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A Note From Jeju

I know this has nothing to do with Sheltie rescue, but some of you have expressed interest in knowing what happens on our trips to various places. Well, I’m currently on the island of Jeju (also spelled Cheju) off the southern tip of South Korea. Let me tell you, this place is mostly one gigantic tourist trap. Most of the "sights" are actually human-created things designed solely to extract money from tourists’ pockets. Mind you, the tourists in question are at least 98% Korean. There are simply not many foreigners here, even at peak season (which, thankfully, this is not).

After a couple of days of meetings and being more or less trapped in our hotel (which is something like 30km from the closest town!), one of our meeting participants rented a car and thus gave us a bit of freedom. On Sunday night, a few of us ate at the in-hotel Korean restaurant, which was expensive (30,000 Korean won per person, roughly US$25), very limited menu, and not really all that good. On Monday, we at at the in-hotel "Western" restaurant, which had the same problems, although the food was marginally better. On Tuesday, there was a shuttle bus that would "take us to town" at 6:00 PM and return starting at 9:00 PM. Well, it didn’t take us to town at all, but to a tourist trap/sight (a rather nice waterfall so carefully prepared for tourists that all the rocks were cemented in place so they couldn’t be disturbed!) where we were "invited" to eat at a small restaurant (which, for all I know, was owned by the bus driver’s bother-in-law). Again, not very good, but at least not very expensive.

Well, on Wednesday, with the rental car, we really went into town, where I found us a restaurant that served kalbi, a Korean dish that roughly translates as "short ribs". In this restaurant, the kalbi came in the form of a sort of meat-only stew, with a rich, very flavorful, delightful sauce and delicious meat. Naturally, we also had the normal Korean "side dishes" including the famous kimchi (a very spicy-hot fermented cabbage dish…better than it sounds) and plenty of beer. The restaurant was really a little hole-in-the-wall kind of place owned by the woman who cooks and serves and cleans, too. Between my very limited Korean and her not-quite-as-limited English, we had a delightful conversation with her about this and that, learning (among other things) that she had never previously had a foreigner eat in her restaurant. We were her first!

On Thursday (yesterday, as of when I write this), we worked unti labout 3:00 PM and then took off for several hours of sightseeing. We did hit a couple of tourist traps, simply because the sights offered there were interesting enough that we put up with it. Because it’s off-season, the crowds weren’t bad in the least, except for one place where several busloads of high school students joined us, but only for about 1/2 hour. We had an incredible time, just going wherever the wind took us, seeing things that weren’t even on the map (literally, as we found a coast "road" that we followed for several km that wasn’t on any map we had, not even on the GPS the rental car company provided).

At about 8:00 PM, when the sun had set, we headed back towards our hotel, stopping in that town I mentioned earlier, to find a place to eat. The guy who rented the car (Jörn Bartels, from Germany and my Oracle colleague) and I are going scuba diving on Saturday, so we managed to find the scuba shop to check it out. The owner of the shop gave us a suggestion for a restaurant which we took. It was very close by, and the staff was extremely friendly and helpful — and even spoke a little English! We had a dish very close to one of my favorite Korean meals: bulgogi.

The word literally means "beef", but it is used specifically to describe a meal where you’re given a plate of raw meat in small pieces and you have a very, very hot "grille" set into the table in front of you. You cook the meat yourself (which has typically been marinated in great flavors), then eat it directly or roll it — along with some of the aforementioned side dishes — in a lettuce leaf and eat it like a burrito or soft taco. Our meal wasn’t technically bulgogi because it was mostly pork, with some kalbi-style beef thrown in for good measure. Again, we had a wonderful meal after a fantastic day of sightseeing, after we got back to the hotel at about 11:00 or 11:30 PM, tired, but satisfied.

More as it develops (hopefully, with pictures)…

On this day..

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