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 ***
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.
Fields and fields of them. Every shop, store, random acquaintance will hand you a couple in passing too. It’s a sweet gesture.
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.
#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
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)
#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.
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.
#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!
#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).
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!
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?
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 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.
And look what cutie-pie made a loop around the sun on 11/11.
Thanks for hosting us Tat & Joe. We’ll be back!
P.S. I apologize if this blog post increases tourism.
Pickles & Passionfruit
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