Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
To my great delight, the distinct aroma of sea salt overwhelms my senses and fosters pleasant reminiscences of walking along the Portuguese coast. Am I back in Portugal? Certainly not, far from it. However, it surely smells like it, and there’s no way to negate the striking similarity. The impelling factor that immediately knocks me back to reality is that it’s freezing and the sun is no where to be seen through the thick marine layer. Glorious scent or not, the lugubrious weather and stiff breezes has certainly put a damper on any idyllic seaside stroll, but they have added a bit of mysteriousness to the uncanny relics and milieu I’ve seen and experienced here, on the Korean island of Jeju.
Nearly two weeks ago my co-teacher called me into his office in order to inform me that I needed to take a week off before the start of the new school year on March 2nd because our summer will be shorter and I will not be able to cluster the majority of my vacation days in August like I did last year. Still unwinding from a recent 3-week visit to the States, I was a little reluctant being forced to take another vacation so soon, but I quickly found joy in the thought of how this would provide another opportunity to visit some place new around the world. Travel ideas soon surged to the forefront of my mind and I began relishing the desire of visiting Vietnam, the Philippines, Okinawa, and honestly, a variety of other places quite too far to take a comfortable, worthy trip. However, my desires to travel abroad were quickly dashed when I immediately realized that my passport does not have at least the required 6 months validity necessary to enter most Asian countries. Despite this super inconvenience, there was still hope.
After briefly viewing a map in attempt to pinpoint a location within South Korea that would be new and interesting, I saw the island of Jeju and instantly decided that’s where I’d go.
That same day I purchased my flight ticket and arranged lodging at a bed & breakfast out in Jeju’s countryside that’s run by an acquaintance of mine whom I randomly met through the Spanish Club in Seoul.
With everything set and ready, all I needed to do was remain patient until my departure. However, with just a few days before I was set to depart, I was blindsided with a bad case of the Flu. Those first few days were horrible, extremely horrible. Thus, with Tamiflu in hand at Incheon International Airport, I was essentially running on fumes and supremely exhausted, but I was on the way to feeling better. I recall deciding at this very moment to committing to a chill vacation, without any particular agenda, only the desire to rest, relax, and cruise around the island with ease. To my delight, everything was already in order to do that very thing, and not before long I sat looking out the airplane window with gratefulness for having been compelled to stay in South Korea and anticipation for a soon-to-be relaxing trip.
Immediately upon entering CASA BONITA, I knew that I had made an awesome decision in deciding to stay there. Haewon and her family quickly welcomed me and it instantly felt like home. Then not fifteen minutes passed before Haewon suggested that we go for a little hike up the road; I accepted.
Haewon, a very pretty, pleasantly mysterious, and super nice Korean girl (who didn’t want her picture taken) that speaks very good Spanish, was a joy to be around and it wasn’t before long that the Spanish started flowing on the way to our destination.
The destination was some sort of artsy farm in the middle of the countryside and I had a good time roaming around the area. Haewon and I had hit it off very well, and by the time we returned it felt like we had known each other for quite a long time.
The next day I took some of Haewon’s suggestions and began visiting some interesting sights around the island, the first of which was “Jeju Stone Culture Park.” Having arrived an hour before it “officially” opened, I was allowed inside without any hassle. It surely was a mysterious place and was to my advantage to have the park all to myself.
After the Stone Culture Park, I visited a few more interesting places and had some great food around Jeju’s main city…
…then Haewon met me at Jeju’s best microbrewery: Boris Brewery.
The great thing about Boris brewery is not just the delectable micro-brewed beer, but Boris is originally from Madrid and of course speaks fluent Spanish. Thus, Haewon and I had a great time drinking a few brews and speaking Spanish with Boris for quite a long time. We ended up returning for another visit a few days later, however, this particular evening was quite pleasant. Haewon and I spent close to four hours talking and relaxing, and a good portion of our conversations were somewhat deep. Both of us talked of our future dreams and aspirations, in addition to our past life experiences. We are both travelers and desire to live around the world and this fostered a good plenty of other similarities that made for interesting conversation. Amid our discussions in Spanish, my desire to live and teach English in Ecuador/Peru/Bolivia surged once again. I immediately became captivated with the prospect to go and teach in South America, where I’ve ultimately ALWAYS wanted to live and work from the very beginning. It wasn’t before long that I ultimately decided that this will be my next goal after Korea in perhaps a few years. This is something that I would really like to do, and if God willing, He will allow it. Much prayer will surely be needed to ascertain if this particular venture is synced with God’s will, of which, in time I will discover. However, my current focus and mission is to teach the students I have now the best I possibly can and let God lead the way, of which I’m of course very excited on where God will lead me next.
The next day I went on a few relaxing hikes and visited the Manjanggul Lava Tube, which is an underground cave that stretches approximately 13.5 km, making its length amongst the top 15 in the world. It is regarded as having significant scientific and heritage value, owing to its excellent condition of preservation despite its age of formation (about 300,000 to 200,000 years ago). Although only a few kilometers are open to the public, I found walking in this lava tube to be a great experience and worth the time and money.
Later I got lost in a maze and fervently said that I would never enter a maze like this ever again.
Finally, the sun came out the following day, for essentially the only time throughout my six days on Jeju. Therefore, I took advantage of going on a few hikes and relishing pristine sky and wonderful views of the island.
In addition to wonderful views, new experiences, speaking Spanish all the time, and making new friends, the thing I found to be most grateful for was the afforded time to reflect on my life. So many people never find or give themselves the time, the much needed quiet time, to stop and just think about life, and the future. Vacations such as this also make me realize and contemplate how much I actually need to live comfortably. I already somewhat live a minimalist kind of life, and despite the fact that I do love exquisite food, wine, super nice clothes, etc, from time to time, I’ve grown to realize that I do not necessarily need them and could live without them if need be. I actually find contentment and happiness in simplicity, and with where I potentially want to live and teach next in second-to-third world South America, simplicity will be key. Gosh, the possibilities are endless.
During my last evening staying at Casa Bonita, I brought back a few large water bottles full of beer from Boris Brewery to share with everyone. Besides Haewon, it was the first time that any of them had tried any kind of specialty, micro-brewed beer, and all of them greatly enjoyed it. Amid the relaxing evening meeting new guests, I met one particular gentleman by the name of John, a Korean who had lived in the United States for awhile and could speak English quite well. After chatting for a while, he soon explained to me that he had been experiencing some kind of mid-life crisis. He realized that he was not happy and did not much hope at all, and thus, decided to change things up. For some reason, I’ve run into so many people like John recently, and I soon commended him for what I saw as a brave decision, as I generally assume that most people are afraid or just can’t make such life-changing decisions because of harsh circumstances. After he showed me a book that he recently picked up by Joel Osteen, who is a well-known Christian minister from Texas that does promulgate some iffy statements from time to time regarding God & Success, but nevertheless has indeed helped thousands of people; a great conversation followed with respect to the teachings of Christ and the hope that is found in faith in Him. I encouraged him using words from somewhere deep within, and in a delightful way, he was able to recognize my great joy and hope in Christ, but was still unsure and is amid searching for something to help him with his next steps in life. After having enjoyed a specialty beer from Boris Brewery, I later told him about Craftworks, which is great microbrewery in Seoul that he had never heard about. He insisted that we meet up there sometime to have a beer or two with his friends that accommodated him on his trip to Jeju; I accepted and then we procured each other’s numbers. I hope the opportunity arises to share more with him, as well as perhaps making a new friend.
I’d say that of all the things that I experienced on my trip to Jeju, befriending Haewon amid our conversations (en Español), my captivating thoughts on teaching in South America amid the many walks around the island, in addition to this particular meeting with John, were essentially the defining moments of my trip and perhaps the inherent reasons why I was steered to visit Jeju at this exact time and place. Jeju, in addition to lodging at Casa Bonita, was certainly a great place to relax and reflect, and I can see myself returning there this summer. ¡Adiós!