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Travel Image: Jejudo South Korea
Photo: Matthew Antonino
Travel Image: Jejudo South Korea

Jejudo, 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 their humor.

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 of TVs.

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.

"So....dong-tweggie means..."

"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 without them.

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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