Yesterday morning, after the overnight rain tapered off, they picked me up at 10:15. Julio said his age was “top secret,” but he admitted to being older than us—it later transpired that he’s 55, though he certainly looks younger. Reese joked that I should call him 오빠 (oppa) which is “older brother,” but also a term of endearment for a woman’s male friends. He’d brought a cooler full of fresh picked hallabong oranges (they have an “outie” button on top that is alleged to resemble Hallasan). He kept turning around to talk while driving until Reese insisted he look at the road, which led to a discussion of traffic accidents.
I don’t know how Julio’s wife died, but apparently he has been a widower for about a decade. His 26 year old son is studying at a university in Vietnam, and his 24 year old daughter is at a university in Seoul. His sister is a professional illustrator—17K Instagram followers (we talked to her on the phone later that afternoon), and his brother (and sister in law) are programmers. Julio has a graduate degree in management. He’s from the Seoul area, and moved to Jeju last April. He works as the facilities guy for a local middle school. One of the first things I learned about him was that he likes to cook—he used to own a sushi/sashimi restaurant.
Blue sky was peeking through the clouds when we got to Yongnuni Oreum, which is part of a pony pasture. Despite Jeju supposedly being known for its horses, until yesterday I hadn’t seen that many. There was a whole herd in their fuzzy winter coats munching on piles of huge white turnips near the parking lot. And there were loads of “horse apples” around the hemp matted trail up the windy hill. The cool fierce misty wind sent my baseball cap cartwheeling off, but I managed to retrieve it before it got too far off the trail. The ten giant white windmills on the flat land below were spinning vigorously. I love clean energy. Incidentally, I learned that Jeju-do has 368 oreums (volcanic hills of various sizes) besides the central Hallasan.
After the oreum (half an hour’s easy stroll) and a hallabong snack in the car—more visitors started flooding in as we were leaving, because the Korean national weekend pastime is trekking, assuring that most of the population stays slim—we drove to sunny Hamdeok Beach, which was neatly blanketed and sandbagged for the off-season, except for the 10 meters or so nearest the azure water, where the lovely white sand was riddled with trash. Litter everywhere. Dozens of people were taking photos, oblivious to the plastic refuse, food wrappers, orange peels and cigarette butts. Jeju needs trash bags for its public areas! And an intensive celebrity-led anti littering campaign--people are devoted to celebrity endorsement here.
From the beach we walked out to a scenic footbridge and rocks, pausing to buy hot fresh cheese-filled squid-shaped pastry for a snack.
The view was beautiful.
We polished off our pulled pork sandwiches, and drove to Priya’s pension for coffee. I had tea and a buttered scone, and Priya developed a mad crush on Julio’s sister’s work [Priya also showed us some of the draft spreads for the children’s book she and her husband hope to publish in English, Korean, and Russian sometime in the next few months. (Then comes my book!)]. Julio phoned his sister so that we could gush directly. There was then a flurry of correspondent following on Instagram, and as the sun set we headed to Namwon, where Reese’s husband was meeting us for dinner.
Although I was still full from the eating I had been doing (all day!) at each successive stop, I still managed to make a good dinner of Korean barbecue.
I did avoid the gelatinous pigskin, which came later. I would avoid it anyway, but there's something about eating a substance that given different chemical treatment could be transformed into leather... I will say that Koreans are extremely good about wasting no part of the animal except for the squeal; there are restaurants devoted to the consumption of intestines, and people eat the feet, too. Reese had a small glass of makgeoli, then drank water; the men and I shared three bottles of that local elixir, me also meantime downing several bottles of water. After the makgeoli, I was done, but the men were just getting started. Three bottles of soju later, they decided we’d go to a neat little hole in the wall for our second round. I stuck to water swilled from a huge glass tankard, and they got rosier and rosier on beer and soju. While vintage Toto videos played in the background, I learned how to make a “Chinese pigtail” with a soju bottle lid.
The “toilet” sign on the door nearby was installed upside down—Reese suggested that this was because when you are drunk, you see things topsy turvy, so for the patrons it appeared right side up. I went in search of the facilities through a labyrinth of back rooms and walked in on a guy sitting on the toilet—there wasn’t a lock on the door. Whoops. I went back soon after and was washing my hands when my feet felt curiously damp. I looked down to see water running around my shoes to the drain—the sink just vented out the back and then everything ran to the grill in the center of the floor.
The guys were pretty far gone by this point, but by golly there was one last stop on the tour—Julio’s. He gets loud and cheerful when he’s drunk, and insisted on dragging me, then Reese, into the dark orchard next to his house (where he rents a downstairs apartment only a little bigger than mine) and having us pick an orange. I had never picked an orange before. It smelled divine. (And tasted wonderful when I ate it a few minutes ago while talking to my nephew on the phone.) Reese’s husband was wobbly, but declared that we’d only stay half an hour, by the clock. Meantime, Julio insisted on getting out another bottle of magkeoli (Reese and I drank tea) and a huge bottle of sweet wine homebrewed by his mother. And cooking mandu. And showing off his sushi knives. Reese and I were briefly concerned that he’d cut or burn himself, given his impaired state, but he managed to avoid both.
Reese and I sat on the tiny olive settee and Julio and Reese’s husband plunked themselves on the side of his bed, embracing fondly and knocking back slugs. He kept reiterating that he liked me, and asking if this were our “Day One,” which I managed to evade, along with most of his hugs—Reese’s husband cautioned him about embracing me as I wasn’t his girlfriend yet. And then, right on schedule, Reese’s husband headed resolutely out the door. We tucked into Reese’s tiny car and Julio insisted on kissing the other man’s cheek, twice, in farewell before stumbling back enough for her to close the door and drive away.
Altogether, it was a good day. Julio seems to be a thoroughly nice guy, fond of “skinship,” outgoing, smart. He’s got good teeth and nice ears. He doesn’t smoke, he’s trim and attractive. But not a believer. I did invite him to church, which his landlady also has done (with the remark that they served a good lunch). But, like Albert, I don’t expect he’ll show. Of course, he’s likely to keep calling and messaging, since we’ve mutual friends (who think I should date him) and I need a trekking partner, and he’s holding on to the notion that I may cave if he warms my cold hands regularly and takes enough pictures of the two of us. I hope I can keep my wits about me, particularly after June leaves.
Finally, my tools and aluminum wire arrived (Anita had ordered them for me). The wire's labeled "Made in Korea" which leads me to believe that I ought to be able to restock locally. One of my recent creations, which Maxwell sweetly agreed to display in his shop: