A Quick Trip to Jeju
Words and photographs by Robert Evans
I’m just a dude with a camera who takes pictures of things. We’re basically everywhere. This isn’t a conceptually crafted photo essay set on exploring some crisis of the human condition nor do I intend to present the world in some new and unique way. This is simply the documentation of a life experience where I happened to bring along a camera. That being said, let’s begin.
It was Sunday evening and I was feeling burnt out as I curled up in a not too comfortable corner of a musty and overcrowded dressing room at a Theatre in Hyehwa. We were just about to start the weekend’s final showing of Seoul Shakespeare Company’s Production of Titus Andronicus when I felt a little vibration coming from my pocket. It could have been any number of mundane notifications, but this time it wasn’t. The unthinkable had occurred. A collective force of concerned mothers had temporarily removed enough students from class so that my hagwon was forced to close its doors for the following three days. MERS madness had just descended upon Seoul, and like some evil version of Santa Clause it gifted me with unexpected vacation days.
Now, I could hardly concentrate on my admittedly minuscule role in the production because my brain was scrambling in overdrive mode trying to figure out the best possible way in which to spend this much needed and impromptu vacation. After a little bit of phone research in between scenes, the plan had been set. My girlfriend and I would run to Gimpo Airport first thing Monday morning and hop on a plane to Jeju Island as it had always been on our Korean to-do list.
I’m not a seasoned flyer but there is something special about walking on to a plane from the tarmac with an open can of beer in your hand. I don’t know if we were breaking a rule but nobody said anything to us and it was a nice way to set the vacation spirit.
When we landed in Jeju, we immediately hopped on a bus to get out of Jeju City; opting to experience a more natural and rugged side of Jeju as opposed to the more populated areas of the northern coast. Our Air BnB host was a wonderfully sweet ajumma who spoke fantastic English and cooked us delicious breakfasts. We gave her our rough itinerary and she helped us craft it out with a bit of local knowledge.
To my surprise, the area that we were staying in was not far away from where the Hanyeo women divers are typically located. If you may recall, they were the recent targets of a National Geographic project. I woke up at sunrise the next day with the thought of tracing in the footsteps of some of my photographic idols but unfortunately no women divers were to be found. Only this single male fisherman standing at the end of a series of rocks hoping to get some breakfast.
Later in the day, we decided to check out some of the Jeju Olle trail. We had been walking for hours along the coastline with view after outstanding view. The only problem was that this entire time the water had been unreachable; only something we could look at and listen to from a far like admiring a fine piece of artwork. With the midday sun beating down and beads of sweat dripping from every pore, I recall uttering in agony, “I wish there was some way to get down to the water.” Low and behold, not 10 steps ahead of us was a barely noticeable deviation in the path that lead down to a foliage covered staircase. This staircase took us straight to a beach consisting primarily of boulder-sized rocks. It wasn’t particularly comfortable and every step was a potential broken back but this little section of the beach had one thing going for it: absolute and total seclusion. It had the one thing that you crave when living in a city with a population density like Seoul. We couldn’t see anyone and we couldn’t hear anyone. It was just the waves and us. A moment of Zen.
As the sun began to sink to the horizon, we set out to find some famous Jeju Black Pork BBQ. We picked the most crowded place in town, and it was a delicious end to a nice day that put us into a peaceful slumber… Well, the soju might have played a role their too.
Our short vacation was drawing to a close, and we headed back up to Jeju city with a little bit of time to kill before our flight back to Seoul. No introductory trip to Jeju would be complete without a stop at the infamous tourist trap that is Loveland. It’s delightfully tacky and so naturally you act the part when visiting.
We eventually meandered our way begrudgingly back to the airport reluctant to face the reality that this impossibly short vacation was ending. We checked our bags and hung our heads and walked like zombies to the terminal. We boarded, and then curled into our not too comfortable seats on the musty and overcrowded plane. We were about to embark back to Seoul when I felt a little vibration in my pocket. MERS had struck again.
To see more of Robert’s work: https://www.facebook.com/robertmichaelevans