Published in "Mai Word," Mai Life Magazine, May 2012
“Pastor James, we’re going to an island...” came the voice of Pastor Nam, one of my colleagues from the Gaepo Methodist Church.
“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth Pastor James?” “Uhuh,” I replied trying to turn down the mental music of George FIJI Veikoso and J-Boog of Hawaii. “Is this an outdoor island or an inland-no-man-is-an-island kind of isand?” One could never make assumptions in a country with indoor snow skiing and man-made oceans complete with wave machines.
As it turned out we were going to a real island. As real as an island one can get so near Kim Jong-un and his toy rockets and missiles.
Jeju Island, known to many as the “Island of Love” or “Honeymoon Island” and even “Island of the Gods” is a favourite destination for Korean newlyweds and considered to be the Korean equivalent of Hawaii (a possible explanation for the Fiji and J-Boog vision earlier). However, for me it was the Island of Church Staff retreat.
This meant that there was to be no visit to the famous Love Land Park, no looking, peeking or even “tut-tuting” at the 140 sculptures representing sexual organs and positions, sex toys, “hands-on” exhibits.
Instead we went to look at larger than life bronze sculptures of Jesus’ ministry and reflect and meditate on the deeply moving depictions of the Passion of Christ. Not the movie but a walk through a bronze populated Via Dolorosa in the middle of a Catholic mission farm. Being Lent, and being a self-confessed “sunbaked servant of the Most-High God (aka Jesus-freak), this was the obvious choice of activities.
However I did later wonder how tourists, on returning to the mainland (or whichever land they came from) would explain pictures of themselves smiling (saying “kimchi” as the photo is snapped) and making “V” shapes with their fingers, while standing in front of a one-story high butt or a giant sculpture of a woman ...erm... how shall I put this... enjoying her own company. Well I guess that’s a great conversation starter: “Would you like to see our honeymoon photos?”
That’s not to say that I didn’t have my share of interesting experiences on Jeju.
The hotel where we spent two nights had a sauna. A traditional Korean sauna. That means one has to get natural and bare all and sundry. For the average Pacific Islander, that is a fair amount of all and sundry to bare. For the tattooed Pacific Islander.... well... just be prepared for all eyes on you.
So it was scrub-a-dub-dub, followed by soak in hot water, then soak in even more hot water. Then the steam-room (or human size kuvui) followed by another scrub-a-dub and then another soak in the hottest water bearable for human skin (which makes you rethink the whole plucking chickens in hotwater thing) before a final scrub-a-dub. To be honest I’m not sure if this is the traditional method of using the sauna or whether my male colleagues just wanted revenge for the times people have joked about them having smaller feet than mine. I guess they meant I needed bigger shoes than them.
On our first morning after my sauna experience, I noticed that one of the doors in the sauna opened to an indoor swimming pool. This was a joyful discovery as I had only the evening before mourned the fact that the outdoor pool was still empty as it was technically still winter. Due to a lack of time I promised myself a pre-breakfast (and pre-scrub-steam-soak) swim the next day. No matter what the weather is or where I go, my togs travel with me.
The next morning we all strolled to the sauna. While my friends undressed and began their scrub-steam-soak ritual, I changed into my togs and slipped off to the pool. After finishing a few laps, I looked up to find two pastor colleagues, standing at the edge of the pool in not their swimsuits but their birthday suits.
They jumped in and splashed around, swimming, paddling on their own and occasionally racing with me.
I waited until they were totally at ease, floating around, pretending to be human starfish before I dropped my bombshell.
I pointed out that I was wearing togs. As they chuckled to themselves about my foolishness, I pointed out that this particular “indoor” swimming pool was in fact surrounded by large windows. Anyone outside could see clearly into the pool area and also see who was swimming.
The chuckling stopped. Even the floating stopped. Anchors dropped and the two submariners sat up to take note of my statement. I then pointed another fact to them. The door from the women’s sauna also opened into the pool area. What’s more a door to the hotel lobby was also visible.
Then the final bullet; I slowly pointed at the wall and waved. Slowly they turned, to face a security camera.
I have never seen people get out of the pool so fast in my life.
An award-winning former multi-media (Radio/TV/Print) producer, director, presenter and writer, now minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji – Rev. J. S.Bhagwan is a graduate of the Pacific Theological College in Fiji and is currently studying at the Graduate School of the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, Korea. He has two turbo-charged children, a patient wife and a collapsible three-legged stool.