Jeju & Busan, Korea

The travel bug got tickled!

My sister, Tatiana, and her husband Joe, moved to Jeju Island for a teaching assignment with K.I.S. (Korea International School). It’s a 2 hour flight from Taiwan. The short and simple is this: Jeju, it turns out, holds a bit of magic. Disclaimer:  There’s a sprinkling of sister magic over this entire trip, meaning that if my sister lived in a cardboard box we’d still find some magic. Dear blog diary, here’s our…

*** Jeju Top 10 ***

#1. Dolphins

Large pods of bottlenose. Every. Single. Day. I witnessed these creatures swimming and playing often alongside the Haenyeo (female divers), who are visible by their bright orange flotation devices.

#2 Tangerines

Fields and fields of them. Every shop, store, random acquaintance will hand you a couple in passing too. It’s a sweet gesture.

Got these from the garage that fixed our flat tire

#3. Solitude

They live in the countryside, in the middle of an onion and cabbage patch field and within walking distance to the magical dolphins. If you listen carefully you may hear a cabbage whisper a sweet nothing or maybe it’s just a bird toot. It’s blissfully quiet here.

Just me in my Jeju Jammies saying good morning to the dolphins

Practicing our little old lady sunset happy hours on the porch

#4. Matriarchal culture

Determined, strong, elderly women, many hunched over at the waist, are running this island which is evident in the markets, farms and Haenyeo, literal translation “sea women” of Jeju, who free dive for food. These women are the quiet movers and shakers of Jeju and the island reveres them. In fact, I saw very few people under the age of 50 and very few men. There’s a lot of endearing tottering going on here and I loved it. #grannypower

Haenyeo on their way to work (aka, free diving)
A haenyeo, must be 80+ years old, hunched over, ready to dive
Slow down! Tottering ahead.
Who are the Haenyeo / Sea Women?  Traditionally, girls started to train to become haenyeo when they were 11 years old.  Beginning in shallow water, trainees worked their way up to more challenging depths. After about seven years of training, a girl was considered a “full-fledged” haenyeo. Today, the oldest haenyeo are over 80 years old and have been diving for more than 66 years.  >  All together, the tools of a haenyeo consist of a wetsuit, goggles, gloves, chest weights (to assist diving) an L-shaped weeding hoe, and a net attached to a flotation device. The haenyeo stash their catch in these nets until they are done for the day.   How long the haenyeo spend in the water depends on the season. Before wetsuits were available and all they wore were cotton swimsuits, haenyeo could stay in the water for only up to an hour at a time during the winter months. After an hour, they got out of the water and sat by the fire for 3–4 hours to dry off. After this break, they would jump back into the water for another hour.  During the summer months, however, they stayed in the water for up to 3 hours at a time before a break. With the introduction of wetsuits, haenyeo found they could stay in the water for five to six hours at a time, even during the winter.   With each dive, haenyeo plunge up to 30 meters deep and can hold their breath for over three minutes. Their harvests consist of abalone, conch, octopus, sea urchins, sea squirt, brown alga, top shell, a variety of sargassum, oysters, sea slugs, etc. The divers must contend with dangers such as jellyfish, poor weather and sharks.  (source: wiki)
Seed lady needs her beauty rest! A favorite observance of the trip, after dolphins that is.

Proud bean seller

#5. Unspoiled Nature

Jeju reminds me of what the offspring of Japan and rural Pennsylvania would look like. There are beautiful forests of pine and deciduous trees and Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan at 6,400 feet is here. We hiked almost to the top of it too! The farmlands are a colorful patchwork of cabbage, kohlrabi, radishes, tangerines, persimmons, tea, garlic and beans.

Hiking up Hallasan with Tatiana
Lunch break
The high elevation pine smelled SO good, like Christmas. Why not take that scent straight to the sniiffer?! #genius
That hump is Hallasan peak, which we did not summit
Sunshine, sake and pine buds. Alls good!
These humps, nestled in the farm land and forests are burial sites. The mound is created on top of the coffin and then planted with grass. Quite beautiful if you ask me.
Hiking in the Saryeoni Forest = fallgasm.

#6. Bosco’s

Here, the best DJ, ever perhaps, spun sweet, sweet vinyl. It’s here that we figured out what makes a phenom DJ. It’s when you keep ordering one more glass of wine because you have to hear what will spin next.

Haruki Murakami, is that you moonlighting? Pic by Tat
Bill Willis: Just the Two of Us = heart meld
Note the gentle hand holding. #jejuboyfriend

#7. Food + Drink

Korea makes good food and brews beer like a pro. The food is spicy. It’s savory. It’s fresh. We even found a restaurant that specializes in foraged acorn cuisine. Aw!

Veggie soup with side of pickled everything
Fresh Hawaiian Korean fusion!
After our pine buds in the nose experiment this blew me away. It was like DRINKING Christmas.
The Paul McCartney of acorns
Jeju Beer Company
Magpie brewery
Or byo harpoon and catch your own fresh dinner, like my brother-in-law, Joe. Pic by Tati.

#8. Biking Culture

Many thoughtfully designed bike pathways along the coast and inland so I logged myself a couple miles on their groovy pedal assist bike. I appreciate a country that invests and appreciates multiple modes of transport!

#9. Cute ‘n Fun

No shortage of cute and fun here… small and efficient cars, beachside retro campers, Jeju Jammies and perhaps the Happiest Camper on earth (video of man who runs the retro campground will win you over with his belly laughs as he shows us a video of him performing karaoke).

Off to work in “Loaf”. Zoom zoom. Their other car is “Mint Julep”
Spent a night in these cuties
We acquired super thick plush jammie bottoms at the granny market. Jeju Jammies take chillazing to a whole new level.

#10. Ponies

Enough said.

Mainland Busan

What triggered this Korea trip, aside from ponies, was that Scott had a work meeting in Busan, South Korea’s largest port city – and SO much more. It’s only a one hour flight between Jeju and Busan so that was convenient. We’d visited Busan in 2017 to see Jessica and Scott so this trip offered us a deeper exploration. Here’s our…

*** Busan Top 5 ***

#1. Nature Access

Such a walkable city! By far the best part of this city was the easy access to nature. This includes the clean, swimmable beaches and beautifully dense and quiet forests. It’s like Japan and San Francisco had a baby. I could walk from our hotel and be in total silence, in a forest, within 20 minutes. There’s a peaceful “Busan Greenway” for pedestrians that winds through the city. For 3.5 million people, it’s a darn quiet city. Car versus scooter culture helps. It’s too cold for scooters in Korea, but in Taiwan almost every person owns a scooter so until electric conversion sweeps the country it’s a bit noisy. Busan also has smart, clean, efficient, affordable public transit AND clean, stocked public bathrooms everywhere. That’s an urban win!

Hike up Jangsan Mtn.
A man at the peak was selling “Ice Cakies” which hit the spot!
Reminded me so much of the Twin Peaks ‘hood in San Fran with nooky little pathways and terraces
Early morning swimmers coming in
Immaculately kept beach

#2. Sidewalks

Sidewalks. This isn’t something I would normally notice, but Taiwan’s sidewalks are hit or miss and ya never know when one could turn into a scooter lane. Safe sidewalks are something I took for granted apparently (as was clean air until I moved to Asia). I don’t have any sidewalk photos (lucky you) so you know what that means – OPEN SLOT FOR A CORGI PIC! Have you ever seen a blue-eyed corgi?

#3. Jjimjilbangs

These are gender-segregated public bathhouses, furnished with hot tubs, showers, kiln saunas and massage tables. Japanese call theirs onsens and they are equally amazing (previous blog post on those if curious). The environments vary from place to place, but drop-in rates are about $8-10 USD and they are sprinkled throughout the land. They are nothing like “spas” in the USA, they are literally bathing houses. I got hooked on the Haeundae Spa Center in Busan and preferred it to the shower in our hotel room. Of course no photos allowed so I snapped the “No Tattoos” sign. Rough translation: “If you give a dislike to others you may be punished by law. If you feel anxiety or disgust with this behaviour please refer to the police department.” Most Korean and Japanese spas don’t permit tattoos because of the association with gang activity.

#4. Park Hoops

Well cared for hula hoops and inversion equipment available in public parks! Parks in Asia generally cater to adults as well as children – it’s really lovely. We went on several hikes and came across these hidden “gyms” literally in the middle of the woods. There was something magical about this. Footnote: I acquired some professional training in hooping and own a pro-level hoop (thank you PDX). Wish I brought it with me! If you’ve never hooped… try it. It’s so fun and good for you!!! Tip: the bigger and weightier the hoop the easier it is.

The spine stretcher

#5. Cuisine

The pungent Korean garlic, chilies and fermented soybean paste flavors are so fresh and delicious. Fav dishes include: veggie bibimbap, gimbap, grilled meats with kimchi rolled in perilla leaves and naughty KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) with kimchi and beer. It’s NOTHING like greasy and flavorless American fried chicken. The chickens are typically smaller, thus more tender and it’s fried twice so the skin is crunchier and less greasy. I’m not a fan of fried food and I thought this was pretty good.

Veggie bibimbap with gimbap roll in back

And look what cutie-pie made a loop around the sun on 11/11.

Birthday pizza and beer at SOL Taphouse. Cheers to that!

Nike night out in Busan
Kind of random, but my sister’s building at K.I.S. The campus is a cross between Nike’s HQ and some fancy pant college = slick architecture!
Ms. Tatiana. RESPECT!
Thanks for hosting us Tat & Joe. We’ll be back!

P.S. I apologize if this blog post increases tourism.



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7 thoughts on “Jeju & Busan, Korea

  1. I’m in! You got me at bibimbap! Is the jolly guy at the campground single? 🍊 See ya kiddies! ❤️ Cabbagefields Forever🥬!

  2. The haenyeo are out diving today in the year’s first snow… I am in my double-fleece monkey jam-jams making a new pot of proud-bean-lady’s bean soup.

  3. Awwwwwwwwwesome Post! I LOVED IT ALL because it takes me back. It refreshed so many good memories of Jeju and Busan and Korean culture. The Haenyeo women are so strong. Nice that you shared info about their training history. In case your sister hasn’t gone yet, there is an amazing Haeyneo museum located on the SE side of the island. Sorry I forgot to mention it, now another reason to go back 😉 I loved your sister sillyness with the pine cones up your noses. And I laughed out loud hard with the Korean man singing along with his karaoke video. Especially his classic wavery voice, ha! Awesome post all around.

    1. Awwwwwwww, thanks Jess! I thought of you so much on this trip from perilla leaves to gimbap to hula hooping and of course when I walked by your apartment every day! I can’t wait to karaoke and boogie to our song, CAN’T STOP THE FEELING, next time I’m home. Good memories! Yes, so many museums on Jeju. I’ll pin it and go for sure next time I’m there – which is hopefully soon. Keep dancing, love. XOXO

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