A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Geoje island (거제도). It’s located south west of Busan in the Korean strait. Personally, I would not opt to fritter away my free time camping, but when it’s between spending the whole weekend alone or roughing it with friends I would choose the latter.
Geoje is relatively easy to get to, but it is quite time-consuming. We caught a bus from Ulsan terminal that took around 2 hours to reach the island, and from there we hopped in a 15 minute cab to Gujora beach (구조라). All of that travelling made the camping excursion even less appealing. However, I quickly changed my mind once we pitched up. The location was picturesque; our tents looked out past the calm waters to the scattering of smaller islands that hugged the horizon. The beach itself was far cleaner and less crowded than other Korean beaches. We camped at the far end of the beach, away from all of the parasols and picnic benches, this meant that we were a little further from the shops and restaurants, (maybe 15 minutes) but it was much quieter and calmer.
Also, the swimming regulations seemed a lot more relaxed, there was far less ‘sea police’ patrolling the coast, and the general consensus was that you could swim as far out as you desired. There is an array of water sports on offer including the option of renting a kayak. Luckily, an American who was camping in the same spot offered his kayak to us. In pairs we rowed out to the uninhabited island that was located closest to us.
The evening turned out to be even more beautiful than the day. We set a fire going, and later traipsed down to the waters edge which was aglow with bioluminescent plankton. It was so spectacularly tempting that we all plunged in for a midnight swim. Each movement sent the miniature organisms glittering, like a mirror image of the starry sky. Due to the hot sticky days, the water was a pleasant temperature.
On the long return journey the next day, I realised hat Geoje had shattered my aversion to camping.
An aspect of moving abroad is that people will want to visit you. Family and friends will miss you just as much as you yearn to see them. They’ll bring a slice of your homeland; their accents, quirky personalities and the food that your current country fails to supply.
I’ve been lucky enough to host a variety of people over the past year in Korea. Each one has varied slightly due to differing personalities and situations, but they have all provided this odd feeling of weaving regular domestic life with this temporary otherness that is living abroad. A visitor can observe your situation with fresh eyes, and they are able to notice what is strange or different. However, I have just come to accept that the domestic side to my life here is not perfect, but it’s temporal, so for me it doesn’t matter. Admittedly, the AC is weak, there are patches of mould in the kitchen and at night I can hear my neighbours through the paper-thin walls. I hardly even concern myself with these issues, but when you have a visitor it’s impossible to ignore them.
Also, visitors will comment on things that have long become normal; such as the street smells, eating fruit with beer and eating on the floor. Again, I’ve grown accustomised to all of these things, but each guest highlighted how they contrast what I used to believe was normal. These moments of realisation that Korean normalcy was once absurd made me see Korea as a newcomer once more.
The main restriction of having visitors whilst working at an academy is the sheer lack of holiday time that is on offer. However, I found that the constant reminder of how precious our time was and the ever approaching new day in work made me take full advantage of our reunion. Each free minute was spent socialising, or sampling Korean life and culture.
Unfortunately, the clock won’t stop ticking, no matter how much you want it to, and suddenly your visitors will be departing. Even though I was dreading the termination of each trip, they actually proved as a reminder that some relationships don’t change no matter how far apart you might be.