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TravelJeju Travel
In and around HwabukQuiet neighborhoods, calm lives
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승인 2017.04.11  16:22:58
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▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

The alarm goes off. It's 6 a.m. and everyone is still asleep. I drink some water, silently get ready, and leave. Outside there’s a pleasant balance of trees and buildings.

It takes about 10 minutes to reach the bottom of Sarabong, a small mountain that separates Jeju city from the sea. My path takes me near the beach. The sun is about to rise and a warm glow is forming over the water. Everything is quiet.

I pass some rock sculptures near the water on my way to the mountain. A local guy makes his living creating them. You can't miss his house. There are stone sculptures of a man and a woman in front of it. How do I know they’re male and female? Well, let’s just say that he isn’t shy about details.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

At the bottom of Sarabong, there's a hidden trail that starts up the mountain. Not many people know you can go this way. I discovered it during one of my many adventures in this part of Jeju. I think Hwabuk-dong is a place that invites exploration.

The first time I made it all the way up to the top of Sarabong, I was so exhausted I almost didn't come back down. I went back up again the very next day. And the day after that too. Every. Single. Day.

It became a habit, and I wasn’t alone. Quite a few ajeossis and ajumas (middle-aged Korean men and women) do the same. And no matter how early I wake up, they’re always there first.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

You can spot Sarabong veterans by looking at how much they sweat. The professionals don’t even look moist anymore, they’ve climbed this mountain so many times. As for me, I’m still wet when I get to the top.

The crest is just like dessert after dinner. You are greeted with a sweet, sweet view of the city. It’s a little obscured by the trees, but the sense of accomplishment is always potent. You feel on top of the world.

Carried by this sense of elation, I often stop to see the pier on my way back from Sarabong.

I remember showing my kids the stringy green tendrils that fill the water around the pier, telling them that this was the source of their beloved “gim” - super thin sheets of salty, crispy, dried seaweed. Gim is kind of like the potato chips of Korea. It’s deliciously addictive, and my kids always request it (in korean!) when we go out for dinner.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

There are fishermen on the pier, of course, and lots of small fishing vessels all around too. I find the boats fascinating. I love the long arms of giant lightbulbs that some of them use to fish for squid at night.

I also love their designs - so full of bright colors. They remind me of the hand-painted buses you find in Haiti. The Haitians, of course, tend to decorate their buses with a little more Jesus and Shakira than the Koreans like to use.

There’s a little corner of the pier that feels like it hasn’t been touched for thousands of years - all rocks and greenery. Depending on the mood of the sea this place can be tranquil and calm, or quite terrifying when the anger of the ocean sends waves crashing.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

But Hwabuk isn’t just the coast - it's everything about this place. I think it's the perfect distance from the city - not too far to be completely cut off, and not too close to be overrun with urban sprawl. Not yet anyway.

It's still peaceful here. And it has everything you need within easy striking distance. The largest church on the island (Yongnak) is nearby, with a Vietnamese restaurant just a around the corner.

Quaint little mom and pop marts pepper the neighborhood at regular intervals, as well as a multitude of indoor and outdoor playgrounds too.

One of the telltale signs that a place is magical for me is that I walk around - just because. And I want to draw pictures, just because.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

There are certain places in Hwabuk that I find especially compelling, but I don’t really know why. I can’t explain it, but that's how I know when I have a connection with a place. There’s an aura to it for me, a feeling that defies description.

It’s in the corners of the older residential areas - a certain something that grabs my attention, especially at the onset of dusk. It’s the squeaky clean building with a large, dried fish hanging right over the door - "for money" the owner told me when I asked about it.

It’s in the local who builds prefabricated houses, pretty much by himself. It’s the house surrounded by two streets with a white dog always standing guard in the front, like a statue.

▲ Photo courtesy Olivier Duong

I never knew how good I had it until I left Hwabuk. I tried to stay in the area but I just couldn't make it work. So now I just visit from time to time. If anything, it’s become even dearer to me.

It's a great neighborhood, and if you are thinking about moving here, act fast - the pace of development is frightening. Many of the once open spaces are being filled with construction of every kind.

Take some time to explore this grand old neighborhood, before it changes too much. It’s well worth the effort, and maybe, like me, you will find an ineffable quality that resonates within you.

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