Friday, October 28, 2011

Too Much To Bear


To finish off our first day of Jeju exploration, we headed to the Teddy Bear Museum on the south side of the island. A chance to dry off, warm up and enjoy the thousands of bears and bear related exhibits at this quirky yet adorable place.


The museum has plenty of antique bears and a huge number of plush ursines from the last 100 years, but the stand out exhibits are the bear related art works...


Whether you're in the mood for a little Van Gogh.


Celebrating a royal wedding.


Reliving The Seven Year Itch.


Or celebrating the fashion industry.


They also have a couple of traditional Korean tableaux, including a wedding scene...


And the famous women divers of Jeju.


It's still good to see old friends on display and the museum is well worth checking out if you want to see a furry Mona Lisa or a Louis Vuitton clad teddy.


Plus in recent years they've installed their own special theatre so that you too can experience Elvis Bearsly live in concert. He's a class act!

In the interests of transparency I should tell you that my trip to Jeju was kindly paid for and provided by and KOCIS, but all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. Much more to come...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Trails?

Jeju HDR

We made our way out into the wet and windy Jeju afternoon weather, boarded our minibus and headed off to one of the Olleh trails on the north of the island. I'd heard a lot about the trails over the past few years and had built certain romantic images in my head - a beautiful solitary trail, with birds singing and crabs scurrying, with the mountains on my left and the sea on my right I would wander along marveling at nature's bounty.

 Jeju HDR

What I didn't expect was a little red pavement bordering an occasionally busy road. Disappointed? Just a little... Still the view of the rocky beaches and the ocean waves was pleasant enough, as long as I didn't look on the other side at the cars, gaudy restaurants, pensions and building sites.

50% romance, 50% disappointment.


Still I did enjoy walking past Jeju's miles and miles of dry stone walls. I love a good dry stone wall. I really do. They're far nicer than brick or concrete, they blend in with the landscape and they remind me of walking through some parts of the English countryside (as do the thatched cottages on Jeju). It was also good to hear from our tour guide that it's not just the elderly keeping the traditions alive, that young islanders are also learning the dry stone wall craft enabling this elegant segregation solution to survive.


And we saw a dead snake.


As we walked along the trail we kept seeing these two little cartoon characters. A stone grandfather and a diver - who looked like she'd stepped straight out of a Miyazaki cartoon. Very cute. I've been assured that there are prettier trails than the one we walked on, but I have to say I was a touch disappointed by our Olleh experience. As the wind blew harder and the rain pitter pattered on our heads, we decided to head somewhere warmer and drier on the south side of the island...

In the interests of transparency I should tell you that my trip to Jeju was kindly paid for and provided by and KOCIS, but all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. Next up - Elvis lives!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Voting For Jeju

Jeju HDR

Next up was a stop at a government building to hear about the campaign for Jeju to be voted as one of the "New 7 Wonders of Nature". We headed down to a basement conference hall, vitamin c drinks were thrust into our greasy little hands and we met 강성후 - head of the task force for the Jeju New 7 Wonders campaign.

강성후 (in the green jacket) and our fabulous translator 지은

November 11th is decision day (voting ends November 10th), so if you want to vote for Jeju, then you don't have long to do it. You can find all the details on how to vote by phone or on the web on the above link.

Why vote for Jeju? Well, it's a bloody beautiful island that deserves recognition for how gorgeous it is. Let's get one thing straight - it's not Korea's Hawaii. That's an insult to Jeju's own particular features (though I must say I also love Hawaii, especially Hanauma Bay). The Jeju committee offers five reasons as to why Jeju should be one of the final seven:

"1. Jeju is the only candidate boasting a harmonious coexistence of people, nature, culture and a prehistoric heritage in a single location. (Jeju is the world's first and the only area that received a triple crown as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2002, a World Natural Heritage in 2007 and a Global Geopark in 2010.)
2. Jeju is the only candidate boasting all seven key factors for tourism. (Scenery, an island, a volcano, beaches, caves, waterfall, sand, forests.)
3. Jeju is the only East Asian candidate among the 28 finalists. Its selection will boost the image of East Asia in the World.
4. If selected, Jeju will contribute greatly to the preservation of the environment as a capital of Environmental Protection.
5. Selection will lead to an increase in global tourists to Jeju and neighboring East Asian tourism sites."


It was interesting to hear 강성후 talk about Jeju, he and his team are obviously passionate about the island and about winning votes for Jeju to make sure it comes within the top seven. I really hope it does, as it could give Korea and Jeju a boost in tourism and recognition (Plus they've promised to make me an honorary citizen of Jeju if they win!).


You can vote on the web or by phone, but if you live in Korea you can also text your vote. Send a text message with the word "Jeju" to 001 1588 7715. It costs about 150 won per vote (at least that's what they told us).

Obligatory team picture (remember to enter 7715 for Jeju after a beeper sound?)

I asked 강성후 what he thought was the most beautiful part of Jeju. He chose the Yongcheon cave, unfortunately that wasn't on our schedule... We left him and his team to keep on campaigning and made our way outside into the wet and windy Jeju weather for the next part of our trip.

In the interests of transparency I should tell you that my trip to Jeju was kindly paid for and provided by and KOCIS, but all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. Vote for Jeju! Go on,  you know you want to!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Joys Of Jin Air

Jeju HDR

Our trip to Jeju started on Friday morning...

After meeting at the KOCIS building near Gwanghwamun we were whisked off by bus to glamorous Gimpo airport. It seems so small compared to its younger, bigger brother in Incheon, but that plays to its advantage - no treks searching for the right gate, no long waits and a mercifully short security check.

We had flights booked on Jin Air, a budget airline that is a subsidiary of Korean Air. There's no seat reservation and so boarding becomes very much like trying to get on a subway or bus in Seoul (you've got to fight hard if you want to get a window seat). The chairs are compact, the choice of drinks is limited and the flight attendants all wear peculiar lime green polo shirts and caps that make them look more like fast food restaurant cashiers than airline employees. It certainly has a budget feel to it, but the staff were friendly and the flight is very, very short. Not quite as swanky as its parent company, Jin Air still does the job (though they might want to splash out on some new uniforms).


Our first meal in Jeju was at the airport's fourth floor "gourmet avenue" at a pleasant enough Korean restaurant.


I opted for a spicy cabbage and beef rib soup, which was tasty, but perhaps not a Jeju delicacy. With lunch out of the way it was time to leave Jeju airport and head to the city...

In the interests of transparency I should tell you that my trip to Jeju was kindly paid for and provided by and KOCIS, but all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. More posts to come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Love Jeju

Jeju HDR

I'm just back from a fantastic three days on Jeju island thanks to the lovely people at and KOCIS. A small group of bloggers was given the opportunity to explore the island, eat some great food and learn a little more about Korea. I'll be blogging about our trip over the next few days, but if you fancy getting a head start on things then you can go here to see some photos from our adventure.

If you have a spare moment then you may want to visit here for info on how to vote for Jeju in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition. I'll be talking about the competition in another post, but it's a good opportunity to give Jeju a boost and let the world know about this beautiful island.

In the interests of transparency I should tell you that my trip to Jeju was kindly paid for and provided by and KOCIS, but all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. Jeju is a bloody marvelous place and I'll be heading back there as soon as I can to explore some more. Stay tuned for updates on the teddy bear Elvis tribute, a sneak peak into the Pheonix Island resort, the truth about Hallabong and how I learned to stop worrying and love Kpop...

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Weekend Of Jeju And Kpop

Thanks to the generosity of KOCIS and I'm off to Jeju for the weekend to experience the joys of the Olleh Trail and to see if I can get my hands on some roast pork, pheasant dumplings, abalone porridge or raw horse.

I haven't been to Jeju for about seven years, so I'm looking forward to exploring the island again (though the weather forecast is decidedly wet), plus on Sunday afternoon we get to go and see SBS Inkigayo being filmed...

I'm hoping against hope that Dal Sherbet won't be singing this monstrosity whilst I'm there.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Night Fishing

iPhone Film Festival - Paranmanjang from iPhone Film Festival on Vimeo.

If you have a spare half hour, then sit down and feast your eyes on this slightly fuzzy copy of 파란만장 (Night Fishing), a short film directed by Park Chan-wook (Thirst, Oldboy, JSA) and his brother Park Chan-kyong (Anyang Paradise City). Shot on an iPhone 4 (though spruced up with various lenses), this odd story of a man and his lakeside misadventure offers a glimpse into the minds of both directors.

It's very much a film of two halves - with Chan-wook giving us a haunting first fifteen minutes in which a middle aged man goes night fishing and finds himself entangled with a mysterious spirit, then Chan-kyong allows us to witness a shaman ritual in his honour where his family seek some sort of closure after his death.

There are no subtitles here, but it's still a good watch without them and a chance to see these two brothers working together. While many of you have probably heard of Park Chan-wook and perhaps seen one or two of his relatively well known films, I'd also urge you to seek out Park Chan-kyong's Anyang Paradise City (다시 태어나고 싶어요, 안양에). The glimpses of shaman ritual in Night Fishing are explored further in his first feature length film, where he mixes his own footage of traditional ceremonies with moments of drama. It's an astonishing piece of work that may not charm every viewer, but will reward those with a little patience.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Best K-pop Medley Ever

I popped into a dumpling restaurant for lunch yesterday and saw this playing on the tv. Quite possibly the best K-pop medley ever sung. I'm a sucker for relatively elderly choirs singing pop songs...

It's from a show called 남자의 자격 - 청춘 합창단 which features aging rocker 김태원 conducting an amateur choir. It's not quite Glee, but it has its moments. Still it's not a patch on the documentary Young@Heart. Their version of Coldplay's Fix You remains one of my favourite covers.


 Seek out Young@Heart if you can. One of the most beautiful documentaries you'll see.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New Cheap Eats In Itaewon

Noodle Box

New restaurants and cafes seem to be springing up all over Itaewon at the moment. As I wander down alleys and side streets I keep spotting new places to try; and right out on the main strip, sandwiched between Panchos and the KB Bank, I discovered a new take out noodle place that offers a box of South Asian goodies for far less cash than most other eateries.

  Noodle Box

Noodle Box franchises have popped up in Hongdae, Shinchon, Gangnam and Itaewon, offering a small selection of noodle and rice dishes starting at 5,700 won. To celebrate the grand opening of the Itaewon branch every main course on the menu has been brought down to 5,000 won, I'm not sure how long the discount will last, but it certainly offers a thrifty alternative to Buddha's Belly, Wang Thai or Pattaya. I opted for the Pho Xao, described as "Vietnamese Pad Thai. Fried flat rice noodles served with pork, mussel, plus vegetable combination."

  Noodle Box

Low prices also mean self service down at Noodle Box, but for 5,000 won I was happy to make the short trek to the counter. My noodles arrived promptly in their own special box (how appropriate!) and when I opened up my small cardboard parcel of delight I was greeted with a burst of fragrant steam. So far, so good. It turned out to be a tasty little package and worth the price - choice morsels of pork, a few mussels and plenty of beansprouts, but my only complaint would be that the noodles were a tad too chewy.

  Noodle Box

Noodle Box offers a decent meal at very low cost and adds a touch of asian flair to the row of kebab shops that adorn the strip between the subway and the fire station. Certainly a good option for those on a budget or in a hurry, and may well offer a little nostalgia for those who used to get their noodles in boxes... To get to Noodle Box, head out of Itaewon station past KB Bank and this cheap little eatery will be on the right hand side. If you hit Mr. Kebab, you've gone too far. Visit their website here.