July 17, 2013
By Olivia Hudnut at Hyun Taek (Justin) Lee
Monkeys, a fort, and waterfalls…Oh my!
Jeju is considered by Koreans to be the “Three Abundance Island” in reference to its rocks, wind, and women. Jeju is a volcanic island and a geologist’s paradise. The most common rocks found on Jeju are igneous rocks. Basalt and pumice are used commonly in structures and provide a natural harmony with their surroundings. Traditionally, Koreans built low-lying buildings with strongly thatched roofs in order to prevent wind damage. The women of Jeju are also famous for their unique profession of diving. Due to the dangers of sea that left many women of Jeju as widows, they turned to abalone diving off the rocky coasts of Jeju to support their families. The work is not without risk; they dive to depths of 10 meters without air tanks and use a unique bird call to signal to one another from underwater. The remaining divers are aging. With the youngest diver at 51 and the eldest in her 80’s, it is apparent that the young women of Jeju have turned away from this dangerous and difficult profession. This is a common trend in South Korea, with the younger population of Koreans heading to the cities, growing away from traditional culture and the rural areas of Korea. Only 20 years ago, Jeju was largely rural. The rapid implantation of PC bangs (game rooms), GS25’s (convenience stores), and hotels show the conversion of a once rural island to the high speed age of modern Korea. With an aging population, South Korea has faced several issues, including a loss of appreciation of culture and natural beauty.
The stops we made on Jeju Island showed us the natural beauty of the volcanic Korean island, and the successes of the Korean people to preserve history and culture to this day. On our first day we explored Hallim Park, a Japanese fort, and Chung Jae Waterfalls.
Hallim Park is unlike anything I have ever encountered before. It is an expansive park with thousands of species of plants and animals on display and two beautiful limestone caves. I especially enjoyed a small atrium where you could hold exotic birds, play with a baby monkey, and feed gophers and rabbits.
In the center of Hallim Park sit two limestone caves, which have been carved by the heavy rain that falls in Jeju. Due to the volcanic origins of the island, it is rare that these limestone stalactite and stalagmite adorned caves exist in Jeju. These caves were nestled among botanic gardens boasting plants from every corner of the world. Jeju is unique in its climate such that plants from all over the world may flourish in its greenhouse-like environment.
This is a picture of the ceiling of Ssanyong Cave, or “The Two Dragon Cave.” According to mythical legend, two dragons once lived in these caves and left an imprint of their scales upon the ceiling. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head, you can make out the impression of these dragons in the strange formations created by erosion and coloring due to mineral deposits and various lichen.
These rock statues are created in reverence to San Shin, or the mountain gods. People in Korea practice three main religions: Christianity, Buddhism, and Shamanism. Korean Buddhism has been heavily influenced by their beliefs of Shamanistic practices, and the stones depicted here are an example of this. Korean culture has an appreciation for nature and some pray to many natural gods, especially when they are seeking advice or are in trouble. Jeju is often visited by honeymooning couples who pray for children. Rubbing the ear of a stone statue called a Dol Haroobangs, or Stone Grandfather, will bring a daughter, and rubbing his nose will bring a son.
Next on our tour, we visited the Peace Museum, a restored Japanese fort on the coast of Jeju. During the Pacific War (WWII) Japan used Jeju as a final line of defense against foreign invasion. Beneath the surface of the mountain they built a network of trenches to house military equipment, soldiers, and war rooms. Even though the Japanese occupation from 1910-1945 marred the proud history of Korea, they have restored this and many other sites, including the Japanese Official Headquarters in Seoul, as a reminder of the adversity faced by their ancestors and to represent a constant striving for peace.
Instead of destroying the war machines used by the Japanese, Korean historians have chosen to display their past proudly, demonstrating their will to overcome foreign invasion and their determination to find peace in a modern world.
After visiting the underground tunnels which were built by Korean citizens during the Japanese war effort toward the end of WWII, it was easy to tell that the painful history between Japan and Korea will not be easily alleviated, but after speaking with the Ewha students in our class, reading our texts, and witnessing proactive efforts such as the Jeju Peace Museum, I have found a prevailing theme of hope among the Korean population. With good will and determination, and cooperation and recognition on both sides, I believe that the relations between Japan and South Korea, on a national level, may one day be free of animosity.
After the sobering visit to the war fort, we were once again reminded of the beauty of Jeju.
I was shocked by how crystalline the waters of the Cheonjeyeon waterfall were. The appreciation Korean culture has for nature is apparent in the preservation of this natural destination.
The fountain on the opposite side of the bridge portrays five animals, each symbolizing a category of wish. The dragon represents a wish for honor, the pig represents a wish for money, the duck represents a wish for love, the tiger represents a wish for longevity, and the fish represents a wish for a first born son. The objective is to stand at your lucky animal and toss your coin into the sack of gold resting on their backs. It is much more difficult than it looks!
After a day of successful hiking, we were ready to chow down at a beautiful Korean buffet restaurant located in Chungmoon Resort, a location popularized by the filming of many dramas and the International Convention Center. Taking a stroll after dinner at twilight, we could tell why this is a popular destination for filmmakers and tourists alike.
After our first day of exploring Jeju Island, I could not wait to see what was in store for Saturday!
Journey to Jeju Island Part Two!
After an exhausting first day, we slept well and had a delicious breakfast to prepare for our upcoming journey. It was partly cloudy, and we had a long day ahead of us. The places we explored on our second day were Mt. Halla, Sangumburi Crater, Jeju Folk Village, horseback riding, Sopchikoji Beach, and Hamdeok Seoubong Beach.
Mt. Halla is a shield volcano on Jeju Island, and it is also known for being the highest mountain in South Korea! The trail we took was the Gwaneumsa Trail (관음사), which was 8.7 km long. Gwaneumsa trail was different than the mountain trails back in the U.S., because it is entirely composed of wooden planks and stone steps. It is surrounded by a natural beauty that helps you get lost in its wonders, until you meet the deadly stair climb.
Due to our limited time, we could not go very far, but we got an exhausting workout and enjoyed our surroundings.
Sangumburi Crater (산굼부리 분화구)
Our next stop was the Sangumburi Crater. This place had an amazing view, the weather and wind were perfect, and it was hard to leave this place afterwards. The crater was full of trees and vegetation, and the view was just breathtaking. The interesting thing about this crater is that when the volcano erupted, it did not spew lava or volcanic ash and it did not form a cone. Sadly, we could not venture down to the crater, but the view alone was worth it.
Jeju Folk Village
We got on the tour bus after Sangumburi Crater to eat lunch at a Jeju Folk Village. We got to experience how the people on Jeju Island still want to preserve their culture through their lifestyles. Approximately 1,300 people still dwell in the Choseon-era thatched roofed homes. Because it is near the sea, people in Korea have an abundant supply of seafood, out of which they make delicious stews and other food. We ate some delicious seafood stew, and the abalones were still alive when we cooked them!
After we finished our lunch, we decided to go horseback riding!
Traditional Horseback Riding
Back in the day, horses were raised and then given to royal family members as gifts. Today, horseback riding is still traditional and is a tourist attraction for many who visit Jeju.
Our next stop was Seopjikoji Beach!
Seopjikoji Beach (섭지코지)
Seopjikoji beach is a huge tourist attraction in Jeju. This is where we finally felt the intense heat and humidity that Jeju is capable of. The huge amount of Chinese tourists allowed me to realize Korea’s target for tourism. The view of the sea was magnificent, especially when the waves come crashing on the rocks. This is where some dramas are shot because of the surroundings.
Afterwards, it was finally time to hit the beach and play!
Hamdeok Seoubong Beach (함덕서우봉해변)
The last, final, and best spot was Hamdeok Seoubong Beach. Something we’ve been longing for this whole trip to Jeju Island was the chance to swim in the waters of Korea. Not surprisingly, this beach was not only a huge tourist attraction, but a typical place to go to among Koreans. This was my first time at this beach, and it was just incomparable to all the other beaches we know back home or even in other states. The water was refreshing and the environment was perfect; it was an unforgettable moment.
Sadly, the day had come to an end, and even though we were leaving the next day, we were left with unforgettable memories of the beautiful Jeju Island.