This weekend we went to Oedaldo Island for a weekend trip. When it comes to nature trips there are two general kinds in Korea, at least that I’ve observed: Island trips and Mountain trips. Korea isn’t that big and it’s really mountainous so whatever isn’t a mountain is often a beach or an island.
Both trips are fun in their own ways. Mountain trips are lots of hiking with gear and camping on the top of a mountain. You bring your own food, sleeping bag, or tent. Sometimes you can rent the equipment, but that requires a level of Korean that I do not have…yet.
Nicole and I opted for the latter, an island trip. We met up with my co-teachers, Kayla, Patrick, Will, and Ted at the bus terminal and took a bus to Mokpo, a port town on the west coast of South Korea. Mokpo is an important port city because it’s a great halfway point between China and Japan, so it gets a lot of commercial shipping traffic. For tourists though, Mokpo represents a gateway to many of Korea’s beautiful islands.
The Ferry to Oedaldo
From the bus terminal, we took a cab to the ferry terminal and boarded a ferry for Oedaldo. The ride to Mokpo from Gwangju is about an hour by bus then another hour on the ferry to Oedaldo island.
Once we arrived, we set out to find our lodging. We were staying at a minbok, which is like a guesthouse. People rent rooms in minboks, which are usually part of someone’s house. Each room tends to be large and sparsely furnished, very sparsely, like no beds. Everyone sleeps in the same room on the ground on futon-like mats or thick blankets depending on the minbok. The advantage to minbok’s, aside from the fact that they are traditional, is that they are cheap, like $10 a night cheap if you get enough people into it. Our whole group comprised ten people, more would be joining later, so we spent next to nothing to sleep there. The downside is we shared one bathroom between all of us and basically spooned all night because there was that little room.
Oedaldo is a very small island. You can circumnavigate it in under an hour. It has a small water park with lots of Koreans in full body swimsuits, a little village, and a beach and that’s about it. After we left the minbok, we went to a little restaurant to have some lunch. The restaurant was one of the highest points on the island with a little outdoor eating area so you could see out over the rest of the village from there. A lot of the other Korean patrons at the restaurant brought their own food and sort of “rented” space at the restaurant just using the tables to prepare their own food with a nice view to boot.
After lunch, we went for a walk on this little path that wraps around the island. It was really beautiful. Along the path was the beach to the left and the mountain and forest to our right. Halfway around the island we came across a little lighthouse and stopped for some pics. The foliage and landscape of the island reminded me a lot of Maine, while the food, people, and architecture were very much Korean. It was a strange dichotomy.
The walking path we took led us to the beach where we spent the afternoon enjoying beverages by the water and floating in tubes. After a bit, the rest of our group who had taken a separate ferry joined us and we were all reunited. Nicole and I went for a short walk mid-afternoon and when we returned the tide had come in and the beach had disappeared, leaving only the concrete steps and picnic tables left over. Nicole and I hung out watching the waves and chatting while eating cheap ramen.
That night we all returned to the place we ate lunch at, one of a handful of restaurants on the island. At this point I should explain a few things about Korean culture of the rest of the story won’t make sense.
In Korea, there’s a custom called “service” where if you spend enough money at a shop, bar, restaurant, the proprietor will give you something for free or “for service”. Basically, this means “you’ve spent enough money here, you’re cool with me, enjoy”. At a bar, this often means free chips with your round of beers. At a restaurant, this can mean a free drink with your meal. One time I bought a whale shirt at a store and I got a t-shirt with sparrows on it for free.
The total number of people who had come with us to this restaurant was close to ten and we each had a meal there plus several beverages for the table so our total bill was close to $300, a king’s ransom by Korean standards and more food and drink than we could possibly imagine. Consequently, and partly because the restaurant owner was the daughter of the minbok owner, we received a free additional room at the minbok, a $100 value. Here’s to Korea.
After our several hour dinner, we wandered the island and sat by the water talking about life and English curriculum, the usual when English teachers get together. At the end of the night, everyone had forgotten about the bonus minbok room aside from Peter, our lovable Korean co-teacher, who had the bonus room to himself while the 9 of us shared the other room.