It’s Monday morning around 5 am and my husband and I are headed to Daegu International Airport to meet Angela, my Korean bestie, for our 3-day photo tour of Jeju Island. We don’t know each other very well, so I expect she is as anxious as I am. But this is what I wanted – a deeper, more committed relationship with Korea and its people, and a girls’ trip is a great start. So I’m ready to see Jeju from a different perspective – with my Korean bestie and the end of my camera lens.
To read part one of my journey, Click Here.
What I Hope This Trip Accomplishes
You may remember from my last post that Angela and I had already had a few problems communicating with each other before we left for Jeju. I was sure we would have more, and I was right. We had a few issues. But we also had a lot of fun too. Here are some of the things I hoped to accomplish over the next 3-days:
- Better friendship with my Korean friend
- Improved Korean Language skills & communication
- Insight into the culture I wouldn’t normally see on my own
- The experience of staying in a traditional Korean home
- Foods I wouldn’t normally eat
- Some fun in the sun, nature & beach
- How to use my camera better, long exposures
- Some great photographs & memories
Day 1: Early Flight to Jeju
The only reason I want to mention this is because it’s the first time I used my Alien Registration Card exclusively. I brought my passport. But I didn’t have to use it to board the plane. Things didn’t go as smoothly on the return from Jeju, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I met Angela at the boarding gate. We weren’t seated together, which honestly I preferred. We were already going to spend the next 3-days together. Again, everything went smoothly.
*Tip I normally prefer a window seat. But in Asia, I prefer an aisle seat closer to the front of the plane for easy on and off. I chose seat 6C on both flights. Angela was on row 33 and ended up on the 5th bus into the terminal while I was on the first.
Our flight was a short 40 minutes, getting into Jeju City more than 10 minutes early. Mr. Kim, who is one year my senior (that is important in Korea) was already waiting for us in the terminal. It was 7:45 am.
Our first stop was Starbucks. It’s early – I need my coffee. This was also the first stop on our Jeju photography tour because the coffee shop lies directly beneath the airport’s flight path – offering a great photo opportunity.
Playing Telephone in Jeju
Day 1 was fairly uneventful. Mr. Kim, our tour guide and photography guide asked Angela how old I was, then forgot my name. It soon became clear I was not going to get the same level of instruction Angela would receive. It was going to be more like following the leader for me because we just could not communicate directly with one another.
How to Use my Camera Better
However, this was a mixed experience.
Mr. Kim is very talented and wanted to communicate his instructions to me. However, he’s also old school, refusing to use any phone apps. And when he tried to get Angela to translate, I could see the frustration start to build. It was a Korean-English version of the game we used to play called telephone. However, it was on Jeju Island with just three people; my friend, the photographer, and myself. Lol.
This would come up time and time again, frustrating them both. Mr. Kim would complain that Angela’s English was terrible. And Angela would counter that he could not speak English at all. All I could do was take the best pictures I knew how based on what I thought they both were trying to tell me.
On several occasions, Mr. Kim would take my camera from me. He would then change all the settings, take a few pictures, hand the camera back to me, and then move on.
However, I didn’t book this expensive photo tour for him to take pictures with my camera. I came to learn how to use my camera better. So after he handed it back to me, I studied what he changed. And then I took my photos using his settings, as well as my own.
Lack of an Itinerary
I cannot tell you how many times I asked for an itinerary before, during, and after our trip to Jeju.
We went to so many fields, forests, and unmarked locations it became a futile endeavor to keep track of them on my own. I can only surmise that Mr. Kim didn’t want me to duplicate his itinerary since that’s how he makes his living, which I understand. So my IG feed is filled with generic descriptions like pretty buckwheat field or forest near the Swiss Village on Jeju Island. I am still a little annoyed about this, but, what can I do? lol
Fields, Forests, & Flowers
We went to two forests, one of which was Jeolmul, to shoot wide-angle shots of flowers, then to shoot narrow photos of us walking. After the forest, we went to lunch for the first of many fish meals. The sun was at its highest when we went to three fields: buckwheat, hay, and green tea.
Of the three, my favorite was the former hands down. My friend and I loved the buckwheat field – it’s popular with Korean and foreign visitors to Jeju Island. I could have stayed there for hours. But we arrived at the wrong time. The sun was too high in the sky.
None of my pictures were exceptional at the hayfield, and I’ve taken a lot of pretty pictures of tea fields here on the mainland.
The tea field is also where I realized Angela wanted me to have a remote shutter release with a timer. I brought a remote shutter release. Unfortunately, I had never done long exposures before. I guess I should have at least Googled it. Because this was the first of many times when I was excluded from participating because I did not have the proper equipment. Some of the photographs Angela and Mr. Kim took an hour to create.
So I did what I do best, entertained myself. I wandered around taking photos and videos of things I thought were more interesting. I found out later, that Koreans can find that offensive.
We finished each day shooting sunsets. These were my absolute favorite shoots because the light is magical. It’s near impossible to take a bad picture if you have a decent subject and the slightest bit of imagination. Everyone looks beautiful in this light. Add, a pretty sunset, the reflection from a ripple-less pool of water, and a great view of Hallasan Mountain – that’s the recipe for the perfect picture.
Sunrises were rough because they started early. We left the house by 3:30 am to be set up. Mr. Kim was nothing but on-time both mornings. As a matter of fact, he had to wait for more than 20-minutes because he was so early. If I had coffee, maybe this would be acceptable, but no coffee shops are open this early.
Both shooting locations were 2-hours from Angela’s house. We shot at two iconic locations: the sun rising between Sanbangsan Mountain and the Hyeongjeseom Islet (also called the Brothers’ Mountains). We returned to Seongsan Ilchulbong. This time we viewed it from the opposite direction from the previous day.
Every afternoon, we rested at a nice cafe for a coffee. On day 1 we sat by the ocean. On day 2 we visited friends of Mr. Kim’s at the Swiss Village. And Day 3, we got it to go because we were moving, trying to get it all in before our flight back to Daegu.
I want to push pause on our day two coffee time because something significant occurred. The cafe was pretty, and we were all enjoying the view of the ocean when Angela turns to Mr. Kim and asks him a question. He answers. Then she asked another. He answered. I asked, what are you guys talking about?
She just looked at me and kept talking. Not once did she offer to translate a single word he said. I knew they were talking about photography because he picked up her camera several times to show her something specific.
This went on for 30-40 minutes. I was getting upset because I was being ignored. This tour wasn’t cheap and I was paying half the fee. This included the coffee he was sipping on as he talked. So I finished my coffee, grabbed my camera, and said I was going to the shore.
Thirty minutes later, Angela joined me. She was concerned, that either she or Mr. Kim had offended me. Why else would I spend so much time alone? When I reminded her of the earlier events, she seemed genuinely apologetic. And promised to do her best to translate everything from that point forward. But that promise was broken less than two hours later and again, and again the following day.
Honestly, if not for my husband, I would probably never travel with Angela again. I called him to vent and he calmed me down, reminding me that when it’s just Angela and me, we speak more English than Korean.
What We Ate
I politely reminded Angela that I didn’t eat pork, which is near sacrilegious on Jeju because the island is famous for its black pork. And Mr. Kim almost put his foot through the brake pedal when she told him I would not eat raw fish. I like Japanese sushi, I just don’t like Korean sashimi. The fish seems too tough and chewy in my humble opinion. Or as Mr. Kim informed me, not fresh, which is fine with me.
I gathered, not from my knowledge of Korean, but from his facial expression that he is a huge fan of raw fish. I immediately understood his disappointment. However, since I’d be paying for his meals for the next 3-days, I figured he’d recover.
Ultimately, my new photographer friend got the last laugh, because, for the next 3-days, almost everything I ate was fish – fried, broiled, steamed, stewed, souped, and dried. The only raw fish I saw in Jeju was in a tank or the ones that swam right by me.
We had three non-fish meals. The first was chicken soup, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second was a flat sesame noodle soup, similar to dumplings, but without flavor. And I think the final non-fish meal, burgers, was selected for me. Unfortunately, it was not a western hamburger. It had both apple and pineapple slices on it. The meat was the consistency of a Salisbury steak and it was drowned in a sticky-sweet sauce. I would have been much happier with Udon or Ramen noodles.
The Experience Staying in a Traditional Korean Home
We didn’t get back to Angela’s house until around 10 pm every night. But the house was so cute! It was small, but it had everything you need in a vacation home. If you remember, I was concerned about sleeping arrangements and the bathroom.
Turned out, that I had nothing to worry about. I did sleep on the floor, but it was pretty comfortable because the mat was thick. Angela slept in the loft. The bathroom was a Korean-style wet bathroom on the ground floor.
We bought a few snacks, but honestly, I was so tired when we got back. All I felt like doing was showering and charging my gear, so I’d be ready when Mr. Kim arrived at 3 am. In addition, although, I enjoyed seeing where Angela lived, driving back to her house each evening took a lot of time. I think it might have been more convenient to share a hotel room instead.
Day 3 started at 3 am, but there was no instruction. Mr. Kim was just our driver. He didn’t say too much and he rarely got out of the car. We went to a lot of places: Dodu-Dong Rainbow Coastal Road, Iho Taewoo Beach, and Jusangjeolli Cliff.
Ironically, day 3 ended up being my favorite day on the island. I enjoyed the less structured approach – which is how I attack life in general. If I could change anything, I would have selected the photograph locations for the 3rd day. Here are a few things I would change if I could:
- Require an itinerary
- Insist on having some input into the itinerary
- Ask for an equipment list
- Book local hotels
- Hire a professional photographer who speaks some English
In hindsight, I don’t think the language or culture barrier had anything to do with the issues we had. I think we just don’t know each other very well. That takes time.
I am glad we got the chance to spend time taking pictures with each other without timed shutter release buttons, long exposures, pointing at anything, or photography rules of any kind. We just had fun. And that exposure goes a long way to becoming good friends.