Hello, Jeju

Jeju City Night

One of the things I appreciate about Korea is how safe the streets feel.  Even in Busan, a city of 3.5 million people, you can wander at night without feeling like every unexpected sound or figure signals danger.  The lone man lying on a bench who looks like he’s sleeping is really just…sleeping.  The young guys standing outside the open-late food stall aren’t loitering, they’re…snacking on ramyeon.  Even when no one’s in sight, the street’s silence is peaceful, a chance to hear the trees move, if there’s wind, or the whir of a floor fan as you pass a shop’s entrance, its owner napping on a mat behind the counter.

Not that I roam the streets alone very often, but, you know, if I feel like it I can.  So on my last night in Jeju City, I slowed down on the way back to the hotel, and listened.  And looked.  Peering through the lens of a camera pulls me into the present moment like nothing else.

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Where the Lava Flowed: Manjanggul Cave

Ever since I found myself belly-worming through an increasingly dark and unexpectedly narrow crevice in a cave in Vang Vieng, Laos, a few years back, I’ve been sketchy about spelunking.  Something about the cold, damp walls pressing in on both shoulders and the inability of the local boys guiding us to clarify how far the exit was gripped me with my first-ever claustrophobic pang.  Probably the worst thing you can think of during a moment like that is the possibility of an earthquake, but that of course is what crossed my mind.

“Dude,” I remember saying to my friend Melissa, who was edging her way forward on the ground behind me, “I don’t like this anymore.”

“Me neither,” she said.  “Keep going.”


After the Beach, the Temple

In the Rough Guide to Korea, my guru Norbert calls Yakcheonsa one of Jeju’s most magical experiences.  The best time to arrive, he writes, is 7 pm on a summer evening, when “worshipping locals chant under the interior glow with their backs to the sunset.”

So I hiked a staircase at the end of Jungmun Beach, grabbed a cab from the Hyatt hotel, and missioned to the temple, which was built in the 1990′s and, according to Norbert, is considered one of the most impressive in the country, despite its less-than-historical 20th-century roots.

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In a smaller sunlit hall to the left, these guys sat perched…

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The Pacific, a Book, and So Much Blue

After the falls,

the beach.

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Waterfalls for Melissa

The winter I was 21 I backpacked through Southeast Asia for two months with three other girls, my old Pentax K1000, and a second-hand guitar.  We landed in Malaysia, wove north through Thailand, and after boating down the Mekong River to a town called Champasak, parted ways in Southern Laos, from which I ventured to Vietnam alone.  Two weeks later we met back up at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and flew to Melbourne. 

The trip remains one of the larger landmarks in my life, shooting up out of the memory plains like a mountain.  Leaving Vietnam I wished more than anything I could stay on and go through to Cambodia.  But the money had dwindled to very little, our two months was up, and my passport held a work visa for Australia.  Time, as it continues to do, required that change occur.


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