhale more deeply because I don't have to be so conscientious about not overusing the oxygen since I'm sharing with 4 million people around me. 

The lonely roads finally kicked us out the other side and we followed signage leading us to Pyosean (표세안) Beach. We found an unmanned beach, even lacking sandy footprints. After we pondered whether or not Armegeddon had struck, leaving us behind as the only humans, and we were the only people Kent rolled around in the waves while I hunkered down like an ajumma (older korean woman, usually with perm, black hair dye job, floral printed clothing and massive sun visor) because of my sensitive sunburn. 

We continued up the east coast, with our final destination being Manjangul (만잔굴) lava tube. We hit all of major natural wonders along the way and decided a quick pull over and a drive by was sufficient to quench our curiosities. We pulled over and took in Seopjikoji (섭지코지), which is an area just south of the more famous Ilchul-bong (일출봉) crater. It has lush "bumps" of rolling meadow and striking natural-made stone walls. In a few more minutes we were to Ilchul-bong and took some time to get out and see the awesomeness of this crater jutting out of the water, just off of the coast. It is one of 350 smaller oreum or craters on the island.

 Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak [UNESCO World Heritage]

We also stopped for a quick snack, grilling up some bread and veggies at a public gazebo overlooking a blue bay. We were joined by another picnicking group who shared some sea creature snacks with us. 

I thinks it's called bomal.

This is the stuff you overlook when slipping
into the ocean from the rocky shore

This was a hot day and it was taking all of the will power we could muster to NOT close the tinted Sonata windows and turn on the air-con. When we pulled up to our final tourist trap we were melted piles of stinky camper flesh. We bought our tickets and descended into one of the world's longest lava tubes. Manjangul runs for 8,900 meters and maintains a balmy (85-100% humidity) 50-55* F temperature and it felt like sweet relief. This particular cave also houses the largest population of long-fingered bats in Asia. we could only travel 1 km in and then had to U-turn it out. There were incredible rock formations the whole way though but the most stunning was a cave-in of molten lava at the 1 km point. The tubes were formed about 200,000-300,000 years ago when eruptions were still occurring. Lava would pour downward in streams. The ocean would cool the outer edges of the flow, hardening, and the lava would continue to runs through the inner tube, not the same as the beach toy. It was cool in many ways... buh-dumb-ching!

After the geographical excursion we camped at sweet campground at the base of the Gwaneumsa (과늠사) course that leads to the crater of Hallasan. Unlike our other sites, this was covered by a tree canopy, so we had that WI camping feeling. A kind Korean camping neighbor joined us for a lesson on lighting a cook fire. Kent had just finished coaxing the charcoal into embers when Mr. Fancy Camping Gear came over with a camp-sized blow torch and blasted our little portable pit into ashes... that's an exaggeration but I can still remember the FFFUHSCHHHHHHHHH sound of the fuel and flame. We feasted on a delicious bowl of ramen, or in Korea "lamyeon," and got a good night's rest for the Hallasan hike... one more time. 

Thanks, mister. I think you got it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A hard day...

These happen every once in awhile, and since I've been an ESL teacher in Korea, hard days have been more frequent. Many things have been more frequent, hilarious stories about kids smashing one another in the face with rubber balls, hilarious stories of kids farting, hilarious stories of laughing so hard kids spit kimchi out of their noses.

Today, was a low-to-no patience kind of day when the things that I remember as I'm walking home are all of the little annoying quirks of the kids, the loud crashes of their pencils falling on the floor and how painfully long it takes them to get out their books and turn to the correct page... not to mention the annoyance of my own sourness. It's not my most shining self coming forward when my patience cup is a barren wasteland.

Upon reflection, ALL of our blogs portray the "good days." The days that I come home feeling like I put on a great show for the kids, all day long. I held their little fly-like attention spans in the palm of my hand and engaged from start to finish with well-timed jokes and accessible learning. I feel like I made learning fun on those days and that they might be excited to come back for the next great show. Also, on the good days I share on our blog, we are jet setting to islands or discovering fun niches of Korean society. Most days we are just coming home from work, swapping stories of the good, the bad and the fricking hilarious, wrestling up some dinner (usually delicious) having an adult beverage and going to bed at a reasonable hour, just to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

We have made a cozy home here, and with the regular at-home lifestyle comes the sunny, and the rainy days. Some days, it's just hard. This is one of those days, and we help each other try and remember the bigger picture of how awesome our life is, being in a foreign country, making new friends and eating new foods, but TGIF.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jeju-Do Escapades... part 1

If you are a private school English teacher in Korea, you REALLY value every extra iota of time you have off. Unlike our spoiled public school teaching counterparts (sense a small jealously) we have 5 days of summer vacay compared to their 3-4 weeks off and another handful of weeks working "summer" hours. Kenty and I wanted to maximize our precious one week. In May, when I realized I had dragged my feet a little too long for the promo ticket deals to the Philippines ($200 USD roundtrip rocketed to $800 USD in 2 weeks) we had to make new summer plans, RAPIDO. We decided to visit the honeymooners' island of the Korean peninsula, Jeju-do. 

"Everyone, stay close to your travel buddy."
In April, we were pretty pleased with ourselves after our first paychecks. Instead of indulging in a wild spending spree, we implemented a strict budget to maximize our SoKo (South Korea) savings... and then we went on a spending spree... and then we really started our budgetary lifestyles. After months of our travel fund inflating x dollars every month, we decided we had enough money to feel comfortable renting a car during our August vacation! This was all my lobbying, and it wasn't as easy as it should have been, but we rolled out of the Jeju International Airport in a sexy, silver Hyundai Sonata... looking juuuuust like every other car on every street in Korea. You would be correct to assume that Hyundai is a popular car of choice in SoKo. 

Watch out Koreans! Here I come.
Day 1 
We headed directly to Hallasan, the highest point in SoKo, an extinct volcano, the origin of the island. Some of you readers may remember a story we shared from our travels in Nicaragua, where too much perseverance and curiosity resulted in a bizarre camping night of winds, moon and spirits. I have since learned my lesson and this time I only wanted to peek inside the infamous Korean crater. Kent had endured for weeks me talking about how awesome the hike will be and then again how awesome the hike will be. 

All of my narrow-sighted energy forced us to start the hike ASAP. So when we came to the first picture perfect opportunity and I reached for the camera and found nothing, I was really frustrated that I had hustled too fast to camera-check at the car. And then, when I got that pesky thirsty feeling in my throat and I reached for a water bottle and found nothing, I was really, really frustrated that I had hustled too fast to water-check at the car. I had not read my maps carefully enough and we ended up on a path that only went to the base of the volcano's rim, not into the crater. NOOOOOOOO! My bummed out attitude was starting to rear its ugly head. Kent made us take pause after another couple kilometers of my grumblings and said, "I think it's beach time. We can hike another day." So wise, Kentisan.

A southern view of Korea's Honeymooner's Paradise

We switched gears and drove south to hit the white sandy beach of Jungmun.  Four hours later we roll up and were so happy to see free camping right at the boardwalk to the beach. We set up camp, changed into our suits and headed down to the water's edge. 

What's this? Something is off about this scene. What is it? Ahhhh. No one is in the water. We just assume it must be too cold for the other thin-skinned tourists but WE'RE FROM WISCONSIN where the winter's get so cold that it's shorts season when the thermometer hits 40*F. I'm in the mood for a nap but Kent tears into the water. Pretty quickly a lifeguard runs over, whistling, speaking Korean, making an X with his arms and then dangles his fingers down and makes a frowny face. Oh man. What's happening with this day?! We found out that there was a typhoon a-brewin in the south and thousands of man-o-war jellies had been washing up on the beaches. The lifeguard's finger-dangle signal must have been a jellyfish. Beach-ee closed. We hung out a little longer, then washed up and went out for some dinner. 

Baekkop: Korean for bellybutton

After dinner we christened the little fire/grill pit we bought and cooked Korean charcoal down to smoldering embers and made s'mores. Oh yes, delicious. 

Dinner: HeMul Jiggae (Seafood Soup)
Improvised s'more with chocolate coated digestives
instead of graham crackers

Day 2 
We woke up early and hopped in the car, on a mission for coffee, gatorade and beach time. We swung up and around the southern coast to the western coast, hitting every beach we could see on the map. We learned if it's a beach on the map that someone hasn't mentioned to you, it's not really worth visiting. Lucky for us, we had some wheels to take us anywhere, but for a budget traveller I suggest sticking to sites you've heard and read about. Eventually, we made our way to Geumneung and Hyeopjae Beaches. 

We were immediately pleased and knew we had found home for the night. We still had all day, so we swam and snorkeled and napped and beach walked and swam and snorkeled and... you get the picture. We set up camp and napped in the shade. We ate a meal somewhere in the beach haze too. It was a lot of sun and nap and read-a-book life. In my memory, that one full day at those beaches stretches on for weeks. It felt that lazy and awesome. 

We camped at the Geumneung beach-camp area (for free) and hung out mostly on that beach because it was significantly less crowded. At some point, before the sun set, we went grocery shopping and bought veggies galore. That night, by the light of head lamps and glowing embers, we feasted on marinated veggies and mushrooms, followed by some more s'mores. We slept a good sleep and woke up the next morning to a beautiful view. 

Good Morning!