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A UT UMN 2013

Korean Culture & Arts

Yards and Gardens

vo l. 27 n o . 3

Special Feature A UTUM N 2013

Yards Rather Than Gardens; My Yard: A Dream Come True; Indoor Gardens in Apartments

ISSN 1016-0744

v o l. 27 n o. 3

Yards and Gardens How Koreans Commune with Nature

Yu Hyun-seok



Lee Kyong-hee


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


Dean Jiro Aoki


Lim Sun-kun

ASSISTANT EDITORS Teresita M. Reed Cho Yoon-jung


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 Tel: 82-2-335-4741 Fax: 82-2-335-4743


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 autumn 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.


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

“Afternoon” by Chang Uc-chin, oil on canvas, 42 x 32 cm, 1985

Editor's Letter

The Korean Concept of Garden

The Special Feature section of Koreana provides in-depth coverage of a specific aspect of Korean culture and arts for our readers around the world. The authors discuss the feature subject from diverse viewpoints as experts of relevant fields so that our readers would increase their understanding of Korea and its people and culture. For each issue, the editorial staff considers possible subjects for the section and selects a proposed topic that is submitted to the Editorial Board for its approval. After a group of authors is selected, they hold a meeting to exchange their views and outline the focus of their respective articles in an effort to present the subject in a comprehensive and insightful manner. Very often, a group tour is arranged for the authors, photographers, and editors for onsite inspections of related places and interviews with concerned people. For this issue’s feature, “Yards and Gardens: How Koreans Commune

with Nature,” such visits proved invaluable. In particular, the group visited old traditional Korean houses in Daebu Island, Yesan, Asan, Nonsan, Jeongeup, Hamyang, Yangdong, and Cheongdo, scattered about five provinces. The guide for our three-day journey was Mr. Cho Jeon-hwan, a carpenter who specializes in traditional Korean architecture and the author of the article, “Courtyards of Traditional Korean Houses.” The packed itinerary required us to constantly be on the move, from one place to another, marveling at the ingenious ideas and concepts of those who designed and used the outdoor spaces of the old houses, each containing a rich story. I hope our readers will enjoy the articles and photos that have resulted from the visits, and share the richness of the legacies they convey. Lee Kyong-hee Editor-in-Chief

Special Feature Yards and Gardens

04 08 14 18 28 32

Special Feature 1

Yards Rather Than Gardens Special Feature 2

My Yard: A Dream Come True

Suh Hwa-sook

Special Feature 3

Indoor Gardens in Apartments


Kim Yoo-kyung

Special Feature 4

Courtyards of Traditional Korean Houses

Cho Jeon-hwan

Special Feature 5

Garden Designer Hwang Ji-hae Cherishes Primitive Essence

Suh Hwa-sook

Special Feature 6

An Old Poet’s Elegant Garden in Nature



54 58 64 68

Han Kyung-koo

Heo Gyun

36 40 44 48



Sungnyemun: Restoration and Thereafter

Kim Chang-hee


Kim Yeon-gap: ‘Crazy about Arirang’

Lim Jong-uhp

art review

Indie Movie Sheds Light on Jeju Massacre

Heo Young-sun

on the global stage

Jazz Diva Nah Youn-sun Embraces the World through Music

Seo Jeong Min-gap


modern landmarks

Jeondong Cathedral: Lovely Church at Home in a Village of Traditional Houses

Kim Chung-dong

Guardian of Heritage

Yu Ji-hwa: Master of Plume Flower Dance

Choi Hae-ree

In Love with Korea

Little Psy’s Mother Vu Thi Ly: ‘My Son’s Dream is My Dream’

Kim Dae-o

along their own path

‘Jokbo are Family Records Infused with National History’



Kim Hak-soon

Books & More Charles La Shure

“The Voices of Heaven”

Confucian Values and War: Soul-stirring Autobiographical Novel by a Korean-American Female Author

“Magnolia & Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim” Zen Master’s Poems Offer Encounter with Truth at a Glance

“Sejong Korean Scholars Program” Online Korean Studies Courses for U.S. High School Students 83

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74 76 80 84


Cho Yong-pil is Back!

Lim Jin-mo

Gourmet’s Delight

Delectable Aroma of Songi Mushroom

Ye Jong-suk


Jeju Embraces Tired Urban Souls

Lee Jin-joo

journeys in Korean literature

Detoxified of Violence Uh Soo-woong Geun-won, As Such Paik Ga-huim


[ Special Feature 1 Yards and Gardens ]

Yards Rather Than Gardens

Why are the traditional gardens of Korea so clearly different from the geometrically symmetrical gardens of Europe and the elaborately structured Chinese- and Japanese-style gardens? Perhaps this is because different cultures have their own ways of using space.


Han Kyung-koo Cultural Anthropologist and Professor, College of Liberal Studies, Seoul National University | Suh Heun-gang Photographer

raditionally, when Koreans built their homes, they did not make any specific effort to cultivate the elaborate gardens for which their neighbors, the Chinese and the Japanese, are known. This was of course true for the common people, but even the wealthy and powerful generally did not plant anything in the front yards of their homes, however grand. They tamped down the earth and kept their yards clean and free of even the smallest pebble or blade of grass. This is not to say that the universal aesthetic of a graceful garden did not exist in Korea. Picturesque gardens with deep philosophical and symbolic significance, such as Soswaewon in


Damyang and Buyongdong on Bogil Island (see Special Feature 6), are among exquisite examples of ancient gardens. But these are the exception rather than the rule. Most Koreans seemed content to keep their yards neat and tidy rather than maintaining large, attractive gardens.

Another Large Room The yard was the face of a traditional Korean house. In Choe Myeong-hui’s novel “Spirit Fire,” a yard is described as being “so smooth and firm that you would not get any dirt on your feet even if you walked across it barefoot.” This was because it would reguKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

larly be swept “as clean as you might wash your face.” In the poet Seo Jeong-ju’s “Myths of Jilma Pass,” the “yard room” (so-called because it is used in the manner of a room), which is “as smooth and fragrant as the face of Chun-hyang,” is a key element of the traditional Korean house, along with the better known under-floor heating system (ondol) and wooden-floor halls (maru). Both a transition space and a buffer, the yard functioned as the “outside” and sometimes the “inside,” depending on the season or household events. It could be the children’s play area one moment and a workplace the next, while for social gatherings and ancestral rites an awning would be erected to create a covered space. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

The yard of the men’s quarters in the old house of Jeong Yeo-chang, located in Hamyang; most of the space is left empty, with only portions landscaped, such as the rock garden beneath the elevated veranda wide open to the surrounding scenery.

Wild greens and hot peppers were dried in the yard and grain was also stored there. During the summer, the family could have dinner in the yard or enjoy watermelon and chat leisurely before going to sleep. Wedding ceremonies could be held there and during funerals it was a place to receive visitors. On the night of the first full moon of the lunar year, as part of the “earth god treading” rite, gongs and drums were played loudly to welcome the earth gods


Wild greens and hot peppers were dried in the yard and grain was also stored there. During the summer, the family could have dinner in the yard or enjoy watermelon and chat leisurely before going to sleep.

that watched over the house, which culminated in a “yard treading” ritual. A final ceremony to send home the spirits that had gathered was also held in the yard. In this way, the yard was a space for work, recreation, and leisure, as well as rites and social events, and at times a place of production and storage. Because such a wide variety of activities took place in the yard, the Korean word madang (“yard”) refers to any place where an event happens, and it is also used to denote the acts in performing arts, such as pansori (narrative song) and talchum (mask dance). People with many talents and many friends are called “madangbal,” with the bal meaning “feet.”


A Space Deliberately Left Empty Clearly, the yard’s versatility made it much more than an exterior space. Nor was it just a place where nature was miniaturized or mimicked. In other words, the yard was not a garden. However, people did decorate the base of their property’s outer walls or the area behind the women’s quarters, often with attractive flower gardens, and vegetable gardens would be maintained in the rear yard. Why did Koreans seem so indifferent toward gardens? Could it be related to the teachings of Confucianism that harshly criticized the display of extravagance by the elite class? Or did people prefer to see trees and flowers grow in their natural settings and were Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

In any case, it seems that different cultures have their own ways of using space. Perhaps the views around the house were beautiful enough, so there was no need to cultivate a garden at home. Koreans have thus chosen to build pavilions on strategic sites for viewing graceful scenery, rather than creating manmade gardens, so as to maximize the land areas that could be used for residential or farming purposes. As of the late 19th century, the population of Seoul stood at only some 200,000 and its residents were surrounded by scenic mountains and dense forests. Poor commoners as well as wealthy aristocrats enjoyed unobstructed views of the mountains from their homes, and with just a short walk could be alongside the clear streams of lush valleys. With such handsome scenery all around, it was not a sacrifice to forgo a garden at home and instead have an empty yard space for family activities.

The yard of the women’s quarters in the old house of Yi Sang-ik (1848-1897, pen name Geonjae), located in Asan, South Chungcheong Province; in the women’s quarters the yard is a place for household chores. Flowers and trees have been planted in front of the low wall at the far end of the yard. A millstone and a well sit in front of the kitchen. Red peppers are spread out to dry in direct sunlight.

reluctant to transform plants for aesthetic purposes? Maybe these are the reasons why the traditional gardens of Korea are so distinctive from the geometrically symmetric gardens of Europe and the elaborately structured gardens found in China and Japan. Or was it because Korea’s rice-based economy made it difficult to accumulate the resources required to build large impressive gardens? K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

From Yard to Garden Unfortunately, few modern Koreans are able to have their own yards. The population of Seoul exceeds ten million, and over 80 percent of Korea has been urbanized. With so many people now residing in the cities, urban development has pushed nature into the outlying fringes. Today, Koreans seem ever more desperate to create patches of nature in their homes and city centers. The yard, which in the industrialization era lost its function as a place for production, storage, and work, is now being transformed into a garden. Admirers of the traditional Korean house point out that the empty yard, which sat in direct sunlight, contributed to indirect illumination of the interiors and helped moderate temperatures by facilitating the circulation of a cooling draft. But city housewives these days are busily planting grass, flowers, and trees in any available space. Compact yet charming gardens are thus born in city homes. This is fine for people who are fortunate enough to have yards of their own, but a vast majority of Koreans, for reasons of convenience, live in apartment units that do not have yards. Over 50 percent of the residents of Seoul, and over 60 percent of the people in Daejeon and Busan, live in apartments or multifamily housing. Still, they manage to create gardens in their own way, filling verandas with potted plants, as well as hallways, stairwells, and foyers. Sometimes, signs of careful gardening can be detected in the wellmaintained flower beds located between apartment buildings. Koreans in the past left the space around their homes empty in the form of yards, due in part to the ease in which they could readily enjoy the nearby mountains and streams. But modern, city-dwelling Koreans seem to have a keen desire to capture nature in their homes and parks. Efforts to cultivate and live close to nature in all domestic spaces, both indoors and outdoors, can be seen in and around every apartment complex. Hopefully, the wisdom of past Koreans in setting aside and making use of empty space will not be forgotten in such endeavors.


[ Special Feature 2 Yards and Gardens ]

My Yard: A Dream Come True

Like many women with a career, I have lived a busy and cluttered life. Yet amidst the bustle, if I had to name the best things I’ve done, it would be giving birth to my three children and buying this house. From spring to autumn, flowers blossom and fade in our yard.


Suh Hwa-sook Senior Reporter, The Hankook Ilbo | Ahn Hong-beom, Ha Ji-kwon Photographers Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


live in a house in Buam-dong, Seoul. This neighborhood, located right behind Gyeongbok Palace, the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), offered such gorgeous views that high-ranking bureaucrats would build their villas in this area and the court ladies would come out to do their laundry in the valley streams. It is also said that soybean blocks were fermented here to prepare soybean paste. The slopes of Mt. Bugak, where the northern limits of the Joseon capital of Hanyang were defined by the city’s outer walls, plunge into valleys, and the clear water of these valleys was used in making paper for the royal family. Also in this neighborhood is one of the four minor gates leading into Hanyang, Jaha Gate (officially Changui Gate), which is preserved exactly as it was in the Joseon period. Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential residence, is located behind Gyeongbok Palace, meaning that this neighborhood is behind the presidential residence. It is also the site of a deadly shootout between South Korea’s security forces and North Korean commandos who had infiltrated the South on a mission to assassinate President Park Chung-hee in 1968. Gwanghwa Gate, the center of the old city of Seoul, is a 30-minute walk away. “Coffee Prince,” a television drama that was filmed here in 2007, was a big hit in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asian countries, so these days it’s not uncommon to see foreigners walking around with maps in hand. As a result of Seoul’s modernization, high-rise buildings have sprung up everywhere around the city, but the steep terrain of this neighborhood has prevented the same from happening here. The buildings here are mainly low-rise apartments and houses, which is quite rare in Seoul these days. Furthermore, from any point in the neighborhood, the mountains and valleys are only a short walk away. For these reasons, this neighborhood has long been called “the Seoul that doesn’t seem like Seoul.” Located 190 meters above sea level, the temperatures here are about two degrees cooler on average than in the city center. When temperatures in Seoul dipped to 17 below zero last winter, it was more than 20 below zero here. Housing prices here used to be relatively lower because the winters were so cold and the houses old.

Author Suh Hwa-sook (center) relaxes in the backyard of her house with her Buam-dong neighbors as twilight tinges the ridges of Mt. Bukhan in the distance.

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My Dream of a House with a Yard I was born in the countryside of Gangwon Province and moved to Seoul when I was seven. The houses I lived in mirror the modern development of Korean society. When we first moved to Seoul, we lived in a modernized traditional Korean house of the kind built en masse during the Japanese colonial period. Then, we moved into a very compact, single-story house that had been hastily built in a hillside area. From the mid-1970s, I lived in a two-story house, the kind that was common then, and did not have a yard because the house took up most of the site. In 1983, I moved to a high-rise apartment building. Thereafter, I continued to live in apartments in various neighborhoods until the end of 2007, except for a period of two years. Apartments are the most common form of housing in Seoul today. No matter how long I lived in an apartment, though, I could never get used to it. It was not a home, merely a place to sleep. A house that did not have a yard where I could tread the earth and grow flowers was not a home to me. All of my friends were content enough with apartment living. And more than just content — when I told them that I was going to move to a house with a yard, they looked at me in bewilderment and seriously tried to talk me out of it. They tried to scare me, telling me that it would be a struggle to take care of the house, and that houses didn’t always sell well so I would regret it later. In the end, when I was in my mid-30s, I did not buy a house outright but instead put down key money for a two-year rental. If that experiment worked out, I thought I would buy a house later. This was when my children were still young. As I had expected, living in a house was a wonderful experience. My children, who had only


watched TV or played computer games when we lived in an apartment, now ran around the yard. They dug into the earth, gathered twigs, and lit fires. We roasted potatoes in the outdoor fireplace. In the winter, we sledded down the slope that led to the house in front of ours. But this great life did not last long. When the Asian financial crisis hit Korea in 1997, my husband lost his job and we could no longer afford to stay in the house and maintain our apartment at the same time, so we had to move back into the apartment.

The Joy of Having a Yard I dealt with my disappointment by shopping around for a house. I had no intention of actually buying one, but I would visit a real estate agent as if I did and went round inspecting houses that were for sale. In fact, if there had been a house available for the right price, I might well have bought it. But every house I saw was either more expensive than I could afford or too small for our family of six. Any spare time I had at work I would spend visiting the neighborhoods near Gyeongbok Palace. These rundown areas, seemingly

fade in our yard. In the winter, I sleep in on weekends. But when spring comes, I find myself getting up early in the morning. I want to get out into the yard as quickly as possible. When night comes, I begrudge the fact that I have to leave the yard and return inside. It’s not that I do anything special in the yard. I just walk about here and there, examining each and every flower as they change day by day. When new shoots or buds emerge, I crouch down in front of them and stare at them for a long while. Then I pull up the weeds from the grass and prune the plants that have grown too wild. If I hear that it is going to rain in the afternoon, I move the trees and plant new seeds. When I belatedly discover plants that should be growing in partial shade, out of direct sunlight, I move them to a proper place. In this space of about 160 square meters or so, I see the same plants every day, but every day I enjoy them anew.

A Garden All the Way to Mt. Bukhan If the traditional gardens that the rich developed at their villas sought to imitate nature, the yards of regular homes were often devoid of a single blade of grass and swept clean daily, often with apriI give out flowers, I hold flower parties, and I invite people to my cot trees, bamboo, peonies, pomegranates, yard for no special reason at all. When you live in an apartment, day lilies, or some trees planted alongside the walls. But each plant had its own meanunless you are willing to reveal your most private spaces, it can ing. The apricot and bamboo represented be somewhat difficult to entertain guests… With a yard, the integrity of a scholar, peonies symbolized good fortune and honor, the pomegranit becomes easier and more convenient to invite people over. ate a wish for fertility, and day lilies a desire for male heirs. Locust trees, which expressed wishes to enter government service, or crape myrtles, which are frozen in time since the 1970s, were more my type of neighborhood associated with family harmony, were planted near the front gate than those of Gangnam, with their rows upon rows of high-rises. or outside the walls. And private homes invariably included a vegMy endless search for a house near Gyeongbok Palace finally etable garden. In Joseon society, which revered Confucian ideals, led me over Mt. Bugak to Buam-dong because, as previously menthe scholar was expected not only to read extensively but also work tioned, the houses there were cheaper than anywhere else in Seoul. up a sweat as a form of self-cultivation. Unlike villa gardens, the If I added just a little more to the money I already had, I could have yards of ordinary homes were not meant to be beautiful but serve a house with a large yard. So it was in this way that I came to own a as quiet, practical spaces. house, which had been built in 1977 — a house with a yard. My yard is not like a traditional Korean garden. The yard that I Our house is so bitterly cold in the winter that we have to wear had always loved and dreamed of was not a quiet Confucian garden overcoats even indoors. At first, it felt like a cabin in the wilderbut a combination of the lonely hills I had seen in my childhood and ness compared to our apartment, where we wore short sleeves a Chinese-style garden overflowing with colorful flowers. So for six even in the winter. We replaced the windows, where the wind whisyears after we moved into this house I slowly changed the yard to fit tled through, and hung new curtains, which helped a little, but the my dream image. I added colorful flowers but avoided ornamental house still felt uncomfortably cold compared to an apartment. Winrocks. To recreate the lonely hills, I planted — or, actually, brought ter comes a month faster than in the middle of the city and spring back to life — the grassy slopes on the hillock above the driveway. flowers bloom two weeks later. The chill also means that we spend The original owner of this house, when it was built in 1977, must a lot of money on heating bills in the winter. And yet I am happy with my house. So happy that I wonder how I could possibly be any happier. If I had to choose the best things 1, 2 The yard of the Hahn Moo-sook House in Myeongnyun-dong, Seoul, where the I’ve done in my life, I would say giving birth to my three children and late novelist Hahn Moo-sook wrote her novels. It takes the typical shape of a modern Korean-style house, a square surrounding a central courtyard. buying this house. From spring to autumn, flowers blossom and


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have had a similar taste in gardens. With the house in the center, he had planted donarium cherry trees in the eastern yard and apricot trees in the western yard. All these trees blossom with pink flowers as beautiful as clouds or sunsets in the spring. He also planted the yard with grass and scattered peonies here and there. At least, that is what one of my neighbors told me. He also planted magnolias, bright red flowering quince, and lavender azaleas. But when the first owner moved out of the house in 1996 after his business failed, the second owner covered the grassy back yard with cement and put up a plastic tent to practice golf. When I got the house, the grass in the front yard had not been tended to either, and only a small patch near the front gate was still alive. The trees were alive, but the yard itself was bare earth with weeds scattered here and there. There were no peonies to be seen. The cherry tree was just bare branches with no shoots. And yet, I was pleased just to have a wide yard with some old trees. I could take in Mt. Bukhan at a glance from the backyard. And the small hill that was closer to the house bloomed light pink with wild cherries in spring. Korean traditional gardens are sparsely decorated, so the concept of “borrowed scenery,� or taking the natural scenery far away for your own garden, is very important. From the viewpoint of borrowed scenery, my garden extends all the way to Mt. Bukhan in the distance.

Tending the Garden From the summer when I bought the house to the following winter when we moved in, I visited the empty house often and tended to the garden. I pulled weeds from the front yard and then I plucked grass from that one tiny patch, blade by blade, and replanted it around the empty yard. After watering it for a few months, the grass began to spread out and cover the yard. One day I was sitting on the hill-like front yard when I noticed a thick branch sticking out of a matted patch of grass and weeds. I wiggled it to see what it was, thinking it might be a rotten root, but I could not pull it out. Then in spring, peonies bloomed there. As water seeped up through the roots of the tree standing in the western yard, which had been just dried-out branches in the summer, white flowers bloomed. It was a cherry tree that came to life. Peonies sprang up along the path to the front gate as well. It seemed as if all of the plants had mysteriously responded to my loving attention. Once it was known I had a yard, many people gave me flowers. One person who told me to stop by filled the trunk of my car with all manner of flowers, while another person drove over with a trunk 1 The yard of a house in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul, uses the base of Mt. Bukhan as a natural wall. 2 An elderly couple tends a vegetable patch in the corner of their yard in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province. 3 The yard of a house in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province.

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full of flowers and helped to plant them. The owner of a small shop kept a garden in an empty lot by the entrance to her lane, but when the space was turned into a parking lot by the city planning authorities, she had her peonies and yellow German irises replanted in my yard. I also got bunches of flower seeds at meetings of plant enthusiasts. My father brought over some daffodils. I often bought flowers from the flower market.

Weeding as Meditation Some flowers can be unbelievably beautiful, only to disappear after two years, while others grow so heartily, year after year, so as to be almost unmanageable. Some flowers might nearly die off in the shade, only to come to life again when they are placed in the sunlight. There are other flowers that died because they could not endure the blazing summer sun or the harsh winters. Brier roses and Cornelian cherries sprung up in dense patches here and there, from seeds that the birds had dropped. I give flowers to my neighbors. We tell each other about how the flowers have managed to bloom again in spring after surviving the winter. When rare flowers bloom, I invite my neighbors over to enjoy them. We share food and drink and each other’s company. The nice thing about a yard is that you can give something to others and receive something back. For me, it means sharing the

abundance of life, so I am happy, giving and receiving. I give out flowers, I hold flower parties, and I invite people to my yard for no special reason at all. When you live in an apartment, unless you are willing to reveal your most private spaces, it can be somewhat difficult to entertain guests. A yard, while being a private space, is not as private as the inside of the house. With a yard, it is much easier and more convenient to invite people over. A yard is also a space for personal meditation. From Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) to Herman Hesse (1877-1962) and Diane Ackerman (1948-), authors from different eras, different countries, and different genders have all had a well-known penchant for weeding. Anyone who has ever tended a garden knows that this simple labor, which can require you to sit there and toil for hours on end, is a great way to while away the hours. The mysterious experience of being immersed in a single task for hours and thus being freed from worry in an instant is a joy. To those who tend gardens it is common for even a simple walk — strolling around the garden, stopping to contemplate a plant, and then strolling on again — to be an experience as purifying as a pilgrimage. In Korean shamanism, it is said that when people die their souls are carried on flowers to a flower-filled afterworld. It seems that our souls desire such a beautiful world. So it would make more sense for us to grow a garden in the here and now.

© Womansense


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Š Womansense

A rooftop garden cultivated by the topfloor resident; it is a secret garden that can be accessed through a sliding door at the top of the building.


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

[ Special Feature 3 Yards and Gardens ]

Indoor Gardens in Apartments Kim Yoo-kyung Journalist | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


hose who consider growing flowers both a hobby and an important part of their lives do not give it up just because they live in an apartment. They can enjoy cultivating potted flowers and creating gardens on their verandas, turning small, featureless spaces into something special. “The flowers that I see when I open my eyes first thing in the morning make me happy.” “I can see the changes of the seasons in my potted plants. I especially love when new shoots appear in spring and when the leaves fall in autumn.” These are the words of housewives Jeon Young-ok and Lee Kyu-hee, who each maintain over one hundred potted plants in their apartments. These potted plants are companions that are treated like family members and require just as much loving care. Their families also enjoy looking out over the city while sitting under a parasol amidst the potted plants of their rooftop gardens. Potted plants are the easiest and most convenient way for apartment dwellers to enjoy the beauty of flowers. So when spring comes around, there are many who “consume” plants, buying plastic pots filled with budding plants that are then discarded after the flowers wither. Even in an apartment, though, just looking at flowers can easily become tedious. Cultivating a plant means more than simply enjoying the flowers; it is about caring for the plants over a long period of time and gradually bringing them to the fullness of their beauty. Moreover, the aesthetic characteristics of the flowerpots cannot be ignored. Plants that are sold in basic plastic pots can look so much more impressive when planted in attractive pots that highlight their beauty. But rough earthenware pots can break easily after enduring a cold winter. So, enthusiasts search for sturdy pots suitable for their plants, sometimes spending more than they should to satisfy their quest for quality and appearance. Cultivating potted plants is not always a leisurely pastime. In terms of the energy required, working on potted plants is not much different from tending a small yard. Of course, there are no flowers that grow on their own and require no effort. Flowers must be cared for year round: you must change the soil just before spring, apply proper fertilizer and pesticide, and regularly prune out unwanted growth. For example, even on the veranda of a tidy apartment, it is necessary to creep out between two and three in the morning to remove the slugs that can emerge around this time to eat the new shoots. If the slugs are not eliminated, the leaves will weaken, the flowers shrivel, and the plants end up in a pitiful state. “Plucking the weeds and changing the soil in the pots...these chores relieve me of the trivial worries of city life. I love the presence of the flowers that bloom so splendidly,” says one woman, who raises flowers as her hobby. “If only for that short time, I can experience the joys of living with nature. The

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“Plucking the weeds and changing the soil in the pots...these chores relieve me of the trivial worries of city life. I love the presence of the flowers that bloom so splendidly.”

© Womansense



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1 The rooftop garden of Kim Jung-soon, who lives on the top floor of a building in the city center. 2 Kang Yeun-sim has turned the yard she has access to as a first-floor resident of her apartment building into a fantastic garden she can share with her neighbors. 3 The balcony of the Korea Craft & Design Foundation gallery, designed by garden designer Seo Su-hyeon; flower boxes are used to great effect to adorn the small space. 4 The rooftop garden of Bethel Kindergarten in Haengdang-dong, Seoul, where children have the chance to experience nature.

flowers offer me hope whenever I might sink into despair,” says another. Growing flowers is not the exclusive domain of housewives and women. Similarly, the qualities of flowers are not necessarily feminine. Kim Jung-hoon, a businessman, says, “Beautiful flowers that I have raised in nice pots are a kind of love letter to my wife.” There are also office workers with an insatiable thirst for knowledge about trees, and military

officers who adore flowers. The Hyorim Botanical Institute, founded by Choi Byung-cheol, a professor at Konkuk University who passed away last year, brings together people like these who share a passion for flowers and plants. The institute houses hundreds of potted plants that Professor Choi, a foremost authority of field botany, had raised over the course of more than 40 years. From a sprawling yew tree that is over 600 years old to pine trees and lilies of the valley, there are countless plants that exhibit a brilliant and magnificent vitality. Professor Choi gave special lectures here from time to time. In addition to providing all manner of information about methods of caring for potted plants, he spoke about ways to select pots and to appreciate trees. Jeon Hae-soon, who manages a day-care center, happened to visit the institute a few years ago and was so inspired by the sight of the numerous old flowerpots that she began to cultivate a wide variety of her own potted plants. These days she devotes much of her time to showing flowers and forest trees to city children. You Jeong-su, who says Professor Choi taught her that “growing potted plants can be an art,” held an exhibition of some 300 potted plants to celebrate her 70th birthday. Her former high school classmates all admired, and even envied, her as she sat among her cherished plants. Some people turn their entire apartment verandas into a huge flowerbed. Kang Yeun-sim, who lives in a first-floor apartment, has created a veranda garden, in addition to cultivating the yard adjacent to her unit. Because the veranda does not receive much direct sunlight, she laid down a drainage board, which was covered with a non-woven fabric and topped with soil. She then planted flowers that could grow in partial shade and shallow soil. She also added potted plants, placed the stumps of old trees against the walls, and attached plants, like orchids and climbing bagbane, to a wooden lattice. The entire veranda is like a lush rainforest. From the living room, the green of the verandah and the yard beyond greet the eye like wave upon wave of greenery. When she travels with her family, her neighbors help out with the watering. Kim Jung-soon, who lives on the top floor, maintains a small veranda and rooftop garden where flowers are abloom from spring through summer. The veranda is enclosed with glass from floor to ceiling, which allows in an abundance of sunshine, enabling her to plant a wide variety of flowers and “enjoy all the varied shapes and colors they have to offer.” She has made use of antiques, placing a stone mortar for a water jar near the faucet. Ladders, chairs, and even a suspended laundry line harmonize with such flowers as roses, geraniums, Miss Kim lilacs, and hydrangeas. The lettuce and China pinks she grows on the roof are as big as cabbages. “Every time I visit the florist there are always new plants that catch my eye,” she says. In this way, her garden changes gradually as the plants flourish and wither away. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013


[ Special Feature 4 Yards and Gardens ]

Courtyards of Traditional Korean Houses I am a carpenter who specializes in traditional Korean houses. Carpentry has been my family business for five generations. For the past 20 years, I have worn out the soles of my shoes searching for the remains of old Korean houses scattered around the country. In those old houses, it is not only the woodwork that attracts my eyes and heart. My endless pilgrimage began one day with an extraordinary awakening in the courtyard of a mountain temple. Cho Jeon-hwan Carpenter, CEO of Eyoun Hanok | Ahn Hong-beom, Suh Heun-gang, Ha Ji-kwon Photographers


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Buseok Temple stands on a mountain slope with nine terraced levels. Anyangnu, or the Pavilion of Comfort and Gratification, and its courtyard (on the right) are built on the seventh level.


first visited Buseok Temple, in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1995, when a typhoon had just passed through the area. Heavy rain had cut off the regular path to the temple, so I had to make a detour along the ridge, with my shoes in hand to prevent them from being caked with mud, until I reached the “one-pillar gate,” the first entrance to the temple compound. Upon passing through the gate, I looked back only to see a claustrophobic view of the dark, dense forest.

Mountain Temple’s Nine Courtyards I continued up the steep mountain path for a while, and just as I was running out of breath, the second gate came into sight — a gate dedicated to the four heavenly guardians who are said to protect the temple. I walked up the stairs, but beyond the gate and up ahead of me, I could only see a series of stone terraces. When I looked behind again, however, I saw not the close forest that had blocked my line of sight before. Now, the increased distance from the mountains gave me a rough idea of their K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013



scale. After a short break, I continued up the path and came across a set of stairs leading to the first of a series of magnificent stone terraces. At the top of the stairs, looking back again, I found that the green gloom of the mountains had vanished. Instead, the blue sky stretched out in every direction at eye level. Ahead of me, the roof of Muryangsujeon (Hall of Infinite Life), the main hall where the Buddha’s statue is enshrined, began to emerge in the direction of the bell pavilion, where the temple bell was hung with other ritual instruments. I continued to climb the stairs, passing the bell pavilion and then reached Anyangnu (Pavilion of Comfort and Gratification). Suddenly, the Hall of Infinite Life revealed its imposing façade. Behind me was a sweeping view of the Sobaek Mountains against the fair skies, cleared of haze and dust by the rain. Then, it felt like I had been hit on the head: this was an eye-opening encounter with living, breathing architecture, incomparable to anything I had ever come across before. The shock of this experience motivated me to study traditional Korean architecture more seriously. In time, I left my job as a regular carpenter, which paid


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1 A path connects the main gate to the master’s quarters at Songhwa House in Asan, South Chungcheong Province. Its courtyard has a natural beauty rarely seen in the standardized courtyards of other upper-class houses of the Joseon period. 2 The courtyard of the inner quarters at the old house of Chusa in Yesan, South Chungcheong Province. The square courtyard is surrounded by buildings, which helps to assuage the adverse effects of the sun’s heat or heavy rain.

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150,000 won per day, and went to work on the restoration of Gyeongbok Palace for 38,000 won per day. It was several years later that I realized my impression that day was not just a coincidence or personal reaction but the result of a meticulous design which had been created more than one thousand years ago. Buseok Temple, built on sloping land, features a terraced configuration with nine tiers. From the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings up to the Hall of Infinite Life, the main worship hall, there are three courtyards, each divided into three smaller areas. Going up the 108 steps passing these courtyards, the visitor is meant to empty the mind of agonizing thoughts. The spiritual process of the suffering mind approaching the utopia where the Buddha resides, the physical process of the body climbing the steep path, and the aesthetic process of the eyes appreciating the changing vista along the way — all these processes work together to create the truly unique experience that the temple offers to visitors. I still visit Buseok Temple once or twice a year. Every time, I gain new insight into the ingenious layout of the temple with its terraced courtyards on multiple levels, each commanding a different view of


the Sobaek Mountains with its numerous summits far and wide. Walking from the temple’s entrance up to its main hall, I find that the state of my mind and body and changes in the surrounding environment all serve to create a novel impression of the place.

Pavilions and Verandas During the Joseon Dynasty, it was not uncommon for Confucian scholars to lead a hermit’s life in a remote corner of the country, building a basic house with a garden in the woods. These 15th-century country gardens were also constructed to enable thoughts, sensibilities, and functions, and a combination of these factors, to underlie their appreciation. Some notable examples include Gyosujeong (Pavilion of Education) in Hamyang and Doksujeong (Pavilion of Solitary Defense) in Damyang, built within the gardens of Jo Seung-suk and Jeon Sin-min, respectively, loyalists of the collapsed Goryeo Dynasty who chose to live as recluses rather than cooperate with the founders of the newborn state of Joseon. These two pavilions served as models for other similar structures that proliferated at the foot of Mt. Deogyu and Mt. Mudeung, and ultimately led to the creation of Soswaewon (Garden of Pure Mind), one of the most impressive gardens of the Joseon literati that remain today. This architectural style also influenced the design of household spaces, and evolved into the elevated wooden veranda (numaru), usually attached to the men’s quarters of a traditional upper-class house. The old house of Jeong Yeo-chang in Gaepyeong Village, Hamyang, also features a wooden veranda, where the master of the house would receive visitors and discuss Neo-Confucian philosophy or political affairs. Attached to the east side of the men’s quarters, it is the best spot from which to appreciate the miniature rock mountain, a traditional landscaping element, created in one corner of the courtyard. (This rock mountain is such a classic of its kind that modern architects of traditional Korean houses often take it as a model.) In addition, an old pine tree standing against the wall casts cool shadows on the wooden veranda with its twisted, overarching branches. In the past, the veranda served a similar function as the pavilion in a garden. The master would receive and entertain his guests on the veranda, where they reveled in poetry and song about the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Since this was the center of such activities, the remainder of courtyard in the men’s quarters could be left pleasantly empty. Commune with Nature in Moderation Koreans saw humans and nature in a relationship of coexistence rather than subject and object. When building a house, therefore, they first considered the geographical features of the site, especially the shape of the nearby mountains and the direction of the river flowing in its vicinity. The view of the distant mountains through the windows was an especially important factor in determining the house’s orientation. Every house, therefore, had a place from where one could appreciate multiple views through several windows that opened to different directions. A person sitting in the house could take in the distant landscape beyond the walls, scenes of daily life in the courtyard, and the interior of the room, all at

Every house, therefore, had a place from where one could appreciate multiple views through several windows that opened to different directions. A person sitting in the house could take in the distant landscape beyond the walls, scenes of daily life in the courtyard, and the interior of the room, all at the same time. These distinctive views were combined to evoke specific imagery in the viewer’s mind. 22

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The elevated veranda at the master’s quarters of the old house of Myeongjae in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, overlooks not only the adjacent courtyard but the entire village.

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the same time. These distinctive views were combined to evoke specific imagery in the viewer’s mind. Since the scenery was thought to be part of nature itself, no attempt was made to change it. Instead, people adjusted the size and direction of the windows in order to have an attractive framing. On the other hand, they would actively alter the adjacent landscape by adding decorative elements to functional components of the house, such as walls and chimneys, and introducing such objects as trees, uniquely shaped rocks, and plants to the courtyard. The landscaping elements were selected for their aesthetic as well as symbolic significance. Those who lived in the city or were otherwise limited in adjusting the natural environment would instead hang landscape paintings on the walls and embellish the courtyards with ponds or rock formations that resembled mountains. Dongnakdang, or the House of Solitary Pleasure, in Gyeongju is the representative case of a house built to take full advantage of its natural environment. Yi Eon-jeok, an eminent Confucian scholar of the 16th-century Joseon, lived in this house after he resigned from a high-level official position due to politi-



cal circumstances. Named by the scholar to celebrate the joy of solitude, the house was situated along a stream that originated from Mt. Jaok to create the atmosphere of a remote mountain residence, while the security of its occupants was ensured by double perimeter walls. In this house, Yi Eon-jeok developed Neo-Confucian theories relevant to contemporary Korean life that were distinctive from the original Chinese thought. His theories were passed on to Yi Hwang, who refined them into a comprehensive philosophical tradition. The optimal layout of the house and courtyard, which enable occupants to enjoy pristine nature at close hand, is in keeping with the owner’s philosophical ideals that focused on the rational rather than spiritual aspects of Neo-Confucianism. Almost 500 years after its construction we can read Yi’s principles and intentions in the way this house was built to reflect his thoughts on the ideal relationship between humans and nature. One interesting feature of this delightful country house is an opening in the wall with vertical lat-


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ticework. This simple opening seems to offset a sense of impenetrability created by the imposing wall built with compressed earth and roof tiles. While the wall served to prevent strangers from entering the house, it also connected its inhabitants to the surrounding environment in an ingenious way. Thanks to the opening, they could enjoy refreshing views of the stream just by opening the windows in the main hall.

Courtyards of Private Homes In the past, the typical upper-class home had four courtyards: in the servants’ quarters, where farming and maintenance work was done; in the men’s quarters, where the master of the house received guests and held family ceremonies; in the inner quarters, where the mistress carried out household tasks; and in the backyard, where a chimney was built along the back wall, and crocks containing sauces and condiments were stored on a sunny platform. The backyard, in particular, was landscaped to complement the site’s topography with trees and terraced flower beds so that this view could be enjoyed from the rooms of the inner quarters. The old house of Myeongjae, in Nonsan, is a typical upper-class home of the Joseon Dynasty. Myeong­ jae is the pen name of Yun Jeung, a renowned 17th-century scholar, for whom this house was built by his loyal students. To transcend the boundaries of Neo-Confucianism, which upheld the absolute values of all things in the universe, Yun put forward a concept that identified the mind with reason and this house reflects his philosophical worldview. Even the layout of the courtyards reveals the designer’s concern for the residents. For example, although the courtyard of the inner quarters is surrounded by buildings and walls, its design enabled the mistress to discern what was going on in every corner of the house. During the Joseon Dynasty, men and women occupied separate living spaces, so the mistress’s scope of activity was mainly confined to the inner quarters. In the Myeongjae House, however, the buildings and other components have been arranged so that the mistress could keep track of all the comings and goings in the master’s quarters. The courtyard of the inner quarters also provided a shortcut to the storerooms for the convenience of women working in the kitchen, while the layout also enhanced air circulation and rainwater drainage. The small wall along the edge of the courtyard and the juniper tree by the well hid the inner quarters from the direct sight of male guests who frequented the master’s quarters. In addition, the main hall windows opened to an expansive view of the backyard with beautiful flower beds and the neatly tended platform of crocks. The master’s quarters has an elevated veranda attached to the western side, overlooking the entire village, while the spacious courtyard features a pond with a miniature rock mountain, and a well. Science at Work in the Courtyard The old house of Chusa (pen name of calligrapher Kim Jeong-hui) was the home of Princess Hwasun (daughter of King Yeongjo of Joseon), where she lived after marrying Kim Han-sin (scholar and Chusa’s great-grandfather). The house was the skillful work of court carpenters, but since only about

1 The platform for crocks and the barn in the backyard of Seobaekdang (House of a Hundred Writings) in Yangdong Village, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The historic village is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 2 Dongnakdang (House of Solitary Pleasure), located near Oksan Academy in Gyeongju, sits alongside a stream against the backdrop of lush forest. Sitting in its main hall are Han Kyungkoo (right), professor of anthropology, who wrote the preface for this special coverage on Korean yards and gardens, and Cho Jeon-hwan, carpenter and the author of this article.

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half of it remains today, it is a challenge to visualize the original estate. Nonetheless, it is an exemplary model of the 18th-century upper-class house, made with exquisite craftsmanship in both the outer and inner quarters. In particular, the inner quarters, where the princess resided, has a typical square-shaped configuration with a courtyard at the center. On sultry summer days, the tiled-roof tops of the buildings produce radiant heat that creates a natural updraft. And when the window to the backyard is opened, a cool breeze from the woods at the rear of the house flows in, providing fresh air throughout the house and cooling the heat within.

1 The courtyard viewed from the elevated veranda of the master’s quarters at the old house of Jeong Yeo-chang in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province. The window provides a nice frame for an old pine tree and miniature rock mountain. 2 The streamside pavilion at Dongnakdang (House of Solitary Pleasure) in Gyeongju. The pavilion commands an expansive view of the flowing water and the dense woods.

Epilogue Since I first took on the life as a carpenter at the age of 15, as the eventual successor of the family business, I have worked on cultural heritage reconstruction projects, going from one site to another.


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Over time, however, I came to prefer building houses for living people rather than restoring the palaces of past dynasties. I have dedicated myself to building traditional Korean houses for people today, and for me, old houses that have been preserved for centuries have always been an invaluable source of inspiration. Recently, I have been conducting research on the ancient houses remaining on an island off the west coast of Korea. These rickety old houses have been abandoned over the past 15 years after a new bridge connected the island to the mainland, leading to a frenzy of real estate speculation. Due to the geographical limitations of an island, these houses are neither grand nor stylish. Nonetheless, I have learned much about traditional architecture and landscaping while visiting, measuring, and documenting these otherwise nondescript houses. These houses are now on the verge of demolition, which worries me a great deal. Before it is too late, I hope to contribute to the efforts to preserve and revive the old ways of life that advocated the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature. K o r e a n a 覺 A u t u mn 2 013


[ Special Feature 5 Yards and Gardens ]

Garden Designer Hwang Ji-hae Cherishes Primitive Essence Suh Hwa-sook Senior Reporter, The Hankook Ilbo | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


he International Garden Exposition Suncheon Bay Korea 2013, which runs from April 20 to October 20 this year, takes advantage of its proximity to Suncheon Bay, South Jeolla Province, one of the world’s five largest tracts of tidal flats. The nation’s first ever Garden Expo, this event showcases the diversity of the world’s horticultural and landscape concepts thanks to the participation of renowned garden designers from around the world. One of the most popular attractions at the Suncheon Garden Expo is “Lugworm Path” by Hwang Ji-hae, Korea’s foremost garden designer and two-time gold medal recipient at the 2011 and 2012 RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Chelsea Flower Show in the United Kingdom. Also the winner of the President’s Award at Chelsea in 2012, Hwang is fast gaining a global reputation. Her “Lugworm Path” garden design visualizes the landscape of her childhood memories, featuring a gentle slope and creek, mouse holes, ant nests, a biotope, and a field where dogs ran about freely. Inside the garden are a winding path and a library and gallery that resemble the lugworm’s long curvy shape. Entering this ingenious garden is like entering a traditional Korean village thanks to the slightly bent locust trees that stand at either side, giving the garden such a natural appearance that it seems as if it has always been there. However, the garden has actually been built on a level tract of land that Hwang shaped and landscaped according to her meticulous design. The pathway leads visitors to a gallery and library, both built in the shape of a lugworm. Inside the library, there is a notice on the window that reads, “Please do not knock on the window: Long-tailed tits are living here.” Barely 100 days after the garden was built, a family of long-tailed tits came by and made their nest in the growth of white dead-nettle outside the library wall, already hatching four eggs so far. While our interview was underway, the mother bird was busy feeding her young.

Garden with a Story to Tell Suh Hwa-sook: It’s amazing that birds came to live in the new garden so soon after it was made for the Expo. Hwang Ji-hae: A garden becomes complete when the bees and butterflies come around and when the birds come to nest there. Suh: Do you mean that you chose the plants for the garden with the nesting birds in mind? Hwang: I tried my best to maintain the quiet of a traditional


Korean garden by leaving nature intact. Birds, butterflies, and the numerous creatures of the unseen ecosystem are the ones that first and best appreciate an ambience of peace and quiet. Around the lugworm gallery and library, I transplanted the likes of Isodon japonica and coltsfoot, familiar plants that could easily be found in a traditional Korean kitchen garden. Suh: Where do you find inspiration for your garden and landscape designs? Hwang: I try to find the story embedded in the site and then visualize its narratives as the core of my designs. Suh: Then, what is Suncheon Bay’s story? Hwang: Suncheon Bay comprises a vast area of natural mudflats. The expo site alongside the bay is where farmers used to tend rice paddies, which are manmade wetlands. For me, the story of Suncheon is based on the wetlands. Through “Lugworm Path,” I wanted to tell the story of the unseen ecosystem by using the motif of lugworms as a way to express reverence for nature and its inhabitants and to contemplate human life in harmony with the living creatures of the mudflats. I placed the gallery and library at the imagined lugworm’s midsection, and lowered the height of all the gates in the garden to 1.2 meters, thereby requiring everyone who passes through them to lower their heads and hopefully reflect on the value of even the smallest creatures living in the mudflats. Visitors are also requested to maintain silence when walking past the thicket of grass so as not to interfere with the animals that might be mating there. Suh: The cascade of water that falls from the sculpture of a woman’s backward-tilted head is quite impressive. Hwang: At the center of the Suncheon Garden Expo is the Lake Garden by Charles Jencks, a renowned English architectural theorist and landscape designer. Surrounding his garden are several artificial slopes built over a meadow. But these forms are not normally found in the Korean environment, so the Expo organizers asked me to set up a garden that would smoothly link Jencks’ Lake Garden with the surrounding natural landscape. In response, I devised the cascade to symbolize the origin of the water that flows into the Lake Garden, the water that originates from Mother Earth herself. Suh: What was your greatest challenge in creating “Lugworm Path”? Hwang: Since the garden was established on mudflats, I could not use any big trees as artificial slopes or hills would not be able to Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

1 1 Garden designer Hwang Ji-hae believes humble materials can be woven together to create rich stories. For her latest creation “Lugworm Path” she used recycled materials and plants leftover from nearby construction sites. 2 The lugworm-shaped structure conceptualized by Hwang leads visitors to a gallery and library. 3 “The Sowing Hand” sculpture reminds visitors that the exhibition venue was originally rice paddies that long provided a livelihood for local farmers.

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1 1 A bird’s-eye view of “Lugworm Path,” a freely designed garden featuring fun concepts such as the “lugworm gallery” and “lugworm library,” “mouse-hole café,” and “ant-tunnel lounge.” 2 The sculpture of a woman’s backward-tilted head symbolizes the vitality of Mother Earth, from which the water flows into the “Lake Garden” designed by Charles Jencks, located at the center of the Suncheon Garden Expo. 3 Rest area of “Lugworm Path” features locally sourced plants and stones.



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“I thought the essence of Suncheon lies in its vast mudflats. Through the lugworms that thrive in the mudflats, I wanted to talk about the unseen ecosystem.” sustain them. So I compromised and tried to use recycled materials and discarded plants from housing development sites nearby, for example, the stone pieces and locust trees at the entrance of the garden. On the cement floors, I designed interesting shapes by utilizing metal scraps from local junkyards. These humble materials are combined to weave together rich stories. By recycling materials in this way I was able to cut costs but had to put in a lot more work.

Korea’s Eight Seasons Suh: Even though the concept of Korean gardens is to bring nature into the front yard, most traditional gardens still attempt to present nature in an idealized form. Your garden has the familiarity of the Korean landscape just as it is, and has a warm and friendly feeling. Hwang: I think Korea has eight seasons rather than four. The Korean landscape is so varied and beautiful that it seems to transform itself almost every month. That’s why I employed the borrowed scenery technique to bring nature itself into the front yard. I also built a pavilion on the edge of a gentle slope so that the visitors could enjoy the breezes and appreciate the waves of trees, and the forest as a whole. When I was young, the backyard of our house ran naturally onto the hills. Every day I spent hours and hours on the hills. I never grew tired of it. Suh: I can see how your memories of childhood are reflected in your garden and landscape designs. Hwang: I grew up in a traditional Korean house in Gokseong, South Jeolla Province. My mother got divorced when I was seven, and she raised me and my two younger brothers on her own. She had a vegetable garden in a corner of the front yard, and she also grew fruit trees. When the cherries were ripe, she would call out to me, “Ji-hae, remember to pick the cherries before the birds eat them.” For this garden “Lugworm Path,” she gave me a bench, which I placed on the pathway leading up to the gallery, and planted a cherry tree behind it. On the bench I painted her warning to pick the cherries before the birds get them. Suh: What led you to become a garden designer? Hwang: Garden designer? Environmental artist? I’m not sure which title is more appropriate. I do designs for whatever place I see. In college, I majored in Western painting. When I was doing my teaching practice, I painted some murals for children in the countryside. Rural children don’t have much access to cultural places, so they loved those murals. That’s when I started to get interested in environmental art. Afterwards, I worked on various environmental art projects, ranging from a small mural in an alley, installation works, and street designs, to Ssamzie Art Space projects. However, after more than 10 years of dealing with inanimate objects, I develK o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

oped a longing for nature — trees, grass, and the earth. In 2009, I impulsively took off for England for further study. After completing language training, I applied to the Inchbald School of Design, which is famous for its interior design programs. At the same time, I also applied to participate in the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show. Luckily, I was accepted by both. I had to make a decision, and after some agonizing I finally chose Chelsea. My first design for Chelsea was “Hae Woo So: Emptying Your Mind — Traditional Korean Toilet.” Haewooso is the word for a traditional Korean toilet, which literally means “a place to let out mundane worries.” Indeed, the toilet is a place where people seek peace of mind. As a foreign student in England, I found the toilet was the only place where I could really look inside myself. For the “Hae Woo So” project, I brought from Korea a wide range of wild herbs and flowers. It was so amazing to find that the sense of comfort I felt with the Korean toilet garden design also struck a chord with the British judges and audiences.

Traditional Korean Toilet and the DMZ Suh: Your 2012 design at Chelsea, “Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden,” also stirred keen media interest in the U.K, as much as the previous “Hae Woo So.” According to the BBC, many Korean War veterans in Britain found your DMZ garden design very touching and profound, and it was also a favorite with members of the British royal family. Hwang: I think the world’s most beautiful garden is one where primitive sentiments thrive. In that sense, the DMZ, where people have not been allowed to enter for several decades now, is a place where the fundamental story of a garden can be told. My DMZ garden tells the story of a primitive essence and the ability of nature to regenerate itself. To mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice and the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Britain, the garden will be installed at the London Pleasure Gardens along the River Thames, where it will be on public display until 2016. Suh: What are your plans next year? Hwang: I was unable to participate in the Chelsea Flower Show this year because I was busy working on my “Lugworm Path” project. So I would like to take part next year, but I don’t know how things will work out. Garden design is a costly endeavor since hundreds of different kinds of plants need to be transported from Korea. Securing corporate sponsorship in Korea is difficult since public interest in garden design is still at a nascent stage. It’s different in Europe, where they say the shortage of gardens will eventually result in a need for more mental hospitals in the future.


[ Special Feature 6 Yards and Gardens ]

An Old Poet’s Elegant Garden in Nature Bogil Island is one hour’s ferry ride from the so-called “village at land’s end” (ttangkkeut maeul ) in Haenam, the southernmost tip of the Korean Peninsula. Yun Seon-do, an eminent poet of the Joseon Dynasty in the 17th century, created an exquisite garden on this small island, where he lived after resigning from government service. The poet’s garden, which reflects his refined aesthetic sense and imagination by fusing natural and manmade elements into a seamless whole, is the epitome of a traditional Korean garden.



Heo Gyun Director, Korean Folk Arts Institute | Ahn Hong-beom, Suh Heun-gang, Ha Ji-kwon, Lee Dong-chun Photographers

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un Seon-do (1587-1671, pen Seyeonjeong: Center Stage of name Gosan), a civil official and Artistic Indulgence poet of the mid-Joseon Dynasty, Seyeonjeong, or the Pavilion of gave up government service in 1638 Nature Cleansing, stands at the cenand retired to Bogil Island in Wando ter of Buyongdong Garden. The name County, South Jeolla Province. This seyeon (literally “to cleanse nature”) was one year after King Injo surrenis often thought to refer to a landdered to Emperor Taizong of Qing scape so pure and pleasant as if China. Yun had objected to the humiliwashed clean with water. However, ating surrender, and when he witnature is supposed to be found in a nessed his king kneel down in front of state of purity, so it never needs any the invaders he could not contain his cleansing. Rather, it is the humans bitter resentment. To renounce the that need to be cleansed of impu2 world, he left the capital to live on Jeju rity. Therefore, it would be right to 1 Seyeonjeong, the pavilion in Yun Seon-do’s forest garden on Island. But on his way, he stopped say the name refers to nature’s abilBogil Island. 2 Buyongdong viewed from the tiny house, Dongcheon Seoksil, on the opposite hillside. over at a port on Bogil Island, where ity to cleanse the human mind. In this the wondrous scenery captivated sense, the pavilion’s name is a reflechim. He ended up spending the next 30 years on the island until his tion of Gosan’s ideals after he retired from politics and settled on death at the age of 85. the remote island. The pavilion’s doors, on all four sides, open up to bring in the views outside. It overlooks the calm and clear splendor of Seyeonji A Garden that Complements Nature (Pond of Nature Cleansing) at the front, and the rectangular artifiOn Bogil Island, Gosan created Buyongdong Garden on a vast cial pond, named Hoesudam (Water Circling Pond), with an attracexpanse of land divided into three areas. The first area features tive rock islet toward the back. Large, handsome pine trees stand Seyeonjeong (Pavilion of Nature Cleansing), a series of natural on the edge of the ponds with drooping branches that nearly touch ponds, rock platforms, and a grove of lush trees. The second area the water, and a large boulder is almost hidden behind the branchis adjacent to Gosan’s main house, Nakseojae (House of Joyful es of maple and juniper trees. In the background, the low and high Books), and a nearby stream. The third area, located on a hillside peaks of faraway mountains stretch out, creating an otherworldly opposite the main house, includes a variety of structures such as atmosphere. a small building named Dongcheon Seoksil (Stone Chamber in the For Gosan, the pavilion was a place to refresh his body and mind Daoist Holy Land), where Gosan would often read and relax. and to enjoy nature and artistic pursuits. There he would enjoy a With no boundary markers, this garden does not fall neatsolitary nap in the midday silence, caressed by a cool breeze, and ly under the conventional definition of the term. Nevertheless, it mull over his thoughts under the silvery moonlight. Occasionally, he integrates all the elements of the environment, natural and manwould receive visitors at the pavilion and have earnest conversations made, including the pond and rocks near the pavilion, fish swimwith them over drinks. And when they were pleasantly intoxicated, ming in the pond, old trees, and shadows of the autumn leaves, as they would immerse themselves in the profound world of poetry. well as mountains in the distant background and clouds in the sky. Furthermore, the moon above a mountain peak, bright stars in the night sky, singing of birds and chirping of insects, and the island’s Birthplace of Gosan’s Poetic Masterpieces natural environment are all a part of the garden. In Korean culPoetry was an important part of the life of a Joseon scholar. It ture, such gardens are called a “garden with mountains and rivers” was a way to express the philosophical principles of nature, expound (sansu jeongwon) or “garden with a forest and springs” (imcheon on the lofty ideals of ancient philosophers, such as Laozi, Zhuangzi, Confucius, and Mencius, and awaken the mind to the ways of jeongwon), that are distinctively different from the typical European the universe, nature, and human beings. As such, there were few gardens built on a demarcated site and embellished with decoraamong the learned who did not write a few pieces of poetry. tive elements. Literary sensibilities seem to be enriched by a life of solitude or Since ancient times, Koreans have treated nature as a subject of exile. This is evident from the fact that many of the masterpieces of utmost respect and appreciation, not of close observation or extenpre-modern Korean literature were the products of solitary life at sive grooming. Buyongdong Garden is a representative example a hermitage or in exile. Gosan wrote “The Fisherman’s Calendar” of this approach, and so are the country villa gardens of Joseon’s (Eobu sasisa), one of the greatest works of classical Korean poetry, nobility, such as Soswaewon in Damyang and Imdaejeong Garden in Hwasun, also in South Jeolla Province. while living in retirement on Bogil Island. While most verses of this K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013


period were written in classical Chinese, this poem portraying a fisherman’s life in peace with nature, away from the mundane world, is in the Korean vernacular. The fisherman in this poem is not simply a man who fishes for a living, but a wise man who retreats from worldly pursuits and lives in the heart of nature. Considering that Joseon men of letters did not engage in physical labor, let alone fishing, but would often think of themselves as fishermen at heart, the fisherman in Gosan’s poem may represent the poet himself, who had turned his back on the world and lived in nature enjoying peace of mind.

1 1 Seyeonjeong is a scenic spot that commands a panoramic view of the garden. A signboard inscribed with the pavilion’s name is hung under the eaves. 2 By the pond Seyeonji, a grove of camellia trees with blooming flowers heralds the coming of spring to Yun Seon-do’s forest garden.

Seyeonji and Rock Formations The pond Seyeonji was made by building a weir of stones to divert the flow of a stream that originated from Gyeokja Peak. Although the pond was formed by human hand, the landscape could not be more natural with its rocks, aquatic plants floating on the water’s surface, and the trees on the edges casting shadows over it, as well as the traces of time found everywhere. A notable feature of Seyeonji is its attractive rock formations. Classical scholars have long admired rocks for their immutability, believing them worthy of appreciation for their steadfast

In the pavilion, Gosan would enjoy a solitary nap in the midday silence, ca-

Stage for Song and Dance ressed by a cool breeze, and mull over his thoughts under the silvery moonThe stream that flows through the garden meanders past the rear of light. Occasionally, he would receive visitors at the pavilion and have earnest the pavilion, in a semicircular path, conversations with them over drinks. And when they were pleasantly intoxibefore reaching the rectangular pond at the back and then flows out of it. This cated, they would immerse themselves in the profound world of poetry. creates a sublime scene in summer when the water lilies are in full bloom existence, while other elements of nature, like flowers and plants, and the trees around the pond cast leafy shadows on the water. “A would naturally succumb to seasonal changes and other forces of Record of Bogil Island” (Bogildo ji), written by Yun Wi, a fifth-genthe elements. eration descendant of Gosan, describes the banquets often held in The rock formations in the pond are diverse in shape. The largthis place. est rock is named Hogyak, meaning “a toad about to leap,” based According to this record, Gosan could not let a day pass without on a reference from “The Book of Changes.” Gosan preferred poetry and music to alleviate his worries of the outside world. And to call this rock Waryong (“crouching dragon”), a nickname for on crisp clear days, he would leave his room in Mumindang (House Zhuge Liang (181-234), chancellor of the Chinese Shu Han Dynasty, of No Worries) to spend time at the pavilion and enjoy singing and renowned for making the king come to him and personally ask him dancing. As he took a seat in the pavilion in the presence of his chilthree times before he agreed to offer his advice to the king. Repredren, the pageant would begin with a song based on his poem “The senting an individual who hides in obscurity before going out into Fisherman’s Calendar,” sung by child musicians dressed in colorthe world, the nickname reveals how Gosan viewed his life in secluful costumes performing from a boat on the rectangular pond. With sion. Another impressive rock is one with a broad surface that is orchestral music playing in the pavilion, dancers would perform on said to have been used for archery contests, with participants firing the two small stages to the left of the pavilion. Called the “eastern arrows at a target on the rock from the opposite hillside. stage” and “western stage,” respectively, the elevated platforms were built by piling up rocks. Meanwhile, on a flat rock halfway up the mountain opposite the pavilion, dancers in robes with long, Main House and Stone Chamber in the Mountain flowing sleeves would move airily, much like fairies. The first building that Gosan erected upon his arrival on the Such lavish amusements may not seem to concur with the lifeisland was his home, Nakseojae. He then planted a variety of flowers style of a recluse. However, Gosan believed in the Confucian phiand trees and also placed attractive rocks. He named a large rock losophy that regards poetry, song, and dance as different aspects near his house “Little Yinping Peak.” This name, meaning “screen of of artistic expression, which casts a different light on his attitude reclusion,” was taken from a famous peak in Mt. Wuyi, China, where toward life. Zhu Xi, the distinguished Neo-Confucian philosopher of the South-


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ern Song Dynasty, retired to dedicate himself to his studies. Dongcheon Seoksil, or the Stone Chamber in the Daoist Holy Land, also has a name that alludes to Gosan’s view of his island dwelling. This single-room building, which stands on the hillside opposite the house, was restored 20 years ago. Close to the building is a triangular pond as well as a round pond to its south. Nearby the round pond is a stone staircase leading to an underground stone chamber, although it is not known if the staircase was built by Gosan or his descendants. In any case, the true value of this hillside retreat lies in neither the small building, nor the stone chamber, but in the vast stretches of natural scenery that unfold in every direction.

The Abode of a Man with a Cause By settling on Bogil Island, where he had no friends or family, and constructing his garden and home while leading an exile’s life, Gosan put into practice the Confucian life philosophy of know-

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ing when to advance and when to retreat. As an official he strived to work for the benefit of the nation and the people, but he did not hesitate to give up his position to serve his own cause when his ideals ran counter to the majority’s opinion and when he found moral principles were violated. This is not to say that abandoning a government position is necessarily an act of integrity, or that living in seclusion is more decent and staying at court is obsequious. An individual’s decision should be based on what one perceives to be as more virtuous and forthright. When standing at a crossroads, Joseon’s officials and scholars would ask themselves which path would preserve their integrity and sense of propriety. So did Gosan, and his soul-searching led him to choose a secluded life on a remote island. For Gosan, Bogil Island and Buyongdong Garden were not a refuge from political turmoil but an ideal dwelling place where he could immerse himself in nature and uphold his own cause.





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ungnyemun, or the “Gate of Exalted Ceremony,” Korea’s National Treasure No. 1, was returned to the people this May, after a five-year absence. Exactly 1,911 days after it had been devastated by fire, the main entrance to ancient Seoul revealed its handsome façade upon the full restoration of its original structure. The restoration project involved some 24.5 billion won (about US$21.2 million) in costs and the equivalent of more than 35,000 man-days. Of this, 14.7 billion won came from the Cultural Heritage Administration and the remainder from corporate and individual donations.

Restored Entrance to Seoul At Jongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine that houses the spirit tablets of the kings and queens of Joseon, a solemn ceremony was conducted on May 1 to announce completion of the restoration of Sungnyemun. A memorial ceremony also took place on May 4 with the attendance of a large number of Seoul citizens. Sungnyemun is now open to the public, so that visitors can walk right up to the gate, touch the original stones that have been part of its walls for 600 years, and walk through the arched entrance. On weekends, you can climb up the gate tower and look out over the city, like the king of Joseon overlooking his territory. Sungnyemun has finally returned as a beloved landmark of Seoul, overcoming another hardship. The absence of a gate may indicate the lack of anything valuable enough to need its protection. Modern cities have no walls or gates. Nowadays, it is natural for a city to have a network of roadways that connects to neighboring cities, or even nearby countries. But this The restoration of Sungnyemun, or South Gate, was completed in was not the case for ancient cities. Even today, Seoul’s former downtown area is filled with layers of history May after five years of reconstruction work due to massive damfrom its centuries as the nation’s capital: six centuries age caused by a fire in 2008. The old gate, originally built in 1398, since the founding of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, and six years after King Taejo founded the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), nine centuries since its designation as the Southern Capital (Namgyeong), one of the three capital cities of served as the main entrance to the walled city of Seoul for over six Goryeo (918-1392). centuries. The restored gate, which has been returned to its former The inner-Seoul area, which was once enclosed by glory, should inspire additional projects to revive the vestiges of continuous city walls with eight gates, including Sungour historic city and traces of past lives. nyemun, maintains echoes of the past. Historic sites, Kim Chang-hee Journalist | Suh Heun-gang Photographer including five royal palaces, the royal ancestral shrine, and sacred altars for gods of the land and the crops, are clustered in this area where the integrity of Confucian scholars, creative spirit of artists, and robust vitality of merchants have all contributed to its historic atmosphere. In this sense, the restoration of Sungnyemun is more than just the preservation of an architectural landmark; it should be the first step in reconnecting the old walls of Seoul to revive the city’s historical legacy. The collection of buildings, structures and roads arranged according to the city’s own way of thinking to make Seoul what it was in the past, and the lives of people who lived there — these vestiges of ancient Seoul could be recovered to imbue the city with a palpable historic charm. Those who have celebrated the rebirth of Sungnyemun are certain to have a renewed interest in bringing the city’s legacy back to life. It would indeed be rewarding to regain Seoul’s historical and cultural heritage. Sungnyemun has been restored. A two-

Sungnyemun Restoration and Thereafter

storied pavilion structure built on a stonework base, Sungnyemun was the main gate of the fortress that used to enclose Hanyang (today’s Seoul), the capital city of Joseon. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

Modern and Ancient Technologies Sungnyemun represents an ideal model for the restoration of our historic architecture. In this project, undertaken by the foremost artisans in various fields, including those designated as Important


Walking under the arch and touching the stone walls that have been around for 600 years, you might hear the gate murmuring its gratitude for being brought back to life and asking if it could be a true gateway, not just a monument. Intangible Cultural Properties, the purpose was to restore the gate as close as possible to the original structure that was first built in 1398. To identify the traditional techniques and materials used to build the original Sungnyemun, meticulous research was conducted using advanced technology and the findings were applied to the reconstruction process. Roof tiles were individually shaped by hand and fired in traditional kilns, and decorative paintwork was applied with the natural pigments used for the original construction. The signboard, which had been replaced after the Korean War, was restored with the original calligraphy carved based on a rubbed copy handed down from the Joseon period. Another meaningful addition is the restored sections of the original perimeter wall that once enclosed the ancient city but was demolished by the Japanese colonialists. The authentic restoration of Sungnyemun is the result of both modern and ancient technologies. The research to identify the original materials and construction methods required cutting-edge technology, while reconstruction work painstakingly adopted traditional techniques. Since the 1970s, Korean masons have used modern tools for cutting and trimming stone blocks. Today, large granite slabs are cut cleanly with mechanized equipment, and stone surfaces are finished with diamond point chisels. For the Sungnyemun project, however, all the stones were processed in accordance with traditional methods, but advanced technology was utilized to select stones close in composition to the original granite for rebuilding the gate and city wall sections. To cut the granite slabs, a hole was bored into the surface so that a wedge could be inserted and hammered to split the stones. The granite blocks cut in this manner were trimmed with iron chisels. Since traditional tools would quickly lose their edge, an onsite smithy was built to forge and sharpen the implements. For this process, POSCO produced iron ingots with the same metallic composition as those used during the Joseon Dynasty. Restoring Sungnyemun in the traditional way was a costly and time-consuming undertaking. However, such fastidious attention to detail did yield notable outcomes. Compared to the Seoul Fortress Wall and the mountain fortresses on Mt. Bukhan and Mt. Namhan, which were restored with uniform blocks cut and trimmed with mechanized tools, Sungnyemun’s walls have a natural, or more human, touch.

No More Wanton Development The combination of old and new technologies should now be applied to the restoration of other historic sites in the inner-Seoul area. For example, with the aid of advanced scientific techniques, the ongoing restoration of the decorative paintwork of Gyeongbok Palace could be completed in a manner almost identical to the original process. In addition, the historical relevance of Sajikdan, the altars for the gods of the land and the crops, should be enhanced by restoring the path to the altars that Taejo, the first king of Joseon, walked 1


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along to oversee the first ritual there. This path along the river tributaries, that the king and his entourage are said to have taken, could be determined by consulting old maps of Seoul. Moreover, computer simulations can be used to pinpoint the locations and characteristics of nowlost historical structures for their proper restoration or reconstruction. Today, when underground mineral reserves can be located with satellite images taken from hundreds of kilometers above the earth’s surface, uncovering the traces of old Seoul, buried just a few meters beneath the surface, would not be that difficult. Then, worthwhile and feasible restoration projects could be carried out using the original construction methods. For Seoul, the 20th century was a period of suffering and destruction. The colonial push for modernity left deep scars all over the old city, and wanton development and the Korean War erased far too many legacies of the past. Sungnyemun suffered a similar fate with the gate’s side wall sections demolished in the early 20th century to make room for the passage of street cars, and the gate structure itself was seriously damaged during the Korean War. Then, at the dawn of the century came the outrageous arson incident that necessitated the recent restoration. While we delight in the return of Sungnyemun, we should also listen to what the gate has to say. Walking under the arch and touching the stone walls that have been around for 600 years, you might hear the gate murmuring its gratitude for being brought back to life and asking if it could be a true gateway, not just a monument. In response to this request, we should search for ways to revive other vestiges of the old city that used to be guarded by the gate, promising to transform Seoul into a city where history and modernity can coexist, side by side. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

1 As part of the recent restoration project, the walls on either side of the stonework base were also restored. 2 The ceiling of the pavilion structure features decorative paintwork using natural pigments, emulating the style prevalent in the early Joseon era. The inscription on the ridge beam says, “The restoration of the framework was completed on March 8, 2012.”



Kim Yeon-gap: ‘Crazy about Arirang’ “Arirang” is the folk song dearest to the heart of the Korean people. Not only in South and North Korea, but also wherever in the world they might call home, Koreans sing this song. The life of Kim Yeon-gap, a man passionately devoted to studying the song and searching for its variants, reveals itself as a modern history of Arirang and, in a certain sense, that of Korea as well. Lim Jong-uhp Staff Reporter, The Hankyoreh | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer



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related to particular regions in South and North Korea: Jeongseon, Jindo, Miryang, and Gyeongju in the South; and Haeju, Tanchon, Musan, and Onsong in the North. Wherever Koreans live, they sing Arirang. Songs with this title in Korea alone total 140. But this does not include the versions sung by overseas Koreans in Japan, China, Russia, and other countries. The archetypical Arirang is not associated with a specific location or region. “Arirang, Arirang, arariyo; / Crossing over Arirang Pass.” This opening refrain is followed by lyrics with a standard structure: anyone can spontaneously make up personalized lyrCollecting Everything about Arirang ics. If such individual variations are included, the number of Arirang Kim Yeon-gap, 59, started to trace these records in the 1980s. songs would be, without exaggeration, During his research, he learned that as many as there are Koreans. Germany had fielded linguists to do Arirang has probably been sung at research in its prison camps to docuevery turning point of Korean history, ment about 230 languages spoken by including such times as the reconstrucits World War I prisoners of war by tion of Gyeongbok Palace in the final recording their folk songs and tales years of the Joseon Dynasty, railroad using a wax-recording technology. construction under Japanese rule, the The recordings included a version of armed struggle by independence fightArirang sung by two Korean-Russian ers against Japan, the Korean War, soldiers. Kim managed to find out that the anti-dictatorship demonstrations, the original recordings were remade the Gwangju democratic uprising, the into SP records in 1933 and kept Seoul Olympics, and the 2002 World somewhere in East Germany, but he Cup soccer games. The history of the had to wait until Germany’s unification Korean people is thus closely connectto proceed with his search. Even after ed with and reflected in Arirang. When German unification, it took him about 2 a chorus of Arirang is heard, there is 15 years to track down the records’ 1 Kim Yeon-gap has collected materials related directly and certain to be a gathering of Koreans, whereabouts. He finally got his hands indirectly to Arirang and researched its origin and transmission and it is a time for reaffirming their on the two recordings, which were for the past 30 years. 2 Cover of the record “Arirang Symphony” identity, the chorus offering an opportustored at Laut Archive, a data section released in North Korea in 1972. (Courtesy of Kim Yeon-gap) nity to renew their sense of unity. attached to Humboldt University in Berlin. In February this year, he obtained their digital sound source. For the past 30 years, Kim has lived in Gye-dong, Jongno DisBrimming Over with Life trict, in central Seoul, to the west of Changdeok Palace. Just across Kim Yeon-gap’s first significant encounter with Arirang was in the street from his home is Insa-dong, a tourist district of antique 1978 during his military service. While on sentry duty along the shops, traditional crafts stores, and art galleries. So whenever he barbed wire fence of the truce line, he heard Arirang broadcast heard that materials related to Arirang were on display at those through the North Korean loudspeakers facing South Korea. He shops, he would rush over to purchase them. His storage spaces in wrote down the lyrics, which in part went: “The mountain there Jeongseon, in the mountainous province of Gangwon, and on Jindo should be Mt. Baekdu. / Flowers bloom even in the depth of winIsland, off the southwestern coast, as well as in Seoul, are overter….” One of his army buddies, upon seeing his notes, told him that flowing with Arirang artifacts and ephemera: from sheet music and Mt. Baekdu meant Kim Il-sung, advising him not to mention the LP records to cigarettes, matches, and magazines with Ariranglines. If a South Korean soldier were to sing a North Korean song, based trademarks — anything related to Arirang Kim has collected. especially one regarded as subversive, this could immediately land He can tell endless anecdotes about how he came to acquire the him in prison, he said. great variety of items. In all things Arirang, he is the richest man After finishing his military service and returning to university, in Korea. No exhibition, even one at the National Folk Museum of Kim decided to study Arirang. What he first found was that the song Korea, can be complete without items from his vast collection. he heard across the truce line had already been sung before the What is it about Arirang that has made this man so obsessed North Korean regime came to rule. Although the lyrics had nothwith the song? There are a number of different versions of Arirang ing to do with communism, it was understood to be ideological prohis spring, at an exhibition titled “Arirang: Song of the Road and Sound of a Mountain Pass,” held at the Mungyeong Old Road Museum in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province, two rare standard play (SP) records, or 78 rpm records, were shown to the public. These are recordings of Arirang sung by two Korean-Russian prisoners of war captured by German forces during the First World War. In order for these records to be shown at an exhibition in Korea, a man who is “crazy about Arirang” played a pivotal role.

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Theories on the Origin of Arirang “A written record of Arirang first appears in an 1894 entry of Maecheon Yarok , a history of the late Joseon Dynasty written by Hwang Hyeon (1855-1910), a poet and historian known by his pen name Maecheon. But I believe that the song’s roots actually go all the way back to the Bronze Age. The Ye, Maek, and Han tribes, regarded as the ancestors of today’s Koreans who long ago settled on the Korean Peninsula, are known to have sung Arirang.” Kim believes to have found evidence of his theory in the melodic sounds gathered from various places along the Baekdu Daegan (White Head Great Ridge), forming the backbone of the Korean Peninsula. Those sounds, called the “menari note,” are associated with children crying, the playing of willow pipes, the chanting of funeral casket bearers, and multiplication-table rote exercises. This melody is the archetype of sounds most familiar to and cherished by Koreans, with its provenance identified with the nomadic journeys of Korean ancestral tribes, such as the Ye, Maek, and Han. With his research based on historical documents and on-site surveys, Kim keeps China’s Northeast Project in mind. China, asserting that Koreans form one of its ethic minority groups, has recently registered Arirang as part of its own cultural heritage. The Chinese say that “Arirang is beloved by the Korean people and can be sung the song was sung by Chinese people, moving among by virtually all Koreans, so it is clearly a critical factor to their military outposts on the Korean Peninsula over Jabi Pass, around the first century B.C., to express assure the unity of the Korean nation.” their longing for their families left behind at home. This is included in the Northeast Project that aims to bers as the poets Ko Un and Park Jae-sam, and the playwrightmake the ancient Korean kingdoms of Old Joseon [Gojoseon] and cum-director Heo Gyu. This group later became the National Goguryeo part of Chinese history. Association of Arirang Preservation, consisting mainly of Arirang Kim believes that Arirang developed from the menari note, performers nationwide. The group was reorganized into the Korewhich went on to incorporate various stories and lyrics over time. an People’s Association of Arirang in 1994, which has promoted He gives as an example the lyrics of Jeongseon Arirang: Is it going research on Arirang and related activities, such as organizing festito snow? / Is it going to rain? / Is it a heavy downpour? / Oh, those vals to popularize and preserve Arirang songs. dark clouds / Gathering on Mount Mansu. “The general attitude toward what I do was one of ‘What He interprets these lyrics as reflecting the sentiments of 72 loyal research is there to be done on Arirang?’ It was that way for a long subjects of the Goryeo Dynasty who sought refuge in a mountain time, even within my own family. Fortunately, people today are village in Gangwon Province to escape from the rebel general Yi more interested in Arirang as a cultural heritage, but now as well Seong-gye, who had vanquished Goryeo and founded the Joseon as then, research on this subject doesn’t earn much respect. My Dynasty in 1392. The reference to Mt. Mansu is a lament for Songdo association is also just an organization to promote Arirang, with no (Kaesong), the capital of Goryeo, while the dark clouds symbolize membership fees, and its members don’t like a regimented group the forces of Yi Seong-gye. structure. They think that an organization which receives financial According to North Korea’s official theory, Arirang first appeared sponsorship would obscure the essence of its work. People often at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, was refined into a song durwonder how we sustain ourselves. I don’t know, either. I just work ing the first half of the dynasty, then spread to other parts of the hard, writing books, giving lectures, as needed….” country in the latter half, and finally took root in various regions in Kim has published several books from his research: “Travel for early modern times. Arirang through Eight Provinces I” (1994), “Arirang” (1998), and According to “Korean Folk Song Arirang,” a North Korean pub“The Origin of Arirang — Research on Jeongseon Arirang and Yi lication written by Yun Su-dong, director of the Korean Folk Music Saek” (2006). He also produced a photo edition of “Korean Folk Research Institute, the origin of Arirang can be found in the legend Song Arirang” (2011) published in North Korea. of “Seongbu and Rirang.” In the early Joseon period, farmers who paganda just because it was played in a broadcast aimed at South Korea. What a lamentable situation! “Toward the late 1970s, people’s literature and tours of the countryside were in vogue. As a student in the department of Korean literature at Dankook University, I traveled around the country in that mood. I rushed with my tape recorder to the birthplaces of Arirang, such as Jeongseon, Miryang, and Jindo, and to any place where the song was sung. In this process, what I encountered were not ancient folk songs like museum artifacts, but songs that remained vitally alive. Not the old folk songs learned from the scholarly texts of historian Yi Byeong-do and the literary scholar Yang Ju-dong, but the songs sung by people in the midst of their everyday lives.” He thus became convinced that folk songs are a kind of living organism that evolves and becomes enriched by being sung by people, and spread from mouth to mouth, over time. Consequently, he organized an “Arirang travel group” of students to conduct on-the-spot surveys. After his graduation, an Arirang group was formed in 1983 with him as secretary, which included such mem-


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resisted the tyranny of landowners would often be confronted by royal troops. When a young man named Rirang joined the rebels and had to escape from the royal forces, his lover Seongbu wailed, “AhRirang, ah-Rirang, ah-nanriyo / Ah-Rirang is going over the pass.” Sung impromptu, this heartbreaking passage was so moving it quickly caught on and spread far and wide. This theory reflects the typical view of North Korean scholars who tend to see history as a class struggle. It is quite different from Kim’s theory that arirang comes from the root word ari, which refers to language, sound, and song. Scholars of both South and North Korea nevertheless agree on one point: the movie “Arirang” (1926), directed by Na Un-gyu, was crucial for boosting the popularity of Arirang. The lead character of the movie, a student in Seoul, joins the March 1 Independence



1 Sheet music of the song Arirang used in the 1926 film “Arirang” by Na Un-gyu. Its melody became known worldwide. (Courtesy of Kim Yeon-gap). 2 Album cover of “Song of the Hill, Mungyeong Arirang,” released in celebration of Arirang’s inscription on the list of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 3 Books about Arirang written by Kim Yeon-gap.

Movement and is captured and tortured. Broken in body and spirit, he returns home to his rural village, where his family ekes out a living as tenant farmers for a pro-Japanese landowner. One of his friends is the lover of his sister. The landlord’s foreman, who’s had his eye on his sister, tries to rape her one day when the villagers are having a festival. Hearing her scream, his friend rushes to her and struggles with the foreman; joining the fight, the lead character kills his sister’s attacker. He is then arrested and taken away by the police, as villagers look on helplessly, singing Arirang.

Unifying the Korean People Arirang embodies the true spirit and sentiments of the Korean people, Kim argues. He goes on, “Koreans named their first cigarette brand Arirang, and also the country’s first satellite. There were K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

also calls for the first high-speed express train to be called Arirang, though it was eventually named KTX. When Korean diplomatic missions are opened overseas, the first Korean restaurant in the local neighborhood will likely be called Arirang. There was a popular magazine named Arirang in the 1970s, and countless karaoke lounges have used Arirang in their names. This all means that the essence of Arirang is always uppermost in the minds of Koreans.” Visibly moved to tears, he recounts a story from the time of Japanese rule that he came across. “In Japan, there was a baseball game between Korean and Japanese high school teams. Informed that a prominent pro-Japanese Korean figure would attend the game, an assassin was sent from Korea. When the Koreans and supporters gathered after the game, the assassin took out his knife and approached the collaborator, who recognized the threat and began to sing Arirang to defuse the situation. The assassin gave up on his mission, saying, ‘You’re also Korean, one of us. We shall never see each other again.’ Afterward, people heard that the man ended his support for Japan.” Kim considers Arirang as having already helped to unify the divided nation. In March 1989, South and North Korea agreed on Arirang as the anthem for a unified team. During the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships that took place in Chiba, Japan, the unified women’s team of the two Koreas won the final against China, the first time for a Korean team to have done so. In that ecstatic moment, not only the players, but also Koreans in the audience from North and South, joined together in singing Arirang, in tears. “There are many beautiful folk songs around the world. But few nations have such a clear consensus on a favorite song. Arirang is beloved by the Korean people and can be sung by virtually all 3 Koreans, so it is clearly a critical factor to assure the unity of the Korean nation. One can safely say it can be the national anthem of a unified Korea in the future.” Kim gave me his business card, which is quite unique. On the front is his name, and on the reverse side, instead of his contact information, there is an exhortation: “Koreans! Let’s look up at the sky every year on June 25 [anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War] at 6:25 p.m. and sing a measure of Arirang on the spot where we stand.” For Kim, Arirang means a shared hope for a unified country. But with no official appointment from any government or non-governmental organization, he is, like those who promote world peace, often attacked by both the right and left when a controversy arises. This seems to be the fate of Arirang on the Korean Peninsula as well until the day of unification.


art review


stormy snow-covered oreum (Jeju dialect for a parasitic volcanic cone) and the wind wailing above — the sound of a mournful lamentation. The firmly shut gate of a thatched house in a mountain village, the sharp sound of the gate’s opening, and a soldier shrouded in thick smoke. Utensils used in ancestral rites lie scattered about, and the smell of lingering incense is almost palpable… Then, the sounds of the wailing wind and rushing waves sweep across the ash-colored screen, piercing the heart. “Jiseul: The Unfinished Years 2” opens with these sounds and images of Jeju Island. But where are the people who had just been here performing the ancestral rites?

Clouds, Trees, and Wind of Jeju Surrounded by an interminable darkness, people talk about their fears and hopes. Was it like this in those days, 65 years ago? Viewers feel as if those long ago days, all this while buried in obscurity, are now being revealed. In this way, each scene of “Jiseul” captures the viewers’ attention. They sense pain and sadness, as if the wounds of the past are being inflicted upon them. As the final credits scroll up the screen to the accompaniment of a Jeju folk song, I sat transfixed. Sadness surged over the graceful oreum mound. The film was bleak but poignantly beautiful, painful

to the marrow. Would the beleaguered ghosts find some degree of comfort in it? An island of wind and volcanic cones, Jeju’s gorgeous coasts and fields and mountains are all etched with traces of the so-called “April 3 Massacre of Jeju.” In an interview, the director O Muel said, “I didn’t know the location had any connection with the massacre. But I heard the wind wailing pathetically, and saw the reeds ripple as if dancing sorrowfully. I thought, ah, this place still remembers that time. The clouds, the trees, and the wind caught by my camera are all actors.”

Framed against the Backdrop of Ancestral Rites The April 3 Jeju Massacre, in which some 30,000 local residents were killed by government troops, is a great tragedy of Korea’s modern history. In November 1948, while Korea was still under the rule of U.S. military authorities after its liberation from Japan, Jeju Island came under an evacuation order. The film summarizes the situation in a brief subtitle: “Anyone remaining further than five kilometers from the coastline is regarded as a rebel to be shot on sight.” Then it shows people frantically trying to escape from the military operations to burn everything in the highlands to the ground.

Indie Movie Sheds Light on Jeju Massacre “Jiseul: The Unfinished Years 2” is a black-and-white independent film about the tragic events that occurred on Jeju Island in 1948. The movie has caused quite a stir, breaking box-office records for a domestic independent film. It sheds new light on a long-concealed page of Korea’s dark history with stories about many innocent people who were branded as communists and killed during a time of extreme ideological conflict between the left and right. Heo Young-sun Poet and Lecturer, Jeju University


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Island residents desperately seek refuge in caves deep in the mountains to escape the evacuation order and the soldiers pursuing them. Hiding out in a “big, wide cave” are 120 villagers whose lives continue there for some 50 days. The island’s natural lava tunnels, now famed as World Natural Heritage sites, were the final sanctuary for those who were about to perish in the massacre, a temporary asylum where they struggled to remain alive in pitch-black darkness. While they ached to see the sky and feel the wind, death awaited outside. When a search party approached, they would burn blankets and hot peppers, and funnel the smoke toward the entrance to prevent soldiers from entering. This scene is based on the testimonies of survivors. The film does not go on to show, however, that most villagers who eventually left the caves were later captured, killed at Jeongbang Falls in Seogwipo, and cast into the sea. The film’s main characters are those who were summarily executed and the soldiers who were ordered to shoot to kill. Naturally, it is not possible for the film to portray everything that happened at the time. Director O Muel was inspired to make a film that could offer comfort to the spirits of those who died in the massacre when he visited the “big, wide cave” four years ago. The film is hence a kind of rite dedicated to the souls of those who had been forced to hide

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in the endless darkness of that cave. It consists of four parts, with titles borrowed from the procedures of ancestral rites: sinwi is an invitation for the spirits to visit; sinmyo the place where the spirits dwell; eumbok sharing the ritual foods after the ceremony; and soji burning papers bearing the names of the dead. These rites are meant to comfort the souls of the people whose lives were as frail as grass at a time when they were not allowed to grieve, when innocence was punished, and even tears were forbidden. The film “Jiseul” is like a shaman rite to purify the souls of the dead, and also a requiem. It is a ritual for healing and comfort. “The focus of the film is the people, not the ideology,” said O Muel. “Knowledge of the April 3 Massacre was suppressed during the Cold War era. Hopefully, the film will be noticed and, late though it might be, broaden public awareness of the truth of the historical events in Korean society.” Although this is O’s first film that deals with the massacre, it has the subtitle “The Unfinished Years 2.” This reflects his intention to carry on the legacy of “The Unfinished Years,” an earlier film by Kim Gyeong-ryul, who focused on the same subject but died before his film could attract much attention. In a scene from “Jiseul,” Jeju villagers hide from punitive soldiers in the “big, wide cave,” sharing potatoes to appease their hunger.


Symbolism of ‘Jiseul’ The potato is “soul food” for people all over the world. In the Jeju dialect, potatoes are called jiseul. During the April 3 Massacre the people lived on potatoes. Although the villages were burnt down to the ground by the troops, potatoes were found at every house buried in a hole in the ground and covered with straw, a local form of storage called nul. A scene showing roasted potatoes scattered about a yard is an actual scene from the massacre. Some potatoes clasped by a dying mother in her burning home later provide warmth and nourishment to the people in the cave. These include a man so worried about his pigs that he insists on going back home to check on them; an old bachelor who hopes to marry; a simple youth who boasts about being able to run fast with his “horse legs”; a young man who is in love with a woman in the village; and a fully pregnant woman. In the cave, the island’s community life goes on. Despite their dire situation, they sit around the flickering firelight and never lose hope that the darkness will soon lift. Jiseul, the potato, signifies positive thought, optimism, and a sense of comfort. The Jeju dialect, translated into standard Korean in the subtitles, sounds richly exotic. The soldier Park aims his gun at a young village woman. He hesitates to pull the trigger because he cannot see her as a rebel.

An Independent Film Bestowed with Honors “Jiseul” is an independent film produced by a native Jeju resident and director with amateur actors from the island. It was far from easy. Due to a lack of funds, O put together a cast of volunteers and taught them the basics of acting. Filming equipment was brought in from Seoul. The production costs amounted to some $250,000, about one-tenth that of most commercial movies. Individual supporters chipped in and the director went into debt. The film, made under such difficult circumstances, became the talk of the town when it received four awards at the 17th Busan International Film Festival in 2012. Before its release in Korea, it had already made a mark internationally. At the 29th Sundance Film Festival, “Jiseul” won the Grand Jury Award in the World Cinema Dramatic section with high praise for the script and direction. O Muel displayed surprising emotional restraint while vividly depicting the absurdity of war with extreme care and attention to details. The film also received the Golden Cyclo Award at the 19th Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema. “Jiseul” premiered in Korea on Jeju Island earlier this year on March 1, the anniversary of the incident that triggered the bloody massacre. Within a week it drew more than 40,000 viewers at cinemas around the country. Within three months (May 26, 2013) more

Villagers desperately seek refuge in caves deep in the mountains to avoid the evacuation order and the soldiers pursuing them — these are the film’s main characters, the ordinary people who were killed and the soldiers who had been ordered to kill down.


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than 140,000 viewers had been caught up in the film’s spell. News spread rapidly by word of mouth. Why did so many people applaud this film in spite of its extremely restrained narrative, unfamiliar Jeju dialect, and simple black-and-white imagery?

Black and White, Sadness and Hope Although it deals with a tragedy of history, “Jiseul” does not tell the story based on the relevant political thought or ideology. From beginning to end, it focuses on the experiences of the individuals, making the audience laugh and cry. It offers up hope in daily life, even at the crossroads of death. The scenes convey human affection and maternal love, suffused with the warmth of universal emotions that strike a chord with all people. O Muel, who majored in art at university, created scenes like inkand-wash paintings, muting the otherwise brilliant colors of Jeju Island. I was not aware that black and white imagery could express pain more deeply and sadly, or that restrained music and images could be more beautiful and gripping. “It was more important to find the colors that could express the colorlessness of sadness. I wanted the viewers to find their own colors based on their own feelings,” said the director. O spent his youth delving in art, drama, directing, and writing

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screenplays. He studied film by watching hundreds of movies. At the age of 25, he was fascinated by “The Sacrifice” and “Nostalgia,” films by Andrei Tarkovsky. “Jiseul” was produced between Christmas 2011 and February 2012. The shooting locations, like “the big, wide cave” in Andeokmyeon, Seogwipo, and the Stone Culture Park and Dongbaek Hill Park in Seonheul-ri, were bitterly cold in the wintertime. The cast and crew shot scenes as they struggled against the extreme cold that left many with frostbite. Even long after the film was completed, O continued to suffer from aftereffects of the winter cold. Just thinking of that time is enough to make him shiver. “Jiseul” does not highlight the tragic massacre as a tragedy. Although not stated overtly, in the end it expresses hope. The final scene shows a baby, writhing and crying, alongside its dead mother. The sound of the baby’s cry is surely that of hope. The baby represents “me” or “us,” the film suggests. When the film ended, I couldn’t help wondering, what is this aura that envelopes me like the faint haze that fills the film from beginning to end? I can still hear the wailing wind and breaths of the people. Even in such a dire situation, hope stands firm like the winter tree on Mt. Halla. Indeed, this tree probably still grows there, just as it did back then.


on the global stage

Jazz Diva Nah Youn-sun Embraces the World through Music Jazz vocalist Nah Youn-sun, whose musical activities mainly pivot around France and Europe, is widely praised for her creative interpretation of European jazz traditions, infused with a sense of Oriental nostalgia.

Seo Jeong Min-gap Pop Music Critic


he appears on the stage in a simple dress. Slightly bowing her head with a shy smile, the singer with long black hair gazes at the audience for a while, and then closes her eyes. She starts to sing softly, almost like a whisper; the piano accompanies her slowly, attentively. She goes on past the high-note climax toward the end with free scat singing, mesmerizing the audience. Her long slender fingers at times express a static and pensive mood but she also suddenly breaks the silence by opening her arms widely. Whether she sings to the accompaniment of a piano or an instrumental ensemble, and in whatever language, her expressions tend to be sincere and natural rather than exaggerated. Her audiences are especially impressed by her vocal artistry when she sings Korean children’s songs or adaptations of Korean folk songs. At times, the resonance seems to be even more profound with non-Korean audiences, in terms of their keen attentiveness to her delivery of native Korean melodies.

Success in the Studio and on Stage Nah Youn-sun’s seventh album, “Same Girl,” released in 2010 in collaboration with the world-famous Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, was a smash hit in Europe. The album sold more than 100,000 copies, soaring to the top of the French FNAC jazz chart and enjoying steady sales for 80 consecutive weeks. It received France’s Golden Disc Award, and topped the jazz charts in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and Belgium. In March this year, her performance at the prestigious 150-year-old Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris received a 15-minute standing ovation from the sold-out audience of 2,500. Since the release of “Lento,” Nah’s eighth album, her two most recent albums have alternately topped the French jazz charts at Her tour schedule is already booked solid through April 2014, with major performances slated in the United States, Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Turkey, and Sweden. In certain periods, she will present as many as 17 stage performances within a single month. She also served as jury president at the 11th Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition 2013, held in July as part of the 2013 Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Nah says all the enthusiastic response and recognition still make her feel like she’s living in a dream. But she has music in her blood. She was born in 1969 to musical parents: Nah Young-soo, the former head of the Korean National Choir, and Kim Mi-jeong, a musical actress. She received the first prize at a chanson contest, organized by the Alliance Française Seoul, as a second-year college student majoring in French language and literature. After earning her first degree, Nah began to work for the public relations team of a large corporation, only to realize that she wanted to discover and nurture her musical potential. After eight months, she quit her job and auditioned for the musical “Line 1,” produced by renowned Korean singer-songwriter Kim Mingi. Seon-nyeo, the musical’s heroine, was her first stage role, which marked a milestone in her career as a singer. “A musical actress should be good at singing, acting, and dancing at the same time, but that particular role required nothing much more than singing, and I was just lucky to grab the chance.”


Jazz vocalist Nah Youn-sun dominates the stage by singing with simplicity and clarity. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

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49 穢 Seung-Yull Nah

After two more musicals, she decided to embark on music study abroad, and departed for France in 1995. Her choice of France as the destination for her musical education had a great impact on her future career, as she came to be more widely known to European jazz audiences than those in her homeland. Her success in Europe is widely regarded as phenomenal; among jazz enthusiasts, she has steadily increased the number of her “must-have albums” as she continues to release new albums. Hearing praise for all these achievements, the 40-something singer bursts out laughing like a young school girl. “I have never wished to become a famous jazz singer. Luckily, I happened to have some work to do as a jazz singer, and as chances did come along, I just wanted to do my best….” Her success was in no way simply a matter of good luck. She enrolled in the CIM Jazz School, one of the oldest jazz institutes in Europe. She also studied at the National Music Institute of Beauvais, as well as the Nadia and Lili Boulanger Conservatory. She recalls that as a music student she absorbed jazz as sponge absorbs water. Naturally, she was also faced with numerous challenges as she sought to expand her musical horizons. “When I learned standard jazz techniques, I felt that my voice would never attain a level of virtuosity. It was only when my teachers had us listen to a wide variety of European jazz vocalists that I found relief, realizing how the genre of jazz embraces all those disparate voices and interpretations. Then, I managed to find the courage to try, in my own way.” She says her choice to make Paris her second home was one of the best decisions in her life, describing the city as a unique place which “attracts people from all around the world under its roof.” “When entering a friend’s flat for a dinner gathering, I hear Indian music playing inside. The food prepared with a recipe book open on the table happens to be Thai, and the tea served in the evening has a sweet and strong African flavor. After dinner, we dance to Middle Eastern music. Such experiences taught me to appreciate diversity. I want to stay open to the world’s music, and I hope to continue to collaborate with musicians from different cultures, whether they are from Malaysia, Singapore, or Estonia. I understand the world through music.” Having laid her musical groundwork at the CIM Jazz School, she wanted to transform her musical ideas into reality with her group YSN 5tet, by carving out her place in the French jazz landscape. “I visited every small jazz club around and sent them my demo tapes, and telephoned them to ask if they would like to have me sing. I would telephone several times a day.” She knew that even the most successful musicians had to live like “a company employee” during the early phases of their career, striving to find a means to share their music with a broader audience. Keeping this in mind, she thought she also had to work hard to make her presence better known to jazz fans.


© Chris Jung

Freedom with Simplicity Nah defines stage performance as the most important element of her world of music. “I practice to prepare myself for every stage performance, and I continue to practice while performing on the stage, and I look back on myself by remembering the moments of my concerts. That means I am almost always practicing,” she says. For her, stage performance also constitutes the key experience of communication with her audience, which she believes is the ultimate musical experience. She goes on, “I think musicians need basically two things — the mastery of techniques and emotional engagement with the audience. For sure, technical perfection is a prerequisite. As long as you are technically equipped, the most crucial factor for a musician is whether he or she can build an emotional resonance with the audience, whether one can effectively connect with the audience in a meaningful way. We can be deeply touched by a Scandinavian song presented by a Finnish tribe, for example, even though we might not understand a single word of it. “Emotions transcend language barriers, and the degree of emotive engagement depends on the honesty and frankness of the person doing the music. The audience instantaneously grasps this. When standing on stage, I have a certain feeling, a certain kind of energy that comes from the audience. When I feel that a particular performance is going to be a success, more than 80 percent of this belief comes from my engagement with the audience. I prefer to perform on a small stage for a small audience so that I can better per-

A scene from Nah Younsun’s concert at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in March 2013. All 2,500 seats were sold out and she received a 15-minute standing ovation from the audience.

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ceive whether they are feeling the same way with me.” Even though her music career now extends over more than two decades, she unceasingly challenges her limits and conducts artistic experiments so that she can measure her own transformation and progress. “I enjoy vocal experiments. Every day my practice is different,” she says. “Sometimes a sound that seemed previously impossible for my voice happens to become possible, and some sounds that I had not thought were within my vocal boundary become possible. Then, I realize that I have become a freer person by exactly the extent of the new sound and new vocal possibility that I became capable of making.” The freedom she enjoys is also based on the simple lifestyle that she maintains. “Since my whole body is a musical instrument, I try to eat well and sleep well. I do not use the telephone or Internet much, in part because I am quite lazy, but because I try to live a simple life. In a way, my nomadic lifestyle as a touring musician makes it possible to maintain this simplicity. A suitcase is enough to carry my whole life. This lifestyle of simplicity helps me maintain my voice in proper condition and nurture my world of music.”

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“When I sing in English, French, or Korean, I imagine that I am playing different musical instruments. But, of course, I am the same Nah Youn-sun.”

“In a way, my nomadic lifestyle as a touring musician makes it possible to maintain simplicity in life. A suitcase is enough to carry my whole life.” K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

A Korean Musician on the Global Stage In “Lento,” her latest album, Nah’s vocal work features a wide range of versatility and exudes tight tension in interplay with simple instrumental accompaniment. The seductive aura of her vocal artistry easily overwhelms an audience. “All the recordings are done in single takes. I have found that it is always the first performance that has the highest concentration of the singers and musicians. For that very first try, I tend to pour 200 percent of myself into it. That’s why live performances usually demonstrate the greatest musical delivery. In fact, all the songs in ‘Lento’ have been recorded without previous instrumental rehearsal. But ‘Arirang’ and ‘Momento Magico’ are the only exceptions; we needed a rehearsal for the instrumental accompaniment. By recording the first performance of each song, I wanted to capture what is called ‘the momentary.’” All music volatilizes at the fingertips of an instrumentalist and the cochleae of the audience, vanishing without leaving a trace. To grasp the tangible yet ephemeral energy and afterglow of live music, she has her musical self confront fearlessly the moment of the first encounter, striving to capture even the feel of the vacuum, as well as the sound of music. As a native Korean musician whose musical activities mainly take place in Europe, how does she define her identity? “In truth I learned everything about music in France. Since the time I made my first stage appearance in France, the French people have accepted me as the artist that I am, without prejudice about where I came from, or what I had been doing in my life. In short, the French people regard me as no different from other French musicians. I truly appreciate this.” However, wherever she performs as a musician, the fact of her being Korean is seldom forgotten. People’s interest in her also indicates a certain curiosity about a rare jazz vocalist who comes from Asia. She said, “I think the way we use our voice cannot be learned because it is just given as an inheritance from our parents. Similarly, my being Korean should be influencing my music, but the way it does is hard to pin down for analysis. When I sing in English, French or Korean, I imagine that I am playing different musical instruments. Whichever language I might sing in, I am, of course, the same Nah Youn-sun.” Her albums typically include a number of Korean songs, such as “Nostalgia,” “Heart of Glass,” “Senoya Seonya,” and “Arirang.” Her motivation for doing this, however, has little to do with chauvinistic or patriotic feelings. “My colleagues like to play ‘Arirang.’ I think it has a vitality that all traditional folk music tends to share. The interpretation of ‘Arirang’ seems to offer wide-open possibilities. Foreign musicians do not understand the lyrics but the melody is simply beautiful. It is amazing to see how their approaches to ‘Arirang’ can be so drastically different. During a concert, the audience is very much surprised when I explain that it is an old traditional song in Korea, with a tune which every Korean person knows, and it has more than 8,000 lyrical versions.” The mesmerizing jazz vocalist confesses to having stage jitters, though she seemed joyful and excited about her career throughout the interview. Acclaimed and successful, she is hardly one to impose her ego on the people around her. Her dreams are simple: “I just want to continue to do music as I do now. I hope that I can continue to give concerts, and that my voice allows me to sing. Perhaps…I wish…I could be a sign of hope for younger musicians by demonstrating that a person with a voice like mine — which would not go well with jazz music in a conventional sense — could still sing jazz.” She adds that she is fortunate to find so many interesting aspects of music to experiment with, which also makes her life that much more interesting. As a music critic, I cannot help but admire the ever-expanding and ever-diversifying world of her musical versatility and virtuosity. (For more information, readers may visit Nah Youn-sun’s official website: <>.)


modern landmarks


t the entrance of Jeonju Hanok Villlage, there is a picturesque cluster of well preserved traditional Korean houses, which is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions. However, a stately Catholic church catches the eye of visitors even before the tile-roofed traditional houses come into focus. This is Jeondong Cathedral, the oldest Western-style building in the Honam region, in the southwestern corner of Korea. Other historic sites in its vicinity include Pungnam Gate, which once served as the southern entrance to the ancient walled city of Jeonju, and Gyeonggi Shrine, which houses the portrait of Yi Seonggye, founder of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The name of the cathedral, Jeondong (meaning “neighborhood with a shrine”), came from the district where it was located, but through changes in administrative districts, the site has since been incorporated

into today’s Pungnam-dong. The cathedral was built on the site of the former Jeonju provincial office, where the first Korean Catholic martyrs, Yun Ji-chung and Kwon Sang-yeon, were executed in 1791.

Martyrs Leave a Legacy of Churches Jeondong Cathedral is one of the most notable Catholic churches in Korea, along with those at Myeongdong (Seoul), Gyesan (Daegu), and Dapdong (Incheon). And while these churches are all impressive in their own right, Jeondong is widely regarded as the most elegant. Unlike Myeongdong Cathedral, an elaborate structure standing high on a hill, Jeondong Cathedral is a compact and intimately proportioned church sitting on flat land at the heart of the city. This church was designed by Victor Louis Poisnel (Korean name: Park Do-haeng, 1855-1925), a French missionary from the Soci-

Jeondong Cathedral Lovely Church at Home in a Village of Traditional Houses Jeondong Cathedral is one of the oldest Western-style buildings in the Honam region, in the southwestern corner of Korea. It was designed by the French priest Victor Louis Poisnel, a master builder who led the construction of a series of early Catholic churches in Korea, where he served as a missionary for 44 years, from 1882 through his death in 1925 in Seoul. Kim Chung-dong Architectural Historian | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


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The basilica of Jeondong Cathedral (right) and the priestsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; quarters behind it. The central Byzantine-style bell tower is flanked by two smaller cupola-topped towers.


Building Myeongdong Cathedral Four years later, in 1887, Bishop Jean M. Blanc assigned Poisnel to the accounting department to replace Father Gustave Charles Marie Mutel (Min Deok-hyo, 1854-1933), who had supervised the construction of cathedrals in Joseon before his return to France. Poisnel moved to Saemunan (“Inside the New Gate”), and the next year, began to collaborate with Father Coste, who was 13 years his senior. In 1887, the two priests moved to Jonghyeon (“Bell Hill”), where the current office for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul is located. While taking charge of the accounting department, Poisnel used every opportunity to purchase land parcels to increase the property holdings of the archdiocese. Had it not been for his management skills, persistence, and attention to detail, Myeongdong Cathedral could not have been built on 1 its current site. People of Joseon, who believed that the spirit of a dragon dwelled on the site, objected to the plan to build Unlike Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, an elaborate structure standing a church there on the grounds that high on a hill, Jeondong Cathedral is a compact and intimately propordigging up the soil would disturb the dragon’s spirit and bring destruction tioned church sitting on flat land at the heart of the city. to the entire city of Seoul. However, Poisnel did not yield and eventually helped turn that site into the center of the Roman Catholic Church from where he hoped to return to Joseon. He persuaded Poisnel, in Korea. who had left France and stopped by Nagasaki on his way to Joseon, At first, Poisnel assumed an assistant role in the construction of to spend time with him before proceeding to his dangerous destiMyeongdong Cathedral, but Coste, who had designed the cathedral nation. Ridel, suffering from physical consequences of his incarcerand supervised its construction, passed away in 1896. Poisnel began ation, went back to France a year later, so that Poisnel finally comto study architecture and acquired sufficient knowledge to take his pleted his journey to Joseon. place. The construction was completed on May 29, 1898, and for 30 After getting off the ship from Japan, Poisnel walked the vast years thereafter, Poisnel contributed his expertise to the construcmudflats along the port of Jemulpo (today’s Incheon) to enter tion of a number of Catholic churches and mission offices in Korea. Joseon and reach Hanyang, the capital city. For two years thereafter, he traveled around the northern parts of Korea, visiting villages in Pyeongan and Hwanghae provinces. In the course of this chalAnother Masterpiece, Jeondong Cathedral lenging journey, he slept on bare floors, ate boiled rice and other “Father Poisnel left by the ten o’clock train for Jemulpo to go unfamiliar foods, and plodded along rugged roads. He encountered to Jeonju by way of Gunchang. Father Baudenet, who is building people who were often hostile or indifferent, but learned to adjust a church in Jeonju, had nagged him to come down there. Father to the practices and customs so radically different from those of his Poisnel will come back next week,” noted the personal journal of homeland. He dealt with these daily hardships with composure and Bishop Mutel on October 13, 1909. (Mutel, who had returned to humility at all times, according to historical records. France in 1885, came back to Korea in 1890 as the eighth Vicar ety of Foreign Missions of Paris, who helped build Myeongdong Cathedral and a number of other Catholic churches in Korea in collaboration with his colleague, Eugène Jean Georges Coste (Korean name Go Eui-seon, 1842-1896). Their service played a vital role in the propagation of Roman Catholicism in Korea. In 1881, Father Poisnel was selected as a missionary to be dispatched to late Joseon Dynasty Korea. He was thrilled by the prospect of being assigned to the remote country in Asia, where seminary students in Paris wished to visit although they were likely to face persecution or even martyrdom in the country where Christian belief was condemned. Around that time, Bishop FélixClair Ridel, Vicar Apostolic of Joseon, was imprisoned for his efforts to propagate the prohibited Western religion. Later, he was expelled to China and then moved to Nagasaki, in Japan,


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Apostolic of Korea.) Construction of Jeondong Cathedral began in 1908 based on Poisnel’s design, and Baudenet asked him to come down to check if the foundation work was being done properly. Bishop Mutel’s journal, in its entry for the 21st of the same month, says, “Father Poisnel came back from his trip to Jeonju this afternoon. Father Baudenet has now laid the final foundation stones of the cathedral.” Describing the roles of the two priests, other entries in the journal indicate that Poisnel supervised the construction of Jeondong Cathedral, frequently visiting the site at Baudenet’s request. The foreman at the construction site was a Chinese man named Jiang Francisco, and many of the other workers were also Chinese, who had considerable experience in building red brick structures in China. But the bricks were fired in Korea; a record says that kilns were built in a nearby area, which produced some 650,000 bricks by 1913. Since its completion in 1914, Jeondong Cathedral, which combines the elements of Romanesque and Byzantine styles, has

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been known as the masterpiece of Father Poisnel. Bishop Florian Demange (An Se-hwa, 1875-1938), Vicar Apostolic of Daegu, praised the church as “the most beautiful cathedral in Asia.” It stands on a site approximately 13,200 square meters in area, with floor space amounting to 679 square meters. In February 1913, Poisnel began to build the priests’ quarters of Jeondong Cathedral, but he would not live to see its completion. After his death, Father Marcel Lacrouts took over the work and completed it in 1926. The cathedral itself was also expanded in 1925. Jeondong Cathedral was designated Historic Site No. 288 on September 25, 1981, and its priests’ quarters was listed as North Jeolla Province’s Cultural Property Material No. 178 on April 6, 2002. Father Poisnel died in Seoul as bishop coadjutor on November 26, 1925, and was buried in the Cemetery for Catholic Clergy in Yongsan, alongside Father Coste. 1 The narrow arched clerestory windows bring in natural light to the central nave. 2 The interior of the cathedral is in Romanesque style.



Guardian of Heritage

Yu Ji-hwa Master of Plume Flower Dance Yu Ji-hwa, the standard bearer of Jeongeup Peasant Music, is a master performance artist who has transformed traditional Korean farmers’ music and dance into a comprehensive form of performing art. Today, at the age of 72, she remains an unparalleled “finale maker,” who wows the audience with her vibrant charisma. Choi Hae-ree Dance Ethnologist | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


s the audience watches in darkness, a large lotus blossom that adorns the dancer’s headpiece radiates a dazzling whiteness on the stage. The dancer shakes her head to twirl the plume flower dangling from her hat, making it open and close its petals to the clanging of her hand gong. Leading her traditional farmers’ music band, Yu Ji-hwa skillfully gyrates her head as if being swayed by the wind, while the blossom closes and then comes into full bloom to the rhythm of the music. This performance of the plume flower dance (bupo noreum, or bupo nori) has the audience mesmerized by the resplendent imagery created by the swirling plume and agile movements of the dancer, all the while striking her gong in perfect rhythm.

Making a Plume Flower Bloom The plume flower, a regular prop for traditional farmers’ music and dance (nong­ ak, or peasant music), is made of bird feathers that are joined together to form a large blossom, with a long, stiff stem attached to the dancer’s headpiece, which resembles an ancient soldier’s hat. The farmers’ music band is an ensemble of traditional musicians with a time-honored repertoire which includes the solo performances of various percussion instruments, such as the hand gong (kkwaenggari), hourglass drum (janggu), and hand drum (sogo). In the course of the solo performances, the musicians take turns showing off their individual skills, while the band leader, who is also the chief gong player (sangsoe), presents the plume flower dance. “First, your head and neck should move as if they are not connected but can be maneuvered independently. But your torso from the shoulder to the waist should


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Yu Ji-hwa performs the plume flower dance leading her all-female band. By skillfully gyrating her head to the rhythm of the hand gong, she makes the plume on top of her hat open and close like a flower.


move in unison. Proper breathing is crucial. You hold your breath briefly and then quickly release it, creating an intricate rhythm with your breath, while the plume of feathers, like a billowy cloud that is balled up into a bud, suddenly bursts open like a flower in full bloom.” The plume flower dancer might stop dancing in the middle of a routine to entertain the audience with her singing or impromptu banter. Since this act calls for the performer to demonstrate her talents as a dancer, musician, singer and jester, all at the same time, there are very few accomplished performers of this genre. Yu Ji-hwa, the master of Jeongeup Peasant Music, is an exemplary performer of not only the plume flower dance, but also other dances with the gong and the hourglass drum.

Masterful Syncopation and Charisma Since 2008, the Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation has held an annual event, “Eight Dance Masters,” which brings together the greatest masters of traditional dance for a joint performance at the Korean Culture House. At the fifth event held in May 2013, after Yu



Ji-hwa performed the plume flower dance, the traditional dance experts who had witnessed her consummate performance all agreed that her dance was the show’s highlight. The response from the audience was extraordinary as well. They loudly cheered the dancer, exclaiming, “Excellent!” and “Bravo!” And some even went up the stage to thrust bills into the dancer’s costume and instrument. For audiences accustomed to modern-day norms in the performing arts, it might seem bewildering to see audience members approach a performer on stage and press money on them. However, in Korea’s traditional performing arts, such as shaman rituals (gut), farmers’ music and dance, and narrative song (pansori), the boundaries between performers and audiences are often blurred, making it acceptable for enthusiastic spectators to join the performers on the stage. It is also a traditional gesture for appreciative members of the audience to make their way onto the stage and place money into the performer’s pocket or instrument. In the presentation of farmers’ music and dance, the player who ends the show with the highlight performance is called the “finale maker”

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(noreum machi ). At the recent Eight The association, which superseded Dance Masters event, the audience the Joseon government agency that acknowledged Yu Ji-hwa as the finale served this purpose, offered coursmaker by gleefully joining her on the es in poetry, singing, dancing, and stage. related genres of entertainment. When Yu was interviewed, she After Korea’s liberation from Japan, it beamed with satisfaction as she spawned various private institutions, recalled the event. “I was so pleased such as the one that the young Yu Jito perform in Seoul that I played my hwa joined. ‘throat drum’ a little bit,” said Yu. To learn pansori, Yu skipped her She described the witty banter that school classes and instead went to she exchanged with the audience as the institution every day until her “playing a throat drum.” mother was informed by her teachWhenever she performs, her sole er that she had been absent from focus is on the audience; a perforschool for an entire month. Scolded, mance artist should create a conneccoaxed, and threatened by her mothtion with the audience to win them er, Yu was forced to stop attending over. Personal charisma, the emithe institution. Although her trainnent dancer pointed out, is the secret ing was brief, Yu’s talent was apparfor winning an enthusiastic response ent enough to impress her tutor, who from the audience. Although she is predicted her eventual success as 2 a woman of small build, once on the a performing artist. Ultimately, Yu 1 The Jeongeup Municipal Farmers’ Music Band, led by Yu Ji-hwa, stage, she exudes a powerful chariscould not abandon her musical aspiperforms on stage. 2 The hand gong is played by the band leader. Capturing the ear with exciting rhythms of the hand gong, the ma that simply sweeps over the audirations and artistic talent, and she dancer attracts the eye with enchanting play of the plume flower. ence. ran away from home at age 15, upon She observed, “Syncopation is seeing a recruitment poster for the what makes our traditional farmers’ music and dance so unique Jeonbuk Female Farmers’ Music Band. and attractive.” Just as in jazz music, syncopation involves displaceFarmers’ music and dance originated from the communityment of the normal rhythmic accent away from a strong beat onto based entertainment associated with village rituals and communal a weak one. To dance in syncopation, the dancer holds her breath labor activities. In large part, it involved dancing and the playing of on a stressed beat and then steps on an unstressed one. Tradimusical instruments, mainly percussion, such as gongs and drums. tional Korean performers in the past described this movement as Later, as Korea’s rural communities underwent modernization, “swallowing a beat.” Stepping and prancing about in lively syncopait developed into an independent genre of performing arts. When tion, Yu Ji-hwa demonstrates her complete mastery of timing and Yu joined the women’s band in the 1950s, there were only limited rhythm. opportunities for the public to enjoy entertainment as the country was struggling to recover from the aftermath of the Korean War. Thus, women who performed farmers’ music and dance, which had Breaking into Men’s Old Turf previously been a male-only domain, provided a novel entertainYu Ji-hwa was born in 1942 in Jeonju, a city in southwestern ment experience for rural audiences. As such, the band was highly Korea. Her father died when she was very young, but her mother successful wherever they performed. Yu Ji-hwa spent her teens managed to raise her children in a genteel environment. Her mothand 20s traveling around the country as a member of this band. er, a supposed descendant of the Joseon royal family, insisted on a During this period, Yu learned from great masters, such as Park strict upbringing for her daughter so that she could become a wellNam-sik and Kim Jae-ok, her band’s leaders and gong players; bred young lady. Yu Ji-hwa, however, dashed her mother’s hopes Park Seong-geun, a distinguished plume flower dancer; Yi Myeongwhen she was 12. On a Sunday while out on an errand, she was sik and Yi Jeong-beom, hourglass drummers; and Hong Yu-bong, spellbound upon hearing a performance of pansori, which led her a hand drum player. She learned to dance, sing pansori, and act to immediately join an institution that trained professional female in musical dramas, which were all part of the typical repertoire of entertainers. farmers’ music bands. After her original band broke up, she manThe institution, called gwonbeon in Korean, was established aged to organize new bands, including one bearing her own name, during the Japanese colonial period, as an association for courteand others named Arirang and Saemaeul. Around this time, she sans to refine their talents as entertainers and artists (gisaeng ). K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013



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“You hold your breath briefly and then quickly release it, creating an intricate rhythm with your breath, while the plume of feathers, like a billowy cloud that is balled up into a bud, suddenly bursts open like a flower in full bloom.”

also set about creating a new style of performance by combining various art forms that she had mastered: singing, dancing, acting, and playing instruments. This new style, with the addition of yet another element — impromptu banter — turned farmers’ music and dance into a multifaceted genre of performing art. Yu’s fame grew steadily through the 1960s and 1970s, when she was highly acclaimed for her excellent performances as well as her contributions to broadening the role of women in this particular genre. In the 1980s, however, the genre’s appeal began to decline when the percussion quartet (samul nori), a more recent development of traditional farmers’ music and dance, started to gain popularity. Consequently, the opportunities for her to perform on stage became less frequent.

Two Wishes In 1993, at the request of the Jeongeup municipal government, Yu Ji-hwa agreed to move to the city and pass on her knowledge to young students. The city built a new municipal center for traditional performing arts in Yu’s honor, which inspired her efforts to revive local versions of farmers’ music and dance that had essentially disappeared after the Korean War. She also played an integral role in having Jeongeup Peasant Music designated as an “important intangible cultural property” of North Jeolla Province. Traditional Korean farmers’ music and dance evolved into a variety of regional styles over the centuries. In the Honam region, which comprises South and North Jeolla provinces, the genre diverged into two categories: the music of the “right region” (udo) and of the “left region” (jwado ). Jeongeup’s version belongs to the former, which encompasses vast stretches of plains in the southwestern area of North Jeolla that includes Gochang, Gimje, Gwangju, and Jeongeup, among other counties and municipalities. According to Yu Ji-hwa, the right-region music is characterized by gentle melodies, fast beats, and dynamic rhythms, which she finds more interesting to perform than other regional variations. In ancient times, folk religion thrived in Jeongeup, along with hereditary shaman families and their ritual music. In the 1920s, the region’s indigenous religion, Bocheongyo (meaning “belief in the vault of heaven”) invited a large number of performers of farmer’s music and dance to have them present its ritual music. Under such Yu Ji-hwa uses ostrich feather plumes. She wishes to have plumes made with the feathers of red-crowned cranes that are slightly heavier and move more elegantly. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

circumstances, farmers’ music attained a higher level of artistry in the region. It further evolved into a comprehensive performing art that combined song, dance, instrumental music, and drama. It has been 60 years since Yu first immersed herself in farmers’ music. Professor Kim Bok-man of the School of Korean Traditional Arts at Korea National University of Arts said, “Master Yu Ji-hwa is not only excellent in her arts but also has a most admirable personality. She deserves to be called the mother of Korean farmers’ music and dance.” His praise points to Yu’s motherly affection for her students and personal commitment to train them to become outstanding performers. Indeed, she offers lectures at several educational institutions such as Korea National University of Arts and the National Gugak Center in Seoul, Chung-Ang University in Ansan, and Sehan University in Yeongam. She is fully aware of the need to expand the pool of aspiring students in order to produce talented performers. As such, she spends three to four days every week traveling across the country to recruit and train students. She has also taken in two young students from underprivileged families to live with her, providing free room and board as well as individual lessons. She is a teacher who is faithful to the traditional philosophy of art education that emphasizes the teaching of students amidst the settings of everyday life. Two years ago, she persuaded the city officials to form the Jeongeup Municipal Farmers’ Music Band in an effort to offer career opportunities to her students. Today, Yu Ji-hwa has two wishes. First, she hopes to present a “big stage” reunion event with the former members of her female farmers’ music bands. These colleagues of Yu include celebrated singers of pansori, such as An Suk-seon, O Gap-sun, and Gang Gyeong-suk. She regrets the lack of camaraderie among today’s young artists, which makes her yearn for the good old days spent with her contemporaries. Yu Ji-hwa’s second wish may be harder to realize: authentic plume flowers, made with the feathers of red-crowned cranes. This crane has been included on the list of Korea’s Natural Monuments, so its feathers can seldom be collected. The ostrich feathers now used as a substitute are too light to create the desired onstage visual effect. Yu joyfully imagines herself in a performance on stage, wearing a headpiece with an elegant plume flower made of redcrowned crane feathers, together with the most distinguished artists of her generation. She has long cherished this vision in order to demonstrate the essence of traditional Korean performing arts.


In Love with Korea

Little Psy’s Mother Vu Thi Ly: ‘My Son’s Dream is My Dream’ Vu Thi Ly is called “Little Psy’s Mom” thanks to her nine-year-old son. This nickname has brought about many changes – both positive and otherwise – to her life in Korea, where she moved from Vietnam more than a decade ago after marrying her Korean husband.

Kim Dae-o Senior Writer, Ohmystar | Yi Jung-min Photographer


n 2002, three years after arriving in the country at the age of 20 to marry a Korean businessman, Vu Thi Ly gave birth to a baby boy. When the baby was barely three months old, she had a difficult time doing the housework because he would not let her put him down for even a moment. In a bid to pacify her demanding baby, she would have him listen to music from her mobile phone. The baby would stop crying and start to babble, and at times, even burst into laughter. Hwang Min-woo, now age nine, is otherwise known as “Little Psy” for his role in Korean pop star Psy’s music video “Gangnam Style.” Music has been a part of his life since he was born, and in fact, as his mother says, since when he was in her womb.

Her Son’s Musical Talent “My husband used to buy me lots of Vietnamese music CDs to cheer me up, as I often felt lonely away from Vietnam. When I was pregnant with Min-woo, I used to listen to Vietnamese pop music and Korean songs all day. I think that may have helped to develop Min-woo’s musical sense from an early age. When he was a baby, I noticed that he really enjoyed music, so I continued to play music for him. From the age of three, he started to mimic the dances of pop stars on TV. He could do an incredible performance of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’” Vu says. Vu met her husband, Hwang Eui-chang, 53, during one of his frequent business trips to Vietnam. After their marriage, the couple settled down in the city of Gwangju. She acquired Korean citizenship from her marriage, but her Korean language skills were not good enough to make friends easily with her neighbors and she never felt quite at home in Korea. It was only with Min-woo’s birth that she truly settled down in her new home country. Min-woo and his musical talents helped bring stability and joy to her everyday life here. “When Min-woo was about four, the whole family travelled to Vietnam. On the River Mekong there is a dinner cruise that features live performances. When we had dinner there, my husband, who knew the stage manager, asked if Min-woo could get up and perform. The stage manager agreed and Minwoo did Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ dance and sang a Vietnamese song. The people in the audience, from various countries, including France, China, Japan and Korea, really loved the performance. My husband recorded it all, and when we returned to Korea he proudly showed the video to his employees,” Vu recalls. Min-woo’s father had only wanted to boast of his son’s talent to people he knew, but his employees had other ideas. Exclaiming that Min-woo was a genius whose talent should not go unnoticed, they sent a video tape to the popular SBS TV talent program “Star!King.” Min-woo’s Successful TV Debut When contacted by the producers of “Star!King,” Vu and her husband thought seriously about whether to allow their young boy to perform on the TV program. But considering Min-woo’s talent, the


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opportunity was too good to simply let pass by. By sheer coincidence, the program’s writers decided that the concept for Min-woo’s TV appearance would be “gentleman,” the same as the title of Psy’s follow-up to his global smash hit “Gangnam Style.” After agreeing to allow their son’s TV appearance, Min-woo’s parents suddenly found themselves busy with preparations. “We searched through all the department stores in Gwangju to find the right stage costume and accessories. It wasn’t easy to find a child’s suit, shirt and neck-tie that we liked. But that was probably the most exciting day of my life in Korea. I can still vividly remember every moment,” Vu recalls. The day of recording, however, rather than being fun proved to be a time of agony for the parents. “The producers and program coordinators were full of praise, calling Min-woo the type of star that comes along only ‘once in a hundred years.’ But my husband and I were very anxious,” Vu says. “Minwoo was suffering from a bad cold, and during the script reading and stage rehearsals, he must have K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

Vu Thi Ly and her son Hwang Min-woo pose for a photograph. The mother is proud of her nine-year-old son, who is already making great strides in his entertainment career, but at times she thinks that he deserves a carefree childhood as well.


been in real pain, because he looked like he was about to cry. When I suggested that we back out because he was so sick, Min-woo held his father’s hand and pleaded to stay on for the show. It was hard to watch him on stage, dancing and cheerfully talking to the presenters while doing his best to hide his sniffling so that nobody noticed. Despite discomfort, he performed Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’ SHINee’s ‘RingDingDong,’ and Super Junior’s ‘Bonamana,’ even better than he did at home. After seeing how he dealt with everything that day, my husband and I made up our minds to support him if that was what he wanted to do. It was obvious that he had talent.” Thanks to his TV appearance, Min-woo earned the nickname “Chairman Hwang from Gwangju” from the “Star!King” staff, who were impressed by the charisma that belied his young age. For both Min-woo and his mother, daily life was turned upside down. On the streets, people started to approach them, asking for autographs and to pose together for photos. Event organizers also contacted them to have Min-woo appear on various occasions, including performances at numerous welfare facilities for children and the elderly, university festivals, and the popular Hampyeong Butterfly Festival. The following year, Min-woo was selected as the winner of the “Star!King” biannual competition, among top weekly contestants, held at the exhibition center of the Yeosu Expo 2012.

A cut from Psy’s hit music video “Gangnam Style,” which put Hwang Min-woo in the media spotlight and earned him the nickname “Little Psy.”

© YG entertainment


Life as ‘Little Psy’s Mom’ Min-woo’s success on “Star!King” led to another important opportunity — to appear on Psy’s “Gangnam Style” music video. Min-woo, who sat next to his mother during the interview, reminisced about the video, speaking with a typical Jeolla regional accent. “Making the music video with Uncle Psy was just amazing. I danced the same bit about six times but I didn’t feel tired at all. After the shoot, Uncle Psy gave me the thumbs-up, saying, ‘You’re awesome!’ I was in heaven. I rooted for his success. At first, all I hoped for was to top the music ranking programs in Korea…I was so happy for Uncle Psy [for his global success], as if it were happening to me.” After the release of the “Gangnam Style” video, Min-woo’s nickname changed from “Chairman Hwang from Gwangju” to “Little Psy.” At school, even during class hours, children swarmed to his classroom to get a look at him and take a picture. Min-woo’s teacher had to cover the windows with paper to maintain an orderly classroom atmosphere. During breaks, Min-woo was busy signing autographs and posing for pictures with other students. Sadly, the sudden rise to stardom was also accompanied by misunderstanding and prejudice about his mother’s background. While Korean society is moving toward an increasingly multicultural future, especially with the rise in international marriages, many still cling to the notion of Korea being a homo­ genous nation. Little Psy’s different family background made him a target for all manner of gossip. “At first, since he has talent, we just wanted to do everything we could to support Min-woo. But after some time, kids started to tease him for having a mother from Vietnam. I felt so bad for him, and began to regret allowing him to appear on TV. If he had continued to live as an ordinary child, this part of his family life would not have been revealed to the public,” says Vu. “The most rewarding thing about my life in Korea is that my son is growing up as a healthy, good-natured child. I married a Korean man and I am proud of myself as a Korean, but I am equally proud of my Vietnamese roots. However, many Koreans are still unfamiliar with the idea of multicultural families, and Min-woo’s popularity has Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

“From Ho Chi Minh City, my hometown Dong Nai is less than an hour away by car…When I left Vietnam, putting all my hope and trust in my Korean husband, how could my mother or I have ever imagined I would have such a famous son that even the villagers in Dong Nai would know about him?” made some people look at our family with a certain prejudice. But I hope that there aren’t many of them, and that they will regard Min-woo as the same as any other Korean child.”

Little Psy, Also Famous in Vietnam The scope of Min-woo’s popularity has now spread to Vietnam as well. In addition to singing and dancing, he has made his film debut in a Korea-Vietnam collaboration titled “Bride from Saigon.” He also participated in recent promotional events for the marketing of Korean red ginseng products in Vietnam. “On our previous visit we were so busy we didn’t get the chance to visit my hometown, and my mother keeps telling me how much she misses her grandson. We went as far as Ho Chi Minh and Saigon. From Ho Chi Minh City, my hometown Dong Nai is less than an hour away by car. My mother would have been very sad if she had known that we were so close by. On our next visit, I’ll make sure that we go to see her. When I left Vietnam, putting all my hope and trust in my Korean husband, how could my mother or I have ever imagined I would have such a famous son that even the villagers in Dong Nai would know about him?” Vu firmly believes that Min-woo will go further than “Little Psy,” for she knows how much effort he is making. “Min-woo practices dancing and singing for three to four hours a day without fail. Every time, he sweats so much that his T-shirt gets soaked. To support Min-woo’s dream, we moved from Gwangju to Incheon. Even in our apartment, Min-woo practices so much that the neighbors have complained about the noise on three occasions. So now, Min-woo only practices in the dance studio,” she says. Min-woo is only nine years old, but he is conscious of maintaining his public image, which makes his mother rather concerned. “When we go to the supermarket or any other public place, he is always asked for pictures and autographs. It is nice that people recognize him and appreciate his dancing and singing. But sometimes Min-woo wants me to dress up a bit before we go out together. We can’t go out as easily as before. At Min-woo’s age, it’s natural for kids to fight sometimes, but he manages to avoid it. He says he doesn’t want scars on his face,” Vu says. At this point, Min-woo cut in, saying, “I never liked pizzas or ice cream. But I try not to eat them at all these days, because I don’t want to get fat. In Gwangju, I ate a lot of skate and octopus, now my favorite is grilled meat. But more than anything else, I love mom’s food the best.” Min-woo’s father joined in and complimented his wife’s cooking. “She is such a great cook. She’s mastered traditional Korean food as well as Vietnamese food. Her loach soup, dried radish greens soup, and blue crab soup are just superb. Min-woo is so used to his mom’s excellent cooking that he doesn’t really enjoy eating out or instant food,” he says. At a young age, Min-woo has drawn so much attention that he even was invited to perform with Psy at the inauguration ceremony for the incumbent president Park Geun-hye. But his dreams are of a grand scale, and in that respect, he seemed no different from other children. “I want to be the most famous singer in Korea…the most famous singer on the entire planet,” he says. “Like Uncle Psy, I want to be a superstar on the Billboard charts and YouTube. I want to buy a really nice house for my mom and a car for my dad, because I’m most grateful to my mom and dad.” To this, Vu says, “Having his dream come true means becoming famous. Since that’s what he wants, I also want him to be famous. But the idea of living with fame is a little bit scary at the same time.” No doubt she intends to devote herself to making her son’s dream come true, as if it were her own dream, just like any other Korean mother. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013


along their own path

â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Jokbo are Family Records Infused with National Historyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;


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Hoesangsa is a pioneer in the publication of jokbo, or family genealogical records. This publishing house, that marks its 60th anniversary next year, has produced more than 80 percent of modern genealogical records in Korea. While it also produces family pedigrees in digital format in accordance with the times, the company maintains the firm belief of its founder that “paper jokbo can endure a thousand years.”

Kim Hak-soon Journalist | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


eeking out one’s roots seems to be all the rage nowadays. It is human instinct, for every family has its own tradition and history. “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” a semi-documentary novel written by Alex Haley, an African-American writer, was such a sensation when it was published in 1976 that it was quickly translated into as many as 37 foreign languages. It is the tragic story of Kunta Kinte, who was captured in Gambia in 1767 and sold into slavery in America. It traces the lives of his descendants down to the author, who is Kunta Kinte’s seventh-generation descendant. The book gave rise to a root-seeking phenomenon worldwide. Also, the election of Irish Americans, such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, as U.S. presidents threw all of Ireland into a flutter.

A Jokbo for Every Family Nonetheless, there are few countries in the world like Korea where almost all families have their own genealogical record books. While this tradition of keeping written family pedigrees was influenced by ancient China, Korea’s jokbo are not just simple family trees but also documents of historical significance. The detailed accounts of each family’s lineage and its members serve to fill the gaps in mainstream history. Unlike the genealogical records of other countries that focus on specific persons such as kings and aristocrats, Korean genealogical records feature ordinary people and are diverse in content and form, which has helped to pass on the culture of the nation. Furthermore, experts attribute the development of jokbo in Korea to its advanced printing technology. A vast collection of 13,000 genealogical record books, of about 600 kinds, are housed in the archives of the National Library of Korea, and a large number are even stored on microfiche at Harvard University in the United States. Jokbo is referred to as “family tree” in English, “zongpu” in Chinese, and “kahu” in Japanese. “Wangdae Jongnok” (Royal Genealogical Records) compiled by Kim Gwan-ui, a scholar during the reign of King Uijong (r. 1146-1170) of the Goryeo Dynasty, is recognized as Korea’s first known genealogical document. Aside from royalty, the first private family record was “Yeongnakbo” of the Ryu clan, hailing from Munhwa, which was printed in 1423 during the reign of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty, but is only known through records. The oldest extant jokbo is “Gajeongbo” of the Munhwa Ryu clan, dating to 1562 during the reign of King Myeongjong of Joseon. China’s earliest genealogical record is said to be “Supu,” compiled by Su Dongpo (1037-1101), a leading scholar of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Park Byung-ho, the second president of Hoesangsa, a jokbo publishing house, looks over the genealogy books that his firm has printed at the jokbo museum on the sixth floor of his office. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

Founding of Pioneering Publisher Park Hong-koo, founder of Hoesangsa who died last year at the age of 89, has an irreplaceable position in the publication of Korea’s modern genealogical records. Founded in 1954, Hoesangsa is truly Korea’s No. 1 jokbo publisher, having produced more than 80 percent of all modern Korean jokbo, which amounts to some six million volumes. On the sixth floor of the Hoesangsa headquarters, in Daejeon Metropolitan City, is Hoesang Munbowon, Korea’s first jokbo museum, which was dedicated in 1988. It houses about 25,000 genealogical records of some 900 clans that the company has printed, which include about 500 clan genealogical records, about 900 records of main family lineages, and 15,000 records of branch lineages. This makes Hoesangsa museum’s collection of genealogical records more extensive than that of the National Library. Overall, the museum houses a total of 50,000 books; they also include antique books, anthologies of scholarly and literary writings, bulletins of regional Confucian shrines, and Buddhist books from ancient family heirlooms. The books are arranged on the company’s shelves in Kore-


an alphabetical order, from the genealogical records of the Kang clan, from Geumcheon, to those of the Hwangbo clan, from Yeongcheon. They cover nearly all of the 280 or so Korean family names, 800 hometowns of clan founders, and 34,000 branch lineages. “My father named the company Hoesangsa [hoesang means “remembrance” or “recollection”] with a view to ‘remembering the old and creating the new.’ I believe he wanted to create a brighter future by taking note of the wisdom of our ancestors as a way to properly understand the present,” said Park Byung-ho, 67, the founder’s eldest son and the current president of Hoesangsa. Park used to be a pharmacist and councilman of Daejeon, and chief of Daejeon’s East District Office. But unable to ignore his father’s wishes that he carry on the family business, in 2007 he became the company’s second president. His younger brother, Park Byung-suk, is a fourth-term National Assemblyman who currently serves as vice speaker.

Heartrending Episodes Demand for jokbo surged in the 1970s when, with their living standards improving, people began to investigate their family roots. And from the mid-1980s, ever more families sought to update their genealogical records. This naturally contributed to Hoesangsa’s remarkable growth. But underlying the company’s success are the painstaking efforts of its founder. “Early one cold winter morning, my father went to the house of a senior member of a clan to receive an order,” Park Byung-ho recalls. “He waited under the eaves of the house while the owner slept. Unaware that my father was standing there, one of the daughters-in-law of the family threw out the water used to wash rice. My father stood in the cold, drenched in this water. Then, the owner of the house finally noticed him. He was apologetic and immediately placed an order for the clan’s jokbo. My father never failed to rise before 5 o’clock in the morning. He slept on an old army cot in his office and would never let go of his work, even when lying in bed.” In another story, Park senior once met a nouveau riche who wanted to fabricate his family history. “A gentleman in his early 50s arrived in an expensive foreign car and asked my father to insert his name in the genealogical record of a prestigious family. He had worked hard to become the owner of several companies, but did not know anything about his own family roots. His daughter had met a young man whose father wanted to see her family’s genealogical record. So, he wanted to cook up his family record. Of course, my father turned him away without hesitation,” Park says. As befits the former deputy director of Sung Kyun Kwan Confucian Institute, the country’s foremost Confucian research center, the late Hoesangsa founder, Park Hong-koo, left many works of calligraphy behind in the offices of his publishing house and print shop. Of them the most notable piece reads: “If you have a good brain, impart your wisdom. If you have no wisdom, give your labor. If you have neither wisdom nor labor to give, then quietly leave!” Another goes, “Let etiquette be engraved on your forehead, humor sparkle in your eyes, kindness exude from your mouth, truth spring from your heart, and labor come from your hands!”

1 1 An electronic jokbo produced by Hoesangsa. The firm opened the era of “digital jokbo” in 2004 in keeping with the times. 2 Genealogy books printed by Hoesangsa. Despite state-of-the-art media, Park still highly values the jokbo printed on paper.

Paper Jokbo and Digital Jokbo Since the company’s 50th anniversary in 2004, Hoesangsa has been producing digital genealogical records in addition to regular paper versions. With Chinese characters added to the Hangeul (Korean) names on the digital jokbo, users can access a variety of supplemental data, including the subject’s portrait,


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“If you have a good brain, impart your wisdom. If you have no wisdom, give your labor. If you have neither wisdom nor labor to give, then quietly leave!” achievements, paintings or works of calligraphy, scenes of family burial grounds, and videos. However, Park says he has little confidence in electronic storage media, such as disks, CD-ROM, and the Internet. “Paper jokbo can be preserved for hundreds of years, or even a thousand years. Nobody can guarantee how long such records will last on high-tech gadgets. So it is my job to print and preserve Hoesangsa’s own data with Hoesangsa’s own technology,” he says. Indeed, the vast volume of data and assurance of its accuracy are Hoesangsa’s greatest assets. The firm has developed printing fonts for some 700 rare Chinese characters, mainly used for personal names, something that no other printing shop has. For genealogical records, it uses only the “Chunjeon-style” printing font developed by Park senior, whose pen name was Chunjeon, meaning “spring field.” The company also developed its own binding techniques to enable genealogical records to be kept in book form for an extended period. “These days, thanks to the Internet and digital devices, very few people come to our print shop to proofread their jokbo. But my father said that up till the early 2000s, old men in traditional Korean attire and hats from distant places used to stay here for more than a week to do the proofreading,” says Park Byung-ho. In the past, many people held rites with an offering of a steamed pig’s head to pray for the successful publication of their genealogical records. As relics of bygone days, the remains of an old inn and restaurant for those staying to proofread their jokbo can still be seen at the print shop. With women now being granted the right to family headship and clans dwindling in importance amid increasing international marriages, it seems natural for the appreciation of genealogical records to fade as well. Besides, the emergence of digital jokbo has sharply reduced demand for paper versions. Although Hoesangsa’s revenues have been affected, Park remains firm in his determination to continue to print paper jokbo, keeping in mind his father’s respect for jokbo as family sagas and a part of national history.

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


Confucian Values and War: Soul-stirring Autobiographical Novel by a Korean-American Female Author

“The Voices of Heaven” By Maija Rhee Devine, 305 pages, $16.00/12,000 won, Irvine: Seoul Selection USA, Inc. (2013)

Maija Rhee Devine’s debut novel began as a memoir of her experiences in Korea before and during the Korean War. At the suggestion of her agent, however, she rewrote the memoir as a novel, telling her story through the protagonist Mi-na, a young girl whose parents are deeply in love but fail to produce a son. Mi-na suffers under the disapproving glares of neighbors who tell her that she should have been born a boy, and that she is ultimately responsible when her father is forced to take on a mistress in order to produce the all-important male heir. The first and longest part of the novel begins in 1949, before the war, and documents the life of the family as they adjust to the presence of the mistress, known to Mi-na as “Little Mommy.” Then comes the war, tearing apart not only the country but the family as well. Although they are reunited after the war, they are never fully whole again, and Mi-na devotes herself to getting an education so she can leave for a new life in America and bring her parents back together again. The epilogue, set some 50 years after the third part of the novel, shows how Mi-na learns of and then comes to terms with a family secret that shakes her understanding of her own identity. In addition to the expected journey through time, the novel also skips through space. While the memoir may have been written from the point of view of the author, the novel jumps back and forth, telling the story from the perspectives of Mi-na, as well as her father, her mother, and Little Mommy in turn. Although the protagonist is Mi-na, the first character we are introduced to is, in fact, Soo-yang, the young woman who will soon become Little Mommy. This shifting perspective gives the work greater depth and helps make each of the characters more sympathetic in their own way; the true antagonists are the circumstances in which the characters find themselves and the society into which they were born. The story itself is quite striking, recounting the lives of people struggling to deal with the ramifications of broad historical events and a society bound by the chains of Confucian values. In particular, the novel highlights the struggles of its female characters: Mi-na, the girl who should have been born a boy; Eum-chun, the loving wife who must welcome another woman to her husband’s bed simply because she could not bear him a son; and Soo-yang, the young woman jilted by a young groom and so fit to be no more than a mistress. Such explicit criticism of Confucian values is not uncommon in modern times, but rarely has it been achieved with such emotional impact. Yet perhaps the most immediately noteworthy aspect about this book is the language itself. The reader is treated to rather odd and very foreignsounding phrases; in the first few pages alone we have “giggling like an idiot who couldn’t tell red beans from black beans,” “mandarin duck sweethearts,” and “the luck of having a gold-filled pumpkin drop onto you.” The text is also peppered with the occasional onomatopoeic phrase that sounds like nothing one would ever hear in English. The author even has the characters sometimes drop the subjects from their sentences, as is common when speaking Korean. In essence, the text feels very much like Korean written in English. Longtime residents of Korea and speakers of Korean may find this somewhat distracting at first (constantly stopping, as this reader did, to make the connection between the English and its original Korean inspiration), but there is no denying that the author has a unique voice. Readers less familiar with Korea and the language will likely appreciate this rare glimpse into the Korea of not so long ago, which still informs the society of today. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Zen Master’s Poems Offer Encounter with Truth at a Glance

“Magnolia & Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim” Written by Hyesim (Choe Sik), Translated by Ian Haight and Ho Tae-yong, 97 pages, $16.00, New York: White Pine Press (2012)

The Seon (Zen, or meditative) tradition of Korean Buddhism stands in contrast with the textual tradition: the latter pursues gradual enlightenment through the study of sutras, while the former, as explained by the translators, espouses a more sudden enlightenment that is possible through meditation or contemplation. Thus, Seon Buddhism understands the inherent contradiction of language: that it is necessary for communication but also places limitations on our ability to communicate. In this light, poetry, which seeks to say more than the sum of its individual words, is perhaps the ideal mode of expression for this school of Buddhist thought. Hyesim was a Buddhist monk who lived in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in southwestern Korea and became the first Seon master to devote himself to poetry. This volume of poems, selected from a larger collection of the monk’s works, opens with an overview of his life, from his childhood as a student of Confucianism and Buddhism to his eventual appointment as Chief Abbot of Songgwang Temple and posthumous elevation to the rank of “national preceptor,” the highest honor bestowed on a monk. (He is more widely known as National Preceptor Jingak [“True Awakening”] among Koreans.) The topics and themes of the poems are also discussed, and a separate section addresses the arrangement, translation, and reading of the poems. The 58 poems themselves are arranged chronologically in three sections: Hyesim’s early years as a monk, his years as abbot of Songgwang Temple, and the final years of his life. Although there are a few longer works, most of the poems are quite short and may be read at a single glance. Poems that teach the principles of Seon Buddhism, such as “Instead of Heaven or Earth, I Answer,” can seem obscure at first, condensing deep meaning into just a few lines, but they force the reader to stop and contemplate the truth hidden in the words; the act of reading the poem itself reveals insights into the principle and practices of Seon Buddhism. Other poems contemplate nature not simply for its beauty but for the truth it may reveal; “Plantain,” to cite one example, is a meditation on how our perceptions of things may fall short of the things themselves. “Water Clock” is one of the poems that brood on an object, using the time-keeping device as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of human existence. Lastly, there are meditations upon the nature of reality itself, such as the collection of four quatrains entitled “Emotions of the SeaK o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

sons.” This brief, image-rich view of each of the four seasons steps outside of traditional expectations, encouraging the reader to join the poet in his contemplation of life. “Magnolia & Lotus” is a volume that welcomes repeated reading; each encounter with a poem offers the opportunity to delve deeper into its meaning. This is a rare opportunity for readers, whether practition­ ers of Seon Buddhism or not, to reflect on the wisdom of a Korean Seon master from centuries ago, making it a welcome addition to Seon Budd­ hist literature in English.

Online Korean Studies Courses for U.S. High School Students

“Sejong Korean Scholars Program” Stanford University:

The Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) is part of Stanford University’s efforts to promote crosscultural education at primary and secondary schools around the United States. Among its activities and programs is the Sejong Korean Scholars Program, an online Korean Studies program for high school students. From a pool of 60 applicants, 27 outstanding students from around the nation were selected this year to participate in the online classes, covering a variety of fields under the broad heading of Korean Studies. Launched in March this year, the one-semester program is the first to offer Korean Studies to high school students. Courses are taught in English by recognized experts and cover such subjects as Korean history, culture, religion, arts, politics, and economics; specific course titles include “Introduction to Korean Buddhism,” “Economic Development in Korea,” and “Hallyu Movement,” the last sure to be popular with students interested in Korean popular culture. Students can choose from a total of 12 online courses, and they also participate in online discussion sessions and complete weekly readings and assignments. The program is free, offering American high school students a rare opportunity to learn about Korea and get a head start on their future education and career pursuit in Korean Studies. Shin Gi-wook, director of Stanford University’s Korean Studies Program and a Sejong Korean Scholars Program lecturer, hopes that the program will help to correct misconceptions about Korea in America and give high school students the opportunity to “acquire a broader perspective and expand their range of knowledge and understanding about Korea.”



With his new album “Hello,” Cho Yong-pil has conquered today’s pop music world, erasing the generational divide between the older and younger music fans. His latest album has become a sensation by embracing the genres of young people, such as electronica, modern rock, and rap, while, at the same time, preserving the essence of his own brand of music.

Lim Jin-mo Music Critic

Cho Yong-pil is


74 © YPC Production

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he singer Cho Yong-pil’s first album in a decade has caused such an explosive response that it has simply overtaken even the idol bands at the forefront of today’s K-pop music scene. In the cafés and trendy outlets frequented by young people in their 20s, you can constantly hear his new songs and notice people humming along to the most popular tunes, like “Bounce” and “Hello.” Topping the digital music source charts, this 63-year-old singer’s songs also made it to the top rankings of regular TV programs, such as “Music Bank” and “Music Core,” whose primary audiences are the younger generation. As of late June, a little over two months after the album’s release, more than 230,000 copies have been sold, the highest sales mark for music recordings released this year.

Boldness of the ‘Old Timer’ “Mr. Cho Yong-pil, how wonderful it is when heard from digital music source! Bounce. Bounce. My heart is beating. I’m afraid it will be heard.” This witty Twitter tribute, by Taeyang of the idol music band Big Bang, is now as wellknown as the hit song. It’s a wordplay on the lyrics of “Bounce,” the first track of Cho’s 19th album, which was available for pre-listening before the official release on a website for digital music sources. The buzz started from teenagers and 20-something fans: “Can this voice really be from a 63-year-old man?” They say it’s incredibly amazing that this kind of music, which features techno sound, rock rhythms, and even rap, was actually by a singer from their parents’ generation. They got all fired up streaming and downloading the new songs of Cho Yongpil, a “singer of old times.” The older generation is extremely excited, too, of course. Besides being pleased to listen to his long-awaited new songs, they seem genuinely touched by his crossover success. Coming out at a time when the global star Psy’s new song “Gentleman” was sweeping the nation, which would have persuaded other singers to avoid a release at the same time, Cho’s boldness to go head to head against the hottest musical star of the moment was inspiring. A 40-year-old man who works for a bank, visibly thrilled, said, “I feel like his success is mine, too.” To an older generation that might have felt left out of today’s pop culture, Cho’s sensational popularity was a welcome shot in the arm. His release of an LP version, following the CD, was also intended, quite successfully, to appeal to the sensibility of the older generation. Thanks to the Cho Yong-pil sensation, there is even news of growing demand for turntables to play LP recordings. In configuring the content for his album, Cho intentionally highlighted rock elements. This is the most noticeable difference from his 18th album, titled “Over the Rainbow,” which was released in 2003. Along with the efforts to keep pace with the times, he also sought to boost his older audience’s spirits by injecting youthful sensibilities. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

‘King of Korean Pop’ Cho Yong-pil has long been crowned the “King of Korean Pop.” The reason why people recognize him as the best-ever Korean pop singer is because he has accumulated the longest list of big hits that continue to endure, such as “Return to Busan Port” and “Woman Outside the Window.” He has more than 50 songs that people of the older generation can easily recognize by just listening to a few opening notes. The musical “Mamma Mia” features 17 songs of the legendary Swedish pop group ABBA; at this rate, at least three musicals could be produced with Cho Yong-pil’s numerous classic songs. From early on, Cho Yong-pil’s distinctive music was known for integrating all musical genres. From the mid-1970s, which can be called his glory days, until the early 1990s, all the music genres that existed in Korea converged in his repertoire. There was no genre he didn’t give a try; known mainly for easily moving from rock to soul and blues, he was equally a force to reckon with for his mastery of country, folk, trot, and other vocal music styles. Cho Yong-pil’s songs appeal not just to your ears but also strike a chord in your heart. His singing, with a nasal tone for added depth, has a powerful impact because of the richness and deep resonance of his trademark voice. His song “Bounce” has captivated the teenagers of today because of his vivid and distinctive vocal style, which had teenagers in the 1980s screaming “Oppa!” whenever he took the stage and swept them away with his powerful singing. Soaring on Two Wings Cho’s self-innovation that took the local musical scene by storm recently is actually nothing new to him. He is a singer who has constantly challenged himself by taking on something new instead of settling into a successful formula. The poster promoting his newest album says it all: “The outcome of innovation and passion developed over 10 years.” He always stresses the importance of being on stage. He says that stage performances are fundamental for singers. This sounds so natural and truthful. However, those currently hot and popular young singers and entertainment management companies, who believe that a shortcut to success is to appear on entertainment TV channels as a multi-talented entertainer, may find it hard to appreciate the value of Cho’s principles. He once said, “With a busy schedule, there is not enough time to focus on music. But by standing on a concert stage, you can grow into a real singer.” Even though he didn’t have any songs making the music charts since his last hit song “Dream” in 1991, he has maintained his influential status through his regular concert performances. People know that the only sure way to see him is to attend his concerts. Amid the current pop music scene dominated by idol bands, Cho Yong-pil has taken flight again, soaring on the wings of his live performances and determination to constantly renew his craft with an open mind. Since we are living in an era in desperate need of such basic virtues, it’s all the more thrilling to see him riding the tailwinds of support from generations of grateful fans.


Gourmetâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Delight


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Delectable Aroma of Songi Mushroom The pine mushroom, or songi beoseot , is highly prized for its crisp aroma, texture, and rarity. In Korea, its seasonal appearance in autumn from the pristine depths of a handful of isolated red pine forests is all too brief. That’s why these mushrooms are regarded as the ultimate seasonal taste of autumn among epicures. Ye Jong-suk Food Columnist; Professor of Marketing, Hanyang University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


mong the rich bounty of autumn harvest, songi mushrooms — pine mushrooms that grow only in the wild — are the seasonal food treasured most by Koreans. With the approach of Chuseok, Korea’s biggest holiday along with the Lunar New Year, you often come across reports about the pine mushroom’s market price, a reflection of people’s high regard for these gifts of the forest, making them one of the most popular and pricey gifts for the nation’s season of thanksgiving.

The Mushroom and the Pine Tree The songi mushrooms are favored for their forest-fresh fragrance that lingers long in the mouth. A bite of this mushroom gathered from the forest in the early morning, with the dirt just brushed off and the flesh torn off along the grain, will leave the subtle aroma of pine in your mouth all day long. The soft chewy texture is another prized quality. This mushroom is a flavorful treat eaten alone but it is also one of those gifts of nature that wonderfully harmonizes with many dishes. A few slices of this mushroom added to a soup or stew provides a fuller flavor, instantly improving the dish’s appeal. Slices of songi mushrooms can be lightly grilled and eaten along with barbecued meat, creating an even more savory combination. Rice cooked with songi is tastier as well. Koreans’ love for songi mushrooms rivals the French people’s love for truffles. Truffles may be rare, but songi is just as rare. It needs a particular environment to grow properly, can only be gathered during a brief period once a year, and cannot be farmed — three factors making the mushroom from the wild much more valuable. Songi is a member of the larger Tricholomataceae mushroom family. It sprouts from the forest floor after attaching itself onto a 20- to 60-year-old living pine tree’s fine root system, the mushroom and tree exchanging nutrients in a symbiotic relationship. The necessary environmental conditions are quite particular: The temperature should not rise above 26 degrees Celsius during the day, nor fall below 15 degrees Celsius during the night, and before the mushroom can sprout more than 100 mm rain must fall within a 20-day period. Thus only for about three weeks between September and October are fresh songi mushrooms available in the market. Sometimes in August, if the temperature and precipitation happen to meet the conditions, you might have “summer songi,” though not as good in aroma and taste as those from the right season.

Wild songi mushrooms, whole and sliced, with ginkgo seeds, fried and neatly arranged on pine needles. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

Special Treat for Kings There remain a number of old records and references which describe how highly Koreans regarded the songi mushroom since ancient times. The Dongeui Bogam (Exemplar of Korean Medicine), published in 1613 during the Joseon Dynasty, states: “With its fine aroma and sweet taste, songi is the greatest of all mushrooms. It grows under old pine trees deep in the forest, receiving the vital strength of the pine tree and is without poison.” Even earlier, in the 13th century, songi appears as songji in the poetry book Pahanjip (Collection to Dispel Leisure) by Yi In-ro, a scholar-official of the Goryeo Dynasty. A poem by Yi Saek, also an elite member of the literati of the 14th century Goryeo period, praises songi for its “plain yet subtle flavor.”



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During the Joseon period, songi mushrooms were gathered in various areas and offered to the king as a local specialty. The Annals of King Yeongjo (Yeongjo Sillok, 1724-1776) notes that when songi was served to the king, he would ask if it also had been offered on the ritual tables for past kings. If the answer was no, he reproached courtiers and would refuse to have any for himself. The Annals of King Gojong (Gojong Sillok, 1864-1907) offers an interesting account: The inspector of Gangwon Province reported to the king that he had dismissed an official because of his failure to provide any songi mushrooms. The king ordered the inspector to forgive the official because the autumn is a busy harvest season.

Songi Festivals In Korea, wild pine mushrooms grow in the red pine forests on the rugged slopes of the Taebaek Mountains along the east coast and parts of the Sobaek Mountains further inland. The main areas include Yeong­ deok, Bonghwa, and Uljin in North Gyeongsang Province, and Yangyang in Gangwon Province. These areas have dense forests of healthy pine trees. More than 80 percent of all wild pine mushrooms harvested nationwide come from North Gyeongsang Province. The songi mushrooms found in the inland mountains are firm and heavy, with a strong aroma, while those gathered near the coast are large and tender. The pristine forests of Bonghwa along the skirt of the Taebaek Mountains are renowned for high-quality songi mushrooms characterized by firmness and lower moisture content, as well as a wonderful aroma, owing to the decomposed granite soil (masato) that they share with their host trees, particularly the red pines (pinus densiflora), also known as chunyangmok, that is beautiful in shape and popular as timber. As for overall quality, the best songi mushroom has a head a little thicker than its stem and disKoreans’ love for pine mushrooms rivals the French people’s tinctive in color. The special quality of songi mushrooms is their subtle pine-resin aroma; if they love for truffles. The special quality of these mushrooms is are not stored carefully, this aromatic scent fades away after two or three days. The best way to enjoy their subtle pine-resin aroma; if they are not stored carefully, their freshness is thus to go to where they grow. this aromatic scent fades away after two or three days. Those who want to eat it at home in the city need to ensure that delivery service is quick. These mushrooms are also exported overseas, for which special packaging methods are constantly being developed to help maintain freshness and aroma. The ideal way to enjoy the songi mushroom is to tear its flesh along the grain and eat it raw. Any cooking should be brief and without many ingredients so as to preserve the delicate aroma. The mid-18th century agricultural guide book, Jeungbo Sallim Gyeongje (Expanded Edition of Farm Management), enthuses: “When added to pheasant soup or brushed with seasoned oil and lightly grilled on a skewer, the songi mushroom is in the class of a divine food.” The 19th century cookbook Sieui Jeonseo, a “compendium of proper cookery,” offers various recipes for songi mushrooms, such as soup, grilled skewers (sanjeok), and braised or steamed dishes (jjim). There are in fact so many dishes made with the versatile mushroom, such as bulgogi, jeongol (hot pot), dolsot (stone hotpot) rice dish, abalone porridge, kalguksu (hand-cut noodles in soup), and jangjorim (beef chunks braised in soy sauce), among others. For those who savor the pine mushroom during its peak season, there are several restaurants worth checking out, including Yongdu Restaurant in Bongseong-myeon and Solbongi in Bonghwa-eup, Bonghwa County. In Uljin, Namyang Charcoal Galbi is popular. In Yangyang, Gangwon Province, Songigol and Songi Mushroom Village, along National Highway 7, specialize in songi dishes. In areas where the pine mushroom is harvested, having songi soup at breakfast during the harvest season is a delightful experience for the fortunate few. A restaurant owner who gathers songi mushrooms himSongi mushrooms sprout self can select those not quite good enough to sell and use them to make a thin soy paste soup. If served once in the fall after grafting unexpectedly, this soup can prove an even more flavorful treat than the expensive songi dishes long awaited themselves onto a 20- to 60year-old living pine tree’s with great anticipation. In Bonghwa, Uljin, and Yangyang, songi festivals take place every fall, rivaling each fine root system, exchanging other in popularity and offering all visitors, whether neophyte or connoisseur, a taste of what ancient Korenutrition with the tree in a symbiotic relationship. ans called the food of the gods. K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013



Jeju Embraces Tired Urban Souls For people who seek to free themselves from the tiresome urban routine, Jeju Island can be a land of dreams. Young people in their 20s and 30s who shun competition and middle-aged parents who want to raise their children in a sounder educational environment, as well as early retirees in their 50s and 60s, are imagining, or actually fulfilling their dreams, of “immigrating” to Jeju.

Lee Jin-Joo Freelance Writer | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


the growing number of Jeju transplants who have built cafés and guesthouses along the Olle Trail or nearby beach areas.

Act II in Life Kim sold his apartment in Seoul for 600 million won (approximately US$500,000), with which he bought a parcel of land in Wimiri, Namwon-eup, Seogwipo, and built himself a new home for a new chapter in his life. It sits on flatland near Route 5 along the Jeju Olle Trail. The windows on the second floor of his café offer a magnificent view of the sea, against a backdrop of the spectacular Mt. Halla. Friends and relatives were worried about this bookish teacher, who only knew about reading books and teaching poetry, when they heard of his plans to open a guesthouse with a café. Despite these worries, he manages to operate his business with the help of many people. But the island life is not always a bed of roses. Jeju is plagued by frequent precipitation, which means that he has to wrestle with humidity, bugs, and mildew year-round. Despite being the owner of the place, he often does all the work himself, including feeding his dog, washing dishes, and cleaning the restrooms. With a smile of acceptance, Kim said, “I’m getting used to doing all the hard work and living like a servant.” In August last year, his wife quit her teaching job in Seoul and joined him in Jeju. Jeju is a land of dreams for those urban dwellers nearing retirement, a generation who entered the workforce in the 1980s, at a time when the song, “Blue Night in Jeju Island,” was a big hit: “When we hate the things we are tied to: the newspaper, the TV, the paycheck…” The lyrics depict Jeju as a kind of Utopia where people desire to live, if at all possible. These days, an increasing number of early retirees want to stage Act II of their life in a new setting, while they are still relatively young and healthy. This scenario applies to

A 30-Something Artist’s Immigration Ko Pil-heon (pen name: Mega Shocking), the owner of a guesthouse named Jjolgit Center near Hyeopjae Beach, used to be a successful artist/creator of humorous low-brow cartoons. Then suddenly, about three years ago, he quit drawing comic strips and resettled in Jeju. After experiencing a personal crisis following his divorce, he decided to pursue a whole new direction in his life. Pooling his resources with that of his younger brother and seven younger colleagues, he bought a ramshackle two-story house in Hallimeup, Jeju City, and turned it into a guesthouse. Young people, including fringe artists like indie rock musicians, who are frustrated with Korea’s chaebol -centered capitalism, swarm to his guesthouse. This venture is boosted by a constant supply of 20- and 30-somethings who love to apply, via Twitter, for volunteer work at Ko’s guesthouse, where they labor happily without pay. For them, it is not work, but fun. “It’s wrong to hope that you’ll be happy someday,” Ko says. “You should do right now anything that will make your heart jjolgit (literally “chewy,” meaning palpitate with joy).” Painter Lee Myung-bok and his wife Kim Eun-joong have a similar story. Lee had been leading a double life as an author who railed against the evils of capitalism and a staff employee at a broadcast company who received a handsome salary. When he felt a looming fear that he might lose everything all at once, Jeju beckoned, he said. His wife, who was working at another broadcast company, gladly agreed to relocate to Jeju. They opened Gallery Nori at the entrance to Jeojiri Artists’ Village, near the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art. When they plan exhibitions combined with concerts and live performances, rising artists, such as the pop artist Mari Kim, who is popular in upscale Cheongdam-dong in Seoul, and Vandal, the pioneer of Korean graffiti art, are eager to participate. They also allow local elementary school students to display their works in the gallery’s exhibition space, so their parents and grandparents can come to see them. The art movement they have launched in their new hometown engages top-tier artists as well as grassroots talent.

im Tae-hwan, the owner of Dalparan Guesthouse and café, used to be a high school Korean language teacher. After both of his children went to college, he and his wife, also a teacher, volunteered to work at a school in Jeju. At his last workplace, Daejeong Girls’ High School in Seogwipo City, he watched the students cramming and being frustrated by the same competitive environment as in Seoul. He felt disillusioned about the nation’s education system and his own teaching profession. He was 49 years old and his health was not as good as it used to be. So, he decided to retire early.


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

In the past, Jeju was a barren land for the arts, lacking such basic infrastructure as theaters and performance venues. But as immigrant artists arrived, Jeju has emerged as a new mecca for culture and art, much like the art enclaves near Hongik University in Seoul, or Heyri in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. Some newcomers have also played key roles in local activism, such as mobilizing opposition to the construction of a large naval base or carrying out community campaigns. Another notable trend is a steady increase in the number of 30- and 40-somethings, as well as baby boomer retirees, who are immigrating to Jeju. Unlike elderly retirees, these people are still in their prime and actively engage in everything with full vitality. They are known as “downshifters” in today’s sociological coinage; they seek happiness by downscaling their upscale life and adopting a “slow” lifestyle. They choose to earn less and spend less. The downshifters differ from the older generations who grew old toiling like worker ants in order to buy a house, educate their children, launch them into careers, and marry them off. They shift into a lower gear early on to enjoy life right now, rather than later. Sociologists and psychologists have a positive view of this change. Kim Ho-ki, a Yonsei University professor of sociology, describes the downshifters as a “young generation with a proactive retreat strategy.” He notes, “They chose to return to nature as a means to overcome the fears of youth unemployment during their 20s, stressful parenting during their 30s, and being fired during their 40s.” Other scholars regard this phenomenon as the K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

start of an exodus from cities, which has been seen in economically advanced countries.

Alternative Education Kim Yeon-deok, 37, an eye doctor, joined the stream of immigrants to Jeju in September 2012. He had served as a professor at a major hospital in the Seoul metropolitan area, but is now working at a private clinic here. He gave up his high-paying job and moved to Jeju for his eight-year-old son. His son had scored in the top 0.1 percentile in the Wechsler IQ test but had difficulty adapting to public education. Jeju International School, which offers a relatively open-ended curriculum, agreed to educate his son with a customized program allowing him to skip grades depending on his learning ability. His wife quit her job at a broadcast firm and joined him. His son, who was exposed to school bullying in Seoul, has become president of the student council just one semester after his arrival. He is enjoying his campus life, while playing on a junior soccer team. “As I watch my son change, I am convinced that the sacrifices my wife and I made were all worthwhile,” Kim says. Many newcomers in their 30s through 50s, like the Kims, who made the move because of their children’s education, have taken up residence at the international school town in Daejeong-eup, in Seogwipo, and in downtown Jeju, where modern conveniences are concentrated. Most of these families have escaped the cutthroat competition at urban schools. In the special self-governing province of Jeju, local Korean children can freely enter international schools,



People from urban areas are attracted by the healing effect of the seas and gentle rolling landscape, but they often struggle with the fickle weather, inadequate infrastructure, and exclusive folk culture of gwen-

dang, a Jeju word for relatives — which makes it difficult for anyone from the outside to be accepted by the locals into their social circles. unlike those in the Seoul metropolitan area, which only admit those with foreign citizenship or experience of living abroad. Parents regard Jeju as a new mecca of alternative education. Many families decide to leave the mainland cities for Jeju so that they can raise their children in a better environment, not necessarily because of the island’s more accessible international schools. Even in high-income districts in Seoul, each public school classroom is jam-packed with 30 or so students. The schoolyards, with polyurethane waterproof surfaces, are so compact that it is not possible for children to run a full 100 meters. In contrast, the classrooms in Jeju generally have no more than 10 students. And even the branch schools in backwater areas have grassy yards that can be used as soccer fields anytime.

Downsides of Island Life There are downsides to Jeju, of course, as anywhere else. Among themselves the Jeju immigrants like to say, “You’ll be mesmerized by the beautiful scenery during the first year. You’ll gradually get bored in the second year. And then you can’t stand your life here and leave in the third year.” Islands have climates and cultures distinctly different from those of the mainland. This is why people regard their move to Jeju as an act of immigration. If you decide to move here without sufficient preparation, failure is certain. I immigrated to Jeju last autumn so that my children could have a better educational opportunity. Although I have lived here for almost a whole year, I have not yet adapted to the changeable weather. A young housewife in my neighborhood, who has lived here about 10 years, complains that she has never adapted to the climate in Jeju. When the weather turns bad, winds howl just like shrieking ghosts. I dread the sky, which changes its face several times a day, and the bone-chilling humidity. I have neither people to meet, nor any places to visit. A good cultural performance is hard to come by. My children’s pediatrician advises me, “It’s hard to endure your life here for more than three years, unless you know how to play golf.” Although we moved here



partly because we were fed up with the numerous meaningless social encounters in the city, “people from the mainland” are forever strangers to the islanders and their exclusive folk culture of gwendang (a Jeju word for relatives), in which only “birds of a feather” can flock together. In downtown areas in cities on the island, where the majority of immigrants have settled, you can maintain a low-key presence to a certain extent. But in remote areas of the island, where you need to maintain close relations with your neighbors, immigrants will hit a brick wall the moment they attempt to join the local inner circles. You will find yourself stranded on another island within the island. Transplants who have adapted to life on Jeju will advise someone contemplating such a move to live here for six months to a year on a trial basis. Different areas on the island have different weather conditions and customs. You need to take into consideration your own marital relationship, your children’s education, your age and those of your family members, and your family’s preferences. There still are many real estate agents here who do not hesitate to cheat mainlanders. The salary of regular office workers, other than licensed professionals, is about one-third or one-half the amount in Seoul. In reality, it is difficult for transplants to succeed here, unless they own a profitable business, like a café with a picturesque view.

Rush to Jeju But it seems likely that newcomers will continue to flow into this island for the time being. According to Statistics Korea, some 25,000 mainlanders moved to Jeju in 2012. The net number of new residents, as compared to outgoing emigrants, started to increase noticeably in 2010, when it totaled 437. The number has risen sharply thereafter: 2,343 in 2011, 3,052 in 2012, and 3,401 as of the end of May this year. The population of Jeju passed the 600,000 mark for the first time this year. Aside from Seoul, only Jeju and Sejong, a planned city with a resident population consisting mostly of government officials and their families who have moved from Seoul, have seen such population inflows. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


1 Kim Tae-hwan, the owner of Dalparan Guesthouse. On an early morning, when he would have been on his way to a high school where he used to teach, he begins his day, drinking coffee he has made and looking out to the sea. 2 Lee Myoung-bok and his wife, Kim Eun-joong, opened Gallery Nori in Jeju after resigning from broadcasting companies.

With the steadily growing number of people moving in from mainland urban centers, there has been a corresponding rise in media attention and information to help newcomers with their transition. On bookstore shelves, alongside travel guides about Jeju, are books written by and about people who have resettled here. In earlier years, they might have been regarded only as failures or outcasts from the cities. But Jeju has come to have a different image, as many elite-class urban dwellers have arrived on the island, eschewing high salaries and career advancement. Broadcast reports have also helped change the image of Jeju immigrants by featuring various success stories.

Magic of the Olle Trail For many new residents on the island, it was the Olle Trail that impressed and motivated them to move here in the first place. Quite a few immigrants confess their fascination with the Olle Trail, whose magic works in a now familiar pattern: At first, they are here for a weekend visit. Next, they come again to walk along the Olle Trail for a week or two. Then, they come and stay at a guesthouse for a month. And finally, they decide to settle down on the island permanently. Regarding this latest trend, a magazine article said, “Travelers, who used to wander like the wind, decide to set themselves down firmly on the ground, just like dol hareubang, the K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013

aboriginal basalt stone statues found all over the island.” The Olle Trail is a 425-kilometer-long network of walking paths girdling the island with 26 interconnected routes. Suh Myung-sook, the president of the Jeju Olle Trail Foundation, who planned and opened the first trail in 2007, was born on Jeju. It took her 30 years, from leaving for college study in the city and working as a newspaper reporter, to return to her native island. She discovered the healing effect of walking while on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) in Spain. The Jeju Olle Trail, along with its local dialect motto of nolmeong, shimeong, georeumeong (play, relax, walk) has created a new travel paradigm, producing many “Olle fanatics.” With the rush of people moving here during the past two to three years, the prices of housing and commodities have surged. But it is still possible to build a comfortable two-story rustic house with a garden for the purchase price of a small apartment in most areas of Seoul. In Seoul, traffic congestion can complicate weekend travel. But on Jeju, you are always close to the sea or forests. This can be quite a shock for urban dwellers. In Jeju’s prevailing yearly home rental market, you can rent a home for about 2 million won (approximately $1,800) a year. Many people rent homes while deciding on whether to settle down here. On why the Jeju Olle Trail has been successful, Suh Myungsook explained in a recent interview, “It’s because Korea is a tiresome society.” A generation and a half of Koreans, while reflecting on their lifetime of studying diligently and working hard at their jobs, have come to open their eyes while walking the Olle Trail. “I’m not really happy,” some realize. Jeju beckons as a panacea in the “healing boom” sweeping Korea’s weary society.


Journeys in Korean Literature


Detoxified of Violence Uh Soo-woong Arts & Culture Reporter, The Chosun Ilbo


aik Ga-huim is an exceptionally engaging member of the literary community, who does not mind being known as “Agent Paik” because of his eagerness at all times to tend to colleagues’ needs and comfort. Countless writers have called him up in any season, and he has picked them up in his own car to visit such faraway places as Samcheonpo and Namhae, or Gwangju. It is known that he will shuttle anyone who asks to and from the Toji Cultural Center in Wonju, an artists’ residential facility established by the late novelist Park Kyung-ni to help younger writers in their creative work. These activities reveal his kindness and interest in others. What is remarkable is that his fiction is separated from his actual life by a vast chasm. In his works, many people are exposed to countless forms of violence, yet remain intact. Love in his novels is likewise outside of the ordinary. Usually, it is some kind of extreme passion or perversion involving rape, murder, obsession, submission, or sado-masochism. I have read a critique that analyzes his works in comparison to a liver; it was “A Report on Paik Ga-huim’s Odd Liver” by the novelist Yi Gi-ho, who made his publishing debut about two years before Paik. In his humorfilled “report,” Yi writes, “You sometimes find people who believe that novels are written with the hand, or the head, or the heart. They are mistaken. In fact, fiction is written with the liver. Only a strong, healthy liver can produce controversial works. That is fiction’s innermost secret.” From this premise, he goes on to analyze in an amusing manner the exceptional case of Paik Ga-huim: However, if you take the writer Paik Ga-huim, that seems not necessarily to be the case. Judging from its complexion, the liver is clearly in poor health, the fiction is problematic. ... Paik Ga-huim’s liver possesses an amazing elasticity whose parallel can hardly be found among Korean writers. In ordinary times it seems to shrivel up to the size of a ping pong ball, but when he is writing it swells like a balloon; it expands and contracts so often that it becomes a deeply wrinkled liver, a swollen liver, a fragile liver, a tender liver, an odd kind of liver.

Surely, one of the liver’s most important functions is to break down and eliminate the body’s toxic substances. It is the liver that plays a lead role in our body’s detoxification and self-purification processes. In ordinary times, this function seems deficient and Paik Ga-huim’s contracted liver produces fatigue and weakness, only to expand when he is writing. In his works, many kinds of violence and tragic accidents are revealed that enable Paik to detoxify himself of such misfortune. When we read his works, there are times in the course of such self-purification when we are left with an unpleasant, acrid taste in our mouth. At such moments, we are impelled to question our own capacities for detoxification and self-purification. Geun-won, the main figure in the short story translated here, is a simple, stolid body-scrubber at a public bathhouse who was plucked out of one form of servitude to another, hired by a shady employer as the “manager” — actually the bodyguard — of a pop singer. The work tells Geun-won’s life story in fragmentary glimpses from his boss’s conversations and his own recollections. Geun-won and his younger brother Geun-


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

A writer of fiction who first gained recognition in 2001, Paik Ga-huim has published a series of characteristic works in which he uses irony and imagination to capture the existence of the “others” — the outsiders of our contemporary age and their estranged inner worlds — those who move awkwardly on the edges of society and who, no matter how vexing, cannot be ignored.

Paik Ga-huim bon were abandoned by their mother when they were young children. Before that, their father left home one day, never to be seen again. Their grandmother fervently clung to her faith, praying to the “Heavenly Father” to bring back her son. Their mother moved away and remarried. Needless to say, the boys were left in poverty to fend for themselves. From the narrative, which alternates between flashback and fast forward scenes, the reader learns that over the past three years, Geun-won has been employed by the boss’s entertainment management company. This was his 27th job since he came to Seoul. His 26th job had been at a bathhouse, scrubbing the skin of customers. In a moment of whimsy, noticing how Geun-won would carefully scrub every inch of a customer’s skin even when there was little dirt to come off, the company’s owner hired him as a talent manager. In contrast, his younger brother Geun-bon was always in trouble. Unlike Geun-won, who was very shy, Geun-bon knew no shame, nor restraint; as a schoolchild, he extorted pocket money from other children, and ended up being expelled from middle school. He was first imprisoned for killing a local junk merchant during a violent argument, then was involved with another killing, for which he received a life sentence. Geun-won became the manager of Cash, a singer of Korean-style “trot” songs. He faithfully obeyed his boss’s order, that he never for a moment forgot, to prevent Cash from having any contact with the outside world. After he had been doing this job for three years, something happened. Out of the blue, he received a phone call from his mother who had abandoned him and his brother some 28 years ago. Putting all his suffering behind him, Geun-won is now heading toward the valley where it seems that his mother is living, or dying to be more accurate, along a mountain path overtaken by the dark of night. Instead of the moon, cherry blossoms illuminate the path. His new life in the entertainment industry seemed to have changed him into a more sophisticated kind of person, but his actual reality had changed little, and at heart Geun-won remained the same as ever. In the end, he never finds his mother’s house. As compared to Paik Ga-huim’s other stories, violence and cruelty are not so conspicuous in this work. Yet it may have the most powerful impact in terms of detoxification and self-purification. Through this story, the author seems to be whispering to the reader: “Who are you, essentially? Are you at peace with yourself? I hope this story may serve as a vaccine against your pain.” About the title, with its unexpected comma, literary critic Seo Yeong-chae has written: “Between the two words, as the reader pauses for a breath, 28 years pass. And it is not only time that passes. In this story, Paik Ga-huim tells the story of a man who, led by time’s hand, reaches a place he could never have anticipated. As if to say, such is life.”

[Translator’s notes: “Geun-won” is the name of the main character, a characteristic two-syllable Korean given name. But the word geunwon also means “root, cause, source, basis,” while “Geun-bon,” the name of the main character’s brother, has a similar meaning of “root, basis, essence.” The title of the story in Korean is “Geureon, Geunwon” which seems to defy attempts to express this play on words and grammar in other languages. The first word means “such,” and the second may be either the name of the main character or the word “essence,” since the two characters in Korean given names are hyphenated only in the Romanized form.] K o r e a n a ı A u t u mn 2 013




he persimmon tree stands tall; the children less so. As autumn wanes, the sky rises aloft and the ripening fruits hang high. The gazes and dreams of the children soar upward with the long pole, into the persimmon tree, reaching for the blue sky. From the branches of the persimmon tree standing at a corner of the vegetable patch, the children pick persimmons. A child shakes a branch with the end of the long pole, arms dancing vigorously. The basket fills with bright orange persimmons. Persimmon trees are a ubiquitous part of the Korean rural landscape. They grow everywhere: on mountain slopes, at the corners of fields, along the edges of yards, and in every backyard. The trees can thrive without any fertilizer or pesticide, and you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even have to prune unnecessary branches. This is why the persimmon tree can be found throughout the country, surviving on its own and growing high to touch the sky. Persimmon trees are a marker of the four-season cycle of this land. In early spring, light-green shoots appear, followed by broad, sleek green leaves, and when the white flowers bloom and fall to the ground in summer, children pick them up and thread them together into necklaces and bracelets. When autumn arrives, the leaves fall quickly, while the fruits, hanging in clusters, ripen to bright orange against the blue sky. The persimmons that hang high up and are covered with frost strike a poignant chord in the heart. Then I suddenly have an urge to write letters to my elderly parents in my hometown. Not all of the persimmons that ripen on the tree are picked. The few on the highest branches are left for the blue sky and the birds. These are called â&#x20AC;&#x153;magpie food.â&#x20AC;? Once the birds have had their fill of the fruits hanging from the scraggly branches, the snowstorms will soon blow in. Then, families will sit in a circle in their warm rooms and enjoy the soft, ripe persimmons or the chewy dried ones. But now it is still a bright autumn day when the dreams of the children soar high up the long pole toward the ripe fruits.

Persimmons and Children Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the Korean National Academy of Arts

Koreana - Autumn 2013 (English)  

Koreana - Autumn 2013 (English)

Koreana - Autumn 2013 (English)  

Koreana - Autumn 2013 (English)