Where Human & Nature Become One
Mary and I met a contender for ‘best holiday interaction’ award, in the taxi driver who drove us to Busan’s Gimhae Airport for our flight to Jeju Island. We were predisposed to like him when he stopped dead in the middle of the street to pick us up, completely ignoring the traffic behind him, but it was his self-taught English that really sealed the deal.
‘Angae!’ he said (pointing to the fog).
‘Fog’, we said (inspiring chortles of laughter, because our word apparently sounds like some kind of pork in Korean).
‘Soju!’ he said (even more hilarious, because Soju is drunk with pork, and not with fog).
‘English good’, we said.
‘I teach myself!’ he said, proudly.
We learned, haltingly, that he had visited Canada (his favourite), New Zealand, Spain, Italy and Morocco, amongst others, that he was a lambskin technician (?) who admired Australian lamb, that Busan’s Korean is easier than Seoul’s, and that the taxi drivers in Italy are guilty of ‘highway robbery’. He asked us if ours are called elevators or lifts.
Communication is everything.
The fog was thick enough to strand us (standing) at Busan’s airport for long enough to have to weigh up our options, however, we were eventually called to board almost two hours late, for a flight that lasted less than an hour.
When we finally arrived, we headed straight to pick up our car. The attendant was equipped with a split-screen interpreter, meaning she could enter phrases such as ‘we have upgraded you to a larger vehicle, at no extra charge to you’, and I could respond by shaking my head frantically, and making ‘small’ signs with my fingers (if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you want the smallest vehicle possible when driving on the wrong (other?) side of the road).
I’m pleased to say they obliged:
Driving to our Airbnb is a bit of a blur, to be honest. At one stage Mary said to me, ‘I can’t believe they actually just gave us the car and let us drive it away’, and, frankly, I agree. I’m amazed they did too.
On our way we passed an enormous, over-street billboard that read: ‘Jeju Island; Where Human and Nature Become One’. I initially had to take Mary’s word for that, because I was busy death-gripping the steering wheel, and chanting, ‘right is tight and left is wide, right is tight and left is wide…”.
This is where we are staying (second from the left). Our pension has a crop of tangerine trees (along with what seems like every second property on Jeju Island).
And this is our host, Andrew, one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He met us at our car and, after carrying Mary’s case to our room, sat down with a map between us and, in his calm and measured English, marked out sightseeing landmarks and restaurants, and made suggestions as to how we might spend our time.
Mary and I function very well under a plan, so we just did as we were told, beginning with the Jusangjeolli Cliff, where it is possible to see the columnar pillars that formed long ago when lava erupted into the sea.
It was spectacularly beautiful.
We then had to choose between two famed Jeju Island cuisines, black pork and hairtail fish, for dinner, with black pork here being the eventual winner:
They cooked everything for us (hooray! hoorah!), and I remained skeptical about eating that pork fat right up until I put the first piece into my mouth, when it descended into a Hunger Games battle between Mary and I as to who could eat the most (I exaggerate…and anyway, her chopstick skills are far superior to mine, so she can eat me under the table, every time).
Then, still following the plan, we went to the two Jeju island attractions that are open at night (which we would never have known if not for Andrew) beginning with Saeyeongyo Bridge. Inspired by Tewu (Jeju’s traditional log boat), it is the first single cable-stayed bridge ever created in Korea.
The bridge leads to Saeseom Island, or ‘Birds Island’, which boasts a 1.2km walking track, and the chance to see an assortment of birdlife. Unfortunately, the only wildlife we saw was a cat (somewhat disturbing), but it did give us ample opportunity to debate over how to best photograph the streetlamp-lit walkways. I believe in pointing my iPhone and clicking the button, whereas Mary likes to focus and adjust lighting and use terms like ‘overexposure’ and make the whole process far more difficult than it needs to be (note: all decent photos taken on this trip are likely by Mary).
On our way to Jeongbang Waterfall, we decided we were all natured out, and debated whether or not we wanted to walk another kilometre to see it. Despite voting that we should, we continued to make arguments in favour of turning back (or one argument really, namely dessert) several times over. Imagine our surprise when we turned the final corner to see this; one of Jeju’s ‘little’ waterfalls.
As I discovered last year, driving is one of the most stressful, and yet most satisfying, things to do in a foreign country. Nothing makes you feel quite so unhinged, yet quite so part of the community, as attempting to park a car in a multi-level carpark in the middle of a city (yes, Jeju Island has a couple of them). But, if we were going to get dessert at Seogwipo’s Maeil Olle Market, it would have to be done. We only made the tail end of the market and missed out on our favourite dessert (hotteok, with seeds), but we scored bungeo-ppang, which run a close second.
When we finally made it home on this, the first night of the quiet, restful, soothing part of our trip (9km of walking later), this kind driver made me feel better about my earlier parking. Wasn’t that nice of him?