Page 1

summer 2013

Korean Culture & Arts

Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

vo l. 27 n o . 2

Special Feature

sum m er 2013

Path to Self-discovery Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple The Temple: A Place to Find Yourself through Practice; Light and Sound at the Temple of Sprawling Pines

v o l. 27 n o. 2

ISSN 1016-0744


Yu Hyun-seok

PUBLISHER

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Zeon Nam-jin EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Lee Kyong-hee

EDITORIAL BOARD

Bae Bien-u

Elisabeth Chabanol

Han Kyung-koo

Kim Hwa-young

Kim Moon-hwan

Kim Young-na

Koh Mi-seok

Song Hye-jin

Song Young-man

Werner Sasse

COPY EDITOR

Dean Jiro Aoki

ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Lim Sun-kun

ASSISTANT EDITORS Teresita M. Reed Cho Yoon-jung

CREATIVE DIRECTOR ART DIRECTOR DESIGNER LAYOUT & DESIGN

Kim Sam Lee Duk-lim Lee Young-bok, Kim Ji-hyun Kim’s Communication Associates 384-13 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu Seoul 121-839, Korea www.gegd.co.kr Tel: 82-2-335-4741 Fax: 82-2-335-4743

TRANSLATORS

Charles La Shure Chung Myung-je Hwang Sun-ae Kim Young-kyu Min Eun-young

Subscription Price for annual subscription: Korea 18,000, Asia by air US$33, elsewhere by air US$37 Price per issue in Korea 4,500

Subscription/circulation correspondence: The U.S. and Canada Koryo Book Company 1368 Michelle Drive St. Paul, MN 55123-1459 Tel: 1-651-454-1358 Fax: 1-651-454-3519 Other areas including Korea The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 137-863, Korea Tel: 82-2-2151-6544 Fax: 82-2-2151-6592 Printed in summer 2013 Samsung Moonwha Printing Co. 274-34 Seongsu-dong 2-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 133-831, Korea Tel: 82-2-468-0361/5

© The Korea Foundation 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the Korea Foundation. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Koreana or the Korea Foundation.

Koreana , registered as a quarterly magazine with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Registration No. Ba-1033, August 8, 1987), is also published in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS Summer 2013

http://www.koreana.or.kr

Published quarterly by The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 137-863, Korea

An assembly of panels from “NewGeneration Buddha Portraits” (2008), by Moon Bong-sun, which adorns the wall behind the Sakyamuni Buddha image at the main hall of Myohyang Temple in Chilgok County, North Gyeongsang Province. The bamboo clapper, or jukbi , is a symbol of Son meditation in Korean Buddhism. It is held in the right hand, with the cloven part struck on the palm of the left hand, to make a sharp cracking sound to signal the beginning and the end of meditation sessions. © Ha Ji-kwon

Editor's Letter

Hope for Peace and Compassion

Since its emergence in India two and a half millennia ago, Buddhism has left an indelible mark on the culture and psyche of people of Northeast Asia. This pervasive impact was attained through the Mahayana School, or the “Great Vehicle.” This so-called Northern School of Buddhism is a basically ecumenical movement, as compared to the Theravada School, or the “Lesser Vehicle,” which focuses more on the philosophical achievements of individual monks rather than guiding the masses along the path of self-reflection. Buddhism arrived in Korea during the Three Kingdoms period, through China. The early Chinese patriarchs of the Tang Dynasty performed the seminal role of spreading Buddhism in this part of the world, with their interpretation of the Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra and founding of the Chan (Zen, or Seon in Korean) method of attaining enlightenment. These thoughts are the pillars of Korean Buddhism, which Korean monks still practice today.

Nowadays, Korean Buddhism is reaching out to ordinary people by providing an opportunity to experience temple life at age-old monasteries. Temple stay programs attracted much attention during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, when temples across the country offered hands-on experiences for foreign visitors. It has since taken root as a popular tourism attraction. Meanwhile, Korean Buddhism has rejuvenated itself as well. While Chinese Buddhism has lost much of its vigor as a result of communist rule and Japanese Buddhism has been secularized in large part, Buddhism in Korea continues to attract young ascetics who are willing to take the arduous path of seeking the truth. It is hoped that these diligent truth seekers will enable Korean Buddhism to deliver a message of peace and compassion to the world, along with helping people to discover themselves. Lee Kyong-hee Editor-in-Chief


Special Feature Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

04 12 18 24 30

Special Feature 1

The Temple: A Place to Find Yourself through Practice Special Feature 2

Light and Sound at the Temple of Sprawling Pines

Bae Bien-u 7

Special Feature 3

Ordinary People Experience Temple Life to Clear their Mind

Yoo Cheol-sang

Special Feature 4

Self-sufficiency at the World’s Largest Bhikkhuni Community

Kim Young-ock

Special Feature 5

Main Buddha Hall: Symbolism of Images and Paintings

38

52

58 62 66 72

Moon Tae-jun

38 42 48 52

Brian Barry

18

focus

Korean Comics on the Cutting Edge of the Digital Environment

Park In-ha

interview

Yu Jin-gyu: Trailblazer of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival

Kim Jung-hyo

modern landmarks

Joseon’s Legation Building in Washington, D.C.

Kim Chung-dong

artisan

Han Soon-ja Weaves Graceful Patterns onto Sedge Mats

Park Hyun-sook

46

art review

Musical ‘Washing’ Conveys Subtle Social Critique

Park Bo-mi

In Love with Korea

UK Journalist Tim Alper’s Insatiable Cultural Exploration

Charles La Shure

on the road

The Slow Life on Cheongsan Island

Kang Je-yoon

along their own path

Son Sung-mok: A Lifetime Spent Collecting Gramophones

68

76

Kim Hak-soon

Books & More Charles La Shure British Correspondent Delves into Korea Today

“Korea: The Impossible Country”

Guide to Buddhist Practices for English-speaking Readers

“6 Ways to the Heart: The Essence of Korean Buddhist Practices” Observations of Korea by an Early American Envoy’s Wife

“Letters from Joseon” 85

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

78 80 84 88

Entertainment

TV Loves Food

Lee Young-mee

Gourmet’s Delight

Yukgaejang : Hot, Spicy, and ‘Cool’

Ye Jong-suk

Lifestyle

Amid Economic Downturn, Koreans Go Gung-ho for Camping

Kim Young-ju

journeys in Korean literature

Whose Nightmare? Uh Soo-woong Ivan Menshkov’s Dancing Room Lee Jang-wook

3


Special Feature 1 Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

The Temple A Place to Find Yourself through Practice

A

t three in the morning, the temple awakens to the sound of a wooden gong, a ritual to cleanse the grounds before the morning service. It begins in the main dharma hall where a monk who takes care of the dharma halls and oversees the ceremonies will light candles, burn incense, and offer clear water up to the Buddha, and then recite the sutra. The monk strikes the gong (moktak) and chants prayers as he makes a circuit around the temple compound. The gong is struck softly at first and gradually more powerfully, so that all living beings are awaken gently rather than being startled. The monks and devotees of the temple arise and prepare for the morning service. The sutra chanting services are performed in the

4

early morning, again at 11:00 a.m., and in the evening as well. They begin with the striking of the four percussion instruments (samul) — the drum, cloud-shaped brass plate, wooden fish-shaped gong, and bell — and proceed to praising great monks who have attained enlightenment and reciting sutras to reflect upon the teachings of the Buddha.

The Path of the Ascetic The monk is an ascetic who has renounced the world. He engages in meditation, learns the scriptures, and practices the proper way in search of wisdom. After attaining wisdom, he is expected to lead people in the mundane world along the right path by sharing Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


The Indian poet and ascetic Kabir would sing: “Do not go to the garden of flowers! O friend! Go not there; In your body is the garden of flowers.” Thus we are advised to return to ourselves and rely on ourselves, since our minds are no different from flowers in full blossom. So it is with the enlightenment in Buddhism. Even today, people visit temples to discover the garden in their own minds. There are those who spend a day there, and those who spend a lifetime. Moon Tae-jun Producer, Buddhist Broadcasting System (BBS) | Park Bo-ha, Ahn Hong-beom, Ha Ji-kwon, Na Sang-ho Photographers

his wisdom with the masses. The ascetic shaves his head and face to symbolize the removal of all destructive emotions and delusions. He then begins a new life with only three sets of clothing and an alms bowl. At first, he receives instruction from a teacher. For about six months to a year, he performs routine chores such as cooking rice, farming, and gathering firewood, developing the basic temperament required of an ascetic. There are a number of precepts that an ascetic must observe. An ascetic must not kill, steal, engage in lewd acts, lie, or drink alcohol. In addition, one must not eat when it is not time to eat, and never use cosmetics or ornamentation, lie on a comfortable bed, K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

A class on sutras attended by first- and second-year student monks at Unmun Temple. The lecture is being held at Cheongpungyo (Clear Wind Dormitory), the monks’ study room and sleeping quarters. Through the leftmost door are seen rows of wooden bowls arranged neatly on shelves.

or own precious materials, such as gold or silver. Also, one must not accept new things from others, must eat only what one receives from others, and must not ask for more. There are hundreds of such rules, and, like cool water, they are meant to wash away the impurity of your body and mind. The ascetic studies at the seminary, a traditional educational institution which is affiliated with a large-scale monastery with a

5


1

lengthy history. Here, the ascetic studies the sutras and learns the rituals. At temples, which are communities of ascetics, each person is assigned specific duties, such as ringing the bell, preparing tea, cooking rice, making side dishes, gathering firewood, teaching the sutras, performing rituals, or reflecting upon wrongdoing.

The Practice of Meditation According to the scriptures, the ascetic is like the moon growing into its fullness. As with the moon, which gradually becomes rounder and fuller, the ascetic must learn to nurture the light of wisdom. For this goal, the first practice is meditation, an effort to calm and clear the mind, thus realizing that one’s original nature is the Buddha nature. While practicing meditation, you must not speak; actually, many never lie down, but meditate night and day, for days, months, or even years. The practice of meditating on the words and actions of the Buddha and the patriarchs, or hwadu, in order to compose the mind and overcome destructive emotions and delusions, is the most representative form of meditation in Korean Buddhism. In this practice, called Ganhwa Seon, the hwadu are riddles or “critical phrases” designed to penetrate the essence of things. For example: “What is it

6

that comes and goes and speaks?” or “Does a dog have the Buddha nature?” These questions are contemplated in the innermost realm of the mind to reach the fundamental essence of things by discarding relative distinctions and value judgments, such as right and wrong, good and bad, self and others, existence and non-existence, great and small, this and that, and coming and going. This earnest introspection is a search for causes. Whether one moves or stays still, sits up or lies down, speaks or remains silent, by intensively questioning things, daily life itself becomes a practice of meditation. Through such meditation laymen can also strive to free their minds from all discrimination and control, all delusion and argument, and return to a clean and proper mind, clearly seeing their inborn nature as that of the Buddha. In the Jogye Order — the largest Buddhist order in Korea — more than 2,000 of its ascetics participate in three-month retreats, twice a year. They are prohibited from leaving the temple grounds and engage only in meditation. The tradition of Buddhist retreats originated in India. At first, the ascetics who had renounced the world did not remain in one place, but roamed around as they practiced. During the rainy season, though, small living things in the ground would come to the surface, so the ascetics, fearful of stepKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


1. Student monks read sutras early in the morning at Haein Temple. 2. Monks practice meditation to clear their mind and awaken the original K o r e aBuddha n a 覺 S unature mme r within 2 013 themselves.

7

2


1. Monks walk in single file, resembling a “procession of geese,” on the grounds of Songgwang Temple. 2. A monk leaves through the front gate of Magok Temple. 1

ping on and harming these creatures as they traveled about, would stay in temples, giving rise to the tradition of retreats. In the transmission of Buddhism to China and Korea, ascetics came to remain in one place during the cold winter months as well. The Buddhist retreat periods in Korea today are determined by the lunar calendar: the summer retreat begins on the 15th day of the fourth month and ends on the 15th day of the seventh month, while the winter retreat is from the 15th day of the tenth month through the 15th day of the first month the next year. When the two retreat periods end, ascetics are free to travel here and there throughout the world, teaching the ordinary people what they have learned from their practice. They learn from their fierce struggles with themselves and convey the teachings of the Buddha. The scriptures compare this kind of sharing to the building of a bridge or boat to enable people to cross a river. These days, a significant number of ascetics remain in their temples even after the retreat periods, and many serve at community welfare facilities as well. Ascetics also practice yeombul , which means “thinking of the Buddha.” This refers to bringing to mind the names of the Buddha, the appearance of the Buddha, and the mind of the Buddha. The ascetic thinks of the Buddha’s actions, the Buddha’s excellence,

8

and the benefits the Buddha brings to the people. In this way, a reverence and respect for the Buddha is imbedded in the mind, which then strives to achieve Buddhahood. Objects of this practice include buddhas like Amitabha and bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara and Ksitigarbha. There is also the practice of reading the sutras, which contain the teachings of the Buddha. This practice fosters understanding of the Buddha’s words and clears the mind through the Buddha’s teachings. By reading the sutras, one is in fact studying one’s own mind. Another practice involves reciting words or verses that encapsulate the contents of the sutras. By reciting these mantras, one erases the karma of the past and cleanses the mind. These practices seek to wash away greedy, foolish, angry, and corrupt tendencies, leading one to become like the Buddha and to be reborn in a world without suffering after death.

Moderation in Food An ascetic is required to abide by strict rules in the consumption of food. The primary rule is to consume the minimum amount of food needed to sustain the body. It is not about eating as much as one sees fit, but about never eating quite enough to satisfy oneKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2

According to the scriptures, the ascetic is like the moon growing into its fullness. As with the moon, which gradually becomes rounder and fuller, the ascetic must learn to nurture the light of wisdom. For this goal, the first practice is meditation, an effort to calm and clear the mind, thus realizing that one’s original nature is the Buddha nature. self. As such, some ascetics will eat only one meal a day, while others will not eat after noon. Most, however, will have porridge in the morning, rice at midday, and a very light meal in the evening. After receiving one’s food, one must recite the Five Stanzas of Insight: “Where has this food come from? Whose hard work has brought this food to me? I am ashamed that my virtue is insufficient to receive this food. But I receive it nonetheless as a medicine, that I might abandon all desire, sustain my body, and attain enlightenment.” Through this hymn, the ascetic gives thanks for the process by which the food was provided and reaffirms the resolve to practice even more diligently. It is an age-old tradition of Korean Buddhism to always eat from the same bowl, consume a small amount of side dishes, and leave no leftovers. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

The Path of Devotees Laymen who do not renounce the world may also engage in practice while living in the mundane world, if they take a vow to honor and respect the Buddha, the Buddha’s teachings, and the monastic community. They visit temples to receive basic education as believers, become disciples of the Buddha, and accept a Buddhist name. They also receive precepts that must be observed in their everyday lives. Moreover, they regularly attend meetings to listen to the Buddha’s words. Many experience for themselves the monastic life of monks through overnight temple stays or threemonth renunciations. Aside from the practices of meditating on hwadu, practicing yeombul, reading and reciting the sutras, and chanting mantras,

9


1

10

1. A monk beats the drum to signal the start of the evening chanting service at Buseok Temple. 2. Sunset at a mountain temple givesKoway darkre a ntoCu l tu re & A rts ness with the sound of the evening service.


2

ascetics most often practice bowing, an act of prostrating oneself before the Buddha. There are different types of bows, such as bowing by lowering the head with both hands brought together at the chest, and bowing by touching both knees, both elbows, and the forehead to the floor in a show of utmost respect. By repeating the same actions, one casts self aside. Bowing is a practice of the mind through the movement of the body, and practices are categorized by the number of bows performed, such as bowing 108 times, 1,080 times, and 3,000 times. Believers who visit temples also bring along small creatures, such as fish, and release them back into their natural environment. This is the practice of showing love and respect for all living things. They also hold rituals to guide the souls of the deceased to a better place. The ritual, based on a worldview that sees death not as an end but passage into a new life, is meant to eliminate the deceased’s wrongdoings, resentment, and bad relationships with others, thereby enabling the deceased to be reborn in a better place. The lack of distinction between life and death is a basic Buddhist tenet. The teachings of Buddhism allow the mind to be at peace and benefit the world. Allowing the mind to be peaceful means ridding it of delusions and desires. If one commits a wrongdoing, one must K o r e a n a Ĺ S u mme r 2 013

immediately confess, repent, and promise not to do so again. Just as the moon can emerge only when the clouds part, so can the pure mind be regained only through repentance.

The Moon Emerges as the Clouds Part In Buddhism, the mind is not something that appears or disappears, so its original form is said to be like the void. Thus, allowing the mind to be at peace means to be in a tranquil state without pursuing sensual pleasure. This is part of controlling yourself, as well as your words and intentions. The tranquility that comes from proper self-restraint can lead to the attainment of vast wisdom. According to the principles of Buddhism, suffering can be eliminated through proper views, proper thought, proper speech, proper action, proper livelihood, proper effort, proper mindfulness, and proper concentration. It teaches that, through these noble paths, one can attain a perfection of almsgiving, observance of the precepts, tolerance, exertion, tranquility, and insight. The human body naturally grows old and withers away, and in the end it must die. And the desires of the mundane world consume the human mind. The goal of Buddhist practices is thus the elimination of this suffering and the attainment of bliss and peace of mind.

11


Special Feature 2 Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

Light and Sound at the Temple of Sprawling Pines Bae Bien-u Photographer

12

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


The bamboo grove sways in the wind at Songgwang Temple.

K o r e a n a 覺 S u mme r 2 013

13


The monks practice the full-body bow, bringing the knees, elbows and the forehead to the floor, with their morning prayers at Songgwang Temple.

I

n the predawn darkness, the sound of the wooden gong breaks the silence in the courtyard of Songgwang Temple, surrounded by age-old pine trees with sprawling branches. Before long,

voices chanting a sutra resound through the temple quietly, steadily, and solemnly, followed by the sounds of four percussion instruments. The mystical chanting of morning prayers disperses into the sky, as if splitting into hundreds of strands and then coming together as one, calling in the light. The breeze rustles the branches, and the woods begin to stir.

14

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


When the first rays of dawn touch the rooftops of the ancient pavilions and the pine trees gradually awaken from their slumber, the waves of light and wind make their way through the bamboo groves. The sunlight melts away the silence of the night. It is a time when all living beings respond to the calls of life with their own sounds. Morning light floods the temple grounds, encouraging the trees, birds, and myriad living things to offer their own songs. The leaves ruffled by the wind create a green tide that rises and K o r e a n a 覺 S u mme r 2 013

15


Songgwang Temple is nestled in the verdant pine woods at the foot of Mt. Jogye in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.

16

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2

falls under the crisp blue sky. Time and again the leaves meet and part in the wind with raspy whispers. In the evening, after the sun has crossed the sky and is headed down to the west, the temple courtyard is immersed in the gorgeous flames of sunset. Once again, the temple resonates with the soul-stirring sounds of the four instruments amid evening prayers. The night begins to descend from the faraway mountains. The temple is enveloped in its blue darkness. K o r e a n a 覺 S u mme r 2 013

17


Special Feature 3 Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

Ordinary People Experience Temple Life to Clear their Mind Got up at three in the morning. Drawn to the sound of the temple drum and bell, attended the morning service, bowed 108 times, ate a four-bowl meal without leaving a single grain of rice or red pepper flake, meditated, and walked barefoot in the mountains. It was a truly memorable two days and one night spent at a Buddhist temple. Yoo Cheol-sang Travel Writer | Ha Ji-kwon, Ahn Hong-beom Photographers

18

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


T

Families participating in the temple stay program at Donghwa Temple takes a break on the porch of Stupa Hermitage.

he temple stay program begins with putting one’s cell phone, wallet, cigarettes, and other personal items in a basket. One final minute for a call before the cell phones are left behind; the participants use that time to say brief goodbyes to their families and loved ones, or tend to unfinished business. Then we change into monk’s robes and sit awkwardly as the monk in charge of the program explains the basic rules of temple life. The two most important things seem to be “folding hands” (chasu) and the “procession of geese” (anhaeng). “We fold our hands by placing them one above the other just over the lower abdomen. When you move around the temple, you should maintain this position. When you walk, please walk in single file like geese. We call this a ‘procession of geese.’ We must always maintain a cautious attitude and state of mind, as if walking on thin ice.” Walking on thin ice? When I thought about it, this could describe my whole life up until that point. Hadn’t my life been one of running hastily on what I pretended was a broad, flat road, forgetting or ignoring the unfathomable drop one step to either side?

Full-body Bowing Because participants come from around the nation, most temple stay programs begin in the afternoon. The schedule was relatively light. We had tea with the monks and got used to our awkward robes, then worked up a proper appetite before the evening meal with a fragrant walk among the centuries-old pine trees of Mt. Taehwa. After a buffet-style evening meal, we learned the “full-body bow,” a sort of rehearsal for the morning chanting service. The bow is performed by first bringing both knees to the ground, then bringing both arms together and bowing as low as possible, so that your forehead touches the ground. We had seen it often enough on TV, but most of us were actually doing it for the first time ourselves. It is a common misconception that a full-body bow is only done with the limbs stretched out in the shape of a cross, as in Tibetan Buddhism. In a way, the Catholic priests’ prostration before the cross during ordination is not so different from the Buddhist full-body bow. When the monk made a play on words in Korean, saying, “We call it a jeol [temple] because we practice jeol [bowing] so much,” he wasn’t kidding. The mats spread out on the floor were visibly worn from the contact of countless knees and elbows. Bowing is an act of lowering oneself ultimately; it is a process of finding your true self hidden beneath all boasting and pretension, all anxiety and fear. At a temple, even sleeping is a form of practice: meditation while lying down. You lie quietly with your hands on your lower belly, feeling the breath go in and out of your body. In this way, you look into your mind to see what thoughts go in and out. The monk told us not to try to drive off the countless anxieties of the world that might flood in as we lay in the dark of this quiet mountain temple, but to simply look at them. Silence is observed from the moment you lie down to the moment you finish the morning meal the next day. You cannot even signal to or glance at others. This is so that you can properly look into your own mind. Somewhere, someone is snoring lightly. Morning Service Three minutes past three in the morning. I woke to the sound of the wooden fish being struck to drive away the early dawn darkness. Everyone got up, folded their bedding, and gathered in front of the temple bell. There was no talking or glances. The monk struck the cloud gong and stood in front of the temple drum. Then, he struck the massive drum, much larger than himself, to wake up all living creatures K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

19


that might still be asleep in the darkness. The sound of the drum cleaved the early morning air and echoed off Mt. Taehwa, which enfolded the temple. The moon still shone bright above the firs beyond Paradise Bridge. As the bell was rung 33 times, we walked in single file, like geese, toward the main hall. After the short service, we bowed 108 times to the sharp clack of a bamboo clapper that a monk rapped in the palm of his hand. The monk told us to continue looking into our minds even as we bowed, but as my breathing grew heavier and my knees began to ache, I couldn’t think of anything much. We finished the bowing earlier than I thought and knelt on the floor, but I was still uncomfortable and had a hard time gathering my thoughts. After the morning service I arose on shaky legs and walked to the spring in front of the temple. Still in silence, of course. As I walked across the stepping stones in the stream and along the path lined thick with reeds, I heard the sound of all life in heaven and earth awakening. My mind and body seemed to react to even the slightest stimulus, so much more so than in the city.

Scenes of practice during a temple stay program: As participants learn such temple rituals as full-body bowing (1), circumambulating the pagoda (2), and the meal of four bowls (3), they come face-to-face with their inner selves.

A Tour of the Temple Soon it grew bright. The mountain temple was filled with birdsong. An odd “rat-tat-tat-tat” sound could be heard in the distance. Was it a drill digging into the earth at some distant construction site? I soon learned the origin of the sound. It was a woodpecker, which I had only seen in cartoons as a child. I looked around carefully, but I was never able to see it pecking away at a tree; I only saw the flapping wings as it flew away. After the morning meal, when we were finally allowed to open our mouths again, the monk led us on a tour of the 1,000-year-old temple. Magok Temple sits in a beautiful valley with its buildings nestled on either side of the winding waters of Taehwa Stream. On one side is a collection of simple buildings for practice, and on the other side more imposing structures for prayer. This is what sets Magok Temple apart from other temples. Once past the ticket booth, although the temple is only a short distance away, you must walk quite a distance up the winding valley before actually reaching

Meal of Four Bowls Lunch is the meal of four bowls (baru gongyang). At a temple, even eating is a form of practice. We place our hands together at the sound of the bamboo clapper, and then arrange the four bowls in front of us according to size. We first pour water for washing out the bowls after the meal into the smallest bowl, then fill the remaining bowls with rice, soup, kimchi, and a few side dishes, as much as you intend to eat. There is one more thing to do before eating. We take a piece of kimchi, rinse it thoroughly in the soup, and put it in the rice bowl. Then we eat with as little sound of chopstick clatter as possible — and of course no speaking — and, when finished, we pour water into the rice bowl and wipe the rice, soup, and side dish bowls clean with the rinsed kimchi. Then we eat this piece of kimchi and drink the water. But this is not the end. We then wash the bowls clean with the water from the smallest bowl. Two-thirds of the water is thrown away, and the rest, filled with seasonings and grains of rice, you drink.

Enlightenment Gate, the main entrance, and the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings beyond that. We passed a small group of stupas and then looked around Vulture Peak Hall before passing through the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings, crossing over Paradise Bridge and arriving at the Precious Hall of Great Light, where the Vairocana Buddha is enshrined. Beyond that is the Hall of the Great Hero dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha, where services are held to worship the Buddha three times a day. Temple stay participants are housed in a building next to the Precious Hall of Great Light. With its “national treasures” and numerous other cultural assets, this temple is an enchanted land in a mountain valley, where its halls and pagodas sit amidst lush pine and cherry woods.

Location Magok Temple is found in Unam-ri, Sagok-myeon, Gongju, South Chungcheong Province (www.magoksa.or.kr). To reach the temple, take Expressway 1 from Seoul toward Busan and then get on the Cheonan-Nonsan Expressway at the Cheonan Junction. Get off at the Jeongan Interchange and take Local Road 604 for about 15 minutes; the sign for Magok Temple will be on the left.

Seoul

Mount Museong Magok Temple

Facilities Most temples that offer temple stay programs provide a place to stay. Facilities differ depending on the temple, but those at Magok Temple are exceptional. There is a large cafeteria that serves buffet-style temple meals, as well as modern showers and toilets. The men’s and women’s sleeping quarters are separate, with large group rooms for each. The rooms are comfortable with under-floor heating (ondol) and the bedding is clean. The large group accommodation might be somewhat less convenient as compared to that of Geumsan Temple or Naeso Temple, where five people share a room. (An English-language website for temple stay programs around the country, operated by the Jogye Order’s Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism, can be viewed at: http://eng.templestay.com/.)

20

Cheonan JC Jeongan IC Gongju

Mount Chilgap

Express bus Intercity bus

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


“When you participate in a temple stay, abandon the desire to gain something for yourself. The more you abandon before you come, the more you can gain.� 1

K o r e a n a Äą S u mme r 2 013

2

21

3


2

1

© Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism_Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism

Epilogue Temple stay programs differ somewhat depending on the participants, but for me the most memorable activities were the “looking into the mind” on the first day and the “barefoot walk in the mountains” on the second day. “Looking into the mind” was when each of the participants briefly introduced themselves and then spoke honestly about their most difficult experiences or most earnest desires. Calmly sharing your innermost thoughts with a group of strangers in fact caused each of us to look deeply into our own minds. The “barefoot walk in the mountains” was a process of meditating while walking barefoot along a path on Mt. Taehwa for just over two hours. But it was not a solemn walk from start to finish. After

1. Forest meditation is part of the temple stay program at Tongdo Temple. 2. Making tea at Geumsan Temple. 3. The sutra chanting services are the most important rituals of a temple stay program.

3

22

meditating during prescribed sections of the path, we talked about things that we had not yet shared, chatting and laughing like children on a picnic as we walked along leisurely. There were flat sections and rough, rocky areas, but we did not mind; it was a time for us to control our minds and breathing, and to become one with nature. After passing through the final gate when leaving the temple the next day, I thought of something I had been told when I signed up for the program: “Buddhism is characterized by a lack of limitations. We also call this ‘the void.’ We accept everyone, with no preconditions. When you participate in the temple stay, abandon the desire to gain something for yourself. The more you abandon before you come, the more you can gain.” I don’t know how many nights I will need to spend under the roof of a temple to sweep away all the dust that has built up, layer upon layer, in my mind over the 30-something years of my life, but I have at least decided to try it again in the near future.

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Temple Stay Programs in Seoul well as Seon exercises to the rhythm of a bamHwagye Temple This temple is not far boo clapper, observance of silence, and the from Suyu Intersection, but once inside the practice of 108 bows. At the end of the profront gate it reveals its graceful charm. Begram, participants have tea with the monks yond the front gate, mature oaks, elms, and and may ask questions on the subject of their zelkova trees cool the path with their shade. meditation. Just watching the stream waters as they flow down from Mt. Samgak (Bukhan), which Telephone: 02-3672-5945 creates a scenie backdrop, can bring a sense Website: www.kilsangsa.or.kr of peacefulness. Established by the Goryeo Directions: From Exit 6 at Hansung University monk Tanmun in the 10th century, this Station, on the No. 4 subway line, take town temple in northeastern Seoul preserves its shuttle bus No. 2 or 3 and get off in front of long history and traditions in its shrines and Seonjam Complex. The temple is a five-minute temple bell. Temple stay participants attend walk from there. sutra chanting services at the Hall of Great Peace and Light near the entrance to the temple grounds, instead of the smaller main Bongeun Temple This millenniumhall, and experience the practice of Seon at old temple is nestled among the high-rises the International Meditation Center. Many of Samseong-dong in Gangnam, southern ascetics from other countries stay here on a Seoul. It was founded by National Preceptor Gilsang Temple’s statue of Avalokitesvara brings long-term basis, so the temple stay program Yeonhoe of the Silla Kingdom in the eighth to mind the Virgin Mary. is a one-day program focused on meditation. century and was the site where monks took The program includes regular monastic activities, like participating the state examination during the Joseon Dynasty. If you walk along in services, communal work, meditation, and walks. The walks, which the dirt path from the main hall to the sutra woodblock repositories, take place along wooded paths winding through the valley while con- you can see people praying in the Maitreya Hall, which has a large templating hwadu subjects, are especially popular. statue of the Future Buddha. Up a wooded path behind the woodblock archive is the meditation center, where an overnight temple stay program is conducted whenever 10 or more people apply. In adTelephone: 02-909-2663 Website: www.hwagyesa.org Directions: From Exit 3 of Suyu Station, on the No. 4 subway line, dition, a short, three-hour program held at 2:00 p.m. every Thursday take town shuttle bus No. 2 and get off at the station for Hwagye allows participants to briefly experience temple life. The program includes a four-bowl meal, meditation, sutra chanting service, and Temple. making sutra prints from woodblocks. Buddhist adherents with Gilsang Temple Located in Seongbuk-dong, a residential area in foreign language skills and adequate knowledge of Buddhism serve the heart of Seoul, Gilsang Temple offers easy access. There is no need as volunteer assistants for the overnight temple stay and the short to climb stairs as you stare up at the Buddha in the distance. Just past a temple life experience programs. few ancient zelkova trees is a large yard with the Paradise Hall. Behind the main hall is a lovely wooded path that leads to the dormitory for Telephone: 02-545-1448 the monks and the Portrait Pavilion, which enshrines the portrait of Website: www.bongeunsa.org monk Beopjeong, the spiritual pillar of the temple until he passed Directions: From Exit 6 at SamHwagye Temple away in 2010. The beautiful scenery of Mt. Bugak, which overlooks seong Station, on the No. 2 subthe old city center of Seoul, spreads out in both directions, which way line, go straight Gilsang Temple makes this temple popular with locals as a place for enjoying walks. for about 100 Unlike the numerous “millennium-old temples” across the country, meters toward this temple was founded in 1995 on what had previously been the the ASEM Tower. site of a high-class restaurant; the landowner, a former gisaeng host- The entrance to Bongeun Bongeun Temple ess, donated the property in her final years. Temple stay programs are Temple is across the held regularly on the last Saturday of every month. It is an overnight street from the ASEM program that features over eight hours each day of Seon meditation as Tower. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

23


Special Feature 4 Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

Self-sufficiency at the World’s Largest Bhikkhuni Community Unmun Temple strictly adheres to the principle of “A day without work is a day without eating,” which underscores the importance of productive labor in the daily lives of Buddhist ascetics. The temple’s novice bhikkhunis are responsible for the housekeeping tasks, including the preparation of daily meals for almost 200 residents, and even growing their own grains and vegetables. Kim Young-ock Freelance Writer | Ha Ji-kwon, Na Sang-ho Photographers

24

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

1


2

A

t every temple, there is a traditional structure called Iljumun, or “one-pillar gate,” which is often known as the Gate of Nonduality. As the first temple gate, it stands between the secular world and the temple grounds. Notwithstanding its name, the gate includes more than one pillar but they are aligned horizontally. Some claim that the name comes from a belief that everyone who enters the temple through this gate should do so single-mindedly, by discarding all secular knowledge in pursuit of the truth. Unmunsa, or Cloud Gate Temple, located in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province in the southeastern part of Korea, was built about 1,500 years ago. This foremost monastery for bhikkhunis (ordained female monks) has its own one-pillar gate, of course, but the gate’s function of separating the two worlds is naturally provided by an expansive area of tall, straight pine trees at the entrance to the temple grounds. These handsome pines have the ability to liberate your mind from the troubles of everyday life. It is said that a woman was so profoundly inspired by the sight of nuns in gray robes walking through the pine woods that she renounced the secular life and became an ascetic herself.

The Bhikkhuni Order and Unmun Temple Unmun Temple is not only a temple but also a seminary where the scriptures are taught and researched. It is home to some 200 resident nuns, about 150 of them seminary students. In terms of its student enrollment, the temple ranks as the K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

largest of the five bhikkhuni institutions in Korea and the world as well. One of the traditional customs of this historic temple and its monastic college is an around-the-clock practice that calls for students to be engaged in monastic activities all day long. Student nuns spend four years at the temple, while completing required courses to become an ordained nun. During this period of communal life, they read scriptures and learn rituals to prepare themselves for the rigorous monastic life. Their daily routine follows a regimented schedule, down to the exact minutes. The day begins at 3:00 a.m., when they circle the main Dharma hall while chanting prayers to the sound of the wooden gong to cleanse the temple grounds before the predawn service. After the morning service, they meditate or study in their rooms until breakfast time. They take classes for two hours from 2:00 p.m., and again for hours after the evening service until 9:00 p.m., when the day’s routine is concluded. The evening sessions consist of discussions, a time-honored instructional method at this monastic college, and then they prep for the next day. As for the tight schedule, one student said with a smile, “Here, you can do 84,000 tasks in a minute!” Korean Buddhism has left a special mark on the world’s Buddhist history with its faithful preservation of temples and the spirit of monasticism. Its

3

1, 2. Student nuns carry out communal labor. 3. A tranquil road, cutting through a thick pine forest, leads to Unmun Temple.

25


bhikkhuni order, an especially cherished heritage in terms of both scale and arduous practices, is indisputably the world’s largest Buddhist community of female monastics. Unmun Temple is said to have been dedicated in 557 by a monk of the Silla Kingdom who attained enlightenment after practicing asceticism for many years at a small shelter in Geumsu-dong on Mt. Hogeo, or “Crouching Tiger Mountain.” The temple started as a monastery for male monks, but it was converted into Korea’s first female monastic college in 1958. Venerable Myeongseong, who is currently the temple’s most senior nun, was appointed a professor in 1970, and from 1977 she served the next 20 years as the temple’s abbess and the school’s head instructor. During her tenure, she conducted a renovation of the temple complex in addition to educating numerous student nuns.

Crop Cultivation The temple strives to attain self-sufficiency in its food production. The process of feeding the large monastic community begins in early spring, with the seminary’s second-year students undertaking most farming activities. During the busy harvest time in autumn, the students often engage in communal labor (ullyeok) in the fields for over five hours a day. Baizhang Huaihai (720-814), the Chinese Zen master who con-

1

26

ducted a comprehensive survey of Chinese Zen organizations and institutions to document the traditions of Chinese Buddhism, stressed the importance of productive labor for the spirituality of practitioners. He himself continued to work in the fields even in his old age. Worried about their teacher’s health, his disciples decided to hide his hoe, upon which he refused to eat all together. When they returned his hoe, the teacher left the famous aphorism: “A day without work is a day without eating.” The vegetable crops that he advised his students to grow throughout the year, depending on the season, included lettuce, chard, eggplants, gourds, cucumbers, sunflowers, radish, bugweed, and spinach. The crops grown today at Unmun Temple differ little from those of the ancient Chinese Buddhists. That this temple has faithfully observed the teachings of Baizhang Huaihai alone sets it apart from most other Buddhist temples in Korea.

Mealtime Rituals Every temple activity is part of spiritual practice. Apart from the sutra chanting services to praise the Buddha, the mealtime rituals are especially symbolic and meaningful. All the resident ascetics and students gather in a large hall to conduct the rite of eating a meal in silence. The ritual begins with the sound of a bamboo clapper. Before eating, they first take food in a set of four baru bowls

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


of different sizes. After finishing the food in the bowls, each bowl is rinsed with water, which they then drink. The process is repeated several times before the bowls are dried with a cloth and stacked in a set. The mealtime rituals help novice practitioners to learn the virtues of equality, frugality, purity, moderation, and the Six Concords, which call for harmony of the body, speech, mind, morality, knowledge, and distribution of sustenance. At every meal, the ascetics reflect upon the meaning of the food by reciting a pre-meal chant which begins with the question, “Where has this food come from?” The significance of temple life does not remain within the temple grounds. Temple food culture, including the ways of its preparation and consumption, has come to fascinate not only Koreans but people around the world with its deep spirituality.

Management of the Kitchen The kitchen in the temple’s backyard and food preparation duties are the responsibility of the third-year students. They work together to prepare the meals under the direction of the chief administrator (wonju ) who oversees the temple’s housekeeping affairs. The chief administrator is assisted by the assistant administrator (byeoljwa), who plans the menu and helps with the cooking. Since the menu is strictly vegetarian, an important source of protein is bean curd, which is either donated by the laity or purchased since it cannot be easily made by hand. Bean sprouts, which must be frequently watered to ensure tall sprouts without fine roots, are grown in the temple kitchen. The kitchen staff is extremely busy from 4:00 a.m., after the morning service, until 6:00 a.m., when breakfast is served. Praying to the kitchen god (jowang ) has been a longstanding custom as ascetics and lay people alike respect the native deity’s ability to ward off misfortune and illness. This daily rite underscores the importance of the kitchen, where everyday meals are prepared. At Unmun Temple, the nuns wash their hands and mouths, and bow in front of the kitchen god before entering the kitchen every morning. A more formal monthly offering service is also held. In the early morning of the last day of every lunar month, an offering of rice cake coated with ground red beans is placed on the altar at the wood-burning stove of the Golden Hall, the temple’s oldest building. The age-old rules of menu planning encourage the use of seasonal ingredients, limit the amount of salt and oil, and prohibit the five pungent vegetables, including garlic, scallions, and wild leeks, which are said to disturb spiritual practices. The restriction of the use of oil is waived three times a month on tonsure days, when the meal can include glutinous rice steamed with various ingredients

2

1. Unmun Temple, home to some 200 resident nuns, is nestled amid the thick woods of Mt. Hogeo, or the “Tiger Crouching Mountain.” 2, 3. The kitchen is managed by student nuns. They prepare tea leaves (2) and cook rice on the wood-burning stove under the shrine for the kitchen god (3). K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

27

3


The significance of temple life does not remain within the temple grounds. Temple food culture, including the ways of its preparation and consumption, has come to fascinate not only Koreans but people around the world with its deep spirituality. like red beans, chestnuts, dates, and pine nuts (chalbap); seaweed soup (miyeokguk); deep-fried black mushrooms with sauce (mogi beoseot tangsu); stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables (japchae); and sweet potatoes deep fried and coated with syrup (matang). The menu is based on available ingredients, either grown at the temple or donated, but is not restricted to traditional dishes. The less experienced student nuns might find it hard to eat their fill at breakfast, even when the food is made for easier digestion. This difficulty comes from the radical adjustment of their daily routine after joining the monastic order. On the days of collective farming, when all resident ascetics participate, they have snacks like noodles, rice cake, or bread. Between meals, they make tteokbokki from the plain rice cake donated by the laity. Sometimes, they have a kind of pizza, using cooked rice as a base and vegetable toppings. Communal life makes temple residents vulnerable to infectious diseases. So when a flu or cold bug goes around, they drink a hot soup made with bean sprouts, radish, and neungi mushrooms. Cinnamon tea and ginger tea are also helpful to alleviate cold symptoms. A cold treatment is also made by soaking bean sprouts in grain syrup. At temples, tea ingredients include the root of Solomon’s seal, radish, artichokes, shepherd’s purse, and dates. An old saying goes, “A grain of rice is the product of seven geun (about 9 pounds) of the farmer’s sweat.” In line with this spirit, the temple’s kitchen waste is used to produce compost for the next year’s crop. Mixed with leaves, weeds, and sawdust from renovation work, as well as ashes and human excrement, the food waste is fermented for a year to make fertilizer.

Tradition and Modernization A uniquely attractive scene at the temple is the numerous condiment jars clustered on a platform, basking in the bright sunlight. The earthen jars, big and small, are neatly dated and labeled — soybean paste, red pepper paste, soy sauce, persimmon vinegar, salt, and so on. Another impressive feature of the temple kitchen is the large cast-iron cauldron that is used to boil soybeans for soybean paste or to cook rice and soup for visitors attending major temple events. Food cooked in this cauldron has a rich flavor while its graceful appearance is not easily matched by modern kitchen implements. Also noticeable are the various storehouses built along the stream flowing by the temple. One building is full of refrigerators stocked with kimchi, made from thousands of heads of cabbage every winter by the student nuns, and red pepper powder, a staple condiment of Korean cuisine. Clean and dry storehouses with proper ventilation are used to store dried vegetables procured every autumn — such as red peppers, soy bean, sesame seeds, perilla seeds, zucchinis, and schizandra — along with wild aromatic grasses from the mountains, including mountain peppers and medicinal herbs. A shaded storehouse contains vegetables preserved in soy sauce, red pepper paste, or vinegar, such as radish, green peppers, deodeok (Codonopsis lanceolata), green plums, lotus roots, mushrooms, and perilla sprouts. These staples, carefully prepared and stocked, reveal the size of the community fed daily by the temple kitchen. Another storehouse has an assortment of sundry articles neatly arranged against the wall — hoes, tall brooms, vegetable baskets, low stools, and rubber boots — which can make you smile and sigh at the same

1. Blocks of fermented soybeans (meju ) are dried in the sun. They are used to make the soy sauce and soybean paste which will be consumed in the temple all year round. 2. The mealtime ritual is a rigorous practice performed in silence. 1

28

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2

time. The Buddhist aphorism, “Watch beneath your feet,” that can also be interpreted as “Beware of your behavior,” is reflected in the variety of articles used in the backyard kitchen as well as orderly rows of white rubber shoes in front of the main Dharma hall. No one knows how long this traditional bhikkhuni way of life can be maintained. The changing times require the monastic colleges to teach a wider range of disciplines, while the number of ordained nuns has steadily decreased. The average age at time of ordination continues to rise (currently late 30s), as ever fewer students are willing to endure such strenuous labor as preparing meals in the kitchen and tending the large crop fields of almost five acres. In response to this trend, Unmun Temple plans to build a new kitchen equipped with modern dish washers and gas stoves, instead of relying on traditional cauldrons. Internally, there is a debate about K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

whether professional nutritionists should be employed to handle the menu planning. Venerable Iljin, the temple’s abbess, makes the final decisions about general affairs after seeking the advice of her elders and other administrators. She also serves as a professor who teaches the Avatamsaka Sutra at the seminary. One day, after attending a meeting at the Jogye Order headquarters in Seoul, she returned to the temple late in the evening with her arms full of grocery bags. When asked if an abbess should do the shopping herself, she answered, with a smile, “I may be the abbess, but I’m more of an administrator than the eldest spiritual leader of this temple.” A humble-minded person and progressive administrator who believes that problems should be solved, not avoided, she would like to see tradition preserved, but within realistic limits.

29


30

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts Š Research Institute of Sungbo Cultural Heritage


Special Feature 5 Daily Life at a Buddhist Temple

Main Buddha Hall

Symbolism of Images and Paintings For nearly 1,500 years, Koreans have come to the main Buddha halls for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most importantly just to be there. A look into the layout and art forms within a Main Buddha Hall reveals much about the essence of Korean Buddhist thought and the extent to which it has influenced Korean culture and attitudes over the centuries. Brian Barry Dharma Painter | Ahn Hong-beom, Park Bo-ha, Ha Ji-kwon Photographers

“A

-SPICE”! I can hear you now: “Gadzooks! Not another acronym!” With more than 10 million tourists visiting Korea each year and the highly successful temple stay programs, Korea’s intriguing selection of temples is attracting ever more interest from the international community. Due to the sometimes dizzying array of halls, images, paintings, and facilities, however, particularly at the larger temples, guests often leave even more bewildered than they were before entering a temple compound.

‘A’ is for Atmosphere Of course, for local and visiting Buddhists and for many tourists as well, the objective of a temple visit is not to achieve an instant cranial comprehension of everything around them, although some may more easily acquire an intuitive understanding. Rather, the aim is to soak up the distinctive atmosphere and vibes that each temple offers, to just sit, contemplate, or destress, or to practice a bit. This is true for religious facilities around the world. More often than not it is the international visitors and local foreigners who are most curious about the details of temples. To satisfy such curiosity, it can be easier to understand Korean temples by first thinking in terms of features common to religious facilities everywhere, and then to appreciate some distinctively Korean features. First and foremost, every religious facility has its own Atmosphere, largely influenced initially by the architecture. The stunning domes of mosques, the sheer size of mega-churches, the towering ceilings of cathedrals, the cosmic womb of a temple — all of these contribute to setting an atmosphere unique to each establishment. In many instances, the artwork is essential to creating such atmosphere as well. Once I visited a new hall with buddha images but no paintings. It was simple and elegant, but bare, at least to me, although it would have been a Zen meditator’s delight. When I went back two months later, after the paintings had been enshrined, the hall was like a completely different world — warm, vibrant, and inviting. We can come to an easy understanding of the essentials of the Main Buddha Hall in Korea through such colorful artwork, since it’s often the artwork, including the images, which captures the attention of many who come to visit.

The magnificent Amitabha Painting at the Main Platform of the Hall of Paradise, Cheoneun Temple in Gurye, dated 1776. Treasure No. 924. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

SPICE-ing Things Up This brings us back to the acronym. So let’s start SPICE-ing things up. In general, such formative religious arts as architecture, images, and paintings have a number of purposes in addition to creating an atmosphere, namely, to Sanctify, Protect, Inspire, Console, and Educate.

31


There you go! You just need to remember SPICE wherever you go in the world. Since there are seemingly a zillion different images and paintings in Korean Buddhism, interpreting their purposes makes a visit to any religious facility much more comprehensible. For example, once enshrined, a buddha image on the main platform sanctifies a temple, as do supporting paintings of buddhas and bodhisattvas. The images and paintings also serve to protect, inspire, console and educate. Other paintings are strategically placed around the Main Buddha Hall on either of two side platforms, a Guardian Platform and a Spirit Platform, which have their respective roles while also serving to inspire and educate.

1

1. The Main Platform (left) and the Guardian Platform (right) at the Main Buddha Hall of Bongjeong Temple, in Andong. 2. Detail of the 124-image Guardian Painting, dated 1892, at Haein Temple, one of Korea's three Jewel Temples representing the Dharma, located at the foot of Mt. Gaya in Hapcheon. Guardians often range from the ferocious to the hilarious. 3. The Ambrosia Painting at the Spirit Platform, Suwol Hermitage, Seoul.

The Main Platform Traditionally, the Main Buddha Hall (the main Buddha varies from temple to temple) is rectangular with entrances at the front ends of the two sides of the hall. The front door is for high monks and monks bringing service offerings. The main platform, which is located against the center of the back wall, includes images and paintings that provide practitioners with subjects for homage and devotion. Images of the buddha(s) and bodhisattvas are ensconced on this platform, which also carries incense, an incense burner, candles, and various offerings including rice and fruit. Smaller, human-scale images are usually associated with the Seon (Zen) sect, promoting meditative practice, while largesize images reflect the Avatamsaka Sutra, with an emphasis on evoking awe and inspiration. Highly important and supportive of the main images are the paintings behind them, which typically reflect the images on the platform. For example, if Sakyamuni is the main Buddha, the main platform painting will often feature him in a scene depicting the Lotus Sutra (highly important in Mahayana or Northern School Buddhism) Dharma Assembly, surrounded by guardians, bodhisattvas, disciples, and others in attendance. An Amitabha (Buddha of Infinite Light) painting will support an Amitabha image, and so on. In front of the platform is a podium for Dharma talks, and in front of that a low sutra desk for chanting services, usually conducted three times a day. Korea’s range of main platform paintings is stunning; many date back hundreds of years, and some are “national treasures” and “treasures” (nearly 80 percent of Korea’s state-designated cultural assets are related to Buddhism). A wise 10-year project to photograph and document paintings at Jogye Order temples throughout the nation, for both research and posterity, has resulted in the 40-volume compendium “Buddhist Paintings of Korea,” published by the Buddhist Cultural Properties Research Institute. The Guardian Platform On one side wall of the Main Buddha Hall is a Guardian Platform and on the opposite a Spirit Platform. Which platform is on which side depends on the temple. The paintings are the main elements of these platforms, and an image is rarely found on either platform. The guardian paintings were born out of the repression of Buddhism during the Joseon

32

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


3

33

K o r e a n a 覺 S u mme r 2 013

穢 Research Institute of Sungbo Cultural Heritage

2


1

34

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Dynasty (1392-1910). Prior to that, Buddhist guardians were national deities and often carved onto outdoor pagodas around the nation to protect the country from invasions. But with the ascent of Confucianism, things Buddhist were literally shoved aside into the temples. Thus the concept and function of Buddhism as the shield of national protection retracted into the safeguarding of the temple compound, the Dharma, and the practitioners. The guardian paintings began to flourish as a medium to express this new concept of protection. And these paintings are some of the most fascinating temple paintings of all. The largest of these paintings often feature 104 guardians, although the one at Haein Temple has 124. Smaller versions are much more common and fit the size requirements of each temple. There is a clear Brahman influence, since, after all, Buddhism was born out of a Brahman cultural milieu, and according to Buddhism, all of those deities and devas took refuge in the Buddha. Young Skanda (aka Kumarabhuta “the youthful deva”), a son of Shiva, usually stands in the center as main guardian, and features a feathered hat, which is a Joseon-era transformation of his original helmet as the young Brahman god of war. Haloed Indra, Brahma, and sometimes Shiva (with a third eye) stand somewhere above him. This is what makes guardian paintings so fascinating: they are a record of the cultural and religious influences that flowed out of India, through China and into Korea. In each and every Korean guardian painting, no matter how small, there will always be three local favorites: the Dragon King with his hilarious whiskers, the Kitchen God, and a Mountain God. An interesting side note: As an ever curious and zealous (and the first) foreign apprentice in temple paintings, I always tried to accumulate as much information as possible, feeling that I had an obligation to pass on this unknown tradition to the outside world to augment international Buddhist studies. I was thus determined to identify and translate the names of every figure in a 104-image guardian painting. But I could not find that information anywhere. People were indifferent, shrugged their shoulders and asked, “Why on earth do you want to know all that?” So, I set about the task by researching the Avatamsaka Sutra and other relevant sources on my own. Then I had a dream. In the dream I was sweeping the courtyard of a Main Buddha Hall in a misty, gentle predawn light. Suddenly out of the mist appeared Skanda and his retinue of guardians. Startled, I paid my respects and asked him why he had come to see me. He told me very graciously that it was not necessary to nitpick the identities of everyone in the painting, and that I should just consider them all as a single group. Then, he and the other guardians, in unison, turned around and marched back into the fog. The next day I went to the studio and told this dream to my painting teacher, the late Great Master Manbong. His mouth dropped and his eyes grew as big as golf balls. After a few moments of stunned silence, he finally bent over and whispered to me that indeed I should not try to identify them, since they do not like to be disturbed by having their names repeated again and again. End of my research project. The guardian wall sometimes features other types of paintings that offer protection, including the Big Dipper painting (longevity), the Tripitaka painting, and on rare occasion a Mountain God painting, if there is no separate Mountain God Pavilion on the temple grounds. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

2

1. Sakyamuni Buddha becomes enlightened after resisting temptation of demons, in a detail from the “Eight Scenes from the Life of the Buddha” panel paintings, dated 1892, at Haein Temple. 2. Colorful dancheong patterns and mural panels of the Main Buddha Hall at Haein Temple.

35


1

We can come to an easy understanding of the essentials of a Main Buddha Hall in Korea through its colorful artwork, since it’s often this artwork, including the images, which captures the attention of many who come to visit... In general, such formative religious arts as architecture, images, and paintings have a number of purposes in addition to creating a spiritual atmosphere.

2

36

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


The Spirit Platform On the opposite wall, the Spirit Platform is used to conduct funeral and spirit-guiding ceremonies, although larger temples have their own Judgment Hall for such services. The purpose of this platform is, obviously, to console both the departed and the living. It is also highly educational and inspirational. Whereas memorial services are common in other religious traditions, Buddhism conducts spirit-guiding ceremonies to gradually lead the spirits to higher levels of existence and eventual enlightenment. These are held two days after the death day, the seventh day thereafter (counting the day of death), and then every seventh day until the 49th Day Rebirth Ceremony. Then, there are two more, on the first and second anniversaries for a total of 10 services. Any ceremonies after that are up to the discretion of the family. Also, when things are going terribly wrong in a family, they may at any time decide to conduct a spirit-guiding ceremony to placate possibly disgruntled ancestors whom they feel may be responsible for the family’s sudden misfortune. Another marvelous painting, and typically the central work of a Spirit Platform, is the ambrosia, or eternal life, painting. This genre also goes back hundreds of years. The basic format includes the levels of sentient beings — hells, animals, hungry ghosts, humans, titans — along the lower one-third of the painting; and a spirit-guiding ceremony along the center level to elevate beings into the top third of the painting, which is the highest realm of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, the realm of enlightenment and paradise. Instantly eye-catching are two large hungry ghosts, symbols of human craving, who are prominent in the lower center of the painting. The realm of the humans is particularly interesting and very Korean, depicting scenes from daily life of the Joseon period — acrobatics, games, drinking, dancing, market day, fighting, board games, shamans, all the fun and follies of the human predicament — which reflect the clothing and social activities of the time. I’ve heard that one or two contemporary painters now even include cell phones, business suits, cars, computers, skyscrapers, and other representative objects and scenes from modern life, although I have yet to hear of one featuring Psy’s horse dance! A number of other supportive paintings may also be found along the Spirit Platform wall, including the Nine Levels of Paradise painting. Colorful cosmic patterns, dancheong, many featuring lotuses in one form or another, complete the temple interior and exterior, alluding to paradise while delighting the eyes and inspiring people to practice. The exterior dancheong beckons people to come visit paradise, while the interior dancheong often alternates with instructive murals on the walls, rafters, beams, and ceiling. Now that acronym wasn’t so bad after all, was it?! K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

1. A new-generation Main Platform painting at Myohyang Temple on Mt. Palgong, in Daegu. 2. The new-generation painting at Myohyang Temple includes the image of a reclining Buddha with his notebook computer.

37


focus

Korean Comics on the Cutting Edge of the Digital Environment

©

KO

MA

CO

The Korean exhibition at the 40th Angoulême International Comics Festival, the largest event of its kind in Europe and the second-biggest in the world, celebrated the advent of the digital era. It effectively showcased Korea’s web-based cartoons, or webtoons, looking ahead to the future for the world of comics. Park In-ha Comic Book Critic and Professor, Department of Cartoon and Comics Creation, Chungkang College of Cultural Industries

A

t the 40th Angoulême International Comics Festival held earlier this year, Korea presented a special exhibition of web-based comics, or webtoons, under the title of “Au-de là Bande Dessinée.” The exhibition was held from January 31 to February 3, at the Place Saint-Martial in central Angoulême, a quiet town in southwestern France. The exhibition’s title and content are especially meaningful in light of the fact that when Korea first participated in the festival a decade ago as its Guest of Honor, attention was focused on the dynamism of Korean comics, or manhwa, then virtually unknown to European readers.

38

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

N


This year’s special exhibition reflected the evolving capability of Korean comics. First, the exhibition sought to more broadly appeal to comic readers abroad by strategically adopting the more universal term bande dessineé (literally “drawn strips”), instead of the Korean term manhwa, in its title. Second, the unique and highly advanced digital dimensions of Korean creativity were brought to the fore. Indeed, while the first exhibition in 2003 only gave a foretaste of the burgeoning webtoon market in Korea, the 2013 show, under the slogan “Play with Digital,” spotlighted the latest technological developments of Internet-based comic works from Korea. Korean artists aptly employed flash animation and HTLM tagging techniques to maximize sound and visual effects of the scroll-down, vertical reading of webtoons. Shown on large video screens as well as tablet PCs and other mobile digital devices were the diverse webtoon creations by professionals and amateurs.

A cartoon character from “Bandit Lim” created by Lee Doo-ho (left) and another character from “The Story of Gisaeng”by Kim Dong-hwa (below). The two artists participated in the Korean Classical Cartoonists Exhibition at the 40th Angoulême International Comics Festival.

‘Play with Digital’ The French visitors to the festival greatly enjoyed the Korean webtoons thanks to the innovative digital applications. While viewing the creepy “Bongcheon-dong Ghost,” they screamed when the ghost suddenly turned around to gaze at the screen images; in the action thriller “Gisado,” they were startled by the door chime’s eerie sound. For another example, in “The Story of Constanze: The Strange Survival,” a short animated film suddenly began to play, causing the audience to unconsciously adopt the view of one of the cartoon characters, who is himself watching the video. The greatest response came from young students. A 40-year-old French school teacher who was leading a group of students said, “It was a novel experience to read Korean comics by scrolling down the screen. The students seemed to enjoy them because the cartoons were almost like movies.” The French news magazine “l’Express” introduced the Korean exhibition, saying that Korean webtoons provided a fresh experience to readers accustomed to conventional print-format comics. It is notable that France, with its own long-established print cartoon industry, is showing considerable interest in web-based comics. The first Francophone portal site for webtoons, “Delitoon. com” was launched in May 2012 by Casterman, the leading publisher of French-language comics. “In Europe also, many talented young cartoon artists now operate their own blogs to showcase their webtoons. Some of the most talented have begun to feature cartoon series at Delitoon, following the Korean precedent,” said Didier Borg, 45, a Casterman editor and administrator of Delitoon. Korean webtoons have been available on Delitoon since March this year. Digital Upheaval of the Comics Industry Over the past decade, Korean comics have seen remarkable change as digital platforms have taken center stage of the comics publishing industry, sidelining the traditional print media. For some, the changeover was swift and disruptive, while for others it was a more gradual transformation. The former were mostly involved in the print-based comics industry: conventional cartoon publishers or the owners of cartoon cafes that flourished for decades before the advent of the digital revolution. In contrast, general cartoon fans seem to have more smoothly migrated to the new web-based platform, easily utilizing their digital gadgets to access their favorite cartoon series. This technological innovation has indeed brought about a dramatic evolution in Korea’s comics readership. According to a 2012 survey on the nation’s Internet usage by the Korea Communications Commission and the Korea Internet Security Agency, 82.1 percent of Korean households had Internet access in 2012, compared to 49.8 percent in 2002. As of July 2012, a whopping 78.4 percent of the Korean population, aged three or older, utilized the Internet, with this figure rising to 99 percent for the 10-29 age bracket. In addition, the survey found that 63.7 percent of those aged six or older have their own smart devices, such as smart phones or tablets. Thanks to the ready availability of webtoons in this environment, Korea has become one of the largest comic markets in the world. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

© KOMACON

39


Indeed, while the first exhibition in 2003 only gave a foretaste of the burgeoning webtoon market in Korea, the 2013 show, under the slogan “Play with Digital,” spotlighted the latest technological developments of Internet-based comic works from Korea.

In Korea, high-speed Internet is the typical medium to access information. More notably, the online sources are highly centralized: the two leading portal websites, Naver and Daum, account for 73.5 percent and 20 percent of the domestic market, respectively, for a combined market share of 93.5 percent. As part of a strategy to maintain this dominant position, the two portal giants offer a wide range of free information services, including webtoons. The webtoon market has grown steadily since the first webtoon series appeared in 2000 and by December 2012 weekly webtoon updates amounted to 145 at Naver, and 108 at Daum. This means that at least 253 new episodes are featured every week on these two online channels, a production volume equivalent to that of some 17 conventional print cartoon magazines, given that an average offline magazine offers 10 to 15 cartoon series at a time. As Korea’s ubiquitous Internet access provides an environment ripe for boundless cartoon readership, ever more people are finding a vent for their creativity in webtoons. For instance, there are police officers and school teachers who share their work experiences through webtoons. “PolStory,” short for “Police Story,” a series launched in 2007 by a police officer named Gyeong Hyeon-ju, has gained such wide popularity that it has been assigned a regular space on the official National Police Agency blog “Pol in Love.” “Goshisaeng-Toon” (state exam prepper’s webtoon) by a cartoonist named SERI depicts the author’s daily life as she crammed for the government’s teacher accreditation exams. Having passed the exams and become a teacher, the author has started a new series called “Saem-Toon,” meaning “teacher’s webtoon.” Glimpsing the Future of Comics In addition to the webtoon exhibition, this year’s Angoulême festival also highlighted new directions based on the traditional comics format. The works of the classical Korean cartoonists Lee Doo-ho and

40 1

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


1. The Special Korean Comics Exhibition, titled “Au-de là Bande Dessinée,” takes place at Place Saint-Martial, central Angoulême. 2. Visitors look at works by Korean cartoonists, which depict their views of the festival.

2 © KOMACON

Kim Dong-hwa, which have been translated into French, were explored along with the creations of 13 younger artists that displayed strong auteurism, a trend that has appeared since 2000. These artists present a diverse range of original content dealing with the inner self, nostalgic remembrances, family experiences, history, and concealed social realities. It was thus a rare opportunity for European fans to rediscover the unique lyricism featured in Korean cartoons. Some of the works were sold for publication abroad. The French term bande dessineé and the Japanese term manga can be seen as equivalents of the English word “comics.” Since the 1990s, however, Japanese comics have become such a well-established genre that manga is now a known term in almost any language. When Korean manhwa was first introduced overseas, it would often be confused with manga because of their similarities in style. Thereafter, manhwa started to gain traction after Korea’s participation in the 30th Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2003, and thanks to the fervent efforts of Korea’s cartoonists and government to promote manhwa in overseas markets. Casterman, for example, uses both “bande dessinée coréenne” (Korean comics) and “manwha” to refer to the publisher’s French-translated collection of Korean comics, brand-named “Hanguk” (meaning “Korea”). Casterman’s manhwa publications include “Catsby” and “Romance Killer” by Doha, “Histoire couleur terre” by Kim Dong-hwa, and “Timing” and “Appartement” by Kang Full. The use of “bande dessineé,” instead of “manhwa,” in the title “Au-de là Bande Dessinée” reflects the future-oriented character of the Korean exhibition. A more universal term was purposely adopted as a show of confidence that Korean works are pointing the way for the future of comics in today’s digital environment, such that Korean comics of today are a harbinger of the comics of tomorrow. “Comic Journal” is the latest mobile application for fans of Korean comics at home and abroad, available in Korean and English. A variety of cartoon-related information can be accessed from this mobile application, launched in March this year by the Korea Manhwa Contents Agency (KOMACON). It offers “Korean Comics 100 Anthology,” as well as a comprehensive array of reviews, stories about new releases, interviews of cartoonists, and SNS links to renowned webtoon artists. Can Korean works continue to blaze a trail for cartoons of the future? This depends on the country’s new generation who are growing up “playing with digital.” (Some field reports and interviews used as reference for this article are from coverage by Lee Young-hee of the JoongAng Ilbo.) K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

41


interview

Yu Jin-gyu Trailblazer of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival

Yu Jin-gyu gives a performance of his mime piece “Empty Hands.� Miming a shamanic dance with knives used for Korean indigenous ritual, he expresses the meaning of life wherein a man comes into being and leaves for good without possessions.

42

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


In May the lakeside city of Chuncheon vibrates with anticipation for an international mime festival named after it. Korea’s foremost mime artist, Yu Jin-gyu has been organizing the annual festivities for the past 25 years at this scenic city situated among lakes, mountains, and a river. As Yu’s stage creations have evolved over time to deepen rapport with his audiences, the Chuncheon International Mime Festival has continued to enhance its engagement with the general public. Kim Jung-hyo Theater Critic and Professor, Keimyung University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

I

n 1968, as a high school student, Yu Jin-gyu was deeply moved by the powerful stage performance of the German mime artist Rolf Scharre in Seoul. Though he entered college to study veterinary science, he soon quit school to pursue a stage career as a mime performer by participating in workshops held by the theatrical troupe Ejotto, Korea’s first mime group, in 1971. He organized the first Korean Mime Festival, held in May 1989, at Space Theatre in Seoul. Twenty-five years later, the event has grown into one of the most highly regarded performing arts festivals at home and abroad. Many critics will liken Yu Jingyu’s personal life story to the history of Korean mime as a genre of the performance arts.

The Mime Steps Out Kim Jung-hyo: “Red Room,” the first of your “Room Series,” signaled that your mime art had started to evolve into something distinctive from your previous work. “White Room” and “Black Room” were presented over the following three years. What were your intentions in creating the series? Yu Jin-gyu: I had long been contemplating the possibility of going beyond the use and display of the body on stage. I wanted to try something new. An inspiration came at the least likely moment when I was hospitalized for about six months following a car accident. While recovering from multiple surgical procedures I was not allowed to move about. Lying in bed, I wondered, “How could I give a mime performance with a bound-up body?” The solution was found in having the audience move instead. After my recuperation, I gave the first performance of “Red Room” at Insa Art Center, an exhibition hall, instead of a regular theater stage. In this performance, spectators enter into the hall, one by one, in one-minute intervals. They pass through a number of spaces and finally reach the last room where I am. In this scheme, each spectator is an actor and observer at the same time. When they reach the last room, I serve them wine and tea as a gesture of my appreciation for their participation. “Red Room” did not intend to show something to the audience but it offered a time/space that encouraged spectators to think together with the artist and realize a common agenda, which is the theater itself, in my view. The “Room Series” is a string of such attempts to collaborate with the audience. In retrospect, I think physical challenges have provided much inspiration for my artistic development. For instance, in 1997 when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the illness gave me time to reflect deeply on my vain desires and hopes, which I believed caused my ailment. Following my recovery, I staged a mime performance called “Empty Hands” in 1998, as a part of my efforts to let go of my ego and intransigence. Moving to Chuncheon Kim: You were born in Seoul and most of your artistic activities also had taken place in Seoul. What led you to settle down in Chuncheon? Yu: I was quite active on stage for about a decade, starting from the early 1970s. One day, I realized that all I had been doing as a mime artist was without real meaning. Back then, I just wanted to live an ordinary life, putting an end to my stage career in Seoul. I moved to Chuncheon in 1981 and raised cattle. At one time I was raising as many as 38 cows, owing mainly to a government subsidy program. My quiet life in the countryside didn’t last long, though, as beef prices plummeted. I had no choice but to K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

43


1. As artistic director of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival, Yu discusses logistical plans with his staff to maximize the potential for engagement with and participation by citizens and visitors. 2. “Ah! Surajang! ” kicks off the festival, featuring a street performance highlighted by a flurry of giant soap bubbles in central Chuncheon. 3. An act at the closing performance for the 2010 Chuncheon International Mime Festival.

1

give up the farm, and I made a living running a café in the university area. In late 1987, a journalist came to see me in Chuncheon. He had been a very enthusiastic culture reporter when I was still active on stage in Seoul. He persuaded me to resume my mime career, saying that my prolonged absence, as the first generation of Korean mime performers, might lead to the disappearance of the genre altogether in Korea. Thanks to his encouragement, I made a comeback performance in 1988, which gave me and four fellow mime artists the impetus to launch a mime festival. We wanted to bring about a change in Korea’s artistic circles, where mime was not fully recognized as a legitimate genre of the performing arts. That is how the first Korean Mime Festival came about. From the second festival in the following year, we moved the venue to Chuncheon. Kim: The Chuncheon International Mime Festival is now among the world’s three bestknown, along with the London International Mime Festival and France’s MIMOS Mime Festival. Yu: The London International Mime Festival utilizes conventional theaters in order to attract regular audiences. On the other hand, since it is held in a small town in southern France, MIMOS is more concerned with the artistic value of the mime genre, seeking to overcome the typical spatial constraints. Meanwhile, the Chuncheon International Mime Festival [http://www. mimefestival.com/main.asp] emphasizes the festive atmosphere of a carnival, with all-night nanjang celebration at its heart. Indeed, Chuncheon encompasses a diverse array of performing arts, including mime performances. This is a key difference between Chuncheon and the two European festivals. The artistic directors from London and MIMOS who came to see our festival in Chuncheon have been surprised with its vast variety and depth, in terms of participants, use of spaces, and duration of the festival season. I think the global renown of our festival is mostly thanks to the international troupes and foreign mime artists who come here to participate in our events. Kim: Could you elaborate on the evolution of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival and its programs over the years? Yu: From the first through the fifth year, the festival was called the “Korean Mime Festival.” A small number of theatrical troupes worked together in order for the mime genre to enter the

44

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


mainstream performing arts scene. From the sixth year, we changed the name into the Chuncheon International Mime Festival, expanding its scope by inviting foreign participants. This transition coincided with the internationalization trend of cultural events in the country. We also put a greater emphasis on the carnival aspects of the festival. We were convinced that festivals are natural venues for nanjang, or madness. Simultaneously, we launched a variety of nanjang programs, including all-night “Dokkebi Nanjang” and “Friday Night Madness” that specifically target adult audiences, and “Ah! Surajang!,” a street performance highlighted by a flurry of water balloons. The festive spirit is captured in our catchphrase: “Festival! Must be Crazy!” We have broadened the scope of the festivities from mime to various other bodily expressions, inviting an increasingly larger number of artists and troupes from abroad. This year, more than 900 individual artists and 100 dance and theatrical troupes are scheduled to perform, while over 1,000 volunteers are helping out with the festival’s organization and operation. Like previous years, the 2013 festival will also be launched with the “Ah! Surajang!” program on the Central Avenue of Chuncheon, at noon on May 19. The Belgian dance company “Les Ballets C de la B” will present “The Old King” to open this year’s festival. It received enormous critical acclaim at the 2012 Festival d’Avignon, and the company will give the Asian premiere of the piece in Chuncheon.

Beyond Chuncheon’s Cultural Icon Kim: You expressed an intention to resign as the festival’s artistic director due to a dispute between the festival organizers and Chuncheon municipal authorities over the festival venue.

2

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

3

45


46

1

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


“At the center of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival is nanjang , or madness — all-night enjoyment with the spirit and vibrancy of traditional Korean communal festivities.”

1. Screened by a sheet of traditional hanji paper, Yu stands unclothed, giving a shadow performance. His artistic expressions aim for an embodiment of spirituality rather than a purely technical achievement. 2. An image from Shevaka Production’s “Black Dragon Theater” presented as part of “Friday Night Madness” series during the 2012 Chuncheon International Mime Festival. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

Yu: My resignation was rejected so I have resumed my duties. Actually, we had some problem in securing a venue for the festival. In our search for a new venue that might better accommodate innovative artistic efforts, we hoped to stage the festival on Nami Island. But the Chuncheon city authorities were opposed to our proposal. For us, this meant a critical opportunity to redefine the identity of the festival — whether it should serve the interests of the local economy or continue to broaden its artistic horizons. The debate was so fierce that some even said that the festival is not for Yu Jin-gyu but for the city of Chuncheon. To resolve the unnecessary dispute, I tendered my resignation. Kim: This kind of controversy is evidence that the festival has become an influential cultural landmark of Chuncheon. Yu: That is the stark back-stage reality of the 25-year-old international mime festival. When we changed the name of our festival, the municipal authorities promised us strong support for its management and organization. However, the city gov2 ernment should remain a lead sponsor, not the © Chuncheon International Mime Festival organizer. The support funds come from state coffers. The city government simply allocates them. To make the festival successful and attractive, securing a proper venue and financial support is of critical importance for us. While we were struggling to deal with these practical needs, the Nami Island office approached us with an interesting proposal. In the end, we concluded that Chuncheon will continue to host the festival, while assuring respect for the decisions of festival organizers. Kim: Please tell us more about your future plans. Yu: Personally, I believe I have transcended the conventional frames of mime as a performing arts genre, but people still associate me with my mime shows. For example, even though the press release for my “Red Room” performance clearly stated that “Yu Jin-gyu would cease to do miming,” journalists still reported that “Yu Jin-gyu will give a mime show under the title, ‘Yu Jin-gyu ceases to do miming.’” Whatever I do, I will continue to be seen as a mime artist in the traditional sense. For my part, however, I intend to create more novel means of communication with my audiences. I will also put my utmost effort into ensuring the carnival aspects of the festival are enhanced. Korean people have a penchant for festivals and collective enjoyment, as witnessed in the “Red Devil” supporters of the Korean national football team in matches here and abroad. I hope this kind of carnival spirit will be given an effective vent at our mime festival in Chuncheon. Inviting foreign dance troupes and staging spectacles is important, but no less significant is to realize the value of bodily expressions and mime artistry of our own.

47


modern landmarks

Joseon’s Legation Building in Washington, D.C.

1

48

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


In 2012, Korea reclaimed the country’s former legation building in Washington, D.C., which had served over one century ago as the diplomatic base for the Joseon Dynasty, and the subsequent Korean Empire, to pursue closer relations with the United States. The building, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, will now serve a significant cultural function as a legacy of Korea’s early modern history in the U.S. capital. Kim Chung-dong Professor, Department of Architecture, Mokwon University

T

he former legation building of Joseon, and then the shortlived Korean Empire (1897-1910), is located at 15 Logan Circle, where Vermont Avenue intersects 13th Street in a historic neighborhood of midtown Washington, D.C., less than a 30-minute walk from the White House. Today, it is the only building that remains intact among the diplomatic missions that Korea’s last monarchy established in foreign countries — the United States, Russia, France, China and Japan — in the late 19th century. This old building in the U.S. capital played a significant role in Korea’s early modern history, standing at the forefront of its nascent efforts to advance the country’s contemporary relations with major world powers. For 14 years, from 1891 to 1905, Korea used this legation as a base for its sovereign diplomatic initiatives away from the political interference and power games of its neighbors — Qing Dynasty China, Japan, and Russia.

Beginnings of Korea-U.S. Relations Diplomatic relations between Korea’s Joseon Dynasty and the United States were established on May 22, 1882, with the signing of the Joseon-U.S. Amity Treaty in the Korean port city of Jemulpo, which is today’s Incheon. In 1883, the United States opened its permanent legation in Seoul. Joseon dispatched a diplomatic delegation to Washington that same year, but it was only in 1888 that a Korean legation was opened in the U.S. capital, as part of the Joseon government’s reforms to realize modernization and get out from under the influence of neighboring powers. This effort was at the behest of King Gojong (r. 1863-1907), the 26th ruler of Joseon, who would later proclaim the establishment of the Korean Empire in 1897 and become its first emperor. On August 18, 1887, Gojong appointed Park Jeong-yang, an official who advocated Korea’s modernization, as minister plenipotentiary to the United States. The initial Korean diplomatic delegation to Washington, consisting of 11 members including the minister, made its way to Yokohama to secure passage on the Oceanic, a British passenger ship, which departed on December 10. On January 1, 1888, the ship entered the port of San Francisco after a 23-day journey across the Pacific. The Korean diplomatic group K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

finally arrived in Washington, D.C. on January 9. They checked into the Ebbit House Hotel on 14th Street. (The hotel was demolished in 1926; the National Press Building now stands on this site, situated two blocks to the east of the White House.) “On that day, it snowed in the morning and was overcast in the evening. We left the Ebbit Hotel at about 11 a.m., and rode in the carriage bearing His Majesty’s credentials,” Minister Park Jeongyang recorded in his journal about the visit to the U.S. State Department with his entourage on January 13. They presented their credentials, written in Korean as well as English. (Minister Park, however, would be summoned back to Seoul less than a year after his appointment. A longrunning conflict with the Qing court prevented him from continuing to serve as the royal envoy.)

Opening of the Legation The mission’s first secretary, Lee Sang-jae (1850-1927), also maintained detailed records of the early days of Korean diplomacy in the U.S. capital. He noted: “[The Korean legation] leased the Fisher House at 1513, 15th Street, in Washington, D.C. and held an open2 ing ceremony on January 19, finally setting up a decent organization.” Thereafter, the mission operated from the Fisher House for almost four years, until November 27, 1891. The next day, they moved into a larger building which provided ample space for office and residential uses. It is this building that the Korean government reaquired in the fall of 2012. The first secretary’s records noted: “The legation building was a fairly new, three-story, red-brick structure facing south, with bedrooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, and storerooms. We erected a flagpole at the top center of the building and hoisted Taegeukgi [the Korean national flag] high in the air.”

1. Cover of the “Map of Joseon’s Legation Building in Washington, D.C. in the United States,” with a publication date of “The ninth day of the fourth month in the 498th year since the foundation of the nation” [May 8, 1889]. (Courtesy of the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation) 2. The former legation building as it looks today. It was repurchased in 2012 by the Korean government, 102 years after it was sold off by Japan. The historic building is being renovated into a showcase of the nation’s early modern history.

49


1

Now, this historic building needs to assume a new role. Its history of a century ago should be revived so as to define its purpose over the next one hundred years. As such, the plans to restore the building’s historic significance with the development of a Korea-America Archive are awaited with great anticipation.

50 Š Cultural Heritage Administation

2

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

3


Located at 1500, 13th Street, in northwest Washington, D.C., the building’s floor space amounted to 542.55 square meters on a land area of 226.16 square meters, with three levels aboveground and one level underground. It had nine spacious rooms with high ceilings as well as another two rooms in the basement. The first floor was used as the legation office; the second and third floors served as residential space for the legation staff and their families. Constructed in 1877, the red-brick building has a mansard, or French-style, roof. Its windows have lintels with a unique style rarely seen in other contemporary structures. The architect who designed the building is unknown. The porte cochère at the front entrance was added during the time it was being used as the Korean legation, but was removed later. The house was built and owned by Seth Ledyard Phelps, a distinguished naval commander during the American Civil War. Known as the Phelps House, it was in the possession of his son-in-law, Sevellon A. Brown, when the Koreans purchased the property in the name of “King of Chosun Ye” for $25,000 from his personal funds. Shortly thereafter, the portraits of King Gojong and the Crown Prince were brought in from Hong Kong and installed in the building. The staff of the legation paid their respects to their monarch by bowing to these portraits on the first and 15th days of every lunar month. However, Korea was deprived of its diplomatic sovereignty after its government was forced to sign a protectorate treaty with Japan on November 17, 1905, which led to the Korean legation’s closure on December 16. The building was left vacant for a few years until Gojong was coerced to sell it for $5 to Japan, which sold it shortly thereafter for $10 to an American. Some one hundred years later, the building’s link to Korea began to gain notice in the early 2000s, when the Korean-American community in Washington, D.C. commenced a campaign to buy back the building, as part of its efforts to celebrate the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States. Over the next decade, various Korean-American groups as well as the Korean government sought to negotiate the building’s purchase, until finally, the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea and the National Trust for Cultural Heritage acquired the property on October 18, 2012. 1, 3. Reception rooms on the first floor of the building as of last year, during the purchase negotiations just prior to Korea’s reacquisition. The basic structure, including the walls, has been preserved intact from the time when it was used as the Korean legation building. 2. Previously, the building’s first floor was used as the legation’s office and reception area. In this archival photo, Korea’s national flag is draped at the entrance to the legation office. 4. The first Korean diplomatic mission to the United States. Minister Park Jeongyang is seated at center in the front row. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

Archival Resource on Korea-U.S. Relations The old legation building is situated within the Logan Circle residential neighborhood, characterized by its clusters of wellpreserved late Victorian townhouses. Named in honor of John A. Logan, a celebrated Union Army general of the Civil War who had lived at 812, 12th Street, the district encompasses an eight-block area with streets radiating from the traffic circle. This area, which has maintained much of its late 19th century appearance, was designated a Historic District in 1971 by the U.S. government. The next year, it was recognized as a D.C. Landmark District, in which about 160 buildings that had preserved their original architecture, including the former Korean legation, have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The reclaimed building has changed little since its days as the Korean legation, aside from the loss of a cast-iron railing that had decorated the mansard roof. This mostly unchanged condition can be ascribed to the sturdiness of its brick construction. However, there are areas in need of updating and preventive maintenance, including the basement area and the wooden roof trusses, as well as some bricks that have been damaged by a fire. A minor weakening of the back wall was also detected during the pre-purchase structural inspection last year. In addition, the roadside trees in front of the 4 building have grown such deep roots that there is concern about potential damage to the building’s structural integrity. The towering magnolia trees also obscure the building façade. It seems that a tree removal proposal should be discussed with the relevant D.C. authorities. Now, this historic building needs to assume a new role. Its history of a century ago should be revived so as to define its purpose over the next one hundred years. Plans of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea call for efforts to recreate the legation’s former office setting as a scene of the nation’s early modern history. Old photos of the Korean mission show that the interior included two Taegeukgi flags and tiger skins. As part of its historical renovation, the building will also house a tentatively named Korea-America Archive. This historic site will thus be home to an extensive archival resource on Korea-U.S. relations. To fulfill this goal, the Cultural Heritage Administration, together with the Korean Embassy in the United States and the Korean Cultural Service, will need to engage in cooperative efforts. The Cultural Heritage Administration does not foresee any obstacles to the building’s conversion into an archive, in view of its former public use as a foreign legation. Finally, this endeavor should also serve as an opportunity for the Korean government to step up its efforts to investigate and preserve the nation’s historical landmarks abroad.

51


artisan

D

espite its relatively small size, Korea has a wide range of climatic and geographic features. Endowed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, the country’s agricultural background is deeply rooted in rice cultivation. This agricultural emphasis led to the development of handicrafts made of grass and field straw. The stems of rush, cattail, and cogon grass, as well as straw from rice, barley, wheat, millet, and various field crops, were used to weave mats, boxes, baskets, window shades and other household articles. Among these items, mats woven with stems of sedge (Cyperus exaltatus var. iwasakii ) were highly prized as a summertime necessity. A sedge mat, cool to the touch, allows air to circulate and provides cushioning, thus making an ideal household item for Koreans who sit on the floor rather than use chairs. Sedge is as soft as straw and cool like bamboo, hence the mat’s glossy smoothness and high durability. It does not split or peel as a straw mat might, nor is it as rigid as a bamboo mat, which can cause discomfort after awhile. A sedge mat can be woven either with or without the aid of tools. Covered boxes, baskets, and seat mats can be woven entirely by hand, whereas large items require the use of a loom and other tools. There are two methods for weaving a large-sized sedge carpet. One way involves a basic but large loom with a thick horizontal bar. Warp threads are laid out, each held taut with a loom weight attached to its end. A large mat is woven by crossing these threads over the horizontal bar each time another sedge strip is placed in position. A second method uses a large frame across which warp threads are secured. Each time a sedge strip is added in the weft direction, it is interlaced with the warp, and then tapped into place with

the bar mounted across the loom. Due to the different weaving methods, the final products have distinctive appearances, and also names. In the first case, the warp threads are visible on the surface and it is known as jari in Korean, while the second, with its threads hidden beneath the tightly woven weft strips, is called dotjari . A well-known example of the first type is the patterned sedge carpet called hwamunseok , a specialty of Ganghwa Island off the west coast of Incheon. With sedge strips dyed in a variety of colors, all manner of intricate patterns can be woven onto the mat’s surface. The process of weaving a single mat requires about 600,000 hand movements, with painstaking care needed at every stage, from obtaining high-quality sedge stems to preparing the strips, drying and applying dye, and weaving the final product. Because of the demanding processes, most sedge craftsmen tend to specialize in the production of either larger mats or smaller household articles, like baskets. Uniquely, artisan Han Soon-ja, holder of Seoul City’s Intangible Cultural Property No. 16 for Sedge Weaving, is equally adept at making both large-sized mats and a wide range of small household articles.

‘Sedge Weaving is My Destiny’ Han, now 67, was born and grew up on Ganghwa Island, which is famed for the quality of its indigenous sedge as well as the handicrafts made with it. Han’s great-great-grandfather, also native to the island, was a wealthy farmer with large land holdings who excelled in the crafting of sedge works. His craftsmanship was passed on to his son, but in the third generation, the men’s craft tradition was assumed by women in the family. Han’s grandmoth-

Han Soon-ja Weaves Graceful Patterns onto Sedge Mats As a child of five or six, Han Soon-ja, a master of sedge handicrafts, used to watch her mother and grandmother at work on their family craft, while playing with strips of sedge. By age 20, she was recognized as a professional maker of sedge crafts. These days, her works are exhibited in prominent museums around the world, including the British Museum and the Vatican Museum. Park Hyun-sook Freelance Writer | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

52

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


K o r e a n a 覺 S u mme r 2 013

Han Soon-ja weaves a mat by crossing warp threads, each held taut with a loom weight attached to its end, over the horizontal bar each time another sedge strip is placed in position.

53


er learned the craft from her father, and it was passed on to Han’s mother, and then to Han Soon-ja, her family’s fifth-generation sedge artisan. She has no daughter, but her two sons are practitioners of the craft, which is again being taken over by male descendants. As a child of five or six, Han used to watch her mother and grandmother at work on their family craft, while playing with strips of sedge. In elementary school, the sedge craft works that Han made for her vacation homework received effusive praise from her teachers. Young as she was, she loved working with sedge, feeling the crisp strips and smelling the pleasant scent of grass. Above all, the satisfaction she felt when the work pictured in her mind materialized in front of her eyes had a far-reaching impact that eventually led to her dedication to the craft. Han’s mother had misgivings about her daughter’s enthusiasm for sedge crafts, worried that her precious first child would ruin her health working long hours on the mat-weaving loom, which is notorious for physically taxing the human body. Nevertheless, by age 20, Han was already recognized as a professional sedge weaver. Although none of her four sisters and a brother had an interest in the craft, she felt a powerful and inexplicable attraction. Predictably, when she got married in her mid-20s and moved to Seoul, she brought along her mat-weaving loom and other equipment. She was not deterred by her mother’s repeated admonition that manual dexterity would make a woman lead a hard-working life. She has indeed been working hard on her craft for almost 50 years now. When she was younger and taking in more orders and participating in arts and crafts events more frequently, she would spend every waking moment at work on her loom. “Even today, I work for at least six hours a day. Since you need to sit with your legs crossed on the floor for hours on end, knee arthri-

tis and various back problems are common among craftsmen who regularly use the loom,” Han explained. “I’ve also had both of my hip joints replaced, one at 61 and the other at 62. Now, I understand why my mother was always so concerned. But, it’s strange. In spite of the strenuous labor, I’ve never disliked the work itself. Even now, I just want to keep doing my craft for as long as possible. Sedge weaving is my destiny.”

Growing Her Own Sedge Han’s sedge products are beautifully crafted with such meticulous attention to detail that the individual strips are perfectly fitted together. Using the mat’s surface as her canvas, she depicts patterns in a simple and natural composition. From early on, she has been keen to invent diverse techniques to create more appealing patterns, with one of her signature techniques combining wood and sedge strips. Her skills were recognized at the 1987 National Traditional Arts and Crafts Contest, in which she won the Presidential Prize. In 1992, she became the first female master in the field of bamboo/wicker craft, an honor jointly awarded by the Ministry of Labor and the Human Resources Development Service of Korea. She also received the Stone Pagoda Medal from the government in 2003 for her contributions to the development of traditional arts and crafts. She has held exhibitions in many countries around the world. Her works are now in the collections of the British Museum and the Vatican Museum. When asked why she thought her works are so highly valued, Han said: “Since they are household items, the works need to be both decorative and functional. To meet these requirements, you must use good-quality materials. Even an excellent cook would be unable to prepare a tasty dish if the ingredients aren’t fresh.” She

She is especially delighted when weaving scenes from Korean folk tales, in which the world is filled with guileless innocence and warm-heartedness. She revels in the depiction of beloved images like the pipe-smoking tiger and three wise rabbits, or children setting out to bring down the moon, as well as traditional motifs of symbolic significance. 1

54

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


went on to say: “What makes a traditional sedge mat truly appealing is the faint greenish tint sparsely dispersed across its surface. Sedge stems, dried in the sun in sheaves, acquire subtle but diverse shades of green as they are bleached by the sunlight. It’s a quite complicated process, so you might be tempted to resort to the time-saving convenience of machine drying. And then there are some clients who complain about the green tint, mistaking it for an imperfection, and ask for a spotless finish. And in fact, there are weavers who use chemical bleach for a more uniform appearance. However, I’ve always wanted to preserve the natural quality of sedge, so I produce my works using the stems that I have personally grown and processed in the traditional way.” Sedge is an annual plant that can reach a height of two meters, with pliable, glossy, and durable stems. It is planted in spring along rice fields and harvested in August. The stems are split into three strips before being dried, cleaned, sun bleached, dried again, and dyed. The final drying procedure generally takes three to four days, during which the stems are repeatedly dried in direct sunlight during the day and left out at night to absorb dew moisture. This final drying process is especially important to have the strips tinged with beautiful greenish streaks, as subtle as the greenish-blue

1. Han grows her own sedge for her craftworks, and never relies on the convenience of machine drying and chemical bleach. 2. A set of three hand-woven sedge covered boxes. Various auspicious symbols have been created using dyed sedge strips.

tint of celadon fired in a traditional wood-burning kiln. Apart from a preference for natural aesthetics, chemical bleaching is avoided because it undermines the product’s durability by weakening the stem’s fibrous structure. Han grows her own sedge in her native island, where she makes frequent visits from her current home in Seoul. She plants sedge on a paddy with access to a clean and abundant source of water, and refrains from the use of pesticide, which can lead to a taller harvest but with weaker stems.

Origin of Sedge Craft Han is proud of the history of the patterned sedge mat, a famous specialty of her hometown Ganghwa. When the Goryeo Dynasty (9181392) temporarily relocated its capital to this island during the 13th century Mongol invasions, people who moved there from the capital, Gaegyeong [present-day Kaesong, or Gaeseong], began to make sedge mats for their livelihood. Over time, the craft

2 K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

55


1

56

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


came to be taken up by the island’s residents. Since then, woven sedge products have become one of the island’s most popular specialties. The origin of sedge weaving can be traced even further back. There is a historical record that the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) maintained a government agency to oversee the manufacture of sedge products. During Goryeo, the beauty of its sedge crafts was so highly appreciated in neighboring countries that, along with ginseng, sedge mats adorned with gorgeous patterns were favorite gift items for diplomatic exchange. Glossy and durable, the decorative sedge mats of Ganghwa typically have the color of ivory with a greenish tinge. In times past, such a mat was used for special occasions, such as during visits of friends and relatives or the family’s ancestral rites. On such occasions, an elegantly patterned sedge mat spread on the floor signified the family’s high regard for their guests or the particular event. Sedge mats decorated with auspicious patterns would be an integral part of the bride’s wedding gifts to the bridegroom’s family. She would bring two mats — one for her husband’s parents and another for themselves. Thanks to its outstanding durability, a highquality sedge mat would be handed down from generation to generation. To weave a patterned mat, each sedge strip is placed, one at a time, onto the loom’s horizontal bar, from which about 140 warp threads hang, each with a stone weight at the end. All the threads with stone weights are turned over the bar before another sedge strip is added, with this step repeated countless times. In the process, intricate patterns are created by carefully inserting dyed strips according to a pre-determined design. Typical motifs for the sedge mat include Chinese characters that signify wealth and good fortune; auspicious animals such as the crane, mandarin duck, dragon, and tiger; and flowers like apricot blossoms and peonies, often with butterflies. Even an experienced artisan can weave only a small area of the mat, about 30 centimeters in length, after an

entire day of strenuous work. One of Han’s works, 210 cm × 300 cm in size and embroidered with the traditional ten longevity symbols, took her a full month of daily labor to complete.

More than Patience “Weaving a sedge mat takes time and dedication. Often, two or three people work together on a single piece, in which case it can still take about two weeks. Even for a square box which is, say 15 centimeters in width and 8 centimeters in height, I need to spend at least three days when I work alone,” said the artisan, adding, “It is also time-consuming to keep all the warp threads even. If you fail to do that, the gaps between the strips will be either too tight or too loose, and you’ll have to undo the part and start all over. You need to be precise and deft. When I was younger, I always heard people say it took a lot of patience to weave a sedge mat. But I know it takes much more than that.” Han believes patience could easily run out if you don’t enjoy every step of your work. Patience may work for a while, but longterm dedication to the craft, she says, comes from the pleasure of feeling the sedge stems at your fingertips and watching the planned design taking shape as the work progresses, albeit very slowly. Han is especially delighted when weaving scenes from Korean folk tales, in which the world is filled with guileless innocence and warm-heartedness. She revels in the depiction of beloved images like the pipe-smoking tiger and three wise rabbits, or children setting out to bring down the moon, as well as traditional motifs of symbolic significance. This kind of enjoyment and sense of accomplishment has enabled Han Soon-ja to dedicate herself to this craft all this while. She works every day at her workshop in the traditional neighborhood of Bukchon, named Godeuraetdol (meaning “loom weight”), in addition to demonstrating her craft for visitors at the Center for Education and Exhibition of the Intangible Cultural Properties of Seoul, located near the main entrance to Changdeok Palace.

1. In Korea, where sitting on the floor is a basic aspect of its living customs, the patterned sedge mat has been highly valued as a beautiful and practical craftwork. 2. When she married and moved to her new home, Han took her old cherished loom weights with her. Her workshop in Bukchon is also named after the weaving tool — godeuraetdol , meaning “a loom weight.” The weight used to be made of stone, but now, it is usually made of metal. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

57

2


art review

Musical ‘Washing’ Conveys Subtle Social Critique 58

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


The musical “Washing” is an original Korean production that has been staged over the past eight years in small theaters without star performers or elaborate stage sets. It continues to attract audiences with its story of neighbors who share their everyday experiences while hanging their laundry on a community clothesline. Their conversation expresses the joys and sorrows of their daily lives amidst social discrimination toward the disabled, migrant laborers, and other disadvantaged individuals.

Park Bo-mi Staff Reporter, The Hankyoreh

O

n March 14, 2013, the original Korean musical “Washing” raised the curtain on its 13th season at Artwon Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul. Due to the closure of the historic Hakchon Green Theater, which had been the musical’s venue since 2008, it was forced to find a new home. But the move did nothing to affect the quality and emotional appeal of this long-running musical. The story is centered on a young bookstore clerk, Seo Na-yeong, who has been living in Seoul for five years after leaving her rural hometown in Gangwon Province, and her neighbors: they include the landlady, an old woman who collects wastepaper, and Solongo, a migrant worker from Mongolia who becomes her boyfriend.

Seo Na-yeong, main character of the musical “Washing,” is a young woman who has been living in Seoul for five years.

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

Subtle Approach In Korea’s musical scene, “Washing” can be compared to the celebrated “Subway Line 1.” First staged in 1994, “Subway Line 1” drew growing attention over the course of its more than 10-year run. A rock musical that adapted the German original by Volker Ludwig to the Korean situation, it depicted the people of Seoul through the eyes of a Korean-Chinese woman, Seon-nyeo (meaning “fairy”) from Yanbian in northeastern China, which is home to a large population of ethnic Koreans. Casting light on an assortment of individuals, such as a jobless father, runaway girl, suicidal man, and self-styled street evangelist — the types of people whom Korean society would rather ignore — it was a muchtalked-about production. Though similar to “Subway Line 1” in its critical view of society, “Washing” adopts a low-key approach rather than sharp accusation. Praised for being “warm, lovely and comforting,” this musical relies on a kind of “soft power” to touch the hearts of audiences. The setting is a so-called “moon village,” a poor hillside neighborhood on the outskirts of Seoul. The residents include part-time workers, migrant laborers, petty business owners, and elderly people who collect wastepaper. In the opening scene, the lead female character Na-yeong speaks to her mother on the phone after just moving into her tiny room in Seoul, revealing her love and concern for her mother, which strikes a sympathetic chord with the audience. The following scenes draw attention to a number of issues of today’s Korean society, such as unfair job termination, delayed payment of wages, discrimination of migrant workers, and prejudice toward the disabled. Although dealing with serious social issues, the musical is not weighty or somber. The story unfolds in a lighthearted and natural manner thanks to the witty dialogue and refined humor, which is the great merit of this production.

59


1

Symbolism of Washing The “washing” is what connects these neighbors to each other, despite their apparent lack of common ground. The clothesline is a device that represents the lower social classes, to which the musical seeks to offer encouragement. In Korea, which has undergone rapid urbanization, the most distinctive symbol of the middle class nowadays is the high-rise apartment complexes. For those who live in an apartment, the “brand” of their apartment is a criterion for judging their social ranking. The clothesline is thus a symbol of the social status of the lower classes that do not live in such an apartment. Ironically, it is a “privilege” of those who cannot afford to live in an apartment to hang out their laundry on the rooftop of their rental building on a sunny Sunday, while humming along. The clothesline and laundry motifs come from the writer-director Chu Min-ju’s own life experiences. Like her main character, Nayeong, Chu was born and raised in the provinces and then moved to Seoul. In the early 2000s, when she was a student, she said there was no space in her rented room to hang out the laundry, so she “rented” the clotheslines and sunlight on the roof of a friend’s place nearby. In all likelihood, she accepted life for what it was and while hanging out the wash would dream of a brighter future. Her own life experiences and personality are reflected in the neighborhood characters, the bookstore scenes, and Na-yeong’s taste for poetry, which together arouse a strong sense of empathy from the audience. “As I wash my clothes, the stains of yesterday I erase, like dust

60

1. Solongo (right), a migrant worker from Mongolia, becomes friends with his neighbors. 2. Solongo shyly takes Na-yeong’s hand while hanging laundry on the rooftop.

I brush off today, and I iron out the wrinkles of tomorrow. So I live today dressed in my well-pressed tomorrow,” sings Na-yeong in her title solo “Washing.” The poetic lines are beautifully expressed in the original Korean and through the “washing” theme convey genuine comfort and hope. Composer Min Chan-hong’s music, though capable of expressing the emotion and message even without lyrics, artfully accentuates the poetic lines. In the Korean musical scene, which is dominated by big theater shows with star casting and luxurious stage settings, the success of “Washing” with a cast of eight (14 with double casting) and a minimal production cost of some $900,000 (as of the 13th season) is truly extraordinary. After premiering in April 2005 at the National Theater in Seoul, this small-theater musical marked its 2,000th showing in December last year. Since 2008, it has been staged mainly in Daehangno, where it is enjoying a lengthy run, with occasional tour performances in Busan, Daegu and other major cities. Thus far, about 320,000 people have enjoyed the musical through regular sellouts of a small 100-seat theater, without much publicity. The musical has also been favorably received by the media and theater critics. Acclaim for its lyrics and script include prizes from the Korea Musical Awards in 2005 and the Foreign Press Award in 2008. The lyrics have also been included in middle school textbooks. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Universal Appeal “Washing” has proven popular with Japanese audiences as well. In February, May, and August last year, it was performed four times in Osaka and Tokyo, each time to sold-out audiences. Choe Se-yeon, president of Myungrang Theater Soobak, the musical’s production company, said, “Japan is also suffering from chronic joblessness and non-regular employment, and the situation of migrant workers has been a serious social issue for many years. This is probably the reason why the Japanese can readily identify with the characters in this musical.” “The musical well expresses an individual’s strong resolve for a better life and the value of communication among neighbors or within a community,” notes Won Jong-won, a musical critic and professor of mass communication at Soon Chun Hyang University, in explaining the positive response from Japanese audiences. “The lyrics, which prompt audiences to look back on their lives and gain consolation at the same time, are also appealing,” he added. Even in Japan, where social welfare and safety nets are relatively well established, the message of the musical resonates widely due to a common empathy in regard to employment instability and the ills of urban life, the basic woes of today’s “risk society.”

“Washing” was selected as one of the 10 best productions of 2012 by the Japanese journal “Musical.” As such, ever more Japanese tourists are visiting Daehangno to view this musical. In response, the lyrics are shown with Japanese subtitles on video monitors at both sides of the stage. At the outset and again later on, the characters often ask each other: “How long have you been living in Seoul?” Moving around frequently in search of affordable rental rates, depleting their meager savings to make ends meet, or moving from job to job after being laid off for whatever reason, the characters plod along, which is the same, to some extent, for everyone in the audience. The question can be asked in variations — “How long have you been living in Tokyo?” or “How long have you been living in New York?” — with equal poignancy. In this case, however, the implicit wounds underlying the question are transformed into hope through such resolute promises as “I won’t ever give up” (Na-yeong) and “I’m going to live a long healthy life” (elderly woman). There is no doubt that “Washing” is one of the most remarkable Korean musicals of the 2000s, a production that deals with the scars of society with encouragement rather than outrage, and with warm-heartedness instead of dispassionate scrutiny.

“As I wash my clothes, the stains of yesterday I erase, like dust I brush off today, and I iron out the wrinkles of tomorrow. So I live today dressed in my well-pressed tomorrow.”

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

61

2


In Love with Korea

UK Journalist Tim Alper’s Insatiable Cultural Exploration Tim Alper’s interest in Korean football was the first step on his journey to falling in love with Korea, and it earned him a job as a popular online football reporter and commentator. After a couple of short visits following the 2002 World Cup, the British freelance journalist finally moved to Seoul six years ago and has since broadened the range of his interest in Korea to its food, music and, as he puts it, “everything new.” Charles La Shure Professor, Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

T

im Alper believes that the best way to experience life is to jump in at the deep end. Since arriving in Korea six years ago, he has dealt with a variety of subjects for a wide range of media: at the Weekly Chosun he wrote a column on English education and the dangers of “Konglish” (Koreanized English), as well as columns on sports such as football, baseball, golf, sumo, and even K-1; for living magazine Essen he wrote columns on Korean food culture; and while working as a producer at TBS Radio for four years he discovered the world of Korean music. All the while, he exposed himself to as much of Korean culture as possible. “If you’re going to be in a country, you need to immerse yourself in the local culture – that includes the language, the music, the food, everything,” Alper told us when we met him near his office at Design House, where he recently began working as an editor for MorningCalm, Korean Air’s in-flight magazine. “For me, that’s the best thing about being in another country: to experience and learn new things. I don’t want to remain in an enclave of English speakers and feel like it’s a home away from home. I want to be discovering new things; I want to be surprised every day.”

Football a Gateway to Korea Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Tim Alper had always been interested in football, and naturally that’s what he wanted to write about when he decided to get into journalism. “It’s what every male journalist grows up wanting to do,” he says with a wry smile. But it also means a lot of competition; he found it difficult to gain a foothold in the industry. Rather than give up on his dream, though, he chose to take a more unconventional path to his goal: “I thought I would try to develop some specialties rather than being a generalist. I found that, due to my circumstances at the time, I was meeting a lot of Korean people, and I was getting a lot more into Korean football just from speaking to them. Then, there was the World Cup 2002, when everyone was focused on Korea and Japan, and I ended up starting to specialize a little more in Asian football.” He began by writing a column on Asian football in a newspaper for Koreans in the UK. It was a free paper, but it had a broad circulation, and this helped him land a job reporting on Korean football for a website. Of course, his location made it something of a challenge to watch matches being played in Korea: the online streaming wasn’t always the best quality, and the time difference meant he had to keep rather odd hours. He first visited Korea in 2005 for a short stay, followed by another short stay the next year, but in 2007 he made the decision to relocate to Korea so he could be closer to his subject. Although he no longer makes his living reporting on Korean football, he still tries to go to as many matches as he can.

62

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Tim Alper, also a food columnist, enjoys the quiet atmosphere of the small tea shops near his office in Jangchung-dong.

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

He tells us that he is often asked how Korean football compares to Japanese football. “There are more similarities than differences. They are both very technical, they both like to keep the ball on the floor, and there are a lot fewer reckless tackles than you would find in Europe. One thing I would say about Korean football is that their stamina levels are extremely high — some of the highest in the world. When you watch Korea play in the World Cup, for example, it never fails to surprise me how much longer the Korean team can last in terms of giving one hundred percent.” Although football has been around in Korea for quite some time, the 2002 World Cup has changed the nation’s football infrastructure, Alper says. He went on to explain, “Just before the World Cup, there was only one purpose-built football stadium in the country, but now you have several. You have some

63


He is a big fan of Korean music. Don’t think of K-pop and the Korean Wave, though; Alper’s favorite genre of Korean music is trot [or ppongjjak ] — a fusion of Korean, Japanese, and Western styles that forms the historical roots of Korean pop music.

fantastic stadiums that can be filled with up to 60,000 or so people coming to watch the games.” This infrastructure, coupled with intensive training and a never-say-die attitude, has produced results: “Now Korea has a big name on the international stage. It’s gone up a lot in terms of ranking, they won the bronze medal at the last Olympics – that’s the first major honor for any Asian football team – and there are a lot of big-name Korean players abroad. You mention Ki Sung-yueng and Park Ji-sung, and most people who follow football in Europe will know exactly who they are.” One thing he finds regrettable, though, is the relative lack of support at home. “It’s a bit of a pity that more Koreans don’t come out and watch domestic football,” he laments. “A lot of people would rather watch the EPL [English Premiere League] on television. Sometimes you’ll go to a stadium, a small stadium anyway, but it will still be less than half full. These are professional players, the tickets are so cheap, and a lot of people are walking past the stadium, not interested, because it’s not the EPL. But it’s still a very high level of football. You won’t regret going to watch a game in Korea.”

Intersection of Food and Culture Alper warns us that he could talk football for hours, but his interest in Korea doesn’t end there. He has also had a long love affair with the food. When he was in university in the UK, he worked as a station chef at a restaurant. “I really enjoyed it, but it’s very stressful, so I decided to move out of that. But I’ve always maintained an interest in food, so when I came to Korea I started developing that a little more.” He was once quoted as saying that his favorite Korean food was chueotang , a soup made with ground mudfish, and he still counts it among his favorites. “I like the stronger tasting tang [soups],” he laughs. One of the things he admires about Korean food is how it has managed to retain a unique character. “You see little aspects of Japanese food and Chinese food, which also exist here, but they co-exist. They haven’t taken over anything; it’s not that they’ve come in and become the dominant way of eating in Korea.” For Tim Alper, this is an important manifestation of Korean culture as a whole: “I feel like there is a ‘spirit of Korea,’ and it really is there in Korean food.” The columns he wrote for Essen gave him a chance to pursue his love of food in the world of Korean cuisine, focusing on seasonal ingredients, specific dishes, or certain aspects of Korea’s food culture. “I find that is really the most fascinating thing about Korean food, how the food interacts with culture. Writing about Korean food has forced me to experience and to think about things from a different point of view.” The point of view that Alper grew up with, of course, is that of British food culture, which hasn’t always had the best reputation internationally. He sees the rise of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, as well as the emergence of the “foodie” culture, as a sign that things are getting better, but he still sees room for improvement. “British food is so formulaic. We talk about ‘meat and two veg.’ So, you’ll have a piece of meat, you’ll have your potatoes, and you’ll have another vegetable — probably most of these are boiled. I’m caricaturing it now, but there is some truth in it.” So it’s no surprise that he has been impressed by the diversity of Korean food, the variety of ingredients that are used, and the way they are prepared. This is reflected in the language as well. “The vocabulary of Korean food is so diverse. There are certain adjectives that you would use to describe food in Korea that you just can’t find a translation for in English,” Alper says. And, of course, there is the completely different approach to what Westerners might see as the fundamentals of food. “In Britain, the potato is present in almost every meal, except maybe breakfast. But what do Koreans use potatoes for?

64

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


They use it almost as a garnish, or a banchan [side dish]. You might put it in a soup as an afterthought, or maybe you’re making kimchi bokkeumbap [fried rice with kimchi] and you just chop up a potato and throw it in there as something else. But that’s not how you eat a potato in the UK — you eat it as sustenance, to fill you up,” he says.

Enticed by Trot , a Unique Korean Pop Genre Living in another country will always present challenges. For Tim Alper, one challenge is accepting the fact that he is different. “You stand out,” he says. “I remember when I first came to Korea. People would point at me and children would shout and laugh. It would be very innocent, of course, no harm intended. But people expect different things from you.” This hasn’t deterred him from experiencing as much Korean culture as he can. In addition to Korean football and food, he is also a big fan of Korean music. Don’t think of K-pop and the Korean Wave, though; Alper’s favorite genre of Korean music is trot [or ppongjjak ] — a fusion of Korean, Japanese, and Western styles that forms the historical roots of Korean pop music. “I’m not saying I don’t like pop songs in other genres. But I think there’s nothing uniquely Korean about them. If you take out the vocals and put a different language in there, most of the songs could pretty much come from anywhere else. But trot is unique. It’s a fusion of Western beats plus different sounds from Korean music and different singing styles from traditional Korean music like pansori [narrative song] and minyo [folk song].” Then, of course, there is the Korean language. He has learned a lot living here but never formally studied Korean in a classroom. “I learned languages when I was at school, and I didn’t enjoy the classroom atmosphere. I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve lived in Russia, and I’ve picked up the languages there. I think I’ve done the same thing in Korea. Personally, I feel that just being in a situation where you are forced to learn and speak that language works best for me,” he says. Alper has found himself in many of these sink-or-swim situations. “Everywhere that I’ve worked has involved Korean, whether it be speaking to colleagues or looking at Korean texts and comparing them with English texts, and so on. Even when I first started off working with football, I was forced into a Korean-speaking world, watching things on television or reading articles on football. I had no choice.” This idea of immersion is a life philosophy for Alper. Having spent six years here, he has long since stopped being a tourist and approaches life in Korea like a ravenously hungry guest at a banquet. “You have to actively go out and find new food you haven’t tried before, you have to actively try to find new music you haven’t heard before, as well as aspects of culture, history, and folklore that you didn’t know anything about before. This is part of the experience of being here; it’s more than just going around taking photographs. You’re beyond what a tourist does if you’re living here on a full-time basis. Discovering new things is one of my main motivating factors for staying here,” he says. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of him being elsewhere in the future. “Who knows what tomorrow may bring?” he says with a shrug. “But I’ve really enjoyed my time in Korea. I’m very happy here, and I do think of Korea as my home.” Given the gusto with which he has approached the culture of his host country so far, it seems likely that his journey of discovery will continue for many years to come. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

“If you’re going to be in a country,” Alper says, “you need to immerse yourself in the local culture — that includes the language, the music, the food, everything.”

65


on the road

The Slow Life on Cheongsan Island On Cheongsan Island, you can quickly discover the best path to enjoy a walk by following an ox leisurely wandering and grazing amidst a gorgeous landscape. The sights and sounds of island life that you encounter along the coast can be found virtually nowhere else these days. Kang Je-yoon Poet and Principal, Island School, Pressian Humanities Institute | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

66

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


“A

young maiden in Cheongsan Island could not have eaten three mal of rice before she marries.” (One mal is equal to 8 kilograms, or 17.6 pounds.) This saying, long handed down by the islanders of Wando County, reflects the region’s scarcity of the precious staple. The saying harkens back to a time when rice was more valuable than money. Of all the islands of South Jeolla Province, off the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Cheongsando was especially known for its lack of rice. Actually, the situation on other islands was not much better; rice was never in abundance in this island region where people relied mainly on the sea for their livelihood. I was born in Bogildo, another island of Wando County, and I can practically count the days when I ate rice during my childhood. We would have pure white rice on special occasions, such as New Year’s Day, the Chuseok harvest holiday, or the memorial days for ancestors. In light of these circumstances, no young woman would want to marry into a family on Cheongsan Island, which was known for producing even less rice than neighboring islands. Residents of Cheongsan Island adapted to their challenging environment by reshaping the mountain slopes with paddies that are buttressed and irrigated using flat stones. This ingenious paddy system, called gudeuljang-non , evoking Korea’s unique underfloor heating system, enabled the islanders to produce rice. These rice terraces were designated as the nation’s first Important Agricultural Heritage earlier this year.

A Walk around the Island The ferry boat takes about 50 minutes from the town of Wando-eup to reach Cheongsan Island, which is situated along a sea route between Wando and the island of Jeju. Cheongsan Island is 33.3 square kilometers in area, with the peak of Mt. Maebong, at 385 meters, being its highest point. The island’s area is less than half that of New York’s Manhattan Island (87.5 square kilometers) but about three times larger than Yeouido of Seoul. The island became widely known in 1993 thanks to the film “Sopyonje,” directed by Im Kwon-taek, which enabled audiences to rediscover pansori, a traditional form of narrative song that is a cultural heritage of Korea. The film was shot on Cheongsan Island, which became famous for its dramatic seaside scenery throughout Korea. Thereafter, TV dramas, such as “Spring Waltz,” as well as various feature films, have been shot on the island, which boosted its attraction as a tourist destination. There is another factor behind the island’s recent fame. In December 2007, Cittaslow, the international organization that promotes the Slow Movement, named Cheongsan Island as the first Slow City in Asia. Five more localities in Korea have since earned this distinction. Subsequently, a trekking course, called Cheongsan-Yeosu-gil and also known as Seullogil (Slow Path), was developed on the island, modeled after the hugely popular Jeju Olle trekking route that encircles Jeju Island. The Slow Path, which has attracted throngs of visitors, includes 11 courses and extends over a distance of some 42 kilometers, not especially lengthy for a trekking route. But the magnificent natural scenery that can be enjoyed while walking along the island’s coastline quickly made it a national tourist attraction. As a native islander, I would recommend a visit during midwinter. The winter weather there is so mild

1. Terraces of stone-walled rice paddies created by the islanders to satisfy their basic need for rice. The gudeuljang rice paddy was designated Korea’s first Important Agricultural Heritage earlier this year. 2. A village along the coast and the sea viewed from a hill along the Sopyonje Path. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

1

67

2


1

that spinach, garlic, lettuce, and Korean cabbage are grown in outdoor gardens. Vistas of green barley fields in midwinter reward visitors with a one-of-a-kind pastoral tranquility that cannot be seen during other seasons.

The Meandering Slow Path The Slow Path starts in Docheong-ri Village, where passenger ships drop anchor. From the dock, you can see workers busily tending to kelp cultivation. Pulling up lines laden with mature kelp from the sea and removing the harvest, they attach kelp spores and return the ropes to the water to grow another crop. Most of the kelp grown around this island is used for abalone farming, the No. 1 income source for the islanders. In the past, Docheong-ri was known for its pasi, or the “market on the waves,� for selling fish. During the mackerel season, in particular, temporary facilities for fishermen, such as fishing equipment stores, bars, restaurants, hostels, barbershops, and bath houses, set up shop to offer necessary services. Fishing fleets specializing in mackerel would bring in a huge catch whenever they returned to dock. If they caught a larger load than they could handle on their boats, they would have to throw some into the sea. The stench of rotting mackerel in the nearby waters created a serious

68

problem for residents. Then they would gather up the abandoned fish and preserve them in salt. If there was too much mackerel, it would be made into compost. This sounds like a tall tale today, when almost any kind of fish can be quite expensive. The mackerel market on Cheongsan Island closed down by the mid-1960s, when the catch declined. A seer fish market followed, when this fish was caught in abundance. But excessive fishing led to depletion of the seer fish as well by the mid-1980s, leading to a closure of the fish market altogether. As fish stocks disappeared, the fishing boats and fishermen vanished, too. The island’s resident population of 13,500 in 1973 has since declined to 2,000 today; it has again become a quiet island. These days, villagers get by with the farming of abalone, laver, and seaweed, rather than ocean fishing. After Docheong-ri, continue your walk along the path toward Donggujeong, in Dorak-ri. Donggujeong is the name of a well dug during the 17th century by a small group of settlers who decided to live on the island. Even at midwinter when everything else might freeze, the water in this well has never frozen. Walking is an exercise for the mind as well as the body. Just taking your time to walk in calmness can put you in touch with your inner self. This kind of self-reflection is the most valuable gift of a leisurely walk. Upon reaching a rise in the path, you can see the Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2

winding road shown in the film “Sopyonje.” The concrete-paved length of the “Sopyonje Path” and the drama set located in the middle of a barley field are there for movie buffs to swoon over. But the most significant — and most picturesque — site along this route is the shrine at Dang-ri. This is a rather ordinary building surrounded by high walls of rugged stone, standing amid graceful pine trees at the beginning of Sopyonje Path. It is a sacred site to the islanders and a cultural treasure. For over a thousand years, the spirit enshrined here has been the island’s patron saint. But the visitors to those sites which have served as the backdrop for dramas and films will hardly give the shrine even a fleeting glance. This might be because local folk beliefs have come to be dismissed as superstition since the arrival of Christianity in Korea. The shrine is dedicated to Han Nae-gu, a legendary figure of the Silla Kingdom. According to oral history, General Han was a subordinate of Jang Bo-go (787-846), whose private forces controlled the

maritime passage of the Yellow Sea from his garrison headquarters in Cheonghaejin on Wan Island. General Han protected Cheongsan Island and thus earned the respect of local residents. When he died of old age, they built a stone grave and adjacent shrine to venerate him as the island’s patron saint, which has continued for well over a thousand years. The shrine remains a holy site for islanders; anything deemed impure was not allowed to pass before it. People on horseback or riding in a palanquin would have to dismount. The villagers still conduct annual memorial rites to honor the guardian general on

1. The Sopyonje Path meanders amid the natural harmony of rape flowers, a green barley field, and stone walls. 2. A dolmen and a stone tablet that instructs you to dismount from your horse, carved with a Buddha image, are located alongside the road running through Eup-ri. 3. Tourists walking the Sopyonje Path can see performers reenact a scene from the film. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

69

3


1

Seoul

Getting to Cheongsan Island from Seoul Express bus service from Seoul to Wan Island is available four times a day, with the trip taking about five hours. To maximize the daylight hours, you can take the late-night express bus to Gwangju and transfer to an intercity bus to arrive early in the morning in Wando. By train, you can travel to Gwangju or Mokpo, and catch an intercity bus bound for the island. From Wando’s intercity bus terminal it is a 20-minute walk to the passenger ferry terminal. From the town of Wando-eup, you can see the Judo evergreen forest, a natural monument, and a fish market, while walking along the coastal road. The schedule for the ferry service between Wando and Cheongsando islands varies depending on the season and the weather. To visit islands, the weather is critical, so you absolutely must check the weather forecast ahead of time to avoid possible delays. For the ferry’s departure schedule, see the Wando Cheongsan Agricultural Cooperatives homepage at http://www. cheongsannh.com (Korean only). For the weather forecast, you can call: (82) 016-131 (English and Chinese language services are available).

70

Gwangju Mokpo Wan Island Cheongsan Island

Round-trip bus Express bus Intercity bus Train Passenger ship

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Residents of Cheongsan Island have adapted to their challenging environment by reshaping the mountain slopes with paddies that are buttressed and irrigated using flat stones. This ingenious paddy system, called gudeuljang-non , evoking Korea’s unique underfloor heating system, enabled the islanders to produce rice that once was more valuable than money on their island. the third day of the first lunar month. In the past, only someone who had remained “pure” the entire year could serve as the chief officiant, but the village head performs the ritual these days.

Stone Walls and Ferry to the Afterlife The trekking path opens onto a wondrous sight after reaching the villages of Cheonggye-ri, Buheung-ri, and Wondong-ri: terraces of stone-walled paddies on the rolling hillsides, green with the season’s new rice crop. These are the island’s famed gudeuljang rice paddies, which have been carved onto the hilly landscape, held together and irrigated with an ingenious arrangement of flat stones. I wonder if any other agricultural heritage since the emergence of agrarian society has been created from such desperation as these rice terraces. First constructed in the 16th century, the paddies were created with the placement of flat stones under an embankment and packed with mud for waterproofing, and then topped with a layer of clay to retain the water. Under the flat stones, a drainage system was built to direct water to other paddies. Built with age-old farmers’ wisdom, this unique paddy system is still valuable for this island, where rice is now cheaper than ramyeon. Cheongsan Island is defined by its stones and ever-present winds. Sangseo-ri and Dongchon-ri are villages where stone walls have been maintained in their original form. The sturdy stone walls on the windy island are constructed by only piling up stones but not using mortar, far different from those on the mainland. Houses here all have such stone walls. The islanders did not build stone walls to shut out the wind; they built walls to let the wind pass through, in order to disperse its force. On the hill of Gujang-ri, you might wonder who is buried in the grass tomb there. Known as chobun , the tomb is a temporary grave as part of the traditional practice of pungjang , or “wind burial,” in which the body is first allowed to decay and weather before a final burial of the remains into the ground. It looks like a boat with a grass roof, with the coffin containing the body of the deceased covered with a layer of rice straw, which looks weather-worn. The family had covered the thatch with green netting and bound everything together with nylon rope. On the roof, a few pine twigs are scattered about, perhaps to ward off decay symbolically with

the long-lasting pine needles. This tradition of dual burials disappeared long ago on the mainland but it has continued to this day in the insular island communities of the Southwest Sea. Cheongsan Island, however, is the only place where grass tombs can still be seen. In many places around the world, people believe that the deceased reach the realm of the dead by crossing a river between this world and the next. The dead of the Yoruba tribe in West Africa, for instance, are buried in a canoe for crossing the river to the other world. For islanders, the sea is more than a living space in this world. The stormy seas that one day may threaten to devour the island can be very peaceful the next day. The sea can support and sustain life but also suddenly bring about death. Not only for navigating through life, but also for crossing over to death, a boat is needed. Did the islanders make and use the grass tomb as a ferry to cross that sea? Today, in my reverie, I see a white boat floating over the hill of Gujang-ri, here on Cheongsan Island.

1. Stone-walled rice paddy and the seaside scene at sunset. Wan Island is seen across the sea. 2. In Gukhwa-ri, the local anchovy catch is steamed and dried in trays. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

71

2


along their own path

Son Sung-mok

1

2

72

A Lifetime Spent Collecting Gramophones Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


S

ince ancient times, it has been said, “There are five moons around Lake Gyeongpo: the moon in the sky, the moon in the East Sea, the moon in the lake, the moon in the cup of wine, and the moon in the eyes of your beloved.” Lake Gyeongpo, a seaside lake in the city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province, is known as one of the eight famous sights of the eastern region of Korea for its graceful moonlit scenery. The attraction of this beautiful lake area is enhanced by the presence of a world-renowned museum featuring the history of music and film.

1. Edison fireside phonographs have fanciful horns. 2. The Buddha-shaped phonograph, the world’s only phonograph of its kind made by Thorens, a Swiss manufacturer of audio equipment, at the request of an Asian Buddhist believer in the 1910s. Ornate with gold and other gems, the phonograph produces a deep resonant sound.

A Lifelong Dedication Most visitors to the Charmsori Gramophone & Edison & Ahn Sung-ki Film Museum grow wide-eyed with wonder the moment they step into this museum with such a long name, for the scene in front of them far surpasses their imagination. This museum is home to the world’s largest collection of gramophones and the inventions by Thomas Edison. In short, it preserves more of Edison’s inventions and related articles than any museum in the United States, Edison’s home country. Hence people are wont to say, “Even Americans should visit Gangneung to meet Edison” or “Edison was born in the United States, but his current address is Gyeongpo.” The Charmsori museum houses some 3,500 gramophones, 2,000 Edison inventions, 500 film projectors, 1,500 movie cameras, 150,000 record albums, and 8,000 books about music. These items represent the lifelong collection of Son Sung-mok, the museum’s founder and director. Of the audio devices, 98 percent are operable. Specifically, the museum maintains a large number of rare and original audio devices, including one of only six “American Phonographs” made by Edison himself in 1900. Actually, the Charmsori museum’s American Phonograph is the world’s only surviving original. Other noteworthy objects crammed into the three-story museum include a 30-line Baird television, the world’s first TV; a tin foil-type gramophone, the first gramophone invented by Edison in 1877; the Edison Class M, the world’s first gramophone made in 1899 with beeswax on its cylinders; and a concert gramophone made by Edison the same year. Aside from gramophones, there is a delightful array of Edison inventions, such as irons, light bulbs, batteries, toasters, electric fans, flashlights, and coffeepots. The museum also showcases a wall-mounted lamp, a masterpiece of Edison that won first prize at the 1881 Paris Exposition, and other wonders such as a music box from a time before the invention of the gramophone and 150 kinds of cabinet-type gramophones. The Charmsori museum consists of four exhibition halls, a music hall, and an observation platform on the third floor with panoramic views of Lake Gyeongpo. The “World of Sound Hall” features organs from the Gothic and Renaissance eras, cylinder pianos, music boxes from the 1800s, and vehicles produced in the 1920s. The “World of Film Hall” presents the history of film technology, ranging from the film projector to TV, with motion pictures, video, CD, LD, and DVD. The “World of Light Hall” showcases the history of lighting

The Charmsori Gramophone & Edison & Ahn Sung-ki Film Museum (www.edison.kr) houses a larger collection of the inventions by Thomas Edison than any Edison-related museum in the United States. Hence the epigram: “Edison was born in the United States, but his current address is Gyeongpo.” Gyeongpo refers to the Lake Gyeongpo area of the eastern coastal city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province, where the Charmsori museum is located. The remarkable historical and cultural significance of this museum is the result of the lifelong dedication and commitment of its founder, Son Sung-mok. Kim Hak-soon Journalist | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

73


fixtures, such as gas lamps and the world’s first electric light bulb. Other notable exhibits include the Patrician speakers made by Electro Voice in 1956, the “Automatic Gramophone,” the world’s first gramophone with a remote-control function, and the “Credenza” gramophone produced by Victor Talking Machine in 1925. A British EMG gramophone — one of only three such gramophones ever made — which Son bought from the Saudi royal house, can still produce high-quality sound. The museum attracts about 500,000 Korean and foreign visitors annually. Notable visitors include the IOC evaluation commission members who came to Korea to assess Pyeongchang’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as Gordon Brown, just before he became British prime minister. A number of foreign diplomats, such as former U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, are known to have visited the museum whenever they came by Gangneung. Recently, the museum’s renown has even spread abroad, boosted by news coverage on America’s CNN, China’s CCTV, Japan’s Tokyo TV, and Europe’s Euro TV.

The Challenges Son opened the museum in November 1992 after spending decades searching for and collecting rare gramophones from around 60 countries across the world. Ten years earlier, in 1982, he had opened the Charmsoribang (Hall of True Sound) in Songjeongdong, Gangneung. What’s truly amazing is that Son began collecting gramophones when he was only six years old, after receiving a Columbia Gramophone G24 as a gift from his father. “I was a third-generation only child of a wealthy family in Wonsan, now in North Korea. When I was five years old, my mother died while giving birth to a baby girl. After that, I seldom left the house. Father gave me a portable gramophone to console me. That’s what sparked my interest in collecting,” Son recalls. The Korean War broke out when Son was eight years old. When his family fled to the South, he brought his gramophone along with him. His father scolded him, but he stubbornly refused to abandon it. By the time 1 he had graduated from middle school, he

already had a collection of 10 gramophones. After graduating from college, instead of the ranch he had been promised by his father, he opened an electronics shop in Donghae, a coastal city south of Gangneung. His obsession was so intense that later, while working in the Middle East for a construction company, he acquired about 600 gramophones. After returning to Korea, he amassed a large fortune through apartment construction, and, deciding to use his wealth to build a museum, he continued to collect gramophones in earnest. Son once traveled to a foreign country as many as 10 times to purchase a particular brand and type of gramophone. On several occasions, he had a brush with misfortune, including such incidents as traffic accidents, armed robbery, and abduction. “I was on my way to Argentina with my wife to take part in an auction when I was accosted by an armed robber in New York. I was shot in the shoulder, so I had to give up that auction. Fortunately, the owner of the gramophone heard the news about me and postponed the event,” Son says. “Afterward, I won the bidding for a coin-operated American Phonograph, the only one of its kind left in the world today.” The path Son trod was far from smooth. His cement business went bankrupt in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, causing the museum to be seized by court order. But he reached a settlement just before the museum property was auctioned off. “I still have debts to repay. The current museum building was built by the Gangneung city government, and I pay an annual rent of 100 million won (about US$90,000),” Son says.

The Unending Quest Along his unusual journey, Son has “encountered” Edison several times. In 1877, Edison made a tin foil-type gramophone, the world’s first gramophone. Of the six tin foil-type gramophones that Edison made, Son has managed to collect five. Not only that, the museum owns more than half of the devices invented by Edison, thanks to Son’s ceaseless enthusiasm. “People used to call me a ‘madman.’ I’ve visited the United States about 150 times, but I still don’t know its geography very well. Each time, I would just buy the gramophone I wanted and come back home,” he says. The Charmsori collection includes one of

“Just like Thomas Edison, the ‘King of Invention,’ who once said he wanted to live for 300 years because there were so many things to invent, Son Sung-mok wants to live for 500 years because there are so many things to collect.” 74

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2 1. Son Sung-mok, founder and director of the Charmsori Gramophone & Edison & Ahn Sungki Film Museum, has collected Edison inventions and rare phonographs all his life. 2. An early type of film projector bears testimony to the pioneering days of cinematography. 3. Margot Piano Orchestrion is a music box that can produce the sounds of a piano, mandolin, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, and drums

3

the two cameras that was used to film “Gone with the Wind,” the world’s first color movie. The camera came on the market after a fire at Universal Studios in Hollywood that enabled Son to pick it up for a hefty $300,000. He succeeded in obtaining it after two years of negotiation with the reluctant trader. The other camera had literally “gone with the wind” when the studios were gutted. Altogether, Son’s collection is worth more than 100 billion won (about $90 million). But its vast scale does not mean Son has stopped collecting. “I would be able to build a new museum if I stopped buying items for two or three years. But no true collector would do that. Yes, I suppose you could say I already have a large enough collection, but if I stopped the museum would regress,” he explains. To commemorate his half century dedicated to the collection of gramophones, Son hosted a special retrospective exhibition in 2011. “Just like Thomas Edison, the ‘King of Invention,’ who once said he wanted to live for 300 years because there were so many things to invent, Son Sung-mok wants to live for 500 years because there are so many things to collect,” read a placard hung on the wall, words that aptly describe Son’s passion. Son’s dream is to turn his museum into a truly world-class institution with the addition of a film museum and children’s museum. Late last year, he signed an agreement with Ahn Sung-ki, one of K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

Korea’s most famous actors, to open the Ahn Sung-ki Film Museum. Hence the museum’s unusually long name: The Charmsori Gramophone & Edison & Ahn Sung-ki Film Museum. The new three-story film museum will be located on the east side of the current Charmsori Gramophone & Edison Science Museum. Construction is expected to be completed in October this year, with public opening slated for February 2014. It will house a collection of some 10,000 items, including some 50 films that feature Ahn and materials on his life and work, such as his trophies and film costumes, as well as the film projectors and films that Son has collected. The film museum represents a fulfillment of Son’s lifelong dream of building a multi-theme museum highlighting three elements — sound, light, and sight. He also plans to build a children’s museum and create a space for family enjoyment. Son says his body is worn out now. He needed a gastrectomy to overcome stomach cancer and another surgery for colon cancer a few years ago. But he thinks positively about everything, because he still has many things to do and a dream to fulfill. “I’ve asked my family to bury me beneath the new museum after I die. The museum is my life. I plan to establish a museum management foundation so that my children can’t sell off the collection. I may have bought the items myself, but the collection now belongs to society,” Son says.

75


“Korea: The Impossible Country” Written by Daniel Tudor, 320 pages, US$22.95, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing (2012)

In his latest book, Daniel Tudor, the Korea correspondent for The Economist and a contributor to Newsweek Korea, explores such key questions about Korea today as: “What is South Korea’s relationship with North Korea?” “How does the English education craze affect Korean society?” “What does the multiculturalism trend mean for Korea?” and “Where do women belong in modern Korea?” Before the reader even opens the book, the title might spark curiosity. Why is Korea “the impossible country?” The author provides a two-fold answer to this question. On the one hand, it seemed impossible that South Korea would even survive, let alone thrive, to experience two miracles: extraordinary economic development and the rapid transition from military dictatorship to democracy. On the other hand, though, Tudor argues that Korean society places excessive pressure on people to succeed, while the goals that its people are expected to attain to be truly successful are in many ways unattainable. The book begins with a brief summary of Korean history from prehistoric times through the end of the Korean War (1950-1953). It spans only a few pages but provides a necessary foundation on which the remainder of the book is constructed. In the first part, the reader is introduced to the six pillars of modern Korean society: shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, capitalism, and democracy. It is interesting to see how the four more traditional religious or philosophical pillars are grouped together with the two modern ideological pillars, but the combination seems apt enough. Tudor does not merely describe the four traditional belief systems as he goes on to explain how they continue to influence Korean thought today, and in this regard he has some very interesting and perceptive insights to share. The four sections that make up the remainder of the book deal with cultural codes, including “typically Korean” concepts that are often deemed impossible to adequately translate, such as jeong and han ; modern issues in Korean society in the realms of politics, the workplace, marriage industry, and English education; lifestyle and cultural phenomena such as attitudes toward living space, local cuisine, cinema, pop music, and latenight drinking culture; and finally a collection of thoughts on Korean identity, including discussions of nationalism, multiculturalism, the Korean Wave and export of Korean culture, and the changing attitudes toward homosexuality and the place of women in society. The latter chapters are brief (averaging just under 10 pages) but cogent essays that stand on their own and appear to be organized into sections more for convenience than thematic coherence. That is, for much of its content, the book is not guided by a single narrative thread; instead it seeks to paint a panoramic scene through a series of smaller vignettes. An advantage to this approach is that each chapter can be read independently without any loss of understanding. Taken together, though, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through a collection of diverse snapshots, the book presents a Korea that does not lend itself to simple explanation due to its variegated and complex character. It functions admirably as a guide to modern Korea and its roots.

76

Books & More

British Correspondent Delves into Korea Today

Charles La Shure Professor, Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Guide to Buddhist Practices for English-speaking Readers

Observations of Korea by an Early American Envoy’s Wife

“6 Ways to the Heart: The Essence of Korean Buddhist Practices”

“Letters from Joseon”

Written by Seong Jae-hyeon, Translated by Hong Yon-ju, Proofread by Ross Chambers, Photographs by Ha Ji-kwon, 192 pages, 20,000 won, US$18.00, Seoul: Bulkwang Publishing, Association of Korean Buddhist Orders (2011)

Written and compiled by Robert Neff, 431 pages, 19,000 won, US$30.00, Seoul: Seoul Selection (2012)

This is the second volume of a three-part series designed to introduce Korean Buddhism to English-speaking readers. “Korean Buddhism,” the first volume published in 2009, serves as a general introduction, while the third volume, “Encounter with the Beauty of Korean Buddhism,” published this year, provides an overview of Buddhist cultural heritage in Korea. This second volume, though, focuses on six practices central to Korean Buddhism: meditation on specific topics (Ganhwa Seon), Buddha recitation, mantra, sutra reading, sutra copying, and bowing. The book explains the central practices of Korean Buddhism by providing practical information. At the same time, it can seem like a practice of meditation as well. The introduction, entitled “A Way Home,” paints an intuitive yet vivid image of the concept of “home,” promising to help lead the reader there. This is followed by song lyrics that describe spring in the lyricist’s hometown. The imagery will probably resonate more with a Korean reader, as it draws on traditional Korean conceptions of and expectations for the “hometown,” but it is still quite moving. Even in the more concrete and practice-oriented sections, the book maintains a peaceful, meditative tone, such that the very act of reading seems like a practice in and of itself. Once past the contemplative introduction, the reader is asked the question: “How is your mind?” This leads to a discussion of human suffering as diseases — ailments not of the body, but of the mind. These diseases are said to be caused by the three “poisons” of greed, anger and ignorance, while the Buddhist practices are presented as the antidotes to counter these poisons and to ultimately cure the diseases. The chapters on each of the six practices follow a basic structure: an explanation of the practice, discussion of its foundation in Buddhist doctrine and a brief overview of its history, depiction of how the practice is carried out in modern Korea, and a step-by-step guide to perform the practice. Then, each section ends with a short, almost lyrical “Musing from a Guide,” which encourages reflection and introspection. These pages are mostly white text on a dark background, the inverse of the remainder of the book. Appropriately enough, the book has no conclusion, leaving the reader to meditate on the final “Musing.” Mention must be made of the many exceptional photographs that illustrate, or even illuminate, the text. Most of the photographs are not directly related to the content but contribute to its contemplative nature. There are also photographs that help explain the practices in action, as performed by practitioners.

This book, with a long subtitle “19th Century Korea through the Eyes of an American Ambassador’s Wife,” offers the reader a uniquely personal view of Korea in the final decade of the 19th century, when Japan replaced China as the dominant foreign power on the peninsula, which would eventually become a colony of its newly rising neighbor. It represents a journey that began with a published collection of letters from John M. B. Sill, American minister to Korea from 1894-1897, led to over 750 handwritten pages of Sill family letters stored on microfilm at the University of Michigan, and ultimately provided this fascinating glimpse into a tumultuous period in Korea’s history. In addition to the letters of Sally Sill, the “ambassador’s wife” referred to in the subtitle, the book also draws on letters written by John Sill and Sally’s sister Lily, especially in 1894, when Sally’s rheumatism prevented her from writing. Along with diplomatic dispatches and personal letters from other notable Western figures at the time, they provide a colorful account of the times that stands in contrast to official histories. Even when the letters chronicle important and well-known historical events such as the Sino-Japanese War, the assassination of Queen Min (generally known today as Empress Myeongseong), and the flight of King Gojong to the Russian legation, they provide the fresh and interesting perspective of a Western family new to Asia. In addition to the more momentous historical developments, the letters also recount aspects of everyday life at the American mission in Seoul, such as problems with the postal system, infrequent sporting events involving legation personnel, and scandals within the Western community. A number of period photographs and illustrations bring to life aspects of Seoul as it was over one hundred years ago. Inset biographies of historical figures who played significant parts in the Sills’ lives help flesh out the cast of characters. And, of course, tying all of this together is Robert Neff’s fluent narration. The narration provides the background necessary to place the letters in their proper context, but Neff is keen to allow the letter writers to speak for themselves as much as possible. The brief period covered in this book was an emotionally charged one. Times and events such as these are most often viewed through a wideangle lens. The book shows, however, that a very personal perspective can in fact make these events seem far more real than they might otherwise seem in the pages of a history book or an official document.


Entertainment

Food

1

2

TV Loves

Lifestyle programs, especially those involving food, have come to dominate morning and evening TV programming, gaining considerable popularity among viewers. Educational programs and intimate documentary series with a focus on food — the production, preparation, and enjoyment of food — are making remarkable advances as well. Lee Young-mee Pop Culture Critic and Adjunct Professor, Sungkonghoe University

3 © KBS

T

he immense popularity of food as an entertainment subject has given rise to an avid foodie culture, sparked by high-profile celebrities and the freewheeling online universe. Meokbang, a coined word of recent vintage, refers to movie scenes or video clips related to food or eating. If you search for “meokbang” on the Internet, you can easily find numerous video clips from TV shows or the movies that feature close-ups of celebrities who are eating with great pleasure. Over the past decade, TV programs have increasingly been featuring food as a popular material, thereby whetting viewers’ appetite for eating adventures, antics, and mishaps of ordinary people and famous figures. With free access and easy editing of video clips on the Internet, the public has enthusiastically taken to viewing, sharing, and reveling in these food-related footages.

78

From Cooking Class to Trip Down Memory Lane Until the 1970s, food programs on TV in Korea were typically short and instructional; a culinary expert would demonstrate the process of preparing a particular dish in a studio, in programs like “Home Cooking.” Beyond the basic function of teaching cookery, these programs also whipped up the audiences’ desire for modern lifestyles by conveying scenes of food preparation with fancy cooking utensils and premium ingredients in Western-style kitchens. As more diverse documentaries were produced and aired in the 1980s, food was recast as a subject matter of Korea’s love for nature and local features. On major holidays like Chuseok (Autumn Moon Festival) and New Year’s Day, special documentary programs with titles like “Tastes Created by Mother’s Hands” and “Korea’s Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Major Holiday Foods,” replete with lyrical narratives and idyllic rustic scenes, became standard fare for holiday viewing. In line with this trend, serious food discovery programs involving travel and on-site filming began to emerge. Examples included the Korean Broadcasting System’s (KBS) documentary programs like “Taste Show, Style Show” (Mat Jarang Meot Jarang ), which first aired in 1984, and “Along the Taste, Along the Trail” (Mat Tara Gil Tara ), which debuted in 1993. As advances in broadcast technology made it easier to film on location, it became possible to produce food programs at the actual story sites. In fact, food and cooking began to form its own culture, or aspect of leisure, rather than a simple everyday task for homemakers. Notably, this was a time when indigenous ingredients and foods made with traditional cooking methods were fast disappearing due to society’s rapid transformation and urbanization. It was also when food writing came to carve out its niche in the mass media, as “delicacy tour” features in newspapers and magazines gained widespread popularity. Associating food dishes with local hometowns or traditional culture is still among the most familiar approaches for food-related television programs. With cultural primacy focused on Seoul’s embrace of cosmopolitan influences, evoking nostalgia for food of the “good old days” became the easiest way to stir hometown sentiments among those from provincial cities and rural areas.

From Wellness to ‘Food Porn’ By the year 2000, TV programs on food itself began to stimulate the appetite of audiences. With the new trend of “wellness” (health awareness) making rapid inroads into Korea, programs that reflected the public’s heightened interest in personal health, such as “Vitamin” of KBS 2 and “How to Eat and Live Well” of Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), became the trendsetters on TV. The Taiwanese movie “Eat Drink Man Woman” (1994) drew attention to the salutary effects of food-related visual images; regardless of the story, food scenes have been found to dramatically stimulate the appetite of audiences. In particular, the Chinese foods in the film were especially vivid and colorful, with most of them being cooked rapidly at high temperatures. Just watching the scenes, viewers found their appetite being aroused, recalling the aroma of oil and spices of Chinese food. Japanese cooking comic books, like “Shota no Sushi ” (King of Sushi Genre), are known to have a huge following, confirming the popular appeal of works that focus on food-related matters. The two programs that opened an era of cooking-theme TV dramas are “Delicious Proposal” (2001, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation or MBC), a story about the competition between two Chinese restaurants, and “Dae Jang Geum” (aka “Jewel in the Palace,” 2002, MBC), which was 1. The mural paintings of the Suan Pakkad Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, which were introduced in the documentary “Noodle Road,” provide clues on how people made noodles a long time ago. 2. A scene from the documentary “Noodle Road.” 3. A scene from KBS 1’s “Korean Cuisine and Dining.” K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

based on records about the royal palace cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty. Both structured as a showdown between competing chefs, they adopted aspects of “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “Shota no Sushi .” The tension created by the undercurrents of conflict, confrontation, and competition contributed to the popularity of these dramas, but the appetite-stimulating visual presentation of foods was critical as well. Soon thereafter, food became the primary focus of quasi-documentary programs like “VJ Special Forces” (KBS 2) and entertainment programs such as “Decide! Taste vs. Taste” (2003, SBS); the latter focused on the enjoyment of watching guest panelists struggle to contain their appetite while commenting on foods placed right in front of them. This would seem to suggest that society is now more open about our basic desires and appetites without a sense of guilt or embarrassment. Indeed, appetite for food is a basic physical desire much like sexual desire. As such, the scenes that show people enjoying delicious food can be nearly as provocative as sexual pornography. Food is the medium that can stimulate viewers’ basic desires. Meokbang, mentioned earlier, is thus a kind of “food porn,” equivalent to a sex video, giving audiences a view of posh celebrities who, after all, are human beings with needs like everyone else and take pleasure in satisfying their appetites.

Taste Gap, Generation Gap Yet, it is mostly young adults and middle-aged people who tend to have the frank and irreverent mindset of the anti-authoritarian that enables them to view appetite in a positive way and spread comical meokbang online. Elderly audiences are still unfamiliar with watching people casually indulge in a basic physical desire. As such, KBS 1, in line with its emphasis on education and public values, airs programs such as “Korean Cuisine and Dining,” which combines local features, nationalistic content, and healthy living themes, in the early evenings when the viewer rating among the elderly reaches its peak. The time slot right before this is allocated to “My Hometown at 6,” which regularly features the daily lives of ordinary farmers and fishermen, along with their local specialties. In these programs, too, close-ups of people eating delicious foods constitute the most entertaining aspects. In order to maintain the interest of seniors, however, the programs need to include more general interest content. A generational gap clearly exists between seniors and the meokbang group. Food programs are becoming ever more diverse as tastes for entertainment evolve with the times. An award-winning documentary, “Noodle Road,” which covered the seemingly trivial subject of the role of noodles in the global history of civilization, has earned favorable reviews at home and abroad. Entertainment and lifestyle cable channels are now broadcasting “survival” programs, such as “Yes Chef” (Q TV) and “Master Chef Korea” (Olive TV). Indeed, it is quite apparent that food has created its own niche as one of the most appealing subjects for TV programming.

79


Gourmet’s Delight

Yukgaejang Hot, Spicy, and ‘Cool’

© yoanna

80

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Yukgaejang is a one-pot meal that provides balanced nutrition with a combination of meat and vegetables. It is said to revive the organs that can be weakened from consuming cold food during summertime. It is a popular dish for summer, and Koreans swear by the power of this fiery dish to drive out the heat from the body. Ye Jong-suk Food Columnist and Professor of Marketing, Hanyang University

I

t is customary for Koreans to have hot or spicy soup during the hottest days of summer. High summer in Korea is heralded by photographs of blocks-long queues and crowds of customers waiting to get into restaurants that specialize in favorite traditional soups and stews. Around the time of sambok , the so-called three dog days in July and August, diners in restaurants throughout the country tuck into their summer delicacy, exclaiming repeatedly, “Ah, this is cool,” while downing hot soup and sweating profusely. This paradoxical scene, which is a source of utter astonishment to non-Koreans, is explained as a custom of “fighting fire with fire.” In a recent survey of 1,000 foreigners residing in Korea, half of the respondents said that they find eating hot soup during the dog days to be the most incomprehensible aspect of Korean culture. Indeed, whereas people in other countries look forward to outdoor barbecues, picnics, and cold salads (or soups) during summer, Koreans have maintained that eating hot soup indoors, on even the hottest days, is the best way to protect the body from the debilitating heat of summer.

Hot Soup Keeps the Body Balanced The Korean belief of “fighting fire with fire” is derived from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements. In essence, this approach is based on the concept of balance. In the summer, people attempt to lower their body temperature by eating cold food to offset the hot weather. But eating cold food is actually counterproductive since cooling down the inside of your body can lead to indigestion and reduced stamina. The principles of traditional Oriental medicine thus call for keeping the body balanced by taking in hot fluid to warm the body’s internal system. The concept of “fighting fire with fire” finds common ground with homeopathy, an alternative form of medicine practiced in Europe, South America, and India. Homeopathic treatment is based on the belief that substances that induce the same symptoms in a healthy person will effectively address a patient’s ailment so that the body can develop the capacity to heal itself. Among the hot soups that are popular in summer, yukgaejang is the favorite. Although consumption of samgyetang , a chicken soup with ginseng, has long been associated with the hottest days of summer, yukgaejang has its own appeal because it is not only hot but also quite spicy, which makes one forget the summer heat while eating. Endless Variety in a Single Pot There are numerous varieties of yukgaejang, but a standard version can be prepared as follows. Beef (usually brisket) is boiled in water with green onion and garlic. When the meat is tender, it is taken out and shredded into strips by hand along the grain, while the broth is allowed to cool and the fat skimmed off. The shredded beef is combined with boiled taro stems, fern bracken, and parboiled mung bean sprouts, then seasoned with red pepper powder, hot pepper oil, garlic, and black pepper. Everything is returned to the broth and K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

A bowl of hot and spicy yukgaejang with rice provides a balanced meal to counter the summer heat.

81


Although consumption of samgyetang , a chicken soup with ginseng, has long been associated with the hottest days of summer, yukgaejang has its own appeal because it is not only hot but also quite spicy, which makes one forget the summer heat while eating.

simmered with green onion. Served with rice, yukgaejang soup is one Korean meal that can be enjoyed by itself, without the usual side dishes. A recipe in Sieui Jeonseo , a cookbook from the late 19th century, calls for yukgaejang, in addition to beef, to include such ingredients as abalone and sea cucumber, quite different from today’s dish. Joseon Yori (Korean Dishes), written in 1940 by Son Jeong-gyu, describes a yukgaejang version similar to that of today, which suggests that a more standard recipe had taken root. Yukgaejang was traditionally served to visitors during the wake for a recently deceased person, probably for its relative ease of serving a nutritious meal, but also because the red-colored soup was deemed propitious, according to shamanic beliefs, for driving away evil spirits. It is commonly served even today at funeral homes. Variations of yukgaejang include Daegu-tang (Daegu stew) and ddaro gukbap (literally, “soup and rice separately”). These two dishes are closely identified with Daegu, the thirdlargest city of Korea in the central southeastern region. Choe Nam-seon (1890-1957), a writer and historian, mentioned a stew, known as Daegu-tang, that was a famous local dish of Daegu in his book Joseon Sangsik Mundap (Questions and Answers on Common Knowledge in Korea, published in 1946). Daegu is a basin city, and its heat wave during the summer can be brutal. To endure this annual heat wave, a special kind of stew was created, says Choe in his book. Professor Yi Seong-u, a food historian from Daegu, explains, “For Daegu-tang, the meat is not shredded along the grain but a chunk of meat is boiled until it falls apart, a dish with a generous amount of meat.” The late novelist Kim Dong-ri once

1

82

© yoanna

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


recalled, “From my vague memory, it was a beef soup boiled with green chili and lots of chives and green onions.” There are, however, various arguments about the origin of the name Daegu-tang. While it is well known that during the Japanese colonial rule, yukgaejang in Daegu was called Daegu-tang, some claim that the residents of Daegu had never heard of such a dish. The late journalist Jo Pung-yeon (19141991), in his book “A Dictionary of Seoul Trivia” (Seoul Japhak Sajeon ), published in 1989, stated, “In the 1930s, Daeyeongwan, a restaurant in Jeong-dong in Seoul, served Daegu-tang for the first time. It was similar to yukgaejang, but had lots of green onion. As for its name, people assumed that it was a dish from Daegu, but Daegu people didn’t know about it. So the name was made up for the new dish.” Adding to the confusion, a 1929 issue of the monthly magazine Byeol Geon Gon said that “Daegu-tangban is originally yukgaejang” and “it originated from Daegu but has now entered Seoul.” Judging from all this, it seems that Daegu-tang was a kind of yukgaejang, but upon reaching Seoul, it was named after Daegu in order to be distinguished from its cousin in Seoul. The irony, though perhaps not unexpected, is that none of the popular gukbap restaurants in Daegu offers a dish named Daegu-tang. As for ddaro-gukbap, it was originally a form of yukgaejang, but the rice and soup came to be served separately at the request of customers, leading to its name which, as mentioned above, literally means “soup and rice separately.” Korean dishes are mostly named for the ingredients or preparation method, but the name of this dish is derived from its manner of serving. The important thing, in any case, is that you can presumably drive out the summer heat by having a bowl of this hot and spicy soup. Yeokjeon Hoegwan in Mapo and Pyeongnaeok in Jeo-dong, in Seoul, are restaurants known for yukgaejang, while Joseonok in Uljiro 3-ga still serves Daegu-tang, a dish not available even in its namesake city. In Daegu, Yetjip Sikdang (Old House Restaurant) specializes in yukgaejang, and Gugil Ddaro Gukbap takes pride in being the origin of ddarogukbap, which it has served for the past 60 years. In Seoul, you can enjoy the taste of traditional-style yukgaejang soup and rice served separately at Gangnam Ddaro Gukbap in Jamwon-dong.

3

© yoanna

2

1. The ingredients for yukgaejang vary. Those on this cutting board emphasize the flavor of mushrooms — oyster mushroom, winter mushroom, and shiitake — but also include mung bean sprouts, fern bracken, and green onion. 2. Parboiled vegetables and long-boiled beef shredded along the grain in thick strips. 3. After lightly mixing the boiled ingredients by hand with garlic, black pepper powder, red pepper powder, and red pepper oil, leave the mixture for two or three hours so that the flavors are well blended. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

83


Lifestyle

Amid Economic Downturn, Koreans Go Gung-ho for Camping A new craze is sweeping Korea: outdoor camping. Online camping clubs have proliferated recently, each with up to 200,000 members. Some dads cut back on their entertainment spending to save up for a camping trip with their children so they can enjoy the vast night sky with its countless stars.

Kim Young-ju Reporter, Daily Sports

M

y hobby is climbing remote mountains where I am not likely to run into many people. I enjoy camping out overnight wherever I find it suitable, with a few close friends of mine. But nowadays it is becoming ever more difficult to find solitary camping grounds. Recently, I see a sharp rise in the number of family campers on weekends, as well as during weekdays. Since I am still single, I sometimes join my sister’s family when they camp out. It is a pleasure for me to roast meat or sweet potatoes on the barbecue grill for my nephews. I think I will pick up some fish at the nearby market on my way to the camp site and cook them for the kids next time. The highlight of a camping out experience is the natural environment that surrounds you at night. When you lie down in a tent, you soon feel that you are being embraced by nature. It is really a fantastic “hands-on” experience when children can gaze up at the countless stars in the night sky. (In fact, schools now recognize their students’ experience of camping out with their families as an extracurricular activity, but only if they submit a plan in advance.)

Year-Round Camping During his visit to Korea, Richard L. Guilfoile, president of the Asia-Pacific regional branch of an international outdoor products maker, called the camping craze in Korea “dynamic.” He said, “Korea is probably the only country where people enjoy camping even when it rains or snows. The United States and Japan have longer histories when it comes to camping, as compared to Korea, but Koreans’ passion is second to none.” Thanks to the recent camping trend, Korean fathers have suddenly become popular in their homes over the past few years. Americans are hesitant to camp out in rainy or snowy weather. But in contrast, many Koreans will wait for the snow to fall so they can enjoy a snowy landscape, Guilfoile noted. Indeed, many campers dream of spending the night in a snow-covered field, which can be an ideal playground for kids. A dad can earn extra Brownie points from his kids if he comes prepared with equipment, like sleds, for their enjoyment. Kim Tae-hyun, who enjoys family camping adventures, has a medium-sized dome-shaped tent with extended eaves for camping out in winter. With this tent, he can quickly set up a shelter for his family in a snow-covered field even as the sun sets rapidly. There are about 400 to 500 campsites throughout the country. In particular, the grounds of arboretums have been discovered as perfect camping sites in the past two or three years. Recently, numerous outdoor campsites, which offer both camping facilities and recreational activities, have been opened, one after another. Cheondong Auto Camping Resort, 1

84

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


2

at the foot of Mt. Sobaek in Danyang, North Chungcheong Province, includes a miniature golf course. Many car camping sites along the Bukhan River, traversing Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces, feature water sports facilities.

Backpacking The number of campers has surged sharply in Korea over the past five years, currently estimated at somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million. Campers have developed their own styles in accordance with their circumstances. Experienced campers prefer backpacking, avoiding overcrowded camping sites. They lay down their backpacks upon finding a suitable site to spend the night when dusk begins to fall. For backpacking, you have to rough it by carrying only basic and essential equipment. “Backpacking costs about half that of auto camping. Kids can gain a sense of independence and responsibility, as they have to carry their own equipment. They also learn how to value nature,” said Kang Yeong-seok, a veteran backpacker. Lee Jeong-hwa, a female office worker, climbs mountains once a month, carrying a camping gas stove and pots and pans in her backpack. She likes to scale lesser-known mountains in provincial regions, instead of national parks and famous mountains where camping or cooking is often prohibited. She especially enjoys visiting the neighboring islands of Sindo, Sido, Jangbongdo, or Gureopdo off Incheon. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

1. Thanks to the recent camping trend, Korean fathers have become much closer to their children. 2. The most fascinating moment of camping out comes at night. It is a mesmerizing experience for children to "feel the light of numerous stars pour down on their heads,” just like in fairytales.

85


1

There are about 400 to 500 campsites throughout the country. In particular, the grounds of arboretums have been discovered as perfect camping sites in the past two or three years. Recently, numerous outdoor campsites, which offer both camping facilities and recreational activities, have been opened, one after another. “Each island has a hill or two. After arriving at the dock, I usually walk around for five or six hours and then camp out at any suitable place,” she said. “If I am on an island off the west coast, I can enjoy a magnificent sunrise in the morning as well as a fabulous sunset in the evening. My campout is perfect so long as I can enjoy a fine cup of coffee on any of these remote islands.” She carries a tent weighing only about 2 kilos, called “Indian tent,” which is moderately priced at some 100,000 won (about US$90).

Camping Equipment Most popular camping brands are imported, so the acquisition of camping equipment can get expensive. Nevertheless, the camping craze has had a positive impact on the family life of many white-collar workers, who seek a healthier lifestyle amid a protracted economic recession. Nowadays, I see many fathers pursuing more desirable recreation choices by cutting back on their typical entertainment expenses so that they can purchase camping equipment for their families.

86

Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


There are several ways to acquire camping equipment. Veteran campers will advise beginners: “You’d better buy your equipment, except for pots and pans, from online shops carrying secondhand goods.” You should be particularly careful before you buy an expensive tent, because you will know about its quality only after you spend a night inside it, they will add. Newcomers like to visit the camping festivals organized by outdoor brands and camping clubs to learn about the equipment. Such gatherings, which bring together hundreds of enthusiasts, allow beginners to see how veterans utilize their equipment and learn how to plan outdoor activities. Veteran campers’ experience and practical advice can be valuable information for first-time purchasers of equipment. Camping cafes on portal sites, like Naver and Daum, hold camping events in spring and fall, while outdoor brands organize regular festivals, mainly in spring and summer. One outdoor brand organizes about 10 family events every year. There are occasional classes for beginners as well. Thrifty campers take advantage of online markets to buy equipment on the cheap. In fact, a number of Korean outdoor brands started out as online businesses. Lee Seok-jung, a staffer of a domestic outdoor brand, said, “Perhaps, the online market is even bigger than the offline market.”

Trailer Camping The number of trailer campers has also grown steadily. There are stationary and mobile trailers, with the mobile units including an auto caravan, equipped with the amenities of a camping vehicle, and a trailer, which is pulled by a vehicle. In other words, an auto caravan is a camping vehicle with living space all in one; the trailer is a kind of miniature home towed by a car. All caravans/trailers are imported. Jeong Han-yeong, a man in his late 50s, moved from central Seoul to a suburban area a few years ago. He bought a trailer last year as he believed that a comfortable trailer would be convenient for him and his wife to go on camping trips. But it remains to be seen whether this kind of American-style trailer camping will gain popularity in Korea. You need to obtain a specialized driver’s license in order to drive a vehicle with a trailer attached. And it is not easy to maintain a large trailer in a neighborhood consisting mostly of apartment buildings. But importers are predicting a rosy outlook. “The market has grown 20 to 30 percent annually over the past three to four years,” Oh Seong-sik, an importer of high-end trailers, said. “More than 100 people buy trailers every year.”

1. Camping provides an ideal setting for spending quality time with family and friends in the great outdoors. 2. The auto campsite at Mt. Deogyu National Park in Muju, North Jeolla Province, surrounded by autumnal colors. During the peak fall foliage season, in mid- to late October every year, hordes of vacationers converge at this campsite located near the entrance to the 4 kilometer-long scenic valley.

Bivouac Outings With the camping population on the rise, campers have taken a keen interest in bivouacking, which refers to camping out without a tent. A hiker trekking on a mountain trail simply chooses a spot to his liking, where he spreads a mat, slips into a sleeping bag, and sleeps in the open air. Like backpacking or solo camping, the camper sleeps in the wild, but bivouacking requires no tent. Simply put, it is about sleeping in nature without any shelter. The essential equipment for a bivouac outing is the sleeping bag. You can gather up leaves for a mat; it is essential to have cushioning and shield from any ground moisture. You should fasten the sleeping bag around yourself securely for protection against the wind and moisture, assuring that only your face is exposed to the elements. The night air on your face will feel refreshing. The highlight of bivouacking is sleeping outdoors with nothing between you and the sounds of nature. You can spend the night listening to the rustling of leaves, the wind caressing pine boughs, crickets chirping, and perhaps some wild animals roaming about. K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

87

2


Journeys in Korean Literature

Critique

Whose Nightmare? Uh Soo-woong Arts & Culture Reporter, The Chosun Ilbo

I

t was three years ago that I first met the author Lee Jang-wook. This was at the Munhak Dongne [Literary Community] Publishing Group awards ceremony for the “Best Young Writers of 2010.” At the time, Lee was already 42, an age not usually associated with “young writers.” There were seven award recipients that day, with Lee easily the oldest of the lot. Munhak Dongne explained their decision this way: “The qualifications for this award are based on the year of the writer’s literary debut, which must have been within the past 10 years.” Lee Jang-wook started out in 1994 as a poet, and it was in 2005 when he debuted as a writer of fiction with his full-length novel “Joyful Devils of Callot.” This first novel received the third Annual Munhak Sucheop [Literature Notebook] Writers’ Award, whereupon Lee received much encouragement to keep winning as many “young writer” awards as possible while he still met the requirements. Thanks, perhaps, in part to this encouragement (though certainly not because of it), Lee won another “young writer” award the following year. As a story, “Ivan Menshkov’s Dancing Room” carries the tag of “biographical fiction.” Most stories identified as “biographical,” however, tend to provide a trustworthy first-person narrator who speaks and contemplates in a somewhat confessional mode, whereas this piece does nothing of the sort. Instead, the narration here can be characterized as hazy, even ambiguous; at times it can be difficult to ascertain what is actually being said. This is a story that reads as if the writer had sought to keep something hidden, while simultaneously hoping this something might be found out. The main character and narrator “I”; the owner of the apartment in question, the writer Ivan Menshkov; and Andrei, the friend who set up the narrator with the apartment: these are the three characters who populate this story. To borrow the words of literary critic Kim Hwa-young, “all three of these men are makers, fabricators; they are writers of horror stories.” Kim goes on: “Peel away the layers of this story like the skin of an onion and the center you approach is located in Ivan Menshkov’s own horror novel, ‘Dream.’” It is possible that Ivan Menshkov is himself a phantom. Or, per-

88

haps, he is actually based on a real figure from the Russian literary world. The reader is never certain whether he really exists, or is dead; we are never sure how he was killed, if dead, or, if alive, whether he really has gone on some strange suicidal journey across Europe. We never find out why or how the objects in Ivan Menshkov’s apartment keep moving around, and we are never told who is, or is not, dancing up on the sixth floor. Andrei is the one who tells the story of Ivan Menshkov to the narrator, “I.” The narrator had stayed in St. Petersburg before, back in 1994, as an exchange student. At the time, Andrei was just 29 years old. The Andrei of today works part time at a sushi restaurant and claims to be working on his novel: a horror story. He also claims to be friends with the famous Ivan Menshkov. Yet the more Andrei talks and the deeper the night gets in the city of St. Petersburg, the narrator finds himself increasingly plagued by insomnia and hallucinations. To give readers a hand, Lee Jang-wook himself offered up a few “author’s notes” to accompany the original edition of his story — slices taken from his own diary, written in 2007. Following are a few excerpts: Evening. I am sitting in a small apartment building in St. Petersburg, Russia. An old building, with a heavy wooden door on the first floor you must push to get inside, leading to a dimly-lit and musty-smelling staircase you must climb. The door to the apartment requires three rusty keys to be fitted to three separate keyholes before it will open, and sitting in this dingy chair, [I hear] the sound of the stairs creaking. It filters in through the cracks in the door. There are several chocolate museums in this city. There, you can meet a Lenin made of chocolate. These figures are for sale, so the traveler could also easily taste this sweet Lenin. A Lenin made of chocolate. Or, no. A chocolate made of Lenin. Pop art made of socialism. Or maybe just a comedic reversal of the loftiest symbol of what was once inviolate. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


Lee Jang-wook, prolific poet, novelist, and critic, artfully takes the trope of the “haunted house” for a spin to create a story both original and highly intellectual.

Lee Jang-wook

K o r e a n a ı S u mme r 2 013

Lee spent around 20 days in this St. Petersburg apartment. Leaving it, he wrote: I have discovered that the stairs are not wooden; they are made of stone. The stone steps are hard and dry, and silent. So then what was the creaking that lasted all through the night? That sound that worked its way into my very dreams — where did it come from? And what about Raskolnikov, standing in the stairwell with the axe in his hand, staring right at me — where did he go?

Reading Lee’s personal prose together with his fiction, it becomes possible to begin reading into the questions and concerns that interest him most as a writer. In the story, the reader learns that the waves of capitalism have already swept across these Soviet lands. Once an antiestablishment artist, Menshkov has transformed himself into a popular writer of genre fiction, and Andrei, once an atheistic theologian in training, is assistant-managing a sushi restaurant while also working on his own horror bestseller. The anonymous “I,” too, is no different, even as he finds himself caught up in the mystery of Andrei and the maybe-dead, maybe-alive Menshkov. As the literary critic Noh Dae-won put it: “Take the tale of those who once loathed capitalism, only to find themselves investing in the stock market — this willful betrayal of all you once stood for. This is a nightmare that well applies to the so-called 386 generation (Koreans who were born in the 1960s, came of age in the 80s, and reached their 30s at the time of the label’s coinage).” Lee Jang-wook himself was born in 1968, making him an archetypal member of the 386 generation. So it is natural to wonder whether he may have looked around him at his fellow writers in their 40s, and found himself — sitting in a dilapidated 19th-century style St. Petersburg apartment building in which the dim light itself seemed restless — moved to write about the reality of those who had once sought to overcome capitalism and were now walking the tightrope of capitalism’s very front lines. Indeed, the individual reader, forced to rely on and experience the sensation of a first-person narration that is clearly not to be trusted, cannot help but take part in the confusion and questioning of the story’s “I.” The climax of this story takes place in the scene where “I,” overcome with the apartment’s haunting horror, enters the blue-lit room of the writer Menshkov and, inexplicably, finds himself beginning to tap dance. The dancing takes place thousands of kilometers away from his home in Seoul. For the reader, overcome with horror and anxiety, even as he lives on the front lines of neoliberalism, this tap dance offers an opportunity to observe a true projection of the self.

89


IMAGE OF KOREA

What kind of place is this? / What is inside? / Does someone live here? / Can you see anything? Curiosity sparkles in the eyes of the children as they peek through the narrow cracks in the door. But there is nothing to be seen. Yet the limitless space that stretches out beyond that door resonates with the ultimate question. “Who am I?” Hanging high above the children’s heads is a large sign bearing the name of this building, in four mysterious Chinese characters, a tangle of strokes and layered meanings: “A hall of meditation, deep in the mountains, where immortals live.” On the pillar to the right of the door are two more characters saying simply: “Meditation Center.” The children’s curiosity is not satisfied, however. So a sign has been posted in plain Korean on the great red door: “This is a restricted area, a meditation center where people devote themselves to practice.” People who pass through this door do not come out again until the answers to their questions enter their hearts and resound there. A door where the inside meets the outside, a red door where the mundane and asceticism silently push against each other. One of the ten largest Buddhist temples in Korea, Beomeosa is located on the slopes of Mt. Geumjeong in the suburbs of Busan, the country’s second largest city. It is said that one day in the seventh century, the king dreamed of a fish that came down from the heavens and swam in a golden spring that flowed from beneath a great rock at the summit of this mountain; thereafter he founded the temple and named it Beomeosa, the Temple of the Heavenly Fish. The meditation center is tucked deep within this temple, where the monks steadfastly devote themselves to the practice of asceticism. “Who am I?” The question reverberates like the thunder of a drum and ennobles the space all around. The children peeking through the cracks in the door do not hear the sound of the drum. Perhaps the spotless hearts of the children as they turn away from the door is the answer to our question.

Peeping Inside: Who Am I? Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the Korean National Academy of Arts Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

Koreana - Summer 2013 (English)  

Koreana - Summer 2013 (English)

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you