Jeju Island Travelogue: Olle 6, 9, and 10

My wife and I had two nights to spend in Jeju because the grandparents in Busan graciously offered to take care of our daughter (two years old at the time) and give us some couple time. It’s not that I wanted to escape from my daughter, it’s just nice to have less distracting me from my wife now and again.

After studying the Jeju Olle guide and receiving helpful feedback from the Facebook Olle Walkers group, I decided to do Olle 6 the first afternoon, then bang out Olle 9 and part of Olle 10 the second day, continuing on 10 for as long as we felt like it the third morning before it was time to head back to Jeju airport for our evening flight. I booked lodging near Cheonjiyeon falls the first night, and a different place near the beach for night #2.

We landed at Jeju airport around 11am and headed straight to a nearby lunch spot that was famous for fat, delicious kim bap. I’m a 참치 (tuna) fan myself. Not having the KakaoTaxi app installed, we found it difficult to hail a cab from in front of the restaurant. But eventually a driver spotted us, pulled a U-turn, and started taking us to the trailhead of Olle 6. The taxi’s ceiling  was covered in a vivid, tufted-vinyl pattern giving it a quiet and luxurious feel.

Olle 6 trailhead was deserted, perhaps because we decided to go walking in early December. Still, we were fortunate with the December weather. Day 1 was partly sunny and mild, and Day 2 waited to threaten rain until after we arrived at our lodging. The morning of Day 3, a light drizzle was not too discouraging.

Volcanic-rock pool on Olle 6
Volcanic-rock pool on Olle 6

On Olle 6, I was surprised to find an inviting pool of crystal clear water surrounded by volcanic crags. Never one to ignore a swimming opportunity, I nearly convinced myself to drop trou and go in. Instead we continued, stopping next at a beautiful and quirky rest area called 소라의성 (sorry, you’re on your own for the romanization). It offered self-serve coffee and water in the main room, with instructions to wash your dishes in the neighboring kitchen, a room accessible via a very low doorway which I crouched to pass through. From the patio, views to the ocean and the setting sun were terrific, as was the Gaudi-esque  architectural backdrop, creating in me a sudden urge to snap selfies.

On the patio at 소라의성
On the patio at 소라의성

So Olle 6 was good. We opted to skip Cheonjiyeon falls at the end because we were hungry by the time we checked in at our hotel, and too tired to venture out again after dinner. (Supposedly the falls light up at night.) My wife found a small sushi restaurant (오마카세 하찌) with an omakase-style course meal, and we decided to take a taxi there for a splurge night out. On the way, the taxi driver complained of the difficulty of practical English, in particular his coming to grips with the phrase “tap water”.

The sushi was terrific, not to mention the chef’s storytelling and explanations throughout the meal. My wife translated the more difficult Korean parts for me. For fish names, the English translation was not always necessary (or helpful for  that matter). Better to just remember the Korean, I told myself.

오마카세 하찌
오마카세 하찌

A family of three, a smartly-dressed mother with her teenage daughter and slightly-younger son, sat kitty-corner to us at the sushi bar. The daughter was eating well, but the son was absorbed in his screen and occasionally looked up at his food with contempt. Remind me–if I have a son–to never bring him here, I thought. The husband-wife team running the restaurant was so sweet; the wife came out from the kitchen at the end of the meal and offered us a plastic bag full of fresh 귤 (mandarin oranges) to take home. It seemed like everywhere we went in Jeju we were being handed sweet balls of orange goodness.

Our lodging Hotel Winstory was recently-built and sparkly clean, except for a strong gas-like smell that hit me immediately upon entry to the room. I scoured the room for the smell’s source and considered calling for help, but my wife convinced me that the smell was from a Korean fumigating agent called 나프탈렌 (Napthalene). Mothballs, basically. If I die young, we’ll know the reason. Anyways we spent some time in the room, and I got used to it. The room included all the basics, plus a brand-new washing machine under the counter in the hallway to the bathroom, which felt like an unusual touch. The nightly rate was unbeatable, especially considering that we were treated to a simple continental breakfast the next morning. As we ate, laborers worked on new building projects across the street, projects likely begun to meet the demands of a new influx of Chinese tourists. 

The year before news sites had published many articles about Chinese tourists’ penchant for discarding trash on the Jeju airport floor, and the Chinese boycott of Korea tours in response to those articles seemed to be working. We didn’t see many Chinese tourists, or many tourists at all for that matter, in early December. Fine by me.

Day 2. Olle 9. The Olle guidebook promised Olle 9 would be hard, and it delivered. The scenery from the cliffside farms was beautiful: to the right, efficiently-ordered crops made for a lush green carpet, while to the left we had the two big blues, sky and sea, split by the horizon. We were also greeted by some surprises on the trail. First, a large black splotch suspended in the air up ahead turned out to be an enormous, lean black spider with small yellow highlights. I didn’t bring my machete, so we limboed past its large web. 

A little further down the trail, a dark-colored object with wings suddenly sprang from the brush with a loud cry that almost sounded like a turkey’s. The bird’s wings looked disproportionally small for its large belly as it disappeared in the direction of the cliff. My wife didn’t know what it was, but we later determined it to be a 꿩 (pheasant). Two more of them made me jump out of my boots later in the hike. (Or was it the same pheasant every time? Damn you, Freddy!)

Cattle on Olle 9
Cattle on Olle 9

My hearing in the left ear is not very good, so I startle easily. As we rounded another bend, a herd of cattle just visible over a low ridge beside the trail caught me by surprise with their impressive numbers and flexed muscle sinews. They were a beautiful caramel color and seemed very content with the weather and their seaside digs. Continuing on to a steep portion of switchbacks, we met two small upward-scrambling cows. Shortly after, an intimidating mooer (probably the young’uns Mom) stepped out of the bushes just below us to vocalize.

By the end of Olle 9 we were pretty beat up, and we picked a smallish Chinese restaurant called 마라도에서 온 자장면집 for lunch. Just inside the screen entrance door, we were greeted by a very lively chicken, who scuttled down from her armchair to cluck at our legs. The owner shooed her away, and soon we were treated to some good 짜장면 (black-bean noodles), plus a unique and delicious take on 탕수육 (sweet-and-sour pork). Through the window, I watched a team of guys on the neighboring plot of land preparing construction materials and walking on top of a newly-laid foundation.

Hwasun Golden Sand Beach
Hwasun Golden Sand Beach

Olle 9 connected us with Olle 10, and we began to take in 10’s beautiful coastal and  island scenery. It was nice to treat our legs to some flatter ground after the strenuousness of 9. By sunset we reached Hwasun Golden Sand Beach, beautiful and deserted on account of it being December. Our room at Sun and Moon Resort was just across the street. The floor-to-ceiling room window framed 형제섬 (Hyeongje island) like a painting, its tree-capped shores jutting softly out of the ocean.

Sun and Moon was a bit of a splurge, but worth the extra money to come home from a good seafood dinner to a large and inviting Roman-style bathtub. Waiting and watching the bath fill, I felt relieved to be in Jeju and not some water-starved part of the  world like California.

The morning of Day 3 we planned to trek up 송악산—after devouring a couple juicy orange balls, of course—and continue on Olle 10 until we ran out of time and had to catch a taxi back to Jeju airport for our flight in the evening. But that morning a light drizzle had descended on the coast, and Olle 10 looked a little less appealing. Still, we climbed nearly to the peak of 송악산, walking along wooden foothpaths and beside horses grazing in the lush, windswept green grass. Then we returned to the little shopping village at the bottom of the mountain to grab some Dunkin’ Donuts and hail a cab. My wife finally got set up with a KakaoTaxi account, and ten minutes later a car met us on the side of the road. Before we could get in, the driver came around to the backseat and told us to wait while he removed a plastic bag of seafood from the floor and  quickly wiped down the area, promising to get rid of the fishy smell. It smelled fine to me.

Look at these poor feet!
Look at these poor feet!

We arrived in Jeju proper with some time to kill before our departure, so naturally we had to eat something. We knew of a place called 빠빠라기 with arguably the best 빙수 (bingsoo) in all of Korea, so that’s where we went. They were closed, getting ready to open in about 30 minutes. Not to be deterred, we waited at a nearby coffee shop nursing our hiking injuries. My wife’s feet had gotten wet on the trail, so she had wrapped them in plastic bags. The boots came off and she showed me her bags, milking the situation for pity points.

빠빠라기 bingsoo
빠빠라기 bingsoo

빠빠라기 was everything I had hoped, but unfortunately we had to eat and run to catch our plane. At the airport it was smooth sailing and Chinese-garbage free. Thank you Jeju and founders of the Olle Trail, I hope to meet you again soon!

Book Review: “Seoul Man” by Frank Ahrens

Frank Ahrens’ Seoul Man is the story of an American newspaperman’s three year stint in public relations at Hyundai Motor corporation in Seoul, South Korea. It’s also a story about change: a forty-something bachelor’s plunge into married life, when his bride suddenly falls from the sky. She “fell out of the sky”, Ahrens writes, “but missed my lap.” The changes continue, as Ahrens transitions from his job at the newspaper to a new post halfway around the world. From the start, Ahrens finds himself out of his element in Korea, pressured by his corporate buddies into participating in their ritual drinking and karaoke, or noraebang, culture. Ahrens remains an “America bomb” (the nickname given to him by his wife) for much of the book, stepping on toes at the office while gradually learning some of the differences between American and Korean cultures. Most nights he retreats to his bubble on a U.S. military base in Yongsan. 

The real meat of the story comes from his time at Hyundai. Even for those uninterested in car trends like myself, Ahrens paints a compelling picture of Hyundai’s rise from the ashes of the Korean War to become a “modern premium” car brand. He provides insights into the company’s strategy, as well as insights into his personal fears and insecurities as he watches the strategy unfold. A sizeable chunk of the book is dedicated to general Korean history, but I found myself glossing over those parts to get back to the Hyundai story and the story of Ahrens’ personal relationships. By the end, his wife becomes the one consistent thread, and the Korean characters are ultimately secondary. Ahrens includes an interesting profile of the vice president and heir to the Hyundai empire, but otherwise few Korean characters in the book stick out. Perhaps this is no fault of Ahrens’, because—and he makes this point in the book—sticking out in Korea is taboo. I imagine it’s also difficult to develop deep relationships in three years while speaking through an interpreter much of the time. I wonder how the book might have been different had he lived with Koreans during his time at the company. Although Seoul Man‘s tension wanes in places and its tone ventures at times into preachy and sentimental territory, overall it’s a good read. Worth checking out.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27213204-seoul-man

The USCIS Naturalization Ceremony (as a Guest)

The ceremony took place at the Campbell Community Center’s Heritage Theatre. First of all, why is it mandatory for citizenship applicants to come to the naturalization ceremony in person? Government seems to like that term “mandatory”. Perhaps it’s for good reason. If they didn’t use the term, employees might burn out too quickly from the overwhelming flood of “special” cases.

Continue reading “The USCIS Naturalization Ceremony (as a Guest)”