There is truly something about the ocean that can straighten you out. After three months in Korea and a few challenging weeks at work, a much needed vacation was in order. With the Korean holiday of Chuseok around the corner, we started planning a trip to Jeju, an island off the southern coast of Korea, to spend our vacation time. And FINALLY this weekend arrived and we were off! And the ocean was exactly what we all needed.
The other foreigners I traveled with made up an eclectic group of people from all over the world. English, Canadian, South African and American. And it was one of those truly unique situations were there was NO DRAMA. In a group that size, staying in a cramped hostel, traveling for hours and hours... things tend to erupt. But not once during the entire trip was a tear shed, a scream released, or menacing glare received. And there were plenty of opportunities for things to go south.
The adventure began at 4:15 am on Saturday. While many of the teachers I was traveling with work the very nice 9-5 gig, I work until 10:30 every night. Two other teachers from my campus also were coming on the trip, so quickly after work we scurried home and started packing. Due to our strange work hours, our sleep schedules are also a little off. Needless to say, getting up at 4:15 am is difficult, but the three of us slept less than a couple of hours, if at all. Like zombies, we met up and stumbled into a cab in the wee hours of the morning.
We met the other seven travelers at the bus terminal in Gwangju, several of who had started celebrating the Chuseok holiday a little early. They had gone from work, to the bar, a quick stop at home to pack, and then straight to the bus. The brave souls that they were, then climbed onto a bus that proceeded to weave its way south to the coast on a stretch of road that can compete with Lombard Street in San Francisco. Two hours later, drunk or sober, we all got off of the bus at the final stop in Goheung looking a little green. With only two hours between the roller coaster bus ride and the four hour long ferry boat excursion, day one of our adventure was mostly about trying to prevent vomiting.
The ferry boat ride was a unique experience, too. We bought cheaper tickets, later after many of the ferrys had sold out (because of the holiday many people had booked up all of the ferry boats, airplanes, and buses) and found we had no seats on the ferry. So on both trips, we sprawled out on the floor of the boat and tried to sleep through the nausea.
After hours and hours of traveling, we finally arrived at Jeju Island, and it was all worth it. Palm trees, sandy beaches, October weather, and sunshine flipped with switch from nausea and exhaustion to pure, unadultered joy. We made it to our hostel, Doona's Guest House (highly recommended if you find yourself on Jeju Island anytime) and the dream continued. I've stayed in some pretty nasty hostels before, so my expectations are always set very low. But this place was amazing! Close enough to the ocean that you could hear the waves as you slept, it was only a few minutes walk to the coast.
The next few days consisted of sleeping in, heading to the beach, relaxing and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. We brought along an iPod dock and spent the day listening to good music, laughing and rejuvenating. We all shared stories about the different Korean hagwons that we worked at. While I love it, there are understandably some struggles and challenges with working for people in a different culture, and its good to vent. The moment you start feeling like you are the only person with problems, is the same moment you fall victim to them. In all areas of life, I like to remind myself that we are never alone in anything. There is always someone out there who is struggling in the same way. This weekend on the beach with the other foreign teachers in Korea reestablished that for me.
Now, this next story is one that teeter-totters between unabashed pride and extreme embarassed. Please take off your judgement hat now. Right next to the beach that we visited every day, was this amazing-looking restaurant called Kao Kao. Sunday evening, after spending the entire day in the sun, we decided to wander inside a see what this place was all about. To our amazement, for 30,000 won it was an unlimited buffet: food and beer. Dangerous. When we arrived it was 4:30 in the afternoon. We walked in, and they said they didn't open until 5:30, so we waited outside. This place was too good to pass up. We were the first people inside, the first people to eat and the first people to tap into the keg. We literally sat as close to the keg as we possibly could.
After a while we began to notice something about the way Koreans poured their beer from the keg. They were terrible at it. The vast majority of the time, 60% or more of the glass would be filled with foam. So we made a drinking game out of it. Every time a Korean had half head/half beer, or more, we drank. And that game allowed us to spend the next four hours at Kao Kao. We were the first people in, and the last people out. They had to ask us to leave at closing time. Like I said, unabashed pride and extreme embarassment. We opened and closed a buffet.
When it was finally time to go home, it was bittersweet for us all. Traveling is tiring, and we were all looking forward to sleeping in our own beds. With another rocky ferry ride to go, we started worrying about how we were going to get home. From Goheung (where the ferry docks) to Gwangju (where we live) is about two hours by bus. We hadn't booked bus tickets in advance because the ferry ride can take various lengths of time. By the time we got off the boat, we decided to just pay for a cab ride back. Two hours in a cab, and we were finally home. Not the most economical, but definitely the most comfortable.
Altogether it was the perfect vacation in Korea. I'd be lying if I said everyday of the last three months has been perfect and I never have doubts. Of course I do. A year is a long time to be here in Korea. But the doubts and struggles are constantly trumped by these wonderful experiences that make it all worthwhile. This long weekend on Jeju Island reaffirmed all of that for me. Its amazing what a little good conversation, great friends, and time at the beach can accomplish.
"Are you feeling, feeling, feeling like I'm, feeling
Like I'm floating, floating, up above that big blue ocean
Sand beneath our feet, big blue sky above our heads,
No need to keep stressing from our everyday life on our minds
We have got to leave all that behind" -At the beach, The Avett brothers