“There are three things you need to know about Jeju,” Omar said as we sat on a dry sand bar in the middle of the ocean at 3am. The full moon shown behind him, casting him into shadow and reflecting off of our sunburned faces.
“Number One: there are no robbers.” He unstuck the salty acoustic guitar from his chest and settled further on to the sand bar.
“Number Two: there are no thieves.” He strummed a chord. He let out a deep hum and broke into a soft Arabic tune, which floated over the soft waves and all the way to the parking lot.
We met Omar, or Aladdin 2.0, at a restaurant/bar the night before, where we had spent hours listening to the live music, flirting with the White, Asian, and Moroccan musicians, and convincing the Korean owners Sunny and Rain to grill us more pork.
We had brought so much life to their establishment, they tried to get us to come back the next night. But we had been and seen and conquered–they could come to us.
We had been twirling, jumping, and singing around 3/4 of a mile out into the shallow ocean, enjoying a primeval moment with nature at that short window of time each night where the algae and rocks are exposed, when Aladdin found us. We expressed concern about our belongings back on the shore, when he shared what he had learned about Jeju.
After a few songs we reunited with Sunny and Rain and Seen on the shore where they had blankets and speakers and we continued our dance party right there on the beach as the sun began to rise and the tide returned. Seen’s improv dijurido performance echoed up to the moon, and he only stopped to take a puff of the live cigarette he kept in his ear. Not behind his ear–he had made a hole big enough IN his earlobe to fit a cigarette.
Jeju is a different kind of place.
It has blooming Hawaiian palms, but rocky Connecticut beaches.
Jeju Province’s main export is entertainment, provided by the beaches, the hiking trails, the natural wonders, and kitschy museums.
The only thing I knew about Jeju Island before going was that it has a permanent space on the proverbial K-drama bingo board. Someone always goes to Jeju Island. And someone always confesses, gets married, breaks up, or dies.
I figured these things happened because of it’s natural beauty but I think it’s more than that. Jeju has an attitude opposite of Seoul. Where things are slower and more relaxed. Where the residents can walk around in swimsuit bottoms playing the guitar until they’re hired as live musicians at a bar. It’s where Seoulites go to escape the palli palli and sometimes end up permanently. It’s where the men dress in t-shirts and shorts and their hair in ponytailed dreads–instead of matching slacks and loafers and hair perfectly coifed. The girls go around in flip flops, messy buns and clear faces, instead of heels, curls, and BB Cream.
As a self-proclaimed Nature Girl, I watched myself over the past 4 months transform into a City Girl. I acknowledged it happening and accepted it for what it was. I liked the fast paced, action packed, neon-colored city–who would have thought.
But spending five days in Jeju reminded me of why I love the natural, laid back life.
I got lost many times–but a different kind of lost. Not the me running through subway stations, popping up on the wrong side of the road, and mistaking Suwon Train Station for Suwon Bus Station-kind. No, the kind of lost where all you can see are rocks and sand and trees and your phone doesn’t even have service and you just have to keep following the trail figuring if people have walked on this ground enough to make a trail, it must lead somewhere.
We found food by sight and smell instead of urbanspoon. Besides the first night, we found places to stay by walking in and asking if they had beds, instead of booking on hostelworld.
And we chose our activities by picking the interesting sounding places on a map, instead of reading reviews on tripadvisor.
I’ll write about all of these things in following posts because this shop is about to close.
I knew that in order to understand Korean culture a bit more, I needed to visit Jeju–even if I booked the flight less than 24 hours in advance and spent the night in whatever part of the island I happened to be in that day.
5 days is not nearly enough time to make an overarching statement about life on Jeju–but I think Omar summarized it perfectly when he shared the last thing we needed to know.
“And Number Three: there are no doors.”