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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Global Traveler


Aug. 29 (Jeju Weekly) Wong Oi Ling, known as Ailing to English speakers, is a veteran of traveling on a tight budget. The Malay journalist and travel writer has published two travel books – “You Can Never Be Too Poor to Travel” and “It’s Tough But I Made It!” The second is the tale of her journey by bus from Malaysia up to Egypt. “I love cross country,” she said. “I spent 10 months in South America, traveling only by bus.”

She speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and Korean, and what she calls “survival” Italian and Spanish. “Before it was good but as time goes by, you don’t use them.”

She first came to Korea in 1999 “just to travel for a month” but was unable to speak the language. She returned in 2003 and still couldn’t speak Korean but could understand some. She lived here “on and off” in 2006 and learned the language from friends and fellow travelers.

Having traveled in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America (“There are still many places I have not been to,” she said), Ailing has now made Jeju Island her base, opening the Island Guest House in the village of Inseong-ri in October 2009. Her Korean business partner is a fellow traveler she met in Brazil.

The guest house, like Ailing herself, is unique and quirky and she has decorated it with mementos of her many travels. Shelves display sand, shells and stones from around the world and the bathroom door is studded with coins of many currencies. Ailing has a knack of making visitors feel instantly at home, a feeling that is no doubt helped each morning when they wake to freshly baked bread for breakfast.

Ailing is also a regular guest on the Arirang Radio show “All That Jeju” and in a Friday night segment called “Who’s in the House” discusses recent or current guests at Island Guest House.

She first came to Jeju in 2006 after being given a ticket for taking part in a foreigner talent show on the mainland.

“It’s like New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia,” she said. “I grew up in Borneo and we have many beautiful beaches there as well.”

But although she has chosen to base herself on the island, albeit with frequent trips further afield, Ailing sees many areas where Jeju could improve drastically to better cater to foreign tourists. The most important is to have more signs in English, she believes. “The transport system is really bad. They really need a lot of English signs for the buses. Especially for a village like this, where we don’t even have bus numbers.”

With a clientele of mainly backpackers and campers, Ailing said most use public transport but that bus services stop early on Jeju and her guests are stuck trying to find their way home. “Taxi drivers sometimes call me at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

She feels Jeju residents are careless with the island’s environment also. “In my village, everyone burns their rubbish. I hate that.” She separates her own trash for recycling, “But I’m not sure, when I separate the rubbish, what they will do with it.”

Her guest house is at the end of Olle trail 10 and many of her guests spend time walking, after which they see a different Jeju, she said. However, even there she sees a danger of harming the very beauty people are drawn to the Olle trails to see.

“You need to promote, which means you need to develop more,” she said. “It’s so hard to keep a balance.”

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