Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jeju - Day One

Where do I even begin this post?

At the beginning of 2011 I applied to become a "Worldwide Korea Blogger." I entered a contest run by KOCIS, part of Korea's Ministry of Culture and Information and I was one of the 50 people who were selected. During the past 8 months I have been writing for The Korea Blog. The idea behind this one project is to expose Korea from all different perspectives. We write about our experiences living here, our lives and how we are connected to Korea. The best part of all of this is I would've kept my blog in the exact same way even without any involvement with KOCIS. So everyhting I have experienced in connection with them has just been an added bonus. Back in April we had a welcoming ceremony at Cheung Wa Dae (check that blog entry out here), which is where President Lee Myung Bak lives. Since then we have had periodic, but seldom contact, aside from online.

Back in August, I got an email inviting me and 6 other bloggers on a "press trip" in Korea to thank us for our hard work and dedication to the blog. The main destination for our trip was Jeju-do, coined Korea's version of Hawaii. It felt a bit like getting a winning lottery ticket and my gut reaction was not to believe it. After a few more inquiring emails and contact with the others in the group, it looked like I was being sent away on an all inclusive 3 day trip in Korea. A-sa!!!

So about a month ago (i know, i know, i am so behind!), bags packed, I headed on the subway just after sunrise to meet with everyone at the head office of KOCIS in central Seoul. It was so exciting, and even leading up to the day I left- I was still questioning how I managed to be a part of this whole thing and then also to get a REWARD for it! There are so many stories from the 3 days we all spent together and hundreds of photos and a whole wack of cool places we went to and things we did. I think the best way to break it up is maybe by days. So Friday.....

Only 5 of the other bloggers met up at the office on Friday morning. I was there surprisingly bright eyed and bushy tailed after a 2 hour sunrise commute. Annie is a fellow blogger who actually had been flown in from London, England. She used to teach in Korea a few years back and now reports on the presence of Korea in London and her amazing love affair with all things Korean. Check out her blog here: www.kimchisoul.wordpress.com  Paul, Suzy and Eleanora were also there on Friday morning. Paul is from England and after meeting the lady of his dreams here, he has spent 11 years living in Seoul. He works in theatre and is a fountain of knowledge and answered so many of my questions both Korea and non-Korea related. This is his address: www.ajosshi.blogspot.com  Suzy is part of the team and she had to endure many of my questions too. She is a freelancer and an all around cool chick so I was drilling her any chance I could.  Her blog is www.seoulfullife.blogspot.com. Eleanora came to Korea from Uzbekistan 4 years ago, has graduated and now works for Samsung.  One of the great things about getting invloved with The Korea Blog was actually meeting so many other foreigners here who were NOT english teachers. I find it so fascinating to find out about other peoples walks of life and how we all ended up here. Ok, back to the trip....

Morning meeting with the Director of KOCIS Seo Kang-soo.
(photo courtesy of KOCIS)
At KOCIS, we had a quick meeting with the director to say our thanks and took some obligatory photos and off we were to the airport. We flew out of Gimpo airport which I had never been to before. It was tiny and simple and easy to get around. We flew an airline called Jin Air. It is one of those budget airlines with no bells or whistles. It was perfect for  our purpose. Jeju is on the other side of the country from Seoul, but Korea is so small that by the time we leveled out up in the sky, it was pretty much time to start the descent. The one unique, and a little strange, thing about Jin Air was the seating format. It was done with no preassigned seating but rather just on a first come first serve basis, interesting. Actually there was two things, their uniforms kind of sucked. They were in flourescent colours and looked more like elementary soccer coaches than flight attendants. But aside from that the flight was great. I sat with Eleanora and Annie and we giggled like school girls in eager anticipation of what we had in store.

And here we go!

Bloggers Eleanor & Annie

Seoul from the sky.

We had a Korean tour guide/translator waiting to meet us at the airport, and with her, the bloggers and the KOCIS crew, we were off. We stopped for a traditional Korean meal to fuel ourselves for a busy afternoon. The next stop was our hotel to check in and unload. With the mindset to keep my expectations low to avoid disappointment, I was under the assumption we would be room sharing. Well, our private tour bus pulled up to the Ocean View Hotel in Jeju City and boy were we in for a treat.  My room had 2 beds and a separate room full of bedding and no furniture for traditional Korean sleeping on the floor style. The room was gigantic and lovely. I was so shocked that each one of us got the same deal, no shared rooms, we all got to lap up the life of luxury!

Fueling up.

Me, Suzy, Leonora, Paul,  Annie. The Bloggers.

Ocean Suites Hotel

After check in, we headed to our first proper destination. We attended a briefing on the Jeju's campaign to be one of the New 7 Wonders of the world. We sat around a board room table and listened to Kim Seong Hu, the Head of the Task Force passionately tell us why Jeju should make the cut. I was sold before he evened opened his mouth. I spent a few days travelling around Jeju over Chuseok with my boyfriend (click here to read about my previous Jeju getaway), and fell in love with what I saw.  So it was great to listen to him and tell me more reasons why Jeju should win the vote. I have been updating and posting and tweeting all about voting for Jeju and it was just recently announced.... WE DID IT! Here is a link for more information on the 7 'provisional' wonders. www.new7wonders.com . A really nice perk to this visit was that we were actually made ambassadors to the committee, yet another thing here I am proud to be part of (and it will look great on my resume, right Anne-Marie?).

We left Seoul in blue skies and sunshine but unfortunately Jeju had other plans for us. It was an overcast day and the winds were blowing and our next item on the agenda was a walking tour, brrrr. Oddly, the weather was actually quite appropriate. Although I am a sunshine girl down to the bones, I had seen Jeju in the hot summer months so it was nice to catch this part of the island, walking along the seafront, with a moodier feel and more dramatic ambiance. The walk we took was nothing extraordinary but the sea air smelt great and it was another perfect opportunity to chat with those around me.

Due to the weather, we detoured a little from the itinerary but it was a welcome change. I had heard of and seen pictures of our next beautifully tacky and somewhat kitschy destination, but hadn't the chance to go there in person, The Teddy Bear Museum. What fun! There were hundreds of bears dressed up in different outfits depicting scenes of historical and cultural importance, pop culture references, or just plain cute stuff! There were so many different exhibits to check out and one was more entertaining than the next. Some of my favorites were the scene from Titanic, the Louis Vuitton bear (worth a mere 2 million dollars!), Gandi, Einstein, a Mona Lisa bear,  and a teddy bear version of one of my favorite paintings by Gustav Klimt, The Kiss. Here are just a few of them....


Teddy Bear Happiness!
Luckily just a few steps away from the museum was our dinner spot. We ate at Jungmun Beach in a huge restaurant called Kaokao Buffet. It was big, full of people, and there was a buffet large enough to feed an army. Being by the water and on an island, the tables were brimming with sushi and king crab and other wonders from the sea, mmmmm. We also made sure to have a few samples of Jeju's local drink, Hallisan soju. More fuel for the rest of the weekend.

Hallisan Soju

After dinner I was zonked and so excited to head back to our warm and comfortable rooms. I made myself a cup of tea, tucked under the fluffy and inviting duvet and was off to lalaland conjuring up how tomorrow would unfold. The first day was an epic success. A combination of a really good itinerary, a great group of people and a once in a lifetime opportunity!


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