Thanks to the magic of the internet, for the last month I have been back home in Washington State, while continuing to work as Managing Editor of The Jeju Weekly.
Being home gives me a unique perspective on what westerners know about Jeju Island, the place I just spent the last nine months. The answer: zip. I might as well have been on Mars. No, that would have been better known. I have yet to meet anyone who has heard of it – except a Korean War vet who was actually stationed at Alderru Airfield in Moseulpo. He thinks. He mostly remembered the long boat ride from Incheon.
I have taken to calling it “Jeju-Island-off-the-tip-of-the-Korean-peninsula-just-east-of-Japan.”
The Jeju Tourism Dept. pours billions of won into trying to get the world to notice this beautiful island, but it is barely a blip on most westerners’ travel radar. I consider myself a fairly well-traveled person, but I had not heard of it until I investigated teaching English in Korea, and stumbled across the Web site for Jeju Life. When I saw Brian Miller’s photos of what looked like a tropical paradise, including oranges in winter, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I think if you asked any foreigner here they would have a similar story. They got here by word of mouth, or by stumbling across it on the internet.
Instead of crafting Konglish slogans such as “Only Jeju Island” and reducing cultural icons to dancing cartoon characters in hopes of luring tourists, perhaps the tourism department should just send out Jeju residents to spread the word in person.
They could hang out in Seattle coffeeshops and Portland brewpubs, gazing into their brews and extolling the virtues of Jeju (while wearing Jeju Loveland T-shirts): The stunning slopes of Hallasan, the mystery of the lava tubes, the majesty of Sunrise Peak. And of course, the oranges in December.
But, while that may tempt the independent traveler, to lure the Louis Vuitton matching luggage crowd, Jeju’s profile needs to be heightened. It needs to be put on the map, so to speak. Jeju is popular with Asians for its many film sites, but those mean nothing if you are not a fan of Korean dramas.
James Bond has never navigated a submarine among the haeyneo; Meg Ryan has never kissed Tom Hanks on the beach at Jungmun. And, Bella Swan has never fallen in love with Edward Cullen under a full Jeju moon.
What Jeju needs is a good vampire movie. Or a novel set in Jeju that is made into a movie that is then filmed here. Case in point, I live within 50 miles of a small town that no one more than 51 miles away had heard of, until recently. Now it’s a mecca for tourists from all over the world. It’s called Forks, Washington. Ring a bell? The tiny, nearly dead logging town was the setting for the “Twilight” vampire novels and movie. The success of the books and movie has literally raised Forks from the dead.
I don’t know if there is a branch of the tourism department that is trying to lure major motion picture companies to Jeju, but I think it would be money well spent. It would put Jeju on the big screen, and into the minds of westerners.
I can see it now: Johnny Depp and Kate Winslett stroll through the cherry blossom festival, while John Malkovich concocts evil potions in a lava tube cave-turned science laboratory. I wonder if there’s a part for a middle-aged journalist…
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