The island- Jeju

Just 130 kilometres off the south coast of Korea, there lies an island. It is an island where you are surrounded by oranges trees, where the crashing of waves is never too far and where the possibility of dinosaurs and unicorns living harmoniously together is distinct. This island is every photographers dream with stunning scenery and photo opportunities lying everywhere. The island? Jeju.

For those of us on the mainland, Jeju is a place we merely hear about. Korean families go there all the time and bring back tales of hiking and orange eating. So for four girls, sitting in Paju one Friday night, the idea of heading to Jeju for a weekend excursion became a reality. It was all too easy to book tickets, with many flights and many airlines flying to the island. After a quick internet search, accommodation became available and again thanks to the world wide web, a car was also booked before we had a chance to finish the bottle of wine.

Two of our group arrived Friday afternoon and after picking up the car, we started on the 40 minute drive to the accommodation. What we arrived to was a modern looking house on farmland just off a main road. Our room (although apartment is possibly a better word) was large enough to fit all 4 of us comfortably and the balcony was almost as big as the room itself.

Jeju

The Trick Art museum, open until 11pm, gave us plenty of photo taking opportunities while we waited for the gang to arrive.

Jeju2

Jeju3

The sound of silence the first night was deafening. No barking dogs, no drunk adjussis, just silence in its purest form. It was like we were the only people on the island and nothing outside of our room existed.

Refreshed and ready we hit the big tourist spots on Saturday. A short drive saw us on the coast and we enjoyed spectacular views of Sod Island.

Coast

On the bridge

on the coast

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall is perhaps one of the most beautiful in Jeju. After a scenic walk, strolling through nature and wildlife, the waterfall appears.

Waterfall 2

Wa6terfall

As a keen photographer, I enjoyed beautiful, elegant photo opportunities of the natural landscape on the island. I’m pretty sure, my friends were slightly sick of the words “we’ll just stop for two mintues. Look how beautiful that is” I used to see my life in pictures but with watching the waves, it transformed to music and pictures. So lyrical, so beautiful. Despite the freezing conditions, I was more than willing to wait for the right light, the perfect conditions.

scenary

scenary2

scenary3

Rock

rock 2

photo

We did many of the usual tourist things and quality assured the oranges;

oranges

Just as we were about to discover the hiding place of unicorns, (possibly at the top of Hallasan) our flight beckoned and it was back to Paju.

For anyone considering a trip to Jeju, consider the following;

1. Rent a car. It’s the only way to get around. There are loads of rent a car agencies at the airport and it’s pretty cheap to hire one for the weekend.
2. Shop around for flights. There are loads of companies that fly to Jeju. Shop around for the best value. We flew Jeju Air. Flight time is only 55 minutes.
3. If you’re only going for a weekend, organise what to do in advance. Hallasan will take a few hours no matter which route you take so prepare accordingly. Try to get your attractions in one area, then move to the next and do all the attractions in that area and so on. It saves a lot of time.
4. There is plenty of accommodation available for every budget. We stayed at Jeju Ecosuites. We booked a special deal through Agoda. The owner was foreign and was super helpful. Its a most beautiful place to stay but it’s in the countryside so it’s a good idea to have a car to stay there.

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The Lost Art of Letter-writing. My February Challenge

When was the last time you received a letter? The last time you saw your name hand written on the front of an envelope? Most people would find it almost impossible to remember the last time they received a letter through the letter box.

When was the last time you wrote a letter? The last time you set an hour aside, had a specific person in mind and wrote a collection of words to them? The answer is possibly, a very long time ago.

In 2013, our lives have gone instant. Why bother writing a letter when an email gets there faster? Why waste money on a stamp when an email is free? Why bother setting time aside to write a letter when I could be earning money? There’s no shame in the fact that we no longer write letters but a few generations ago this was the only way to communicate. The sad fact is that, for all our technology, we’ve lost the simple art of writing a letter.

My life is instant. Instant messaging, instant service, instant buying, instant food, instant blogging, instant feedback. It’s no wonder really. Life in Korea is so focused on technology, there’s a quick, smart way to do everything. My entire life is a concoction of every technology available, laptop, smart phone, ipod, Kindle, microwave, electric door lock, t.v. Everything I do is fast and instant and essentially, lifeless.

In many ways, the distance between my friends and I has diminished as a result of this instant communication. We talk on skype from opposite sides of the world as if we were sitting next to each other. We text each other on Kakao talk and LINE. There’s nothing I can say I don’t know about because “I’m abroad”.

In other relationships however, the distance has grown. My mother for example, never emails me.  It’s not because she doesn’t love me, quite the opposite, it’s because she’s from a generation that didn’t communicate by email, they wrote letters.  I always find her letters, scribbled in the familiar, illegible handwriting when I receive my tea bag, chocolate and Tayto rations.  Sandwiched in between the animal bars and Curly Wurly’s is her letter. 

Somehow she always seems to be able to fit all the most important information in a single piece of paper. And what do I do? I send an email to my sister to say thanks. I don’t know why. It’s not like I don’t have a pen or paper or time. I have all three is great abundance. Perhaps it’s sheer laziness. Perhaps it’s that I’m afraid if I start writing letters, I might actually enjoy it. Either way, because of my lack of committment to letter writing, the quality of my relationship with my Mum and Dad has diminished. They only ever speak to me when I’m on Skype with my sister and that’s not often enough. And all I have are guilty feeling that Mum went to the effort of sitting down to write a letter to me while all I could do was send an email. I reinforce every stereotype that the people from my generation are simply unable to communicate on anything that doesn’t involve a keyboard of some sort.

letter-writing

As I see it, anyone can send an email but it takes a certain amount of thought and effort to send a card or letter. As a big fan of TED talks, I recently watched Matt Cutts talk about doing something different for 30 days. You can watch it here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnfBXjWm7hc

Matt got me thinking. Why don’t I do something different for 30 days? Why don’t I write a letter to my mother/ family every day for the month of February? It’s not 30 days but it’s close. It’ll give me the chance to kick start our mother daughter relationship via her favoured method of communication. It’ll be the chance in every day to write my letter in the time I previously would have been wasting surfing the internet.
The message was relayed to my Mum via skype and the deal is that for every letter mum receives, I’ll receive a written reply. It will probably be from Mum because Dad (a local author and poet) can never focus for long enough to write the news on a page! My sister thinks it’s a slightly random idea but I think it’s exactly the challenge needed in my life.

At the end of February/ early March, when all the letters have been sent and received, I’ll (in a somewhat ironic twist) blog about it. I already have the paper and envelopes at my apartment, all I have to do is wait for February. If you want to follow my challenge you can do so on twitter (@shaunabrowne).

What I’ve learned from driving in Korea.

Every time I drive in Korea, I morph into my alter ego.  It’s one that only comes out when I drive.  It gives me special powers.  I notice everything, I’m hyper alert, extra vigilant and have a serious anger issue.  I can’t help it, it’s my alter ego and dissipates when I get out of the car.

After just two months of daily driving in Korea I have learned the following;

1. Anything goes; You can just about do anything while driving here. Ah late for work.  It’s ok, I’ll put on my make up while driving.  I’ll talk on my phone, while driving.  I’ll watch that t.v. drama I missed last night…..while driving.  So while I’m sitting like a loser, just driving, my fellow drivers are doing whatever it is that they feel like doing. 

2. There are no rules; There are no rules here, merely suggestions.  What are those strange lights I see? Must be a suggestion to stop and go.  Red light? I’m in a rush, just as well it’s a suggestion to stop or I’d be in some serious trouble. Green light? I was going to drive on anyway so this is a bit of a waste of electricity. And that orange like must mean go a little faster through this junction. 

The white lines on the road are also just mere decorations to keep some poor soul busy.  They definitely don’t guide the car along the correct path when turning left.  No, no.You should ignore the white decorations when turning left and instead drive as close to the car on the side to which your turning as possible.  This might scare that driver, but its ok, keeps them on their toes.  Every man for himself, surely they know this? 

And those white lines that seem to divide the road into lanes are sort of useless.  Waste of taxpayers money really.  Drivers should feel comfortable driving as close to the white line as possible and score extra points if they drive on the line.

Let’s talk about those random numberS that we seem to see marked all over the road.  60? 70? what????? What’s going on here?  Surely a mere suggestion that that is the minimum speed at which I should drive? Don’t these people know that I have somewhere to be and to be an efficient Korean, I should strive to get there as fast as possible. 

3. Indicators are not necessary and possibly come as some random extra in Korea cars; Thankfully my car comes with indicators so I feel it necessary to show my wealth by using them all the time.  However, it seems like all Korean drivers are not fortunate enough to have them.  So I’ve learned that to make all road users feel equal, we should not use our indicators and that’s it’s perfectly fine to just cut in front of other cars, over 2 or 3 lanes, whenever you feel the need.  It’s also ok to cut in between two cars where there isn’t really a space for a car.  It’s ok, no problem! The mind reader in the car behind you will see your move coming and adjust their speed accordingly.   Anyone who actually uses their indicators is just showing off.  In my case, it’s ok because I’m foreign. 

4. There is always something blocking the way; If you’re unfortunate enough to be driving in the Paju/ Ilsan area, the chances are the foreigner driving the yellow car is blocking your progress.  If not, then it’s those damn pedestrians strolling across the street.  Don’t they know that we all have somewhere to be?????? GET OFF THE ROAD!!!!!!! Other times its other drivers.  Just because their light is green……….they think they’re all that……………

5. You can  stop and park anywhere; It’s a true story.  In Korea, it’s perfectly fine to take over 2 spaces, park in front of other cars (they’ll call me if they need to get out).  In fact, you can stop anywhere to pick up passangers or drop them off.  Busy intersection? It’s ok, I’ll just stop for 30 seconds to pick up my friend.  The mind readers behind me already know what I’m doing, no need for any warning. 

My alter ego, I feel, is just having problems adjusting to the sheer brilliance and uniqueness of Korean driving.  I’m sure in a few more months, my alter ego and Maggie ( my GPS) will be calmly bombing around Paju. 

While we’re on the subject of GPS systems, let’s talk about mine.  Her name is Maggie and to say that our relationship is tumultuous, would be an understatement.  She’s always so calm.  ” In 300 metres, turn right”. Ok first, how far is 300 metres???? There are about 12 right turns in the next 2 minutes of driving, which one is it????????????? I can’t afford to take my eyes off the road because the great drivers all around me may make a move that I’m trying to anticipate.  So I usually take the wrong turn.  Then Maggie makes me feel all kinds of stupid by saying ” re calculating”.  Re calculate all you like.  Next time, be more specific.  Something like “After the Home Plus, turn right” There I would get places faster. 

But it’s ok.  Now I drive minus Maggie for the common routes (school, emart, etc) and try to actually listen to her and occasionally glance in her direction for the routes I don’t know. 

In one word, I would describe my experience of driving in Korea……………………entertaining.

Guam~ a review

There are only a certain number of reasons you should go to Guam;
1. Shopping
2. Shopping
3. Shopping
4. Beach
5. Shopping
6. Beach
7. Something involving the sea.
8. Shopping
9. Shopping
10. Beach and shopping.

That essentially sums up the island.  Because of the apparant lack of anything other than resorts there we stayed at the Westin and the Hilton.

Scores out of 10

Westin.

Location; 9
Service; 7
Room; 7
Executive Lounge; 8
Food; 8
Facilities; 6
Value for money; 8.5

Hilton

Location; 6
Service ; 3
Room; 4
Executive Lounge; 8
Food; 8.5
Facilities; 9
Value for money; 5

There seems to be a certain level of incompetance happening at the Hilton. One night we were woken at 3.30am to someone trying to get into our room. After further investigation it turned out that the people had been given card keys to our room and told that it was unoccupied. Then our cards wouldnt work the next day because of the incident the night before so the key cards had to be replaced. We got some compensation from management but talking to other guests this seems to have happened to others.

That was followed by an early morning visit from maintanence who showed up to fix the tv even though it wasnt us that called.

Wifi in the room wouldnt work although it was supposed to.

The NYE party was a mess. Totally disorganised. Tickets were 55 dollars for what we were told was the 8pm to 10pm sitting and entry to the bar afterwards. Free flowing champagne and bud. We arrive at 8pm only to find a huge line and proceed to wait until 8.45 to be seated. Since it was a buffet everything was cramped and just busy. It kind of felt like an inconvenience to be eating there. The party and drinks were as stated.

image

The message as far as accommodation goes is that if youre going to Guam, don’t stay at the Hilton. The Westin was much better in terms of location, service and comfort and there are many other resorts on the island.

There really is a lot of shopping on the island. The duty free Galleria is on the main strip next to JP Stores and Tumon Sands plaza is a big further down. Both the Micronesia Mall (home to Macy’s) and Guam Premier Outlets are a little out but accessible by the trolley system. There is also a K Mart which I hear is a big deal but being Irish I really had no idea what was going on there.

We went to Sea World one ofthe days when we figured we should actually do something. My tip~ dont go there. It has a 23 dollar entrance fee and the whole thing is over in about 15 minutes. That was the greatest waste of money of the entire trip.

The beaches are very beautiful and the water is crystal clear so if you like swimming, diving, snorkelling or anything sea related you’ll really enjoy it here.

image

We spent 7 days on the island but the ideal trip here is about 4 or 5. Be sure to rent a car and drive around the island.  Car rental is a little expensive but worth it.It only takes about 3 hours non stop but along the way you can see some beautiful scenary, caribou, Chamorro village and real life as it is for the locals.  The Wednesday night market in Chamorro is great and well worth the visit.

There is a trolley system that goes to the major stops along the tourist area.

Its also possible to fly from Guam to Saipan for about 200 dollars if you wanted to combine the two. Be aware that there are huge numbers of Japanese tourists in Guam. Sometimes it seems like the island caters exclusively to them and forgets everyone else.

Overall, it was an enjoyable trip in the sense that we had sun sea and sand and nothing to do for 7 days. If its an action packed vacation youre looking for though, don’t go to Guam.