Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jeju Island Part I: Submarines and Sexy Themes

The busyness in my life has not subsided, but I'm slowly checking items off the vast list of things that must be accomplished before my departure to Southeast Asia. More accurately, Bri and I are working together as a duo with immense organizational prowess seeing as we are both former tour guides. Although, Bri could easily defend the argument that she's just a little more organized than I am. Funny enough, writing a blog on my trip to Jeju was on the list, so I'm feeling a little extra productive about my efforts today. I've given away the secret as to what I'll be chatting about in this post, but I promise it won't ruin the surprises to come. Not to mention that it wasn't really ever a secret, but more something to be revealed inevitably. So let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Bri and I sorted out our tickets, took a one hour flight on a miserably cramped Korean airplane, then arrived in a slightly hotter climate with minor knee problems. But if you think that airplane was a tight squeeze, then you should really take a trip on a submarine. Which is exactly what we did shortly after our arrival.

The Seogwipo Submarine actually has a little bit of history behind it. It was acquired from Finland in 1988, and became the first "tourist submarine" of its kind in Asia. In fact, it was the third of its kind in the world. I'd say it still looks pretty snazzy considering it's about 25 years old. It goes about 40 metres under water around Munseom, which is an area with plenty of coral and colourful schools of fish. It's not a trip that will change your life, but it certainly provides some quality entertainment for a little while. On a bright note, the staff there treated us like we were made of gold, which I can only deduce was because we were foreigners. No complaints here, but I feel as if some of the other passengers may have had some.

Do you know what has even more history than the Seogwipo Submarine? Jeju Island, but only by about 2 million years or so. What makes Jeju so astounding is that it was made almost entirely from volcanic eruptions, thus black rocks are strewn about the island giving it a more rustic and natural feel than the mainland. Mt. Hallasan would be the predominant feature of the island, which is in fact a dormant volcano and South Korea's highest peak. I think of Jeju as quite different from mainland Korea, which makes sense as they are technically an autonomous, self-governing province. There seemed to be less emphasis on appearances and superficiality on Jeju, and the people seemed generally more welcoming and real. On the bus ride into Jeju I wrote down that Jeju "reminded me of a handful of countries," but I wasn't sure if "Korea was one of them." I believe I still feel the same after my time there. I was constantly looking across blackened rocks and saying, "that reminds me of Northern Ireland," or looking out across an ocean and reminiscing on a past experience from Greece or Croatia.

Luckily, our hostel was nearby Seogwipo's harbour. We chose to stay in this area as opposed to the more bustling, and apparently more drab, capital of the island - Jeju City. I'm quite sure that it was a wise decision, as I really felt as if I was on vacation in quieter and breezier Seogwipo. Not to mention the harbour was unquestionably charming, as it was accented with the spectacular Saeyeon Bridge.

Shortly afterwards, we departed for our hostel which was called "Backpacker's Home." The name itself had an inviting twang to it, but the facilities were even more inviting. The interior was standard, clean, and modern, but the exterior was phenomenal. It included a full service bar with cheap beer, and there was a healthy dose of the Olympics always playing on their large screen television. Not to mention that every night there was an all-you-can-eat BBQ going on for a mere 10,000 won. Bri and I ended up indulging in some of that BBQ, and after I'd eaten all I could we wandered around Seogwipo's bar district and did a little exploring. We awoke nice and early the following morning to catch a glimpse of Jeju's famed "Love Land," which is a basically a tourist attraction created by Seoul's Hongik University students for the mass of Korean honeymooners who arrive. It's both daringly sexual, and perhaps instructional for some of the riskier honeymooners.

I'd heard some fairly fun tales about this place from Jason and Jen, and the rumours turned out to be precisely true. This is apparently a rather large tourist attraction in Jeju, and it was definitely memorable. The entrance sign, a large green penis, welcomes you right on in!

How does one recap one's journey through a perverse Korean love land? Well, I think I'll just share some general highlights. I should paint you a quick mental picture first. In the middle of the park is an enormously large phallic structure and all around you are explicit statues of all varieties. There are also a few pavilions to visit which are shaped like breasts, but I can assure you that they are nothing like the pavilions from the Yeosu World Expo (Part II). Actually, in the effort to save everyone some unnecessary awkwardness, general uncomfortableness, and perhaps even a small stroke, I'm merely going to post three blunt photos that will undoubtedly capture the "essence" of Jeju Love Land. Behold...

Well, there you have it. If you've asked yourself, "Wait, is that...???" Then the answer is most likely yes, but let's move on. I'm often an overly descriptive writer, but in this particular circumstance, you're simply on your own. We walked back to the bus stop, then departed for Jeju City in short order. After consuming a delectable melon flavoured popsicle called a Melona, which is the greatest thing known to man, we decided to inspect the Samseonghyeol Shrine. It featured a few pleasant buildings strewn upon a forested property. However, the selling point of this shrine was that this is where the holes from which the three demi-god brothers, Go, Yang, and Bu supposedly emerged to found Jeju. It is of course a legend, but I was interested to see what the "caves of the three clans looked like." Evidently, it looked like a large dimple in the earth with three holes in it, but I've always had a keen enough imagination to appreciate these sorts of things. As people, we believe some pretty perplexing things, so what makes this so bizarre after all?

A wonderfully short cab ride later and we were near the coast within hearing distance of the crashing waves. We took the short walk right down to the coast to Yongduam, also known as "Dragon Head Rock." It was absolutely packed, and it surely wasn't for the aesthetic pleasure of the view. While it was nice, it didn't particularly resemble a dragon's head to me, although I can see how a legend would have formed. However, this place holds a large amount of symbolic value for the Koreans. Especially since 2012 is the year of the dragon, which only happens every 60 years. There are innumerable legends about this place, and it's said to be a place that can make your wishes come true. I snicker when I write these things, but in reality I always make a wish at places like these. I did the same thing in Kyoto, because there's no harm in trying to increase your luck in this unpredictable world of ours.

The day was getting on, but Bri and I were determined to get into the water before the day's end. I haven't mentioned it yet, but the heat was almost unbearable. It was actually the humidity that was so miserable, but a cool body of water solves all no matter what heat mother nature can muster. Thus, we departed from our bus in good spirits as we walked towards Jungmun Beach. Jungmun Beach is arguably one of the most revered beaches on Jeju Island, and is the centerpiece of a large complex of resorts, which, like Love Land, accommodate those doting honeymooners. It is said that this is the beach that most accurately lives up to the claim that Jeju is "Asia's Hawaii." We walked past the ever expensive Hyatt Regency, veered left, and arrived on a large stretch of sandy white beach. White-capped waves bounced along the shoreline, and practically begged us to jump in. We stealthily discarded our clothes while changing in some nearby bushes, then dashed for the water. Oh baby, did we ever redefine "The Nestea Plunge," as an entirely new sense of refreshing was created once our bodies graced the water.

As we walked back up from the beach shortly after using the Hyatt Regency's outdoor showering facilities, we agreed that we deserved a quality meal from the Hyatt. Our hostel was fantastic, but it certainly was no Hyatt Regency. But we figured, hey, we may not have the money to stay at the Hyatt, but at least we have enough money to fill up on their rich, delicious, cuisine. And that's exactly what we did. The next three or four days would turn out to be absolutely packed full of surprises and adventure, but all we knew at that moment was if the food was half as good as the rooms, then we'd have to come back and spend the night at some distant point in the future.

Thanks, Hyatt.

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