An elderly gentleman approached me as I took these photos. He had enough English to tell me his age (70), to point to his home behind a stone wall, and to tell me that he was born there. He also confirmed the identity of the plants.
It’s another reminder that we’ve been here a year. These are common sights in this part of Jeju in late summer – bundles of the plant propped against walls, spread on the ground in car parks, on cycle ways, at the side the road. The difference between last year and this is that I know what it is. I should have worked it out earlier: it’s sesame. The pods are filled with seeds.
The photo below shows bundles of sesame leaning against a low stone wall and covered with plastic. It also shows a couple of tombs in the field behind, Mt Dan, and, furthest away, Sangbansan. That’s not a bad landscape to pass on the way to the supermarket.
You can tell that Chuseok is coming up: there are people going round with strimmers and the grass on the tombs is being cut in preparation.
Chuseok is a major holiday in Korea and takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which is September 8th this year. It’s a celebration of the harvest and a time when Koreans visit their ancestral homes. There are words for the annual visit to family tombs (seongmyo) and for removing the weeds (beolcho).
These activities are also a reminder that we’ve been living on the side of this volcano for a year; the same preparations were under way soon after we arrived last summer.
Olle 17 becomes increasingly urban as you get closer to the end in downtown Jeju City. Much of the initial stretch follows the course of deep, rocky river bed, but once the route hits the coast and turns eastwards, the rural landscape gradually gives way to the city. The trail also passes under the flight path of the airport, and planes pass overhead every few minutes as they approach the runway.
It’s still an interesting walk, nevertheless, following the coast with its black, volcanic rocks. I spotted the cloths in the photo below at one point, pinned to the grass. This is the material from which local clothes are traditionally made, and they get their colour from the persimmon dye that’s used.
Jeju City is not the most attractive city I’ve been to, but the Olle route is carefully planned to make the most if it. You pass stretches of wall on quiet side roads with paintings of traditional Jeju life before turning for the market, which is always good for some unusual sights and ripe smells.
On the day I travelled back to Korea after a trip to the UK last week, the Korea Times, an English-language newspaper, published the results of an essay contest relating to the previously mentioned disputed islands between Korea and Japan. To quote:
“The rocky islets of Dokdo have been the source of constant contention between Korea and Japan.
This year’s essay contest, in its fifth year, aims at providing people an opportunity to delve into the historic backgrounds of the issue, so that people have a chance to contend with the facts regarding Japan’s claims.”
It’s a sensitive subject in this part of the world and I don’t want to take sides or cause offence. However, the results of the essay competition are pretty predictable: essays that use historical and highly emotional claims that the islands are Korean.
Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the result of the essay competition (and, indeed, its intention) is to promote a particular point of view and reinforce a sense of national pride and identity.
Of course, such cases don’t just exist in Korea and north-east Asia – just look at the claims and counter-claims relating to Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. It would also be wrong to consider such conflicts to be not important; they clearly are, from an emotional and practical point of view.
Are such conflicts an inevitable characteristic of humanity, part of our individual and collective DNA?
This is the Bonte Museum, all plain concrete surfaces, angles and corners. It’s got some really interesting things inside and is well worth a visit.
Having said that, the exhibition that’s on at the moment is of work by Japanese artist Kusama Yayoi, “a living legend of contemporary art”. Apparently, she has “suffered hallucinations since a young age, and the prescription to cure this chronic illness was art”. It might have helped with her illness, but it didn’t do much for me.
I saw this remarkable-looking beetle just before I went on holiday: it’s a Japanese rhinoceros beetle, about 5 cm long. Wikipedia tells me that they’re sold as pets in Asia (I remember seeing the film ‘Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo’ at Bristol’s Watershed a couple of years ago, which gives an insight into the Japanese interest in insects as pets), and that gambling on fighting rhinoceros beetles is popular. I prefer to see them in the wild.