Friday, May 7, 2010

jeju island: so much better than being stranded on the LOST island

We’ve finally returned from our island adventure in Jejudo. And what an adventure. Jeju is sort of a cross between Korea’s Hawaii (a tropical vacation spot) and Newfoundland (where people speak funny). With all the palm trees, mountains, and ocean scenes, it reminded me somewhat of Vancouver Island’s Tofino, only with a lot more Korean restaurants than fish taco stands – but equally expensive. It’s a magical land where orange trees line the roads, all the cars are white rented Hyundais, the weather changes suddenly without warning, traffic lights are completely illogical, tractors ride along the highway, and Buddhist temples appear majestically out of nowhere amidst the forests of palm trees.

We really like white cars

The surreal feel of the island was confirmed one morning when I sat on my balcony, facing the Pacific Ocean, and while I sang a song on my ukulele, birds flew towards me and perched on the balcony railing. They were looking at me, as though they were listening to my music. It was a magical Mary Poppins moment. And then one of them pooped.

We spent our days driving and hiking around the island to see Jeju’s beautiful nature scenes and also the spots where famous scenes from Korean dramas were filmed. These sights are like nothing else I’ve ever seen: mists hugging around bridges that hang over impossible heights, the signature black rocks on a white sand beaches that stretch into bright blue waters, hidden waterfalls, and my favourite combination of mountains and oceans and palm trees and mountains and oceans and palm trees.

Giant pineapples?

We called these stone statues found all over the island “Jejududes”.

The food was something else. At first we had a little bit of trouble finding a place for dinner – the first restaurant we checked out (which for inexplicable reasons featured a tyrannosaurus rex on the front lawn) turned out to specialize in malgogi, horsemeat. When you go to Korea, you need to learn the names of animals just to make sure you don’t accidentally eat it.

But we found that the restaurant in the hotel was actually fantastic, featuring both western and Korean food.

Talk about a mixed table: My dad here is eating a seafood stew, I’m having kimchi chigae and my mom and sister are eating spaghetti.

The breakfasts at the hotel, however, were the most amazing. It also featured a buffet spread of both Western and Korean food, and that’s where I came up with my brilliant (and patent pending) concept of doing both: bibimbap & bacon, or as I’d like to call it, bibimbacon.

In this bowl you will see: bacon, kimchi, bulgogi, a cheese omelette, mandu (dumpling) and ketchup.

Besides, horsemeat, Jejudo is also famous for its hukdaeji, pork from black pigs. My parents were never too keen to have the stuff however, although they never explained to us why, until one day my sister announced that she was going to use the public washroom, and my father cryptically said, “Watch out for the pigs!”

“What pigs?” my sister asked.

“The pigs they used to raise under the toilets.”

That’s where the black pigs are from? “I’m going to become a vegetarian,” my sister declared.