Senin, 29 Desember 2008

Three Perfect Days in Jeju

The beauty of seeing summer end and spending Chuseok on Jeju-do with a good mountain bike and a small book of traditional Korean poetry is marvelous. Getting back to nature, enjoying some outdoor exercise, taking the time to read and reflect is something that seems to get harder and harder to make time for. And with Chuseok being an extremely busy travel time, there’s a certain amount of anticipation and almost joy in busting out of the big city, leaving the cell phone behind and setting foot on pastoral Jeju-do — the “Island of Love.” Of course, as the Asian proverb goes, it’s not the arrival at the destination that matters most but how one gets there.
The KTX express train from Yongsan Station to the small fishing village of Mokpo is efficient and comfortable, that is if you’re not bringing a mountain bike on board. But the kindness of the staff and the curious gazes of kids watching as they chew on pink songpyeon (bean-filled rice cakes) while steadying the bike amongst cars and fellow passengers heading home for the holiday already makes bringing it along worthwhile. Down on the southern end of the peninsula, downtown Mokpo City has sort of a melancholy feel, with interesting architecture and many elevated points to observe the harbor shutting down for the night.
→ For more on the ferry information to Jeju from Mokpo / Busan / Incheon, click here!

After just 15 minutes of pedaling, hard work but bracing, I start to notice the touch of autumn on the skin of ripe pears and apples in the passing orchards. The smells of all the locally grown fruits are so invigorating, every deep breath is almost like drinking a cup of plum juice."

Taking to the High Seas

The morning is fresh and sunny, and all is ready on the New Sea world Express Ferry. The sea journey from Mokpo to Jeju is approximately five hours, but instead of wondering what time the ferry arrives at Jeju Harbor, it’s better to find a good spot on the ship's top deck. It’s a little noisy as the ferry’s engines roar and kaboom like a high school marching band welcoming you to open water. Everyone on board is energized and smiling in one degree or another. And finally, when the ferry is past sight of land and all around is sparkling blue and white breaking waves, well, you know for sure that you’re not breathing air from the big city anymore.
“Turning Left” and “U-Turn” are current phrases that Korean friends describe as lifestyle changes that some Seoulites are undertaking: to get out of the metropolis to live or summer or even just weekend in a place that is economically less pressurized, a place that also offers more living space and better connection to nature. Rolling my mountain bike down the plank way into Jeju City, this really makes a lot of sense. Jeju Harbor is basically in downtown Jeju City, which is just 10 minutes by taxi to an airport that offers dozens of flights to other airports scattered throughout the peninsula. That is, of course, a path for a different day as I mount the bike for a three-day Journey around the island. After just 15 minutes of pedaling, hard work but bracing, I start to notice the touch of autumn on the skin of ripe pears and apples in the passing orchards. The smells of all the locally grown fruits are so invigorating; every deep breath is almost like drinking a cup of plum juice.

True Hospitality, Jeju-Style

I don’t want to get too far into the island with the sun coming down, so I found a roadside yeogwan (a Korean-style inn) for a very modest price. The renowned fish restaurants were closed for this part of the Chusoek holiday, but I saw this coming and had ramyeon instant noodles and gimbap rice seaweed rolls (staples for Korean Jeju-do cyclists) in the backpack. The hospitality of island people who live away from big crowds is most likely a universal thing and the Jeju-do islanders are no exception. I showered and sat down to read some classic Korean poetry (sijo), and then the owner of the yeogwan came to my door with a piping hot bowl of beef ribs and vegetable stew. She must have spent hours preparing this holiday dish for her loved ones, yet she took a moment to see how far I had traveled and how hungry I was. Adding to her consideration, she saw that I was reading and just placed the food down and smiled, closing the door behind her. As I savored the delicious food, I noticed the open page of the book:

"Wondrous smells and colors keep flying by, yet once again it’s the genuine Jeju people who are the most refreshing part of the trek."

Life here is so simple
All I have
Is a few grape-vines and a single
Book of songs. I place my trust in
things that are beautiful

After such a day, the trip to Jeju has already been well worth it, but cycling around the island is another fun and rewarding accomplishment. I had already once resided in a four-month temple-stay at the glorious Yakcheon-sa Temple, and knew I would have to spend the day on the bike along the National Highway 7 to get there again. Pacing myself, I try to pedal hard downhill in order to peddle less going uphill. The lack of traffic on the Chuseok holiday makes the cycling less strenuous and I can concentrate on the surroundings and not focus on avoiding automobiles. One thing for sure is that the charming bed & breakfast-style of accommodation is catching on in Jeju-do. The range spans he gamut from super new luxury hotels and the basic sleep-on-the-floor with a mattress accommodation available, but it’s the rustic way, the slow-down-the-pace and enjoy-the-space way that is so appealing. These B&Bs are often demarcated with grey medium height stone fences — once again, all natural.

The Kindness of Everyday Life

This trip was a mixture of athletic event and sightseeing, and I expect to reach the temple by sunset. Wondrous smells and colors keep flying by, yet once again it’s the genuine Jeju people who are the most refreshing part of the trek. When a man wearing a farmer’s smock watched me hop off my bike to fetch some water, he came over and offered me his black round sunglasses. I didn’t take them because I didn’t need them, but now for some reason, I wish I had taken them. I ask about Yakcheon-sa Temple and he smiles and points, and I’m on my way again. It wasn’t crowded, being the holiday, and when I approached the world’s largest main hall in a temple, once again possessed By a sense of wonder at its awesome structure and, more subtly, the gentle loss of time in everyday life. I was able to stay the night in my old room rereading some sijopoems and watching the moon:
Tiny object floating high
Lighting all the world
You see everything but say nothing:
You are indeed, indeed, my friend.

Last day, and I want an early start in the morning and to get to Hallim Park. By and large, it’s the effort of one very inspiring man named Song Bong-kyu. In 1971, he had kind of a vision and decided to build a huge nature park near his home. He cleared that land, brought in tons of fertile soil, planted, plowed and tilled for 10 years creating a magical place of caves, bonsai and water gardens, exhibition rooms — one massive vision that is completely inspirational and humbling at the same time. Maybe it shows how, if nature can be manicured the right way, then we humans can re-energize ourselves by appreciating its natural qualities while at the same time purifying our human minds. As Jeju-do’s future in tourism brightens, and modern people look for a way to keep their pace of life manageable and an appreciation of natural beauty and the infinite intact, spending a few days on the ferry ride, cycling to a temple and garden park while seeing stone fertility gods along the way, may be just the way to go.

Tucked into alleys near the school you’ll find the Gahoe Museum and the Knot Workshop, where you can watch talented artisans produce elaborate macrame. I stopped at the Hang Sang Soo Embroidery Museum where Ms. Hang, now in her 70s and designated an embroidery master by the government, still wields needle and thread to great acclaim, producing elegant wrapping cloths (bojagi) and wall hangings, among other designs.

di 23.53 |  

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