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Ganghwa-gun, Incheon Metropolitan City

Part of the beginning and history of peace on the Korean peninsula

 

2021.06.07

 

 

Ganghwado Island is an island where the history of the Korean peninsula began. It was a meaningful area for the foundation and history of “Gojoseon”, the first country established in Korea, according to the “Dangun Wanggeom” folklore. It is an island with high research value and bountiful historical records, such as “Ganghwa Bugeunri Jiseokmyo” (Dolmen Site) which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and relics and remains from the Bronze Age have been found in parts of the island. Ganghwado Island, with its name meaning “the beautiful village below the river,” is the fifth biggest island in Korea as well. As it is located at the center of the Korean peninsula, 486km to the peak of South Korea’s Hallasan Mountain and 499km to the peak of North Korea’s Baekdusan Mountain, the island has been an important gateway in the ocean for foreign exchanges. It neighbors Gimpo, Gyeonggi-do, to the east, and faces North Korea to the north with the Han River in between. The tourist industry began to be developed rapidly on the island as Ganghwa Bridge and Choji Bridge were built in 1997 and 2002 respectively that connected Gimpo and the island.
Unlike how the number of independent bookstores is decreasing in other regions, the number in Ganghwado Island has been on the rise. Following is the introduction of some independent bookstores that continue today’s history in Ganghwado, the island where bookstores have a uniquely relaxing atmosphere and classic beauty.

 

A safe house in the forest that you want to keep a secret: Woogong Books

 

Located in the middle of Goryeosan Mountain, Woogong Books serves as a bookstore, workshop venue, and lodging for people who want to read books and stay for the night. Regardless of its location in the mountain, the well-paved road allows anyone to reach it within 10 minutes by car from Ganghwa-eup. The bookstore’s name “Woogong” derived from “愚公移山 (“Woo-Gong-Yi-San”, meaning ‘The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains’)” in Liezi, a Daoist text in China. Meaning that you will be able to accomplish your goal if you stick to it until the end, no matter if others may think you’re stupid, the name of the bookstore implies the bookstore manager couple’s belief of “Let’s not lose the mindset we had in the beginning” and “Let’s push forward what we’ve been doing.” The couple tries hard to save energy when they can take a break and treat their customers with an unchanging attitude so that they can relax and enjoy the books in ease. This is why many customers revisit the bookstore. While Woogong Books is a perfect place to read books and chill, people can feel the small, delicate care that makes them think as if they are at home. The best example is that the bookstore asks its visitors whether they will be having dinner when they stay for the night. This is the bookstore managers’ special care for the visitors to enjoy the stay more comfortably by saving the time consumed to go back and forth to have food at a restaurant. There were even people who came to Woogong Books mistaking it as a restaurant by the photos of the couple’s carefully made dishes but soon got to enrich their mind with books.

 

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View of Woogong Books (left) and “Mungdang,” where visitors can chill and relax (right)

 

 

The managers pick “Mungdang” as the must-go place in Woogong Books. “Mung” in Korean refers to a state where you have no response to an outer stimulus. When you sit down on a camping chair out in the backyard and feel the freshness of nature, you will be able to forget about the worries from urban life and enjoy the refreshing time-off soon after. Just like any other neighborhood bookstores, Woogong Books well-serves the role of a cultural gathering place in the village. It hosts poetry-reading events and debates with invited authors and poets and turns into a place where the neighbors can come around to have a cup of tea and chat. This is a good representation of the bookstore managers’ will of making it “a place where stories naturally emerge.” Meanwhile, you can barely find new bestsellers on the shelves. Instead, you will see books that have unchanging values chosen by the bookstore managers. There are books that the couple found impressive and those that are sold out or out of print. The managers say that it is the reality of independent bookstores that only selling books is not enough to buy the next books. Hence, they have constantly been making efforts to keep the bookstore and workshop running, including writing manuscripts and making billboards at the workshop for sale.

 

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Views inside Woogong Books

 

 

Making your soul healthy with knowledge: Salt n Light Bookstore

 

In 2018, two shops appeared in one old house with 100+ years of history: Salt n Light Bookstore run by the bookstore manager and Yurim Sanghoi (“Sanghoi” means shop in Korean) run by his wife. With the catchphrase “The man’s bookstore, the woman’s bowls,” he, the bookstore manager, sells books while his wife sells Polish bowls. He changed the bookstore’s name to today’s “Salt n Light bookstore” as he moved to the new location, from “Gamangbulmang (meaning ‘You might forget his/her face, but you shall never forget his/her mind’),” which was the first independent bookstore in Ganghwado Island he opened in 2012. The meaning of the name is “become the bookstore that is the light and salt of the world,” which the pastor of the church the manager goes to made from a phrase in the bible. As the name implies, Salt n Light Bookstore is based on the Christian bible. There are various selections of general books as well, but in that the bookstore has a strong religious color with a majority of its books being Christian, it can be greatly distinguished from other independent bookstores in Ganghwado Island.

 

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View of Salt n Light Bookstore (left) and its billboard (right)

 

 

Salt n Light Bookstore is located in a beautiful old house that embraces the traditional beauty of Korea. Unlike its Korean-style exterior, its interior is rather Western-style. Such a fun twist is a good mixture of the East and the West. The unique interior made the producers of the Korean TV drama “The King: Eternal Monarch” choose the place as one of the backgrounds, and it is now a popular tourist destination for visitors. Nonetheless, the financial reality was harsh. When the bookstore was newly opened, people around the manager joked that “it will even be a challenging mission for Steve Jobs to run a bookstore in Ganghwado.” It was an expected challenge. When people prefer videos over texts these days, competing against online bookstores was a more difficult thing. However, the bookstore manager had a firm belief that he wants to “contribute to the development of regional culture and spread out the good influence of salt and light,” and said he would persist with an indomitable spirit. He is currently studying what direction the bookstore has to take by reading business and economics books. The bible states that the intellectual realm and spiritual realm have a close relationship. How about having time to cure and rest your soul with good books at Salt n Light Bookstore?

 

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View inside Salt n Light Bookstore

 

 

Joyful bookstore with writings and pictures: Ttalgi Books

 

In 2018, Ttalgi Books (“ttalgi” means strawberry in Korean) opened a bookstore specialized in picture books and a publisher with the same name under the motto of “joyful bookstore with writings and pictures.” Ttalgi Books sells books with texts and pictures such as board books for toddlers and young children, picture books for children and adults, and comics and graphic novels for adults. The bookstore chooses to display and sell classic books the manager likes in which the meaning embedded within does not change over time. While the talk-of-the-town books or those recommended by other authors or bookstore managers are available as well, if they do not meet the manager’s standards, they can never return to the shelf. Meanwhile, for books that the manager thinks are classic, they are displayed on the shelf regardless of the limited area and their sales record. Picture books have a very high purity as the authors have to express the story with limited topics and pages. It is the charming point of picture books that they can be enjoyed by all age groups from 0 to 100-year-old readers, and can be interpreted in their own way. As picture books have become mainstream in our society, the readership’s age groups have been enlarged as well. In particular, more senior readers are looking for picture books as they can remember and concentrate for a shorter time and have difficulty reading books with small letters.

 

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View outside Ttalgi Books (left) and its billboard (right)

 

The bookstore manager couple had been working at a publisher specialized in children’s books for about 30 years before they came to Ganghwado Island. Based on that experience, the couple is making picture books that can be enjoyed across all generations; the husband writes stories, and the wife designs the books. Twenty books published during the past four years are sowing touching seeds in the hearts of their readers, settling as recommended books. This has helped the bookstore’s books to be sold constantly. The profit from such publications flows into operating and maintaining Ttalgi Books, as only selling books is not enough to run the bookstore. The bookstore manager says Ttalgi Books’ survival strategy as a regional bookstore is “doing things with consistency.” The bookstore offers things that online bookstores cannot, such as sharing cultural art experiences through music concerts and holding meet & greets with authors, and enjoying and sharing culture through programs such as picture book workshops where residents can try making their own picture book. The bookstore manager hopes Ttalgi Books to become the regional hub for picture book culture. While Ttalgi Books is eager to continue making picture books as they are captivated by their charm, readers highly anticipate what kind of dreamy imagination they will present next.

 

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Views inside Ttalgi Books

 

 


Written by Lee Ji-Hyeon

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Lee Ji-Hyeon

#Incheon#Ganghwa-gun#Woogong Books#Salt n Light Bookstore#Ttalgi Books
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