South Korea: The Furious Pursuit of Relaxation (cont.)
So there I was, trotting and galloping
– still dreaming of sandy beaches mind you. When it
was time for the stopping part, I saw Ms. Huang and
Ms. Pak dismounting, but I kept going. The grinning
Korean horse masters must have sounded their gallop
call again. And again. And again.
Maybe they wanted to show this Meiguk-saram
(American) a good time, or maybe they wanted to feed
that grin of theirs. My tender parts did not appreciate
The sun set on breezy Jejudo (do=island).
We spent the evening in a smoky noribang.
Noribangs are different from karaoke
bars, both sociologically and in physical layout.
Nori means to sing. Bang means room. So instead of
singing in a bar, embarrassing yourself among strangers,
you sing with your friends in a room with a 6x6 stack
Koreans are prone to singing slow
love ballads, with the TVs showing lovely landscapes.
But after a few beers, and having taken the back seat
all day, I cut loose with the microphone.
The phone exploded in my ear at
7:00 the next morning.
"We're downstairs waiting for
you. Are you ready?"
"Um. I'm going to take a shower," I said.
My god. Do they sleep? I felt like I was going to
throw up. I had drunk one too many Cass beers.
Back in the car, my stomach threatened
open rebellion. My companions informed me we were
finally headed to Udo. I was as ecstatic as physically
possible. I had been looking forward to seeing the
tiny little island off the east coast of Jeju.
As we approached by ferry, I caught
a glimpse of women in black wetsuits popping up and
down among the lava rocks and the seagulls. These
natural divers, or haenyo, follow a tradition that
spans 1,700 years. Today, their dwindling ranks are
filled with women over 50 years old. They make deep
dives without scuba gear to gather abalone, octopus
and sea urchins.
Udo lay green and rocky before us.
The black cliffs, dotted with lush overgrowth, dropped
steeply into the ocean.
We hiked around the foothills of
the island and explored the lava caves underneath.
We walked to the end of a dark trail from Mt. Halla,
the extinct volcano at the center of the island. These
sights showed me why Koreans consider Jejudo to be
the Hawaii of Korea.
As Ms. Huang and Jeju Man herded
us back to the car, I saw the beach and made a break
for it. I flung off my shoes and stepped into the
rough, grainy sand. I waded knee-deep in the cold
water as small minnows darted past my legs. To my
delight, the girls and Jeju Man followed suit and
we finally enjoyed the Udo's beautiful water and sand.
Then it was lunch time and they
introduced me to the Jeju specialty: dong-tweggie.
I had heard enough Korean school-children to have
a good idea what dong meant, so I eyed the dish suspiciously.
"What does tweggie mean?"
I asked the ladies.
"Pig," they replied.
"Shit Pig!" Ms. Huang
giggled, covering her mouth daintily.
As we slowly roasted cuts of pork
over a small barbeque on the table, I asked why they
gave such an unappetizing name to this delicious meal.
Apparently, it is because they feed the pig dong,
which is why it tastes so good.
Hey, that is what Ms. Huang told
me, and I have been unable to confirm or disprove
her answer. Either way, it was good. I stopped caring
about these types of details a long time ago.
Although I had one more day left
on Jejudo, my lovely travel agents had to return to
Seoul and Jeju Man to his wife. We said our farewells
in Jeju City, and Jeju Man sped them away to the airport.
It was a trip I would not soon forget.
At times I would have like to settle down and smell
the lava, but I could not have seen all those things
That is the paradox of travel. The
more places you go, the more you see, but the fewer
places you go, the more time you have to enjoy them.
That night, as I sat down by myself
for a tasty sashimi (raw fish) dinner in a restaurant
by the ocean, I enjoyed the first moment of reflection
so far. The trip had been fast and furious and now
my friends were gone and the sea was quiet.
I did feel a little bit lonely.
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