entrees, fish, Jeju, Korea, musings, out and about, Parks, travel

Yay Means Nae

10.18.09 | 3 Comments

The way my father tells it, he and 5-or 6-year old Ellis (not yet ellis, but probably around the time I insisted everyone call me Crystal) were at McDonald’s, eating our hamburgers before we were allowed to eat our French Fries.

“Dad,” said wee Ellis. “Where do hamburgers come from?”

Oh boy. Almost as tough as “Where do babies come from?”

When Dad informed Ellis that hamburgers came from dead cows, Ellis looked at her burger for a moment then said, “I like hamburgers.”

This story of my humble start as an omnivore (we’ll excuse the McDonald’s part as age-related naïveté) has absolutely nothing to do with my second day on South Korea’s Jeju Island. I just felt like recounting that story. Here’s a slightly more on-topic wee Ellis tale:

It used to be that when I woke up in the mornings I would throw open my window and proclaim, “It’s a pretty day!” Though some of my youthful optimism has been worn away by years in fluorescent classrooms, Boston and Huzhou winters, and a year-long battle to get health insurance, I remain a morning person (unlike my brother Isaac who has always been a night owl).

I am such a morning person that even when I’m out until 3:30 AM, I will set my alarm for five and a half hours later. As we used to say at Wellesley, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Unfortunately, like-minded people are somewhat rare. Ryan, the guy I had somewhat awkwardly befriended the night before, had, pre-Loveland-and-subsequent-bar-excursions, agreed to go together to Seongsan Ilchan, or Sunrise Peak. But at 3 AM, when I decided to go home and he decided to go to more clubs, I had the premonition that he would not be meeting me at 11 like he said he would.

My premonition was right.

So alone, I went to the bus station, bought a ticket, and boarded a bus, showing the ticket lady and the driver a post-it note with Seong San Ilchan written on it in Korean. It was a rather long bus ride, and the driver shouted for me to get off when we had arrived, since it wasn’t the last stop.

z_seoungsan laundry



Long story short, it’s a volcanic crater. I walked up, looked inside, walked down, took lots of pretty pictures.

z_ss top edge

z_ss top

It’s a hard-knock life, right?

z_ss view

So since there’s no necessary narration, I’ll instead wax on with Korea observations and pepper those hopefully somewhat amusing observations with some pretty pictures. Because isn’t that why you come to Plate of Wander? Unless you’re looking for the dirty photos, then that was last post.

z_ss cliff cove

z_ss cliff6]

In Korea, people are really polite. Of course polite is relative and subjective, but Korean politeness seems a bit more in sync with the Western sense of manners. People always greet each other with anyangaseyo, sometimes a little bow, even if you’re greeting a taxi driver. In China, a lot of taxi drivers or other workers look at me funny when I say Ni hao before I tell them what I want. Get to the point, laowai!

z_ss couple rock

z_ss climbers

In Korea, Thank you, gam-sa hap-ni-da, is freely brandished about. Sometimes people say it to each other two or three times. In China, tell a cab driver or a cashier or a waiter xiexie and they’ll get all funny–xiexie is hardly even used among friends or family. People do what they are ‘supposed to,’ and thank yous are only necessary when someone has gone out of their way, or if you don’t have a close relationship and must be polite. People in China can seem much brasher to the Western (or at least, American) way.

z_ss cliff5

Since I can’t actually speak much Korean, I couldn’t really talk to many Koreans about Korea or ask my taxi drivers questions, which is too bad. Though on one occasion I got in a taxi and told the driver where to go. Apparently I spoke the few phrases I know well enough for him to think I actually spoke Korean, because he started talking to me. Well, I don’t even know how to say “I don’t speak Korean,” so I just smiled and shook my head. He tried talking to me again. Smile and shake your head. Bummer.

z_ss view 7

That to me is one of the hardest things about traveling: it’s a shame not to know the language. You really miss out on a lot by not speaking the native tongue or by not having a native to show you around. And yet, there’s no way I can ever learn enough of every language (though I wish I could), so does that mean I should only travel to places where I speak the language? I think a-ni.

Another confusing thing? In Korean, “Yes” is nae (sounds like ‘Nay’). Yay is nae.

z_ss coast view1

Also tough to remember: handing things to people with your left hand is very rude. I’m right handed, conveniently, but one hand, even if it’s the right, is only a little better. People rarely hand each other things with one hand—usually they’ll touch their left hand to their right forearm, then hand you something with the right hand.

z_ss pool

z_ss grassy hill

And I know you’re just dying to hear about the food, so I think it’s finally time for a mini-intro. Korean food is incredible. To me, it’s both surprising and not that it’s not as popular as most other Asian cuisines. Korean cuisine has many spicy dishes. It relies heavily on seafood, in particular a lot of octopus, and when there’s meat there are small portions of it, even at barbeque. They eat a lot of tteok, which is the chewy rice cake I love, and they don’t rely as much rice as the Chinese. The dishes are light—they’re mostly vegetables, and they contain far, far less oil than Chinese food. I could eat a big meal and not feel stuffed or weighed down.

z_ss view14

z_ss rock

And of course, there’s kimchi, the fermented, often spicy, cold vegetable dishes. The most common vegetables are cabbage and radish. Restaurants will give you varying numbers of kimchi dishes, all of which are free AND refillable. Heaven!

z_ss view6

z_ss view5JPG

And speaking of food: I secured a recommendation from one of the guys who worked the desk at Yeha guesthouse, who seemed to have taken a liking to me. He pulled out a map and marked a few places nearby that had good Korean food. Sadly, I didn’t have a dinner buddy, but I decided to grit my teeth and get some good food instead of a grocery store repeat of the night before.

z_ss top4

z_ss spider4

z_ss sandy pool

I walked into the small restaurant, and it was immediately apparent that: 1.I do not speak Korean 3. They did not speak English. They sat me at a table and handed me a menu in all Korean. No pictures.


I stared at it for a few minutes, trying to see if I recognized anything, and just as I was about to point to something random, one of the waitresses swooped over with a picture menu. It helped a bit, but wanting something good, I pulled out my Korea guidebook and pointed to the Korean phrase: What’s your specialty?

z_dinner o pun jak dul sudd bap

She pointed to numbers one and two. So whipping out my stellar Korean, I pointed to number one and said, “This please.” Apparently number one is called O pun jak dul sudd bap. I can read the words but I don’t know what they mean. Except for bap. Bap means rice. I’m so smart.

I waited for half an hour in Korean silence. I watched the television mounted on the wall. Korean TV is weird—there are lots of sound effects, like boings and so on, and cartoon-y words written on the screen. Finally, the kimchi spread came:

z_dinner kimchis corrected

And it was a big spread. Oh I was happy. Cabbage:

z_dinner kimchi cropped


z_dinner kimchi radishes

Seaweed (I think) and cucumber:

z_dinner kimchi seaweed

Brownish-grey…turnips? Mushrooms? I couldn’t tell. But it was good.

z_dinner kimchi shrooms

Leafy cabbage-y vegetable.

z_dinner kimchi yummy


z_dinner pancakes

It was definitely the best kimchi spread I had in Korea.

Then came my main dish, abalone and rice in an iron pot:

z_dinner abalone rice pot croped

I only had a split second to take this picture, because as soon as he set the dish down, the waiter opened a tub of butter, scooped out about a tablespoon, and started rubbing it down the sides, melting it into the rice. When it had all melted, he stirred everything up and left me to it.

After my day alone, I was feeling a little better than I had the day before. Luckily I managed to secure a spot on the tour for the next day, so I had the comfort of knowing that tomorrow, I could make friends.

What I didn’t anticipate is that I wouldn’t be communicating with those friends in English.

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