Our final days on Jeju

We slept very well after our long hike. Eric arrived in the morning to collect us and we went to pick up some more noodles for the pigs and cut some more grass for them. They loved it! It was great seeing them snorting and prancing about in their beds. We spent the rest of the day disassembling the metal skeleton of a collapsed barn and making a start on sorting out the junk that was trampled into the mud beneath it. June was having a very needy day and kept miaowing loudly for attention. When he got it, he would purr loudly and roll on his back, only to resume his shouting again once we got back to work.

As the sun began to dip, we went for a hike to the top of the oreum at the back of the farm. The firegrass really comes into its own at the end of the day. When you look straight at it, it is a beautiful golden colour, with the last light highlighting the feathery tips, but if you peep out of the corner of your eye, it seems rimmed with a reddish haze, like an echo of its autumn splendour. The land stretched out before us like a frying pancake; flat, but interspersed with little bubbles of volcanic hills, and we all sat a while in silent appreciation, watching the sun sinking into the horizon like melting butter.

That night, we set up the cinema again for a documentary called ‘Food Inc.’ Rest assured, after seeing this, you will feel guilty whenever you set foot into a fast food outlet. It is a fascinating, if somewhat depressing, investigation into the dark underbelly of the American food industry, but is relevant to all of us as the huge companies involved hold sway across the globe. It definitely provides food for thought (excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist it); it is hard-hitting, upsetting at times and encourages viewers to be conscientious consumers. I encourage you to set aside some time, watch it and then rethink your larder!

The next morning we cooked ourselves a Korean style breakfast, not dissimilar to bibimbap, then spent a good few hours more working on the collapsed barn, trying to clear out all of the rubbish. There was a crazy assortment of items – huge numbers of Cass beer bottle openers, plates, stacks of corroded cake tins and silicon moulds, hundreds of rusty nails, bolts, rotting clothes, rubber sleeves, wellies, old trainers (none of which seemed to be in pairs), thousands of cable ties, piles of napkin dispensers, broken and rusted tools…all mired in mud.  It was an awful waste as very little was salvageable. We sorted the items into piles, so that as much of it could be recycled as possible.

The owner of the farm was due back soon and would need her car back. The truck was supposed to be Eric’s to use, but the key had gone missing just before we arrived (thought to have been eaten by a pig, who thoughtfully unlocked the door as it chomped on it). He had some things to sort out to do with the truck in town, so after dinner and a trip to the supermarket, he left us at the farm overnight. We watched a silly comedy film and had hot chocolate and buttered toast as a secret treat, feeling like naughty children (Eric tries to avoid refined sugar). That night it was very windy, so even though it wasn’t the season, we pulled across the hurricane doors and fell asleep to the sound of the wind whooshing violently around the house.

The house survived the night unscathed and we continued with the barn project in the morning until we were driven inside again by hail. Eric returned just as we finished making lunch, but had to leave afterwards to see to the truck again. He said we could have a go at knocking down the tea roasters in the tea barn, so in his absence, we determined to complete the job and turned demolition team, having great fun with the sledgehammer. Eric returned and we moved all the bricks and swept the floor, and it was like they had never been there; we felt very pleased with ourselves. That night we were alone in the house again, so that Eric could perform a kind of driving logic puzzle in the morning whereby all the vehicles would end up in the right places. June gave us a bit of a scare just before bed by yowling like he was being attacked, and we were a bit concerned as we couldn’t find him. The next day he was roly poly and purry as ever, like nothing had happened.

We dragged the gas heater into the bathroom the next morning to take the edge off the biting cold and treated ourselves to a shower, having figured out the pump and boiler combination. Breakfast was sweetened rice with banana and apple, which was reminiscent of baby food, although quite pleasant. We had planned to cut more grass for the pigs whilst waiting for Eric to return, but it was blizzardy weather outside, so not ideal. We fed and watered them and Eric returned just as we were finishing up, driving the repaired van. He had brought another volunteer with him, Vanessa, a Canadian girl who is teaching English at a school on Jeju. She was impressed with the changes in the tea barn. Today was to be a fun day, we were pleased to discover, and we talked about where we could visit and made a plan.

We decided we would all like to see some lava tubes, so we piled into the front of the van (a tight squeeze!) and made our way to the Jeju World Natural Heritage Centre and Geomunoreum. We were issued with tickets to a 4d film on arrival and had about forty minutes to zip around the museum before the showing. Unfortunately we were too late for the hike around the lava tube area, but we still managed to discover a few things about lava tubes in the museum and the models were pretty good. The 4d film was brilliant! I had imagined it was going to be an educational film about volcanology, but it was in fact a high budget 20 minute drama full of special effects. The title was ‘Jeju: Land of the Gods’ and it was about a boy who goes hiking with his granddad around Mount Hallasan in search of the Siromi fruit to obtain a cure for his mother’s illness. He is swept into a war between Daebyulwang, who wants to destroy Jeju, and the gods who are trying to protect it. The action was in 3d, but the seats we sat on would wobble and sweep around as the characters flew or rocks exploded and occasionally the wind would blow past our faces and bats fly between our legs. It was totally unexpected and very enjoyable, all be it a little silly and badly dubbed! Of course, the boy saves the day and is imbued with a new love of Jeju to boot.

After this epic film, we made our way to the Jeju Peace Memorial Museum for a more sombre experience. We were surprised to find a section of the Berlin wall in the grounds – I have never seen it before and I certainly didn’t expect to come across it on an island in South Korea!

The Peace museum was extremely moving. We had no idea of the hardship the people of Jeju endured in the years during and following World War II. Korea, including Jeju, had been under Japanese rule since 1910. After WWII, it was declared that Japan should relinquish governance of those countries it had taken by force. For Koreans, it seemed as if they could have an independent country once more. However, in the interim, the country was divided between the Russians (who occupied the north) and the Americans (who occupied the south), as part of a trusteeship scheme. The aim was ostensibly to allow formation of a Korean provincial government. However, due to disagreements between Russia and the USA, elections for the whole of Korea never came to pass and two separate governments began to evolve, with communism in the north and (supposedly) democracy in the south. The differing political alliances backed by opposing superpowers led to the Korean War of 1950-1953, with each side claiming to be the rightful government of Korea. The end of the Korean War saw the formalisation of the split between North and South Korea.

Korean history is extremely complex, and I am unlikely to do it justice here, but I found this museum a real eye opener. It clearly told things from a Jeju islander’s perspective, but nonetheless, this is part of a bigger story. The separate trusteeships of the north and south were obviously unpopular, as many families were divided and more to the point, why should a country united by language and culture be split at all? Many Koreans pushed for unified elections and Jeju islanders were a big part of this.

On arriving in Jeju, American army officials had organised the police force and local government. The simplest way to do this was to reinstate those who had been in control under Japanese rule. However, much resentment was borne towards these people and so loyalties were split. Many islanders were sympathetic to communist ideals. The initial protest in 1947 was intended as a peaceful rally, but police fired into the crowd after the people were riled when a police horse kicked a child. From then on, things became nasty. Over the following years, many islanders rebelled against the regime, and those in power and the South Korean army responded with brutal force. The US military did nothing to intervene and even praised the South Korean army for their efficient handling of the uprising. In a classic communist witch hunt, entire villages were slain because of suspected red connections. As the army were concerned that villagers in central Jeju were providing assistance to the rebels, they issued a decree that only the 5km of land inwards from the coast was allowed to be occupied. Anyone found inland of this narrow strip would be branded as a rebel sympathiser and killed. Many villages in the centre of Jeju were burnt to the ground, and many people were tortured; there are stories of villages where the men were all killed and the women raped over a two week period before being killed themselves. Recently, a cave was discovered containing the corpses of hiding villagers who had been suffocated by smoke from a fire lit by their pursuers. To think that all this was happening whilst much of the world was enjoying peace in the aftermath of WWII.

Well into the 20th century, people were harassed because of suspected communist links in their past. It is only in 2006 that the South Korean government admitted culpability and issued a formal apology. However, it is clear that some of the blame also lies with the USA and their handling of the situation. Jeju is now a special self-governing province of South Korea. I think the museum is a remarkable step forward; a frank way of confronting an uncomfortable past. It is extremely well put together; poignant and shocking. Jeju has since been designated an island of peace, and part of the exhibit examines massacres in other parts of the world.

Somewhat subdued by the museum, we headed back to the house, where we comforted ourselves with uplifting music, good conversation and a magnificent dinner of noodly stir fry and salad, mulled wine and delicious homemade cookies, made by Vanessa in the toaster oven.

The following day was our last on the farm, and the day when we were going to meet the owner for the first time! We spent the morning finishing off sorting and moving all the boxes of junk from the collapsed barn to the roadside. In the meantime, the owner arrived and cooked us a wonderful traditional beef bone broth whilst Eric filled her in with the progress we had made. She was a very sweet lady, with a calm, gentle nature. It was lovely to meet her finally!

After the meal, Luke and I went to visit the pigs for the last time. We felt a bit bad as they had grown to associate our visits with food and we hadn’t come with any this time! We enjoyed watching them snuffling and squeaking and snorting, then went back to help pack tea bags with the others in the tea barn. It was very easy to lose count when counting 200 of them! The owner gave us a beautiful box of Jeju orange tea bags as a thank you, which we planned to save as a Christmas treat.

We then loaded our backs into the back of the truck and piled into the front again. Eric dropped us at his flat where we were to stay the night before catching the bus to the airport the following day. We had dinner and makkoli at our favourite over the road restaurant and made plans to meet up with our friend Son, whom we had met in Russia, once we were back on the mainland. We were all very excited at the prospect of meeting up again!

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