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Trip 37 — Jeju and Xiamen Walks

Jeju day 8: Sehwa to Jeju City
Wednesday, 2 August 2023

Today: 42865 steps/34.22 km/21.26 mi/6h 13m
Total: 263218 steps/206.98 km/128.61 mi/38h 51m

I walked up the lanes through Sehwa, stepping briefly into the road when a mat of drying garlic blocked my path. When I reached the ring road, I turned right to continue my counterclockwise circuit. A sign soon told me that I would reach Jeju City in 32 kilometers, if I stayed on the main road. But I had a couple of important places to visit on the coast.

This stretch of the ring road was more rural than the southern section. Yesterday I was smelling sand, sea, and squid. Today it was green vegetables, fresh grass, and the occasional fruit stand. Sometimes there were long stretches between businesses; convenience stores and their promise of water were sparse.

It was overcast, but the lack of wind — the giant turbines were asleep — kept things stiflingly hot and humid. Even the hydrangeas looked listless and past their prime. My T-shirt stuck to my chest like a cold leech. Maybe I should have bought that persimmon juice after all. In addition to the dirt- and odor-resistant benefits of garot clothing, it was said to repel sweat and stay dry.

A road toward the coast split off from the ring road at Dongbok village, and I had an early lunch at Hanyeochon. How could I not dine at a place named for the famed seafood divers?

One seafood dish I hadn't tried was abalone porridge, and Haenyeochon specialized in it. The restaurant was almost full; I got the last seat, though turnover was rapid. The porridge was fine, with large pieces of abalone, but — and I may be blaspheming the seafood tradition here — I don't think abalone lives up to the hype. It may be among the world's most prized mollusks, and it often costs a fortune outside Korea, but it is just a kind of sea snail. It has the same crunch as a clam. The foot, steamed as I had it in Moseulpo, was delightful. But the sashimi from yesterday required my strongest teeth.

Dongbok segued into Bukchon, the scene of one of Jeju's bloodiest days. On January 17, 1949, rebels killed two Korean soldiers. In retaliation, soldiers burned the village, rounded up the entire population in the courtyard of the elementary school, and killed more than 300 people, pulling them at random without regard to age or gender — a violation of the most established war tactics.

I strolled through the village. It's been rebuilt, densely, and the walls of the houses seem to be more brightly painted here, perhaps in peaceful memory. They included butterflies, flowers, even a haenyeo mural, and a modest haenyeo statue stood at the harbor, her understated strength triumphing over all.

A memorial explained the hour-by-hour horrors of that day, and the killing fields were marked nearby. Children were buried near where they died, with the graves intended to be moved eventually, but they have remained there since. The novel "Aunt Suni" covers the event in detail, and an artful arrangement of stones bears appropriate phrases. Google Translate helped me understand them: "The lights of the burning village pushed in and dyed the skin red." "For a while, my ears went deaf and I couldn't hear a word." "I suddenly felt stuffy in my heart." "It was a death without any clear reason."

For decades, people were forbidden from speaking about the Bukchon Massacre. It wasn't until 1993 that a proper investigation was made, specifying the names of those murdered.

Some people survived the massacre only to be taken to neighboring Hamdeok and shot there the next day. Three kilometers on from Bukchon, Hamdeok is now a large town with a popular beach and lots of places to eat. It sprawls from east to west; it seemed to take an hour to cross it. But it was a lively, pleasant place.

For the last time, I rejoined the ring road. I passed that tedious area just outside cities where they sell cars and auto parts; I guess Jeju must have one, too. At least most of the cars here are of a reasonable size. Then the urban zone began. It was four in the afternoon and, walking west, I encountered an unforgiving sun that penetrated my head even with my hat duly secured. I stopped for a mango smoothie.

I had one hour to go. The sun and I were in a staring contest, but I could avert my eyes and in a couple of hours it would fall. I scoffed at a few intersections: crossings with a red pedestrian signal but no possibility of conflict with vehicles and crossings where the side street was so little-used that the chance of conflict was infinitesimal. I'm still resisting a world in which we give up our lives for machines; I'm certainly not giving my life up for the mere possibility of encountering machines.

Except air conditioning. That is crucial.

Go on to Jeju day 9