Diary of an Autumn Leafer – Jeju, South Korea
About a three hour flight from Hong Kong is a small Korean island called Jeju. The island made its living from seafood, and now, tourism – mostly of from China at about 85% of the usual tourist trade.
October holiday, a blessed week that we get off work, was spent, at least on my end, trying to find fall leaves. Since moving overseas, I hadn’t seen proper fall or autumn foliage. In Shanghai, fall went something like this: cool weather, cool weather, leaves turning yellow slightly … oh, hell … wind, leaves on ground, dead, winter.
In Hong Kong, forget about ever seeing autumn foliage. Hong Kong this year was 90 degrees until October, 80 degrees+ until mid-November, and suddenly, it dropped to the 60s and everyone is wearing winter jackets, long johns, scarves, and hats. We get dramatic about “winter” here. The orchids and hibiscus are still blooming in full color, trees are lushly green, and godzilla-sized insects roam in the underbrush.
Korea was meant to have proper fall, as it’s far enough north to accomplish that. Jeju Island, however, was still quite toasty when we arrived, though the day we got there it decided to downpour.
After an extremely red-eye flight on Friday night/Saturday morning from Hong Kong (2:30 AM) to Jeju-si, my coworker Jennie and I arrived in Jeju, bleary-eyed, tired, and definitely not willing to speak to a human being until we filled our veins with sufficient quantities of caffeine. After traveling through part of the UK together last summer, we knew each other well enough to communicate in grunts and eye rolls. Language was impossible.
Once I was done cursing at and nearly beating up an ATM machine in the arrivals hall – it was being near-impossible with both of my ATM cards, we settled into a coffee shop to soak in some caffeine before hopping in a cab. The day had started out promising, with a pretty sunrise over the island’s mountains, but the clouds quickly thickened and spit rain.
We got to the hotel, but, of course, we were there around 7:30 AM, so we couldn’t check in to our room. We left our luggage there, and as it was not raining badly now, we left our umbrellas behind, intending to make just a quick stop at a museum.
Half-dead, we decided to hop another cab to visit the Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum. Yes, we visited this museum when half-dead and under-caffeinated. Let’s say, it was interesting, I learned a lot about the people and geography of Jeju Island – and it’s literally got just about everything you’d imagine for such a small island – and about how big a manta ray really was.
But, as we left the museum building, we realized that it was now absolutely pouring down rain.
No umbrellas. Pouring down rain. And the taxis were way, way down the parking lot.
We waited in the museum for a half hour, but it didn’t cease or lighten up. Then, we ran for it and made it to the front of the museum. We tried to ask a taxi driver about getting back to the hotel, but he didn’t seem very helpful. After an hour of standing around and trying to stay dry – and not fall asleep standing – I made a run for it to the road, hoping to flag down a taxi before we were absolutely drenched.
It took a few minutes, but finally, a taxi pulled over, and we got in quickly, shivering from the cold rain and wet clothes. That’ll teach us not to bring umbrellas when the weather seemed flavorable for it.
A few steps from our hotel, where we finally ended up, we found a Korean fried chicken joint. Let’s talk about Korean fried chicken. It is otherworldly. It is all that is miraculous when fried, breaded, juicy, and coated in some kind of spicy, delicious sauce. And kimchis. I am in love with pickled radish. It’s a weird love affair, but it’s so tart and crunchy and perfect for clearing the insane spice out of your mouth after a particularly heinous bite of chicken.
BHC (Better, Healthier, Chicken) is freaking amazing. On Jeju, we had some kinds of spicy and glazed fried chicken that was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.
Korean fried chicken – even KFC can’t make that stuff up.
And let’s not even get on to the best flavor of Pringles…EVER!