Have you heard of Jeju-Do
I had the opportunity to teach English in Gwangju, South Korea in 2001-2002 when I was 29 years old. I went there with my then 7 year old son and a friend who was also interested in teaching abroad.
It was there that I learned about Jeju Island off the Southern tip of Korea. ‘Jeju-Do’ as the locals call it, means ‘jewel’ of the yellow sea. My Korean friends also referred to it as the Hawaii of Asia, whereby it is honored for its majestic natural beauty, temperate climate, hiking trails, loving people and brilliant food.
On my very first break from teaching (and we seldom had a break), with my boy and friend in toe, I took a bus to the coast to catch a ferry to the island. Unfortunately, unlike the ferry service in BC that I am accustomed to, which might have one wait for a few hours before a next available sailing, the ferry to Jeju-do had to be booked months in advance, especially on Chuseok, a special holiday weekend. We hadn’t realized the significance of Chuseok in the Korean culture because we were so new there. It literally means ‘autumn eve’ and is the most important and festive holiday of the year. It is the Korean thanksgiving. We ended up boarding a different ferry and sailing off to a different island of much lesser known stature called Toch’odo, where upon arrival we were treated like royalty perhaps due to the fact that very few foreigners ever consider visiting it and because we were without family on Chuseok. It was an amazing and memorable time that included net fishing, drinking Soju by the bottle on the beach, traditional food, and lots of Karaoke. My only regret is that we never made it to Jeju-do or any of the other 3,300 islands in Korea.
Fast-forward 15 years. I turn on the golf channel one morning (a few weeks ago) and see that Korea is hosting a PGA event at Nine Bridges Golf Club on Jeju Island. The inaugural event called the CJ Cup attracted top PGA players and boasted one of the largest prize pots on the PGA tour. The lucky winner was Justin Thomas. The course is the only one in Korea to be named to the honored “top 100” list of golf courses worldwide and it soon became apparent to me why. Challenging winds and weather conditions paired with innovative golf course design made this course a perfect challenge for its world-class participants. It was also a pleasure to see that many Korean domestic players were allowed to gain entry into the tournament and participate on the world stage. These included 5 golfers from the Korean PGA tour, 2 players from the Asian Tour, the top 3 South Korean players as rated in by the world rankings and one local amateur player. K.J. Choi, Bae Sang-moon and 8 lesson known professionals were invited as sponsor exemptions as well as An Byeong-hun, who qualified by his world rankings. In a field of 80 or so players, South Korea was well represented and should be very proud of its talented golfers and growing golf legacy.
I have wanted to return to Korea again to look up old friends and to revisit a place that holds a unique place in my life. Now that I am older and wiser, and a little more familiar with the Korean ferryboat culture, I hope to successfully make it to Jeju Do, with my clubs in toe. I have absolutely no doubt that it is just as beautiful now as it was then.