Korea: The Furious Pursuit of Relaxation
By Jon Nix
"Won't you be lonely?"
"No," I replied. "I
travel alone all the time. Why? Do you ladies want
to come with me?"
The travel agents began talking
to each other in rapid-fire Korean, leaving me in
the dust after the first sentence. I looked at the
brochure of Jeju, the sub-tropical island I was hoping
to visit for a quick, weekend jaunt from Seoul.
I had used the travel agency several
times before. Apparently, I the travel agents liked
me because just then Ms. Huang, the motherly boss,
cleared her throat.
"We have decided to come with
That is how it came to pass that
Ms. Huang, Ms. Pak and I roared into Jeju International
Airport. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing
weekend on the beach, sipping margaritas or whatever
it is Jeju people sip.
If I had known then what it was
like to travel Korean-style, I would have had no such
illusions. The moment we touched the ground, we set
off to find Jeju Man and our adventure began.
Travel is difficult once you leave
Jeju City. A road wraps around the coastline of the
island, but public buses are scarce. In order to see
the lava-rock caves, the deceased volcano of Mt. Halla,
the temples and the famous elderly female divers of
Udo, you need a hero like Jeju Man.
He has a car.
Ms. Huang calls him Jeju Man because
he is a Jeju native. His deep gold complexion contrasted
sharply with the delicate, porcelain white faces of
my travel agents. He is a cheery fellow, and the ladies
teased him that his disposition was derived from living
on an island not only famous for wind and rock, but
We were bound for Seogwipo City,
on the southern coast. Yellow grain blanketed the
wide fields to our left and the sea sprawled out to
the right. Ms. Huang turned to me in the back seat
and asked what I would like to do for the weekend.
"Well, I'd like to see Udo
and find a beach."
"What will you do on the beach?"
she asked with great curiosity.
"Well. I, well...nothing."
"Nothing?" My three companions
cried and had a great laugh, which was followed by
several minutes of unintelligible Korean humor.
"Well, what do you do here?"
I asked defensively.
We were doing it. Ms. Huang's question
was nothing more than a polite inquiry. Everything
was planned. “Nothing” was not an option.
First up: some sort of world architecture
theme park where the wonders of the world lay before
us in miniature scale. “Look! There's me with the
Pyramids! There's Ms. Huang with the Forbidden Palace!
There's Ms. Pak with the Taj Mahal!”
And zoom! We are off again. I stare
longingly at the sea. Although there is no beach below
us, the craggy lava formations beg me to stop.
But we plunged ahead to Yakcheon-sa,
an enormous Buddhist temple with lanterns poking out
in all directions.
We only had time for Ms. Huang to
bow a few times to the Buddha and take a few photos
because we had a dolphin and monkey show to attend.
“And why should that be so bizarre?”
I thought. After all, dolphins and monkeys are the
smartest animals next to humans.
Well, it becomes bizarre when the
dolphins are jumping over monkeys who are walking
a tightrope wearing little red suits. As the auditorium
packed with Korean children cheered the dancing monkeys,
I daydreamed of a sunny beach with crystal blue water
rushing up to exotic rock formations. I could be there.
Right now. But no, I had to watch this mammalian phenomenon.
“Hey! Where's Jeju Man?” I thought.
Jeju Man was outside having a smoke,
with the car running.
"Can you ride a horse?"
Ms. Huang asked as we drove away a few minutes later.
I am from Kentucky. I had many opportunities
to ride horses, if I had wanted to. And no, I cannot
ride a horse.
We arrived at a "ranch"
and a couple of grinning Korean men guided us to get
our gear: red-striped cowboy hats with matching red
vests and boots.
I could show you the pictures, but
then I would have to kill you. Promptly.
Again, Jeju Man quietly slipped
Our horses were indigenous Jorang
ponies, which were not quite pygmy, but certainly
not Kentucky thoroughbred. They are prized for being
manageable and easy to ride. They operate on voice
command, so depending on the Korean men's verbal orders,
they trot, gallop or stop.
During the ride, they were
supposed to trot through a brief wooded area and then
gallop around a small dirt track and then stop.
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