July 24, 2012
by Joann Park
Jeju Island was definitely one of the highlights on our program. Everyone was excited to see the paradise of the east, and once we got off the plane we were pleasantly surprised with SUN!
This sustainable volcanic island had been a tourist hotspot—especially for honeymooners—for a long time. On our way to our hotel we saw countless hotels, hostels, motels, etc. My Korean aunt told me after Japan’s tsunami incident, a huge influx of tourists had been flowing into Jeju. On our trip we especially saw a lot of Chinese tourists–many of the souvenir vendors were fluent in Chinese as well.
Upon our arrival, we were introduced to Dolhareubang (old grandfather stone statues), the official mascot of Jeju. You could see a characterized version everywhere..on posters, banners, and more! It is said that if you rub the nose of the statue, you will be blessed with a son.
We started the trip off with a history lesson. We visited the April 3 Peace Park, a project dedicated to the tragic incident of April 3rd in Jeju. The 4.3 Incident was a massacre resulting from the political strife between the authorities, especially the police, and the civilians of Jeju during Korea’s unstable time after the country’s independence from Japan. The museum was filled with art and history dedicated to commemorating the victims.
The most striking quote from the museum was “Isolated by the sea, Jeju was a massive prison and killing field.” It was hard to believe an island marketed to be a paradise had so much pain and suffering in its history.
Before we left for Jeju, we watched a movie filmed at the site called “The Uprising.” The movie featured the breathtaking sights of Jeju as well as the history and unique culture of the island people. The movie highlighted Jeju’s beautiful pastoral scenery by centering the story around a messenger, allowing the viewer to travel all over Jeju with the main character.
Like the character, we walked, hiked and conquered the famous landmarks throughout the whole trip. Although it was exhausting at times, the breathtaking views were always worth it in the end.
One thing I also noticed about Jeju was that the competition for the tourists’ attention was fierce. Unlike the traditional blatant celebrity endorsements, you could see vendors using screenshots of korean variety shows featuring their restaurant or pictures of owners with celebrities trying their product, which created a local, more authentic feel. These celebrities weren’t glammed up like in professional ad campaigns, but were in everyday casual clothing. Perhaps this day-to-day portrayal of celebrities is more attractive to tourists, who want to feel close to the human side of stars. The Korean reality show “1 Night 2 Days” was especially popular. Screenshots were displayed in some of the restaurants we ate at as well as some landmarks we visited. It was interesting to see a hole in the wall stand still investing in a marketing stand that featured all the celebrity stops.
The food at Jeju was the best I had so far. The most memorable were the stone pot abalone and seafood soup, black pig, and green tea ice cream from the Osulluc tea museum. It’s always great to end with pictures of food…so enjoy!