January 08, 2013

Wandering Wando

Around new years time, the temperatures in Seoul hovered around -17 degrees celcius. I tried to escape the cold front by going as far down the peninsula as possible on land. I took a six hour bus ride to Wando, which is an island near Jeju connected to the mainland by a bridge. On the first day the weather was about 10-15 degrees warmer, but by the second day the temperature nosedived and along came the snow. On the way back to Seoul, I saw that the entire country was covered in the white powder.

I sat beside an ajumma on the bus. Ajummas are older married women who have developed a tough skin due to the hardships of life and having to tolerate living with Korean men. They often have frizzy hair. Their hobbies include hiking in colourful clothing and elbowing fellow passengers on the subway. Despite their fearsome reputation, the ajumma on the bus was very friendly. She kept me well fed with corn, oranges, and other food stuffs during the duration of the journey.

After arriving at the bus terminal in Wando, I started walking in the general direction of the seaside. A young man spotted my meandering ways, and asked in English whether I need any assistance. He was a university student, back in his hometown to visit his parents for a couple of weeks. Despite being around my age, he seemed to have no inclination to work. He mentioned after graduation he wanted to spend a year in Japan to study the language.

We walked to the port of Wando where I checked in at a hotel on the main strip. He asked for a room with a view, so I could see the whole coastline from my balcony. Right in front of me was Judo, a famous islet packed densely with evergreen foliage as the Joseon kings had forbidden deforestation on that island through the centuries.

I was in the mood for seafood, so the hotelier suggested a visit to the local fish market and told us the stall number where his relative worked. The waters around Wando are exceptionally clean. 90% of the abalone and 80% of the seaweed in South Korea come from this place. After picking up some fish from the market, I ate some sashimi. The Korean guy had already had lunch, so we enjoyed a beer before he went on his way and I went on mine.

I headed up the hill to Wando tower, from where I could admire panoramic views of the coastline and the many islands dotting the horizon. The outline of Jeju was visible in the distance. After losing my path, I asked a group of girls for directions to the tower. They repeated what I said slowly, blushed, and then giggled uproariously as if I had just said the funniest joke in the world. No directions were provided.

The next day I spent exploring the rest of the island, stopping at a beach and a drama set. I was the only person at Gugyedeung, a pebble covered beach that had formerly been enjoyed by Korean royalty. The tide has left behind nine tiers of rocks over ten thousand years. One of Korea's original drama sets, Changpogo is a recreation of an ancient village that was used as the backdrop for many television and film serials, none of which I have seen.