On Assignment in Jeju – Part 3

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The bulk of the two weeks I spent on Jeju was taken up by location scouting. In my research of the myths surrounding the Lady Seolmundae, I had come across about a half-dozen island landmarks that were either too archaic or too obscure to find decent reference imagery for, and I wanted to try to track down some of those spots.

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I started off with the easiest location on my list — 용연 (Dragon Stream), a cliff-lined estuary that jags into the coast on the edge of Jeju City.

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In the myths, Seolmundae Halmang travels to and fro across the island, boasting to anyone who will listen that she is taller than any lake or river was deep. The first spot she tried out was 용연. She burst out laughing when the water barely covered her toes.

From 용연 I headed westward along the coast toward Aewol (애월). The real goal of the day was to locate and photograph an obscure landmark I had found in one or two localized Seolmundae stories. Near Gwakji village (곽지리) on the north-west coast there was supposed to be a trio of rocks, set in a perfect triangle, known as 세솥밭이. According to the stories, Seolmundae Halmang built a fire in the middle and used the rocks as a sort of tripod to set her cooking pot on.

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Abandoned bathhouse next to a reservoir

 

I thought I had roughly located the spot on an old Jeju road map of mine, somewhere near Gwangmyeon Temple (광면사). I circled the area on my bike, hoping for a sign or a rock with a plaque on it — anything — but the whole area was just a labyrinth of farm roads. I tried stopping at shops and guesthouses on the nearby highway, but no one had ever heard of 세솥밭이. 
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Quick stop for lunch … sort of.

 

I made one final attempt at a lonely pension set back from the highway, an island in a sea of farmland. I approached a group of older men having an afternoon drink around a hot grill. The moment I mentioned the name of the location I was looking for, one of the men lit up and staggered to his feet.


How do you know about this place? He demanded. Why are you looking for it? He lamented the spot wasn’t more famous, or else more people would come to stay at his inn. Then he jumped on his scooter and beckoned for me to follow him on my motorbike. After 10 minutes of crumbling dirt trails and hairpin bends, we ended up here:

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This was it! The gentleman parked his bike and led the way confidently through the surrounding farm plots, finally coming out at a low plateau between the hills. Turns out, the landmarks I was looking for lay on his own land. In fact his own grandfather was buried in the midst of these three hills!

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This trip to Jeju was more successful than I possibly could have hoped for, but even in a trip full of highlights, this was a memorable find. It all seemed so obvious — these three identical hills in a perfect triangle. Here it is on Google Maps:


The hills were smaller than expected, but they so perfectly fit the narrative, I could almost visualize Seolmundae Halmang looming over us with a giant pot of stew.

 
Halmang-Pot
 

I took pictures there until the sun started to dip low in the sky, then started heading back to Jeju City. In all my previous stays on Jeju I had tended to linger on the eastern half of the island, so it was good to be able to focus on the western half this time around. 

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The slope up Mt. Halla is much more dramatic from this side; with Oreums dotting the mountainside it almost looks like an enormous stairway is leading up the mountain.

 

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To be continued…

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