▲ Kim Seung Hwan, owner of Jeju Tourist Cafe. Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook
Kim Seung Hwan has willingly gone wherever the currents of life have taken him. Trading in a sea captain’s hat for a set of keys, Kim is now the owner of Jeju Tourist Cafe, a cozy bar near Cinus Theater in Jungangro. In his free time, Kim spends his days exploring the island and sharing his adventures online. His blog, majuroh.com, has received an award from the city of Jeju for its efforts in promoting tourism to the island. Through his blogging, Kim has also gained some online celebrity status. “About 90 percent of my customers come into the bar because they’ve read my blog,” he says.
Where are you originally from? I’m originally from Busan. I moved to Jeju five years ago.
What was your life like before coming to Jeju? After graduating from the national fishery university in Busan, I got on board with a famous tuna company in Korea, Dongwon Tuna. I was captain of a ship for the company and through my job I was able to travel and see many different countries.
What was it like being able to travel all over the world? I believe that if you gain something in life, you also have to lose something of equal value. While I made lots of money as a captain and traveled to many places, it was nothing because when I came back home my youngest son didn’t recognize me. I was sunburned, dark and unfamiliar. My son would ask my wife, “Mommy who is that man?” So while I got to see many new sights during my time at sea, I also lost many things.
How did you end up in Jeju? In January 2005, I divorced my wife. Even though we are still friends, I wanted to leave Busan. At first I thought about going somewhere like New Zealand or Guam, but my ex-wife suggested Jeju. During the same month of my divorce, I came to the island and hired a taxi to take me around. I stayed four days and three nights and fell in love with the beauty of Jeju.
What makes the island unique? Jeju’s stones are different from any other place. The lava from the mountain made special stones in many areas on the island. When the tide is out, the feature of that stone is so beautiful. It’s a unique scene that can only be found in Jeju.
What other characteristics make Jeju special? I think the wind is very important in explaining Jeju’s nature and culture. In the summer the beaches are open, but in other seasons the surface of the sand has to be covered to keep the wind from blowing it away. Jeju’s traditional houses have low roofs that are the same height as the walls in order to stand strong against the powerful wind.
▲ Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook
Has it always been a dream of yours to own your own bar? Not really. I enjoy drinking, so I thought instead of spending money on alcohol, it would be better to open up a bar. I’m not looking to make a lot of money. I just enjoy socializing and meeting with people.
Have you met any amusing characters since opening the Tourist Cafe? Many visitors come here because of the piano. There was a woman earlier tonight who felt sad because her boyfriend couldn’t understand her. She asked me if she could have a private event and play the piano for two hours as a way to communicate her feelings to him. There are so many small stories related to that piano.
Do you have a favorite place on the island that you recommend to your customers who are visiting Jeju? When tourists visit my bar they ask me where they can find the most beautiful place in Jeju. That’s a very hard question to answer. It’s like asking, “Do you know where the rising sun in Jeju is the most beautiful?” I could say from the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong, but then at times the sunrise from the bottom is just equally as beautiful. It’s impossible to pick just one place when there are so many different scenes in Jeju. Especially since the island has four distinct seasons, and every place has contrasting beauty according to the season.
What do you like most about owning your own business in Jeju? Before opening the bar in the evening, I can travel all over Jeju and take pictures of the island during the day. I do this about five times a week and upload the photographs to my blog.
How does it feel to have such a free lifestyle? So many people envy the way I live, but they can enjoy this lifestyle as well. They just have to be willing to give up everything.
What do you mean? People have to feel free from everyday life. If they don’t have this space they can’t feel the beauty of nature. The reason I can be free is because I gave up everything to live this way. I came to Jeju, bought this bar, and now live simply so I can be free.
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