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Adventures in Jeju: Don’t Feed the Dragon

The last day found us splitting the party.  I know, it makes things more complicated, but they didn’t feel up to adventuring to Yongduam (용두암 “Dragon Head Rock”) and I wanted to see it.  So my wonderful wife and I took our leave of our companions after breakfast.  I don’t think they traveled very far from where we left them (until it was time to go to the airport).  In contrast, we traipsed along and under streets, through parks, and over streams in the course of our adventuring.

It was quite the walk to Yongduam!  We even passed by part of the airport on our trek.  Eventually we walked along the top of Yongyeon (용연 “Dragon ?”), a narrow gorge.  The stream below was a beautiful teal, but bits of trash drifted down it.  I wish I could be surprised.  Yet my time in Korea (and America) has shown me time and time again that people will litter pretty much anywhere, even in places of beauty, and public places suffer for it (I was writing this in a notebook while waiting for a bus and counted several cigarette butts).  Perhaps something similar to the principles of Leave No Trace needs to be taught in schools starting at an early age as well as encouraging more responsibility.  I’ll stop myself here, as this is a rabbit trail I would run a long ways down.

We followed the gorge to the sea.  The coastal road took us past many seafood restaurants.  It would have been fun to eat at one and sample some of the seafood caught locally but we weren’t hungry at the time.  We knew we had arrived at Yongduam when a viewpoint opened up before us on the seaward side of the road.  Some fishermen were fishing below us.  I know there’s a lot of waiting and downtime involved in fishing, but from where we were standing it definitely looked like one of the fishermen was resting and not paying attention to the poles.

While we could see planes landing at the airport a ways to our left and the massive hotels on the coast far to our right, the view of Yongduam wasn’t the best (it didn’t quite resemble a dragon’s head).  So we hiked down a nearby trail to get a different vantage point.  And then we could see the dragon’s head.  It really does look like a dragon rearing up.  There are several versions of the legend surrounding this unfortunate dragon who was turned to stone.  One has the dragon as an emissary of the dragon king sent to gather the elixir of youth from Hallasan and another has the dragon as grabbing on its flight to heaven the sacred jade belonging to the guardian of Hallasan.  Either way, these versions end with the guardian of Hallasan striking the dragon with an arrow and causing it to become transfixed in the spot where it fell.  Yet another version says that this was a cocky young dragon who longed to live in heaven rather than under the sea (since that is where the dragon king is often said to have his palace).  Despite the dragon king’s warnings against leaving the sea, the young dragon set out to fly to heaven.  But when his head emerged from the sea, his black body turned to stone.

Speaking of black dragons, 2012 was not just the year of the dragon in the Chinese/Korean zodiac.  It was also the year of the water (or black) dragon.  I just recently learned this, but in addition to the twelve zodiac animals (which left out the fox), there are also five elements/colours, making a larger sixty year cycle for each animal and element combination.  So I guess we picked a good year to visit Yongduam.

Besides the trash scattered about the spot where we got the best views of Yongduam, the other disappointing thing was that a Ramada hotel built a fair distance away lined up almost perfectly with the stony dragon.  So several of my pictures have an unsightly monstrosity intruding into them.  After a few shots where the hotel frustrated me with its presence, I decided to frame it in the dragon’s open mouth—they should know better than to feed wild dragons!


After finding an angle to take pictures of Yongduam without the hotel in the background we set out to explore more of Jeju city.  We crossed over Yongyeon on a suspension bridge, passed by a pavilion located on the spot where people in centuries past would come for music and poetry, and wandered through the central waterfront.  We discovered a mural that included a pair of wings for someone to stand between.  So my wife went ahead and did so!  At some point we stopped for lunch, which included mandu.  Mmm… mandu.  Our wanderings then took us along a seawall, though most of it was cordoned off at the time for what looked like repair/touchup work.

One of the places we stopped at was a replica of a Chinese refugee ship.  In short, refugees from China arrived in Jeju after sailing from China and strove to start a new life (I think they were escaping following the communist takeover).  It was a decent exhibit.  I tried to find the bending machine that a sign told me was there.  But apparently it was hidden from vulpine eyes–no bending techniques for me…  And outside of the replica ship were small models of a variety of ship types, which included a Viking ship and the Santa Maria for some reason.

Leaving the ships behind, we wandered up Sanjicheon, where we watched some birds in the stream.  Then came the rather empty covered shopping street.  There were plenty of stores, but there weren’t many people—I don’t blame them, as it wasn’t exactly the warmest of days.  We decided to venture a look down into the underground arcade.  People bustled about the few hundred shops.  At one end we found a small café and ordered honey bread and strawberry smoothies.  They were scrumptious with the honey bread being so soft and sweet and absolutely delectable.  I would have to put that honey bread on the highlights of our trip (it was that good).


The honey bread didn’t last, though we savored every bite.  Once it was fully devoured we set out for the airport.  The bus stop we waited at was near Gwandeokjeong (관덕정), which is supposedly the island’s oldest wooden structure.  Our guidebook says that it was built in 1448 and reconstructed in 1970, so I’m not really sure how old the structure was.  We also could have wandered in the old administrative complex, but as it looked rather similar to the other Joseon-era buildings we’ve seen, we decided to skip it and catch a bus to the airport.  At the airport we met up with our other party members and had a little to eat while waiting for our flight.  Some flights were delayed or cancelled due to the wintry weather, but ours didn’t seem to be affected too much.

The flight back to mainland Korea was pleasant.  When the plane landed it didn’t taxi to the gate because of the snow.  So we waited on the plane for buses to come to take us to the terminal.  It was rather exciting!  After that came the standard baggage claim and then airport limousine to Jukjeon.  I was a little worried that the bus would have trouble getting us home, but it didn’t, though we did have a cold walk at the end of our bus rides.  At least we had some clothes suited for colder weather that we could put to use!

So that was our Jeju trip!  I hope you enjoyed my recounting of our adventures.  Below are some pictures.

Adventures in Jeju: Climbing out of this World

This was perhaps my favorite day of our whole trip, for we climbed Hallasan (한라산).  Though it wasn’t quite the departure from civilization as other hikes I’ve gone on, it was enough to feed my soul some of what I had been missing surrounded by the towering buildings of urban and suburban Korea.  And the snow-encrusted trees transported me to the worlds within my imagination.


But before we made it to the mountain, we journeyed in search of a bus in the shadowlands.  And that journey didn’t start until after my wife and I had called our parents on their Christmas.  I enjoyed being able to say hello and recounting some of what we had done so far.  Yet the time soon came for us to say farewell and set off to find a bus.

We wandered toward a traffic rotary in the northern part of Seogwipo, since that is where a bus was supposed to be, though once we found the rotary we had to figure out where the bus actually stopped, as it wasn’t at any of the bus shelters lining the sides of the rotary.  Fortunately there were some Koreans who sort of comprehended our English.  They pointed us a little south of the rotary to a bus “terminal” (it was more of a parking lot with a ticket booth nestled against a building).  We managed to find a bus that would take us to Jungmun, which was in the right direction.

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