If a Korean has never left Korea, usually, they have at least been to Jeju Island. Jeju Island is part of Korea, but the Koreans consider going to Jeju Island a real adventure. If you look at a map, Jeju is completely south of Korea, a separate island off the peninsula. They have other islands that many of them have never even heard of, but they have all heard of Jeju.
When I wrote about Christianity’s early beginning in Korea, I referred to a diary written by Hammel, a shipwrecked sailor who ended up on Jeju Island. The people of Jeju took him to the mainland and headed north to Seoul with him because Seoul has always been then most important city in Korea.
Many Koreans don’t realize it because it was so long ago, but in Korea’s ancient history, Jeju was part of Japan. The people from Jeju island are slightly different from the people on the mainland. The bone structure in their face is slightly different, and the way they speak is slightly different. We had a girl from Jeju Island stay at our house in Seoul for two years, and people would ask us if we understood her when she spoke Korean because they consider the Jeju dialect completely strange. She spoke a little different, but she had cleaned up her Korean so that it sounded more like someone from the mainland, and besides that, she was fluent in English. I always thought that perhaps they feel the difference in the language because of their deep long past roots in Japan.
Some Koreans go to Jeju once a year because they like it so much. It is one of those places that I always figured I would end up visiting one day, but I haven’t done it yet. Not long ago, I learned that my credit card gives a free round trip ticket to Jeju once a year, and I would like to take advantage of it some time.
I saw a documentary on Korean TV about Jeju once on Korean TV, and it was showing the food on Jeju. If I go to Jeju, I am going to be hoping for something different from what I saw. Evidently, Jeju is known for lots of raw fish restaurants. However, when we go to the east coast, there are many raw fish restaurants there too, and no one has gotten me to eat at one yet, so I could probably skirt these restaurants and find something else to eat, but the Koreans completely enjoy them.
There are lots of beaches because Jeju is an island, but from what I understand beaches are not the number one attraction of Jeju. The number one attraction is oranges. Jeju is where all the oranges in Korea are grown. They especially like to grow the small ones I call tangerines, but I think they have another name for them. When the girl from Jeju stayed at our house, ever so often, her mother would send us a huge box of oranges from Jeju Island.
Oranges are a really big deal in Korea. They are easily Korea’s favorite fruit. When I went on bus tours with the professors or the students from the university, someone was always handing out oranges to eat on the bus. If a student wants to do something nice for a teacher, they don’t give them an apple like in America, but they give them an orange. If you have a Korean friend and want to be nice to them, hand them an orange.
Recently, a friend of our just spent a week on Jeju Island. She didn’t bring back oranges, but she did bring something back for us. I have seen these several times before. They are special chocolate candies with orange in the middle that are made on Jeju Island.
Another thing, from what I understand, that they do on Jeju Island is ride horses. At times, in my English Conversation classes at the university, we got on the topic of riding things like motor cycles or horses. Many more Koreans have ridden motor cycles than horses, especially since food delivery is big in Korea, and they hire people to ride motor cycles to deliver the food. Very few of them have ridden horses, but if I asked them, and one of them had ridden a horse, I would ask, “Where did you ride a horse?” The answer was always on Jeju Island. They have riding stables on Jeju Island. They also have miniature horses on Jeju Island.
Besides the oranges, raw fish, beaches, and horses, Jeju has lots of woods with walking paths. I know a Korean guy who just took off to Jeju by himself for a few weeks and spent all his time walking the walking paths out in the woods. He just wanted to be alone in the woods. He met a girl walking through the woods too who he keeps in touch with.
The Koreans are very proud of Jeju. They love the place! One day, I will probably end up going and seeing it for myself. When Koreans talk about Jeju Island, it is like an American talking about their trip to Hawaii. According to the Koreans, it is a place worth seeing.