Visitors to Korea have doubtless heard Jejudo referred to as ‘Korea’s Hawaii’, and in some ways that comparison is apt. Both Hawaii and Jejudo are volcanic in origin and both boast some pretty spectacular geological and natural sites. Both are meccas for tourists and both boast tropical climates.
The similarities don’t extend much beyond that. Like all of South Korea, Jejudo is cursed with mediocre beaches. In the course of two years in South Korea and countless visits to beaches, I never once found one that remotely resembled the ones I’ve been spoiled with as an Aussie. The sole encounters I’ve had with surf have required massive offshore storms.
July of 2009 saw Fallon and I planning a holiday on a pretty tight budget. With my upcoming trip to the US a priority, we declined to spend a week sunning ourselves in the Philippines or Malaysia in favour of the much closer to home Korean equivalent.
Arising early and heading at Mokpo’s grandly named International Ferry Terminal, we met up with our friends Cody and Desiree and made our way to our ‘cabin’. Koreans do a great many things differently to how we do in the western world, and boat travel is right up there. Rather than row upon row of seats – we were instead treated to large rooms with plenty of floor space and very little else. A narrow sunken walkway ran up the centre of the room and, by the time we’d found our places, it was already littered with shoes. Even on a boat you don’t wear shoes inside.
One of the big benefits of being a foreigner is that you’re generally given more personal space than conditions might otherwise dictate, and this is particularly true in a group. We even had room for Fallon to stretch out and take a nap.
The ferry ride across to Jejudo weighs in at about four hours, but thankfully the ferry isn’t just sitting space and decks to stroll around. There’s live musical performances, a large dining area surrounded by gift shops and the ever present convenience store, and even a gaming area crammed full of games. Literally crammed. In some parts you need to sit on the front of one arcade game to play the one in front of it.
Cody and I wasted far too much money playing Go Stop in which you paid actual money to bet, but only won virtual money back. The girls snapped some beautiful pictures of the many islands we passed along the way, and by the time we got to Jejudo we’d played a frantic game of Shithead and were in good spirits.
Fittingly for 2009 vacations in Korea, it was raining when we arrived – and that somewhat detracted from the island’s tropical paradise reputation. Still, we battled on and found a cab that took us downtown where we could find a hotel. We lucked out and stumbled right into the cheap and surprisingly ritzy World Inn – where we got a large room with queen sized bed and a bath for 45,000 won a night. Love motel prices for an actual room! Not a single dildo vending machine in sight!
From there we ventured out in search of food, and settled for a greasy burger from Lotteria before exploring the local markets. The markets of Asia are something we really do miss out for in the ‘developed’ world. The Jejudo undercover market offered shelter from the rain and an array of sights, sounds, and smells that you only truly appreciate after you’ve been back in a country where most shopping is done exclusively in the sterile confines of a Coles or Woolworths.
While we might have flinched away from the preserved pigs heads, that didn’t stop us from stopping for the roadside treat that is a waffle drenched in faux cream and strawberry jam. A rare dessert in the ocean of savoury Korean street food.
With our bellies full and our hearts yearning for some adventure – we flagged a cab and soon found ourselves at the gates to Jejudo’s famous ‘Sex Museum’. Korea’s relationship with its sexuality is a source of constant contradiction. Prostitution is illegal yet the streets are literally littered with tiny glossy cards advertising the services of impossibly busty women. There are the mysteries of double pole barbers and coffee girls – services that charge a lot but come with a little something ‘extra’. And the most blatant example of it all is Korea’s own red light district – the aptly named ‘Hooker Hill’ in the heart of Seoul.
The sex museum too is another hilarious contradiction of Korea’s hidden sexual side. The park is filled with statues ranging from the humorous to the lewd to the downright pornographic, and we took all manner of photos in suggestive photos with enormous phalluses and naked ladies alike. Even with the rain teaming down and finding ways to get by our flimsy umbrellas, we were still able to enjoy ourselves.
There’s a sex museum (full of dirty miniatures doing dirty things), sex art, and a sex shop in which you can buy sex toys and sex souvenirs. It’s not something that might seem particularly odd in a world where adult book shops nestle snugly in between a Christian book depository and a linen store, but it’s a novelty in Korea.
We snapped our photos and spent an inordinate amount of time in the ‘taxi waiting area’ that doubled as the place parents leave their kids rather than expose them to over-sized genitalia inside the park. Still, we were able to keep ourselves entertained with the handful of old school arcade games in there.
When our cab finally arrived I was a shivering mess, and even the flames from our samgyeopsal (similar to galbi, but with pork) didn’t do much to warm me up. The food was good but I was in a foul mood, and it wasn’t until I’d had a warm shower and crawled into bed that I started to feel a little bit better.
The next day would see us doing a great deal more and (thankfully) the weather turned on a truly tropical day. But I’ll save that one for another entry.