Despite Jeju City not up being up there with the great urban metropolises of this world, such as London, New York or Tokyo - I mean Seoul! - those living here still have the urge to get out and experience something a little more natural than the apartment blocks and Family Marts. Of course, living in Jeju, the most obvious choice is to get into your vehicle and head for the hills, or oreums, and that is exactly what most Jeju residents do.
Any landscape of the island would be incomplete without at least half a dozen of these bulging hillocks, or less appealingly, parasitic cones. They are often a lot closer than many think and one of the most famous, or at least most visited of Jeju’s oreums is one of the least known.
This is not out of disrespect. Mention a visit to Namchosun oreum to a friend and you could be met by a blank look, but then say Halla Sumokwon, or Arboretum and few will remain quizzical. This delightful oreum sits right on the edge of Shinjeju, reached at a number of points, with the main entrance on the 1100 road, a few kilometers due south of Nohyeong rotary.
Namchosun has another string to its bow, as it is an arboretum and more of a botanical garden than a typical oreum. From the main entrance, moving into the main carpark, visitors are invited to sit down and soak up the atmosphere amongst the pines. Many choose to bring a picnic of gimbap and sit in the shade of the soaring trees to enjoy the sweet smells and sounds.
Throughout the gardens there are manicured beds with a wide array of flowers and plants, all with detailed botanical information. It certainly isn’t a case of “up, down and home.” To truly appreciate its value visitors should slowly explore each eclectically-named area in turn. The names go from the less inspired Tree Garden, to the almost poetic Green Shower Area, to the hilarious-for-an-11-year-old-boy Breeding House.
Few oreums are as busy as Namchosun, yet it is easy to find a nestling spot all alone. It is best to steal a yard from those around you and head off on a diverging path. Such diversions may lead to a small lawn, a daffodil pond, or even a public training area. All the time the thick green of trees and the sticky dew of the air create an almost otherworldly mist, especially after rain. The lucky few may spot the jumping deer or foraging pheasants. The less lucky may spot a pigeon, although those brought up on the riches of Jeju far outclass the flying rats of London.
Despite this abundant nature, those who really cannot deal with human traffic are advised to steer clear just after dinner time. A veritable human army of ajumas both descend and ascend the gardens, burning off their barely-swallowed chigae and dangerously flailing their arms, as if administering powerful uppercuts to a reeling ajoshi. It is an impressive sight and is certainly a reminder of who is boss next time there is a long queue at Emart.
On the pleasant descent the path widens and the incline softens. Like all Jeju oreum treks, on completion there is a feeling of satisfaction and contentedness. This is compounded as one turns to the left at the Burim Sauna exit, to see gym-goers sweating it out in a cramped, sticky gym. The natural gymnasium of Namchosun doesn’t give all its secrets up in one visit, but rest assured its mother nature workout will bring you back again and again.