Jeju Island: Rocks, Women, and Wind (and little stone men)

Jeju is a large (73km x 31km) volcanic island south of the Korean peninsula and a major tourist site for Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese (more Chinese and fewer Japanese these days due to changing economies). It’s lovely – and with spring bursting forth in the form of forsythia and cherry blossoms, it lives up to its name as the island of allure. 

Volcanic columns on the coast in Seogwipo City

Woman Diver Power. Jeju is sometimes referred to as “Samdado Island,” 삼다도, which literally meaning the “three many” and the three are rocks, women, and wind. The women story is pretty interesting. Apparently many men were lost at sea in years past, and the women had to fend for themselves. As far back at the 17th century, but likely much earlier, women took to the sea and became the bread winners, harvesting clams, abalone, seaweed etc. They became skin divers (snorkels but no tanks; they developed incredible abilities to hold their breath). These women mermaids (Haenyeo) took on great respect, and the culture became matriarchal – yes, men did the child rearing and shopping. Women worked long, hard days in the water. This is pretty significant in a society (Korea) which is highly patriarchal, fitting with Confucian thinking. According to the official Korean tourist site, visitkorea.or.kr, “Here (in Jeju) we have a baby girl, and we will throw a pork barbecue party; we have a baby boy, and we will kick his ass.” 

Women divers serving up very fresh lunch.

The Haenyeos were active in the anti-Japanese movement during the colonial period, and they still work today, diving and preserving marine culture and the Haenyeo culture. As of 2014, there were 4,500 Haenyeo, but most are over 60! Above are a couple women divers we saw on the east coast.

 

John and the male figure, hoping to tilt the balance on the island.

  

Another little capped man figure to the right of the oranges, which are a Jeju delicacy.

BUT the men have their revenge. Just when you have a great woman power story what comes along? The island is FULL of statues of little squatty men – and look at the caps on those guys. Yes. The figures are called Dolhareubang, 돌하르방, literally “old grandfather stone statues” and they look like you know what. The abundance of male part statues on the island is an effort to balance out the gender inequality and infuse some testosterone to the air. (We bought a little figurine to restore the balance to our three-daughter-and-a-female-dog household at home.)

Male power for the Schott household

We spent three nights at the fabulous Kensington Hotel In Seogwipo in the south of the Island. The hotel is also the repository for an art collection, and it had the most stunning central lounge area I’ve ever seen. Artist-made textured walls in the three-story atrium, live music at night, a breakfast of anything you want from squid to seafood to American style bacon and eggs. We chose the eggs Benedict each morning.

        

When we arrived on the island with our friend and trusted guide Nathan, we enjoyed a Korean style lunch with a pork bone soup that comes to your plate in a rapid boil.

Wednesday April 8, 2015 On our first full day, we hiked in the Mt. Hallasan National Park on the Yeongsil Hiking trail in the central part of the island, one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Hallasan is the tallest mountain on the island, 6,398′. We logged over seven miles that day – and that was largely going up or down, with a few areas pretty rugged (well, for me). 

     

We had pork belly Korean style for lunch. Substantial and delish.

  

After lunch, we walked at Cheonjiyeon Falls past gorgeous walls like this. 

   

  

Cheonjiyeon Falls: Makes you wonder what it was like when people used to look at the sights instead of reviewing their selfies. Sales of phone selfie holders are sky rocketing here.

  

Yes, another one.

  

Nathan was so much fun, and a knowledgeable guide.

In the tourist refreshment area after the walk to the falls, John and I actually ate silk worm pupae – one each. Nathan ended up eating a whole cup of them. These are boiled and seasoned snacks. I thought (hoped) they might taste crunchy and nut like, but they were sort of like chewing an old mildewy piece of soft fabric. Well, silk fabric. Good protein though, Nathan says. He also says, “Just don’t look at the face.”

 

Eating Silk worm pupae, called Beondegi in Korean

  

 

Thursday April 9 We went to Seopjikoji Beach, jutting out on a peninsula on the far east end of the island. It’s the setting for “All in One,” an award-winning Korean film about the Korean uprising in 1948 when a group of villagers hid in a cave for 60 days to escape the US military attacks. The American military was under the (false) impression that the villagers were communists. It’s a black and white film with only natives as actors. 

   

   

There’s a large candle-shaped rock jutting out in the sea, and a fire beacon, once used to send signals throughout the island. This is where we saw the squid drying in the sun. 

  

For lunch, Korean style beef sashimi for John. 

   

 

Rapeseed flowers in full bloom – and an enterprising farmer who charges you to come in and take photos!

   

Next stop, a walk up many many stairs to the Songaksan Mountain and the Sangaksan turf ring – a volcano crater. A paved trail leads to the top of the mountain from the Sanisoodong harbor.

   

  

  

  

What a marathon day. Next stop, a walk through the Geomunoreum Lava Tube. This Lava Tube System is one of the most extensive series of lava tube caves in the world.

   

Friday April 10 This was the most stunning sight of all. We walked along the rocky cliffs and columns that run for about 2 km along the coast from Jungmun-dong to Daepo-dong in Seogwipo City.The area reminded me of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. These columns were formed by the cooling and solidification of lava 140,000 to 250,000 years ago. Columnar jointing arrose from contraction of molten lava during cooling which split the rock into polygonal columns (typically 5-6 sides). Wouldn’t this make a great art quilt?

   

 

This is where we saw the women divers selling their very fresh produce to customers for lunch. Now that is fresh sushi!

 

Lady and her pampered pet at the airport.  She was happy to let me take a picture. People everywhere have been nice.

Here’s Joey, the company kitty whom we are babysitting while the company moves to a new location. She’s adorable.  I think she likes us. Yes, we have a (temporary) cat!

  

 

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4 thoughts on “Jeju Island: Rocks, Women, and Wind (and little stone men)

  1. Wow–looks fabulous—the rocky trails almost reminded me of CauseBay with sun and good weather.
    However some of the food leaves much to be desired. And the cat is cute–but I personally like dogs better–which is not saying much.
    marybeth

  2. There are more food adventures here every day. Eventually you’ll hear about sea worms (sea weiners). Saw those at a street vendor in our neighborhood the other day.

  3. Wow! I am here. such a glad to be here..kkk
    I still have a mission to be completed with you and Mr John for fried chicken with soy sauce
    Lets finish this mission in next week!
    Nathan Lee

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