July 16, 2014
by Esther Chang and Chongiin Kim
After our adventurous visit to Jeju Island this past weekend, I now understand why Jejudo, beyond the strong presence of honeymooners and tourists, is commonly referred to as “ The Hawaii of Korea.” Formed from past volcanic eruptions, Jeju Island is the smallest province and largest island in Korea. Its area is approximately 3 times the size of the capital of Korea, with a circumference of 418 kilometers around the oval-shaped island, yet it contains only 6% of the population of Seoul. There are 368 small volcanoes that have formed all around the island’s largest dormant volcano, Mount Halla, which is the main source of the island’s volcanic rock and soil.
As mentioned before, similar to the Aloha State, Jeju is a popular destination for honeymooners and tourists from all over the world, averaging about six million visitors per year. Jeju Island is the only place in South Korea where Chinese visitors can enter freely through a direct flight or ship without a visa. The special visa-free entry arrangement between South Korea and China may provide an explanation as to why tourism is the island’s primary economic driver, followed by industry, agriculture, and fishing. While Hawaii may be known for its crunchy macadamia nuts, Jeju Island boasts its growing fresh citrus and cacti exports of hallabong, gamgyul (tangerines), and baeknyuncho (palm cactus). Speaking of exports, over recent decades, South Korea has become a strong economic player on the international platform, labeling itself as an export country despite its economic deficiencies in past decades. The country’s GDP has drastically increased from $1.3 billion in 1953 to $1,156 billion in 2013.
Lastly, Jejudo and Hawaii sadly share a dark past behind their beautiful vacation paradise destinations. With the tragic happenings of Pearl Harbor and the April 3rd Incident, both Jeju and Hawaii have built memorials not only to pay respect to those who lost their lives in those acts of violence, but also to educate the world about what has happened and should never be repeated again.
Cheonjiyeon Waterfall (천지연 폭포)
Our first site visit was to the beautiful Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. Cheonjiyeon, meaning “god’s pond,” is a U-shaped valley made by lava and sedimentation uplifts. Within the valley, a beautiful 22-meter high standing waterfall is found amidst a subtropical evergreen forest that has a total of 447 kinds of plants, including 406 species, 1 subspecies, and 32 variable subspecies. It is claimed that the species of Rubus hongnoensis grows in no other place in the world but here in the evergreen forest of Cheonjiyeon!
Standing at the entrance of waterfall, dol hareubangs, the symbol of Jeju Island, greeted us on our way in. Dol hareubangs are carved volcanic rock statutes believed to be gods that offer protection, fertility, and wealth to the people of Jeju. Legend has it that one is supposed to rub the dol hareubang’s ear if one desires to have a girl, the nose if one desires a boy, and the tummy if one desires money.
Hallim Park (한림공원)
After the visit to the falls, we made our way across to the west side of the island for the popular tourist spot of Hallim Park. Hallim Park is an 80-acre tropical park built in 1971 by Song Bong-kyu. His vision was to build a world-class recreational park out of a barren plot of land as he saw tourism to be the future promising industry of Jeju Island. Today, the park has many attractions such as the Subtropical Garden, Bird Garden, Jeju Stone and Bonsai Garden, Water Garden, Wild Grass and Flower Garden, Hyeopjae and Ssangyong Caves, and the Jae-Am Folk Village.
Hyeopjaegul and Ssangyonggul Caves are the most famous sites to see in Hallim Park. With the discovery of fossilized seashells within, these caves are believed to have formed below sea level during the eruption of the volcanic Mount Halla. They also are considered unique due to the particular formation of calcareous stalactites and stalagmites within them, as that occurrence is not common with lava caves. The temperature of the caves are at constant 17 to 18 degrees Celsius all year round.
Jae-Am Folk Village gave us a taste of traditional Jeju life with thatched-roof houses, low stone fences, narrow alleys, and large kimchi jars. It was particularly interesting to see the thatched-roof houses up close, as many are rare to non-existent in rural communities today. Korean houses in rural communities consisted of these traditional thatched-roof, or choga-jip, houses up until the New Community Movement in the 1970s. Under President Park Chung-hee and the New Community Movement, South Korea experienced major improvement and modernization of infrastructure, including houses, irrigation systems, bridges, and roads, all throughout rural communities in South Korea. Although the movement had lost its momentum due to economic and political insecurities during the 1980s, its transformation on rural communities should not be overlooked.
And to top off our first day at Jeju Island, we got to enjoy a delicious Korean BBQ dinner with Jeju’s specialty: black pork belly.
Sangumburi Crater (산굼부리)
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to head to Sangumburi crater, located just a little east of the very center of Jeju island. As exciting as it is visiting an extinct volcanic crater, it was even more fascinating to learn that this particular volcano was unique in that the lava exploded quickly, but did not form much of a cone, creating a largely flat area, instead of an elevated crater.
After a few minutes of walking, we were rewarded with this marvelous sight:
From the top of the hill, we could see the now lush and thriving crater. The crater measures about 100 meters deep and is closed off to the public. It is roughly 2,000 meters in circumference and can be viewed and enjoyed via various trails that wrap around it. Even by looking at a picture, one can notice that the center of the crater is host to many diverse plants. In fact, the variety of trees alone includes red-thorns, evergreens, cedar, Korean fir, and maples! With the passage of time since the creation of the island, the once-active volcanoes are now remembered only by the large craters they left behind.
In fact, as Esther mentioned, the largest volcano is Mount Halla, or Hallasan (한라산), which, due to its central location, can be seen from any point on the island. As we learned in class, many of the people in Korea prior to the import of Buddhism or Confucianism practiced Shamanism. A large part of Shamanism included worship to San shin, or mountain gods. And as I stood and turned to look at the majestic Hallasan, I could easily understand the awe and reverence that one would hold in regards to San shin.
All-In House/ Seopjikoji
In addition to volcanoes and mountains, Jejudo, being an island, boasts an amazing shoreline with breathtaking views. Right after enjoying the lush, green scenery, we drove to the east coast of the island to spend some time at Seopjikoji (섭지코지). Seopji refers to the area’s historic name and koji is in reference to the fact that it is a little “bump” on the land. We were able to see and enjoy the area’s breathtaking views of the coast and black volcanic rock.
It is actually along these types of coastlines that the famous “woman divers” of Jejudo are known to collect fish and other types of seafood. While men went out on fishing trips, it was the women’s duty to do the diving expeditions. Because of a more modernizing Korea, the average age of the diver woman is now around 55. Clearly, the female demographic is shying away from such a dangerous and labor-intensive job. In order to promote this cultural occupation, however, the Korean government is offering scholarships and support for women who choose to pursue this kind of career in the future. This is yet another example of how Korea is trying to maintain its cultural integrity in the modern age. While we were visiting Seopjikoji, we were therefore unable to see any woman divers, and instead enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
Perhaps it is due to how beautiful the environment is, but many famous scenes from world-famous Korean dramas have been filmed in Jejudo. Specifically, a wedding scene from the drama All-In was filmed in the church atop Seopjikoji. Unfortunately, this particular church has recently been renovated into a candy store, perhaps in an effort to take advantage of all of the potential customers that come to visit the shoreline! It seems apt that even a landmark created by a Korean drama would be renovated, given the fast-paced nature of Korean society and its desire to continually improve and modernize.
Perhaps it is due to the Hallyu wave and growing cultural export of Korea, but we noticed that there was a large number of Chinese tourists at Seopjikoji. It made us realize that modern Korea has focused much of its resources on different growing sectors, with the economy slowly switching over from manufacturing and industry, to the IT, service, and tourism sectors. Due to the focus on Korean tourism and growing popularity of Korean dramas and music, it seems that many foreign visitors, including from China, are making the trip over to Jejudo. As we discussed in class, Hallyu has been an active policy decision by the Korean government in exporting not only Korean dramas, but Korean food, technology, and even values to other countries. In doing so, Korea has established itself as a cultural epicenter in East Asia. The Hallyu wave has also significantly increased immigration to Korea, and we will be able to see the effects of a growing urban population very soon, including overcrowding, pollution, and unemployment issues. Meanwhile, it’s nice to enjoy these beautiful sights!
Jeju April 3rd Peace Park
Our final destination before departing Jejudo was the April 3rd Peace Park Memorial. It was the most sobering and thought-provoking part of the Jejudo trip, as well as the most informational. We had spent the past two days enjoying the natural beauty of Jejudo, but this visit allowed us to learn about the April 3rd Incident in 1948 and the incredible violence that occurred as the modern state of South Korea was being established.
The memorial hall was built in a way that symbolized the excavation of the multiple grave sites and the uncovering of the truth behind the April 3rd Incident. In fact, the hall was erected as a result of the work of the National Committee for the Investigation of Truth Concerning the April 3rd Incident, which found that the Korean state was responsible for the deaths of some 30,000 Jeju civilians in the 1940s. We followed long dark halls that led us down to the various exhibition halls to provide more detailed information in the form of artwork, videos, and text.
Following the end of War World II, and before the Korean War, the state of Korea was in the midst of a power struggle between the Communists and Nationalists. Jeju Island was no exception, and terrible violence occurred as a result of both parties attempting to silence the other. On April 3rd, 1948, police forces fired and killed 6 members of a peaceful protest. Quickly, American forces declared Jeju a “red state,” and a “scorched earth” policy was implemented, as innocent villagers lost their lives and killed in vengeance.
Although we learned the history of the struggle for Korean independence and the struggle for the new state’s establishment through textbooks, viewing the information in the light of individual human lives affected us much more deeply and distinctly. Through the memorial hall, we were able to more deeply resonate with the grief and terror that Koreans must have felt during the American occupation and struggle for an independent and individual state.
It seemed a little off-setting to end the Jejudo trip on a somber note, but I think it was necessary. Often times, we visit foreign countries in order to simply have a good time and enjoy the best that the area has to offer. However, in learning more about Korea, we simply cannot overlook the struggle and lives lost during the establishment of the modern state. Moreover, we cannot just learn about it from a book and move on, but we should attempt to understand how the Korean people faced such ordeals, and seek to apply what we learn from these lessons to the future.