Jeju Island: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Do Again

An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I'll be back.
An offering on my breakfast buffet. Jeju Island, I’ll be back.

Right now it’s Tuesday morning and my infant daughter is off in slumberland, freeing me up to write about Jeju Island, which the Koreans say is the “Hawaii of Korea.” There ARE some things it has in common with Hawaii, like natural beauty and parts of the island so untouched that four way intersections have no stop signs or traffic lights, leaving you to your own devices.

Go team.
Go team.

I saw a UFO themed restaurant. I saw a waterfall without water falling. I saw a beach where everyone took off their shoes and lined them up on the boardwalk before stepping onto the sand. I tried a burger concoction that was a foot tall. I smelled fresh Jeju black pork on the barbecue grill, before quickly eating that, too. I visited a three-story Hello Kitty museum made complete with a Hello Kitty family portrait. I passed horses milling about near the highway. I went to a completely empty theme park the size and scale a large city zoo. The place called itself ‘Psyche World’ until it changed its name to something equally puzzling: Ecopia. There was a butterfly exhibit with only three butterflies. There was a giant castle displaying a jewel museum with likely fake but famous jewels, like that blue one from Titanic that the old lady dropped into the ocean in the end. There was the promise of the ‘CSI EXPERIENCE: JEJU.’ There was an empty concert park with futuristic white seating in the grass, next to a display of two crocodiles. There was vastness in the emptiness. Store clerks and ticket punchers appeared when we walked past, but if you went back five minutes later, they were gone.

This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.
This giant playground was empty so I found the single plastic lawn chair on the grounds and plopped down to breastfeed Isa.

I have learned that if you travel with the kind of friends who will agree to go to a weird place like Jeju Island with you on a week’s notice, you will undoubtedly have a great time, despite feeling like you’re in a vortex. They are the Yau family, who are also American expats in Seoul who also arrived here in March. Who also happen to have a preschooler and an infant. When it came to kid supplies like diapers, water bottles and sunscreen, as Joe Yau said, “There’s so many built in redundancies this way.

The island is a place frequented by Chinese travelers. So many that  he rich ones are now scooping up thousands of square meters of the island itself.

The people who don’t frequent Jeju island are people who speak English. The eight of us spent the four day weekend speaking ‘hand Korean,’ which is generally just wildly gesticulating and getting responses we couldn’t understand, until the point the Korean speakers simply throw their arms into a giant X formation, which is the loudest silent rejection I’ve come to know in Korea. Since the GPS navigator was similarly in Korean only, a hotel employee had to come out to our car each morning and program in a destination for us and we crossed our fingers we’d wind up somewhere discernable. Considering many streets don’t even have names down there, it was a wonder we had a navigation device at all.

Here’s the thing. To me, vacation explorations are not just respites from routine but a chance to make yourself purposely uncomfortable or weirded out a little. It’s in those situations you learn and grow and laugh. There is so much laughter in the absurdity of a place like Jeju Island. We survived. Neigh, we thrived.

3 thoughts on “Jeju Island: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Do Again

  1. Did NPR know you were pregnant when you moved to Seoul? I stsrted following you during the move and I can’t recall a mention of your pregnancy in your posts. Did your pregnancy come as a surprise to NPR as you accepted the position before were pregnant.
    I am wondering whether NPR was elated that they had invested so much in a person who then took maternity leave. Just curious after hearing stories about Yahoo’s CEO who doesn’t want to “set an example.”

    1. Hey Lori! Thanks for your comment/question. I didn’t get “knocked up” until after I already accepted the job and it was announced, but my employers didn’t bat an eye when I told them I was pregnant before the big move. They didn’t treat the news as anything but a great thing for our family and were supportive about how much time I wanted to take off and what I wanted to get done before taking leave. Happy to share more about this if you’re curious, though my situation was pretty non-controversial since I’m not the CEO of Yahoo!

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