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Festivals, food and friends on Jeju Island
If you’re worried about what to do during all your free time here- stop. There’s so much to see and do especially if you’re on the mainland! I didn’t have Facebook before coming here, but it has proven to be immensely helpful in seeing what sorts of events are happening where and when. You can easily get yourself to another province by bus or train if you’re on the mainland and many people leave Jeju for the weekend and spend it shopping/eating in Seoul or Busan. Add yourself to a few groups like the name of your city or province, your orientation (both the official and unofficial), Every Expat in Korea and so on.
The three F's of Jeju Island.
When I first arrived, I joined the Jeju Social group and found an event that was welcoming new teacher’s to the island. Not only was the bar playing great music and serving a free tequila shot to new teachers who showed up, but it more importantly put the newbies in touch with other foreign teachers residing here. It gave me something to do and was simultaneously an excellent opportunity to meet a ton of people.
This Facebook group is also how I found out about the Cherry Blossom Festival. Although said festivals are happening all over South Korea in early April to celebrate a new spring, the Jeju King Cherry Blossoms are supposedly the largest and most spectacular when compared to all other cherry blossoms. Though I haven’t seen enough variety of trees to attest this claim, watching the petals dance in a gust of wind is enough to turn any mundane day into a romantic and whimsical dreamscape.
There are festivals happening all the time throughout the year here. It’s just a matter of knowing about them. In addition to joining a Facebook group for expats in your area, most cities have tourist guidebooks. This will keep you informed on a lot of cool things going near you. I’m really looking forward Soesokkak Beach Festival this August and the Jeongmul Daeboreum (First Full Moon) Bonfire Festival in February!
A lot of people ask me what the food is like here in Korea, specifically Jeju. Let me first just say that Korean food is scrum-diddly-umptious! I haven’t tried everything yet, but from what I have eaten, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every morsel. Jeju’s cuisine contains a lot more fish and seafood than typical Korean food, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Instead of regular bibimbap with ground beef and an egg, you can find it with octopus, squid and abalone. Bingddeok is a traditional food consisting of radishes, carrots, green onions and seasonings rolled up and fried in a buckwheat pancake. It’s a must have!
The food in the picture is shabu shabu and it is by far, my favourite. Though it is not traditional Korean food, it is a must-have! Served with thinly-sliced meat and vegetables, you cook everything (a bit at a time) in the broth. Once you're done with the meat and veggies, noodles are added to the broth. Just when you conquered the noodles, seasoned rice comes out and gets thrown in the bowl. Go hungry because it is a LOT of food. The array of veggies this meal is served with cannot be matched! Now that I know what shabu shabu is and have tasted it in all it's meaty/vegetabley splendor, I will not hesitate to join friends when they go out for this meal.
For meat eaters looking to come here, don’t despair! Jeju is also known for black pork. There are many Korean-style barbecue restaurants that only have the delicious black pork and it’s usually sold by weight. If none of this sounds appetizing, fried chicken abounds! And I don’t think anyone dislikes fried chicken (unless you’re a vegetarian, vegan or raw foodist). That being said, boneless fried chicken is a little more difficult to find. Most fried chicken will be random cuts and contain bones- and not the ones you’re used to seeing. I’m talking spine and spleen as well as some other organs. It all winds up in the same place though, right?!
I also joined the Where to Eat in Jeju Facebook group, and that has tons of restaurant recommendations with maps, directions and menu items as well some pricing. I’m sure something similar exists for other areas of South Korea. If not, you could always just post what you’re craving on one of the social groups and a fellow member will likely help you out. For us on Jeju, western food and Mexican is harder to find than in big cities on the mainland. Thanks to this Facebook group, the one and only Mexican restaurant that’s been closed down for months is reopening in a new building closer to me on July 6th! I can’t wait!!!
In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve met some really awesome people and kindred spirits. Living in an expat community is like having a family comprised of friends. You’ll often eat dinner together, or cook for each other, go to potlucks, ask how their day went, and share their ups and downs. You’ll celebrate each other’s birthdays, take loads of pictures at various get-togethers, and make tons of lasting memories. You’ll watch shows and movies together, drink together and eventually hit a noraebong (karaoke bar to “waygooks”- which means ‘foreigners’) as the sun is getting ready to rise. Jeju has that small, hometown feel to it so if you like bumping into a friendly face relatively frequently like I do, this is a great place to live! Although Jeju Island is known for three things (wind, stone and women), I think it also should be known for unique cultural festivals, delicious seafood and a very friendly expat community.