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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dive Right In - The Water's Fine

Seojeonbang Falls
Oedolgae pool

Aug. 29 (Jeju Weekly) Jeju Island is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches for swimming. From Hyeopjae and adjoining Geumneung Beaches in the west to Pyoseon or Shinyang Beaches in the east, you’ll find stretches of sand of every color possible on the shoreline of the island. What better way to cool off from the scorching summer temperatures than wading in the shallows or diving into the depths? In addition to the beaches, there are also valley streams and waterfalls to soak the summer days away.

These are some of my favorite Jeju swimming spots, some well-known, others less so.

Hamdeok Seowubong Beach
Hamdeok Beach is one of the best-known and most popular on the island. It is actually two adjoining beaches separated by a sand spit. The main, western beach seems a favorite with Korean visitors while the smaller, eastern cove is more popular with foreign residents and has a comfortable camping area. Adjacent to the smaller beach is Seowubong – the peak that is now part of the tourist spot’s extended name. A perfect way to start a day on Jeju is to climb to the summit and enjoy the views, then descend and cool off with a dip in the clear blue water.

Samyang Black Sand Beach
Samyang is a particular favorite for Koreans who go there to be buried in the hot, black sand, which they believe has therapeutic properties. My alternative therapy is to first walk nearby Wondangbong and enjoy the extensive views it offers before heading to the beach. There are three temples on the hill, one of which – Wondangsa – is home to the Bultapsa Five-Story Stone Pagoda.

Samyang Beach also offers consistently good sunsets for those wanting to make their Facebook friends envious.

Donnaeko Resort
The Donnaeko Trail is the newest path to the top of Mt. Halla for many hikers, having reopened last year after a 15-year hiatus to allow the regeneration of foliage. For those who think a seven-hour round trip to the top is too much to contemplate in this heat, the Donnaeko Resort is a cooler option. Just a short way off the 1131 or 5.16 Road, Donnaeko has clean, ice-cold water cascading down falls and tumbling over rocks just a short walk into dense evergreen forest.

The small pond just below the Wonang Pokpo Waterfall is usually crowded with visitors but if you take the time to scamper over rocks, either up or downstream, you should be rewarded with the discovery of an area of relative solitude. Or perhaps you’ll instead trip over a group of locals male-bonding over beer and makgeolli who would be happy to share with a passing stranger!

The Soesokkak estuary is a deep-water pool where fresh water from the Hyo-donchon stream flows into the ocean. Lined with lava cliffs and fragrant pine forests, visitors can rent clear-bottomed canoes or ride a large tewoo raft across the still waters. The village feels like a true resort town, rather than the Korean version, with coffee shops that sell reasonably tasteful souvenirs and have a relaxed seaside ambience.

The only surprise I found on the hot day that I visited was that although many people were wading in the shallows in both the estuary and the beach, I was the only one swimming. Don’t let that stop you though as the pool is perfect for a sheltered dip.

Sojeonbang and Jeonbang Waterfalls
Sojeonbang Waterfall does not have a pool in which you can immerse yourself, unlike its more impressive neighbor, Jeongbang Waterfall, but is popular with locals for the water massage you can get while standing beneath its natural shower. Or head a little further west to Jeongbang for a cooling dip and more postcard-perfect picture opportunities.

Oedolgae pool
I’m slightly reluctant to share this spot with readers as it is one of my all-time favorites, yet remains relatively unknown. Oedolgae itself is both a well-known film location and a popular stop for tourists to the island. The solitary rock pillar is an impressive site, particularly with its backdrop of islands just off the coast. However, immediately east of the tour “must-see” is a large, lesser-known pool enclosed on three sides by cliff and rocks with a man-made concrete fourth wall.

The water here is deep and clear and some brave souls dive in from the cliff above. A shallower adjacent pool is perfect for children, making this the perfect spot for family outings. From the water and surrounding rocks, you have a great view of the bridge to Saeseom further east. The pools can be reached by descending a path and steps that begin east of the Oedolgae parking spot and opposite where the tour buses park.

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.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Natural Healers

Aug. 17 (Jeju Weekly) Many of those who move to Jeju Island from Korea’s mainland come in search of a healthier, more natural existence and in that respect, Hyun Sol and her husband, Hong Ji Hwan are no different. What does set the couple apart, however, is that their business, a holistic healing center, exists to share that natural, healthy lifestyle with others.

The couple moved to Jeju in August 2009 and into a traditional cottage in Hamdeok that is about 90 years old and formerly belonged to Hyun’s grandmother. “Hyun Sol lived here when she was in kindergarten,” Hong said. The original home had no toilet or kitchen and both were priorities when Hong started remodeling shortly after they moved in. They had to take care of such basic needs elsewhere for their first three months on the island, but Hong said that through such inconveniences, they are learning to be grateful every day for what they have.

A front room of the cottage opens directly off Hamdeok’s main street and houses a small shop where Hyun makes and sells natural soaps, shampoos, lotions and herbal remedies. The cool, pleasantly scented interior is an oasis of calm from the heat and a peaceful haven for locals and summer visitors alike. A rear section on which Hong is still constructing will be the center’s therapy rooms when completed, offering massage, sound therapy, aromatherapy and Ayurvedic therapy, among other health-enhancing options. The couple owned a similar healing center in Seoul but found that the stressors of big city life interfered with their practice. “We wanted to concentrate on just one person at a time but the financial pressures of rent and such prevented that,” Hong said. “The clock of Seoul people ticks very quickly but in Jeju, time slows down.”

The slower pace of the island is echoed in Hong’s building schedule and he says it will be another three or four months before the therapy center is completed. “We came here to rest,” he said, “not to rush anything.” As he works, he saves each piece of the house to be re-used or recycled in some way.

He wants to pass on that sense of relaxation to patients, including many regulars from Seoul who plan to visit Jeju. “I hope the healing center will be a place for people to visit and slow down, but in Seoul that was very difficult.” They have found that “island time” has benefited their individual skills also.

“In Seoul, I only may have known the surface level of this field,” Hong said, “but now I fully understand the core that I spent lots of money trying to understand in Seoul. I now know it naturally.”

“I’ve treated others for more than 10 years,” Hyun said. “Coming to Jeju was treatment for myself.”

She and Hong have a thriving herb garden in their yard that is guarded by a dog they rescued, plus a 200-pyeong (661-square-meter) farm elsewhere planted in organic herbs and vegetables. You’re as likely to find either of them in the garden as in the store if you visit, but Hyun will happily take as much time as is needed to match a soap to each customer’s skin type and condition, or create a custom herbal mix while you relax. The couple’s stated desire to concentrate on just one person at a time is apparent in all they do and this writer looks forward to when they open the full therapy center.

In their own time, of course.

Monday, August 16, 2010

From the Ground Up

Aug. 16 (Jeju Weekly) A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Aug. 4 at the site of North London Collegiate School Jeju — the first foreign school that will open in Jeju Global Education City. NLCS signed the contract for its Jeju campus in March, on the 160th anniversary of its founding. The prestigious girls-only institution has consistently been ranked the U.K.’s top International Baccalaureate School.

The education city is a government-led national project overseen by the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs. Vice Minister Kwon Do Youp spoke at the ceremony of the importance of JGEC to Korea in economic, educational and social terms. Every year Korean families spend more than $1 billion to educate students abroad, draining capital from the country and creating social problems by separating families for long periods of time. It is hoped that JGEC will not only allow local students to study at an international level within Korea, but that it will draw foreign students from Japan, China and elsewhere.

Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min and National Assemblyman Kim Woo Nam were among the many dignitaries present at the ceremony. Helen Stone, chairwoman of NLCS; Claire Froomberg, director of NLCS Enterprises; and Peter Daly, headmaster designate of NLCS Jeju represented the U.K. school. Representatives of Canada’s Branksome Hall, which plans to open its Jeju campus in September 2012, also attended.

The London school is girls-only but NLCS Jeju will include boys, although classes will be mainly single gender between the ages of 10 to 16. The school aims to cater to 1,400 students, with 568 places available in its inaugural 2011 academic year. Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities will be an integral part of the school program and student exchanges are planned between the London and Jeju campuses. Both Korean national and NLCS diplomas will be awarded, allowing students the option of continuing their studies in Korea or abroad.

Planned facilities include a performing arts center, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, dining hall and student residences.

In her speech, Stone spoke of her own education at NLCS and said it gave her the confidence to pursue a career in civil engineering, a highly unusual choice for a young woman at the time.

In an interview the following day, Stone said she first came to Jeju in October 2008 on an exploratory visit and was excited to be involved in the JGEC project.

“We were very impressed indeed with the presentations that Jeju made to us,” she said. “They described the concept of the Global Education City and we just felt that this was something that we would like to be involved with. It sounded incredibly ambitious but the more we looked into the project, the more realistic it became. We did various explorations and had a lot of discussions in London and looked carefully at the project but we felt convinced that this was the place we would like to come to, so here we are at this stage having done our ground-breaking ceremony and construction is underway.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Introducing the Principal

Aug. 13 (Jeju Weekly) The principal-designate of North London Collegiate School Jeju brings a wealth of international experience to the position, although he is a newcomer to Korea and Asia. Peter Daly is currently at Dubai English Speaking College in Dubai where, as founding head teacher of the secondary school for the past five years, he has helped the college become one of the highest achieving schools in the region. Prior to that, he was head of the senior school at St. Christopher’s School in Bahrain, which is a British international school that caters to 1,700 students.

Daly and his wife, Sue, visited Jeju Island for the NLCS ground-breaking ceremony on Aug. 4 at the Daejeong-eup site and the next day he explained his reasons for pursuing the job founding the first international school to open in the Jeju Global Education City. He had a personal connection to NLCS while teaching at Sacred Heart High School in London, where he was initially head of the history department before becoming assistant head then deputy head. He said NLCS itself was the primary attraction for him.

“North London Collegiate has got a superb reputation in the U.K.,” he said. “It was always one of the most recognized schools in London for the quality of the academic education but also for all the other aspects that it offered.”

The second factor in his decision was the involvement of the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC) in the ambitious project. “When you looked at what they had on their Web site and associated materials that were sent, it seemed to be very well organized and professional – a very far-thinking group,” he said. “Very impressive. Often when looking overseas, when you get behind what some schools are offering, there’s not much substance, but there certainly was with this one.”

“This is a quality organization and it’s their first venture into it. I just thought it very exciting. This is new, this is different. If you went with one of the others, it’s all a bit ‘they’ve done it before, they’ve seen it before,’ whereas with this there’s a difference, there’s a uniqueness about it.”

Relocating was also a positive for Daly and his wife. “After five years [at DESC], I was planning to go to Southeast Asia or the Far East anyway. We had decided that, so this was just the perfect job.”

Daly first came to Jeju for an interview in June and signed a contract in mid-July. He said the island is “a lovely place to educate children.”

“Jeju Island attracted me. I wasn’t too keen to go to one of the big Asian cities. I know a lot of the Brit schools have gone into the cities but I wasn’t so keen on that.

“It’s a beautiful island. It’s a really nice place to live. It’s got lots of things to do and seems a very healthy climate. That was important to me. I lived in London for 15 years and I didn’t realize until I left how much it was possibly affecting my health.”

He has given six months notice at DESC but hopes to be able to leave earlier as there is much to do before NLCS Jeju is scheduled to open in September 2011. His experience in Dubai, where he was involved in the design and construction of the school and oversaw all staff appointments and student admissions will stand him in good stead. Fifty to 60 teachers will be needed at the campus, with recruitment taking place in the U.K. and internationally. Daly also plans to be heavily involved in student selection. “I’ve always been very hands-on on admissions in terms of interviews with parents, meeting children, looking at test scores, looking at suitability for the school,” he said.

There are many other aspects involved in establishing a school, “from uniforms to resource orders” and Daly welcomed the role JDC will play in smoothing the way. “In terms of ministry permissions, it’s great to have JDC supporting us because they can obviously do a lot of that work which I’ve previously had to do myself,” he said.

NLCS Jeju will base its curriculum on the model that has resulted in the parent school consistently being ranked the U.K.’s top International Baccalaureate school, with a high percentage of graduates accepted to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This will include a focus on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, he said. “We feel that we not only develop highly academic and high-achieving and high-attaining students, but we also develop students who have a variety of other skills, which is so important in this day and age.”

The Jeju school will not “in any way … go down the cramming route or the view that students should be working till midnight or be constantly at their studies,” Daly said. “We believe there is a time that they should be pursuing other things.” A “too-staid curriculum that is focused entirely on knowledge retention” and rote learning is not enough to survive and compete in an increasingly globalized environment, he said.

“The thing about North London is you see students who have high self-esteem and are very self-confident – people who are able to express their ideas and are able to analyze. People who can interpret, people who can communicate expertly to a range of audiences. I do believe that they’re the skills that people are going to need, not just in the employment world but in the whole satisfaction of life.”

“One of the big things about North London is that it believes that every student, every child, has a strength, has some sort of forte at which they can develop and it’s a matter of finding that through all the different activities we can provide. And that’s another thing about Jeju is that it seem the perfect place to do it because there are so many other things you can do here in terms of recreational activities and sports. So that’s our mission, that’s our vision.”

Pacific Rim Park, Jeju

Aug. 13 (Jeju Weekly) Seafarers and historians alike know the Pacific Ocean frequently fails to live up to its tranquil name. Sailors on its surface often encounter storms and its waters and surrounding land masses have borne witness to many conflicts and the loss of countless lives. The Pacific Rim Park Project hopes to foster understanding and goodwill in the region through the creation of friendship parks, the sixth of which, named “The Stepping Stones of the Pacific,” was completed on Jeju Island in early August.

During an intensive one-month class, students from Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the Philippines, the United States and Mexico designed and constructed the park under the guidance of PRP founder and president/artistic director James Hubble and PRP president Kyle Bergman. The first park was built in Vladisvostok, Russia, in 1994, followed by parks in San Diego, U.S.A. (1998); Yantai, China (2001); Tijuana, Mexico (2004); and Puerto Princesa, Philippines (2009). “Now we hope to do 41 in total,” Bergman said. “One in each country and every island nation that touch the Pacific. We think it’s kind of a 50-year art project.” “More like 250!” Hubble interjected.

The park in Sangmo village sits on the edge of the ocean just west of Songaksan and adjoining Alddreu Airfield, which was built by the Japanese in the 1930s during their occupation of Jeju. Koh Seong Joon, a professor of politics at Jeju National University, worked with PRP and the Jeju provincial government on the project in his role as chairman of the Jeju International Council.

He said the area is historically significant because of the legacy of Alddreu Airfield, much of which was built with the forced labor of Jeju residents, and other events. It was a site of slaughter during the April 3 Uprising, used as a training center for Korean soldiers during the Korean War and also housed prisoners of war from the Chinese Red Army.

Yet many of the working students on the park came from countries that were in conflict in the past, he said. “For example, to build the park in Vladivostok, Russian and American students worked together in harmony.

“It takes about a month to get done, in which they work together, room together, eat together and form a community with a shared sense of achievement.”

Bergman said the intensity was an important part of the process, which seeks to build community at three levels. One is on a regional scale: “We try to make these connections around the Pacific, ultimately trying to change the myth of a Ring of Fire to a String of Pearls.”

The pearl element was built into the first park and has been added to each subsequent park design. Russia and America had difficult political relationships at the time and the students from both countries were surprised at how many similarities they found with each other, Bergman said. “So the pearl has a lot of significance, it’s connected to the ocean. It started out as the idea of something that started as a point of irritation but turned into something beautiful.”

The second level of community was local, he said. “We try to bridge communities together as we do these as a community project with lots of people involved.”

The third, most intimate level is that of the participants and students. “The people who come together for this are mainly architecture students and a lot of them haven’t been out of their country or have very little outside experience outside their countries, and it’s a way to bring them together for a month and have them intimately connected with each other and have them realize that their cultures and countries have differences but also a lot of similarities.

“If we’re going to have peace in this world it really comes from young people moving forward in the world with a sense of optimism and hope and knowing their neighbors. If they know their neighbors and become friends with international people, war is less likely.”

That sense of community was obvious throughout the project as the 29 volunteers worked side by side on hard physical jobs, whether mixing concrete by hand, breaking rocks or laying paving stones. Even those with poor English skills when the class began on July 11 had improved by the completion ceremony on Aug. 7 and their colleagues, whom most described as now “family,” helped with any communication difficulties.

Tomohiro Iko of Shizuoka, Japan, a graduate student in International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, was filming the process and managing the blog. He said he saw the project as a small proof that with a common goal, people can overcome their difficulties.

“If the world can find a common topic to fight against,” he said, “there will be peace.”