Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gangjin: Its people and their places.

I'm in the process of writing profiles on some of Jeollanam-do's places and things. I've decided to break up the entry on Gangjin county into a few smaller posts. This one deals with three of Gangjin's most famous residents and the places associated with them. Next I will write a little about the notable temples in the area. Please see the end of the post for information about one of the secondary souces I've used here.

Gangjin is one of Jeollanam-do's 17 counties, and is about an 80-minute bus ride south of Gwangju. A few noteworthy people have passed through Gangjin over the centuries, giving the area a little more character than would normally be granted an otherwise plain county. Granted, Gangjin is "famous" for celadon pottery (청자)---actually, legimiately known for it, so the quotation marks aren't really necessary---but I'm not very interested in pottery. Biographies are more interesting, in my opinion, and the most famous person to have Gangjin mentioned in his is Jeong Yak-yong (정약용, 1762-1836), penname Dasan, a notable writer and philosopher during the Joseon Dynasty. A Neo-Confucianist and pioneer of the Silhak school, Dasan was exiled to Gangjin for nearly 18 years, from 1801 to 1818, and some of the places associated with his stay have become regional tourist sites. Another notable writer is Kim Yun-sik (김윤식, penname 영랑, 1903-1950), born in Gangjin, and known for writing poetry in his native Jeolla dialect. A third luminary is the Dutch explorer Hendrick Hamel (1630-1692), who was shipwrecked off of Jeju island and, with his surviving crew, was taken into custody and eventually imprisoned in Jeollanam-do. Hamel would spend nearly 7 years in Byeongyeong-myeon, Gangjin county, before eventually escaping to Japan. More about all three men can be found below.

Also, according to one site, President Roh Moo-hyun's grandfather was from Gangjin. I really have no idea how reliable that is--accurate information on Korea written by Koreans is very hard to come by--but such an upbringing might lend some credence to the charge of "North Korean lackey" sometimes thrown at Roh. A guy once told me that baseball player Lee Seung-yeop's father lives in Seongjeon-myeon, but I sort of doubted that until I ran a google search just now and I guess it's true.

Evidentally the Royal Asiatic Society has tours that sometimes come through the southern part of the country. They are doing a "Land of Exile Tour" through Gangjin on November 17 and 18, with (it looks like) trips to Dasan Chodang, Kim Yun-sik's birthplace, and some of the celadon kilns.

There are a few different sites associated with Dasan, the most notable being Dasan Chodang (다산초당), where he lived in exile for 12 years (some sources say 10 or 11, though). He reportedly composed over 500 works during his time there. Dasan Chodang is set on the foothills of Mandeoksan, a 409-meter-high mountain in Doam-myeon. On site are two houses (one for Dasan, one for his followers), a cottage, a pond, and an observatory called Chun Il Gak (천일각) that overlooks Gangjin Bay. There is also a rock a few meters west of (behind) Seoam (서암), his followers' cottage, on which two Chinese characters are written. Of his time in Doam-myeon, Dr. Kim Byung-kuk, a native of Gangjin, has written:

"Collecting abundant young tea leaves, in early spring, he indulged in drinking tea, the redolent fragrance of which has been identified with the lofty ideals of his thought" (6)
According to placards at the site, the structures were rebuilt in 1975-6 by the county.

Chun Il Gak pavillion and Gangjin Bay, at Dasan Chodang.

There are trails that crisscross the mountain and that connect Dasan Chodang to Baekryeonsa (백련사) temple, formerly known as Mandeoksa (만덕사). It has been suggested that a monk living at Baeknyeonsa influenced Dasan's writings on Buddhism during his exile. Other nearby attractions include the Camellia Forest of Baeknyeonsa, Dasan's Relics Exhibition Center, and Okryeonsa temple. There is also a really cute tea house in front of the relics center named 꽃이야기. Buses go to the temple and to Dasan Chodang fairly regularly from the terminal in Gangjin-eup, but both times I've been to Doam-myeon I've had a hell of a time getting back. I recommend jotting down numbers of call taxis before you go (you can find two taxi stands outside the terminal), and if you can't get a bus back, call a cab or have somebody at the temple or Dasan Chodang call for you. Oh, and I ought to mention that hiking from Dasan Chodang to Baekryeonsa (and back) is a fairly leisurely time, but hiking to the top of Mandeoksan from that linking trail is a bit steep and challenging. If you want to hike to the top of Mandeoksan, start from the path just next to the bathrooms at Baekryeonsa. Much easier.

(Top) Gangjin Bay as seen from Baekryeonsa. (Bottom) Map of hiking trails on Mandeoksan.

Back in Gangjin-eup there are two other sites linked to Dasan. One is Goseongsa (고성사) temple, on the west side of Boeunsan (보은산) mountain. Dasan came to Gangjin in 1801, set up his study Boeunsanbang 보은산방) at Goseongsa in 1805, and stayed there for roughly two years (6). He befriended a monk here named Haejang, ten years his junior, and composed ten poems in his honor. Dr. Kim writes, in the overzealous manner that characterizes his pamphlet,

"the intellectual companioship of Ta-san and Hae-jang is one of the most warmhearted comradeship (sic) recorded in history and symbolizes the meeting of Catholicism, Confucianism, and Buddhism" (6).
Goseongsa is a pleasant little temple, one of two large ones on Boeunsan. There are two ways to get there. One is to hike: trails begin behind the police station and behind the apartment complex located to the south (right) of Yeongrang Saenga (mentioned below). It should take roughly 25-30 minutes to get there, and the way to Goseongsa will be marked as you move up Boeunsan. A second option is to arrive by car. That may be the more convenient option if you plan to visit other sites in Gangjin during your stay. Street signs will point the way to Goseongsa.
The other Dasan-related site in Gangjin is located about two blocks from my old place, and was built in the spring of 2007. It is known as Seoeuije (서의제) and was Dasan's home and study for roughly his first 4 years. Dr. Kim has a few sentences on a "Sayijae," and there are some similarities between it and what I know of Seoeuije, so I will assume they are one and the same. According to Dr. Kim:
In the winter of 1801, [he] arrived at Kangjin but the people in the street tried their utmost to distance themselves from him as if he was a carrier of an epidemic disease Only an old lady inkeeper was kindhearted enough to accommodate him with a room. Ta-san named his room as "Sayi-jae" which meant "the room in which four righteous manners should be performed," namely "thought" should be clear, "countenance" should be dignified, "speech" should be deliberate, and "motion" should be measured. These four yardsticks were self-imposed in order to
discipline him strictly (5).
It's a pleasant enough park today--a couple of buildings, a pavillion, and a little pond--though it's a little harder to find. If exiting Yeongryang Saenga (mentioned below), turn left onto the road and walk for roughly 5 minutes. You'll pass the police station on your left, and about a block away you'll come to a four-way intersection and see 동서빌라, a tudor-ish building to your right. Make a left at the four-way intersection (or make a right to visit my old place) and make a right at the next alley a few meters away. Seoeuije is a few buildings down the hill on your left.

A pond and buildings at Seoeuije.

It's also worth mentioning the second major temple on Boeunsan, known as Geumgoksa. I hiked here from my old apartment, some 5.5 kilometers, although I probably wouldn't do it again. Geumgoksa, which translates to "Golden Valley Temple" is a slightly larger site than Goseongsa, and is known for a couple of things. There is a 3-story stone pagoda, five meters tall, designated a regional cultural property. The temple has an interesting opening, flanked on both sides by huge stone cliffs, and the rockiness of the hills around this valley is one big reason why I wouldn't hike to this temple again. Buses run periodically to and from the temple---people at the restaurants in front of it can help you there---but I recommend driving, in the springtime at least. The road that begins at the Gangjin Sports Complex and runs past Geumgoksa is lined with cherry trees and is a very scenic drive when the flowers are in bloom. This road ultimately leads to Byeongyeong-myeon, site of another notable Gangjin resident, Hendrick Hamel.

On the road to Byeongyeong, springtime.

Hamel was shipwrecked off of Jeju in the 17th century and held in Gangjin for some 7 years (his crew also spent time in Yeosu, Suncheon, Namwon, and Namhansanseong in Seongnam). From 1656 to 1663 he was held at 병영성지, known in English as Byeongyeong Sacred Site (evidentally), former army barracks that today are about a kilometer long and are just about the only thing worth seeing in that part of the county. Hamel and his men, though, have left an interesting legacy. You really ought to check out this site, which suggests that the Dutch mariners taught the locals irrigation techniques and how to make a certain type of wooden sandals. They also may have contributed to the genepool:

It is also possible that some men met local women and through marriage or 0therwise fathered children, whose descendants still live here. The Dutch were given the Korean name Nam. There are several roots for the clan of Nam in Korea, but one originates from around Byeongyeong. And it is from this region, that many people named Nam have typical features like a large body and facial characteristics that may well be from the foreigners in the 17th century. When professor Kim Tae Jin of the Chonnam University in Gwangju did research on this subject, he encountered resistance and a lack of cooperation from the people, as it is regarded as shameful to have mixed blood and not to be of pure Korean breed. Maybe the grand grandparents of these nice old ladies could tell more! Long time ago, before the Korean war, a tall man from Byeongyeong with western facial features called Nam, moved to the north and became a general in the army. It is said that when the North Korean army raided this area, the village of Byeongyeong was spared on special orders from general Nam.
There has been a fair bit of diplomatic friendship between Korea and Holland on account of Hamel's residence here. And, according to the above-mentioned site, there have been plans to redevelop the wall and the village for the past few years (at least), although neither he nor I have found any signs of progress yet.

The final site is located about 400 meters from the bus terminal, and I'd consider it to be the best-known attraction in Gangjin-eup. Yeongrang's birthplace (영랑생가) consists of three buildings, an assortment of different trees and shrubs, and stones on which some of his more famous poems have been carved. Yeongryang was the penname of Gangjin-born poet Kim Yun-sik (김윤식), a man most active in the 1930s and 1940s, and most acclaimed for writing in the Jeolla dialect. When I last visited his birthplace the loudspeakers were playing recorded versions of some of his poems. His best known poem is "Till Peonies Bloom," and a nearby motel is named the 모란모텔, perhaps as an odd tribute.

Snow falling at Yeongrang's birthplace.

There is another home of a notable artist a short walk away. 금서당 is located on the hill behind Yeongrang's birthplace, and as you exit 영랑생가 you will see an arrow leading you left, up the hill. I do not know much about this site, and I don't know if anybody is living there now--I would guess so, though--but there is a placard in front of the house that will help those proficient in Korean. I do know that it was the birthplace of artist Kim Youngryeol (aka Wang Hyang, 1923 - ), and that there are a few comical totem poles at the yard's edge.


There are a few other things worth seeing in Gangjin, but for the sake of readability I will save them for another entry. I do want to mention, though, that the Gangjin Celadon Museum is a fairly popular attraction, as is the harbor at tiny Maryang-myeon. The scenic little village of a few hundred people is one of my favorite spots in the entire county.

A little note about "Dr. Kim" and the page numbers in this entry. Last year I was given a little photocopied pamphlet containing, in English, ten little chapters on Gangjin's notable people and places. It was written in 1994 by Kim Byong-kuk, Ph. D., and is entitled Kangjin and its Cultural Legacies (Anthology). On the photocopied cover it says Seoul Institute of International Economics, but I have no other publication information, nor do I know if there are other chapters beyond the tenth. If anyone is interested in seeing it, send me a private message on Dave's ESL Cafe or Galbijim, and I can snail mail you a copy.
Gangjin-eup, as seen from atop Boeunsan.

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