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The future of bookstores seen in GyeongJu

A City of Ancient Secrets

 

2020.04.06

 

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For about 1,000 years from 57 B.C. to 935 B.C., Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient kingdom Silla; it is a city of history and culture treasuring ancient heritage. Royal Tombs - where the tombs of ancient kings are gathered, Cheomseongdae Observatory - the best observatory in the Eastern world built with 365 stones, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram - world cultural heritages, and the Underwater Tomb of King Munmu – where the king was buried underwater and urged to protect the kingdom from the afterlife as a dragon, are all located in Gyeongju. Gyeongju, the treasure chest of mysterious secrets in history has been a popular tourist destination for a long time.

The first thing that comes to your eyes as you step into the downtown of Gyeongju is the giant tomb standing among low-roof houses. It is rare to see such a heritage site in the middle of downtown; in recent years this area was named “Hwanglidangil” with cafes, bookstores, and restaurants, invigorating the town with unique scenery.

 

Daereungwon Ancient Tombs and Hwanglidangil ⓒGyeongju-si

Daereungwon Ancient Tombs and Hwanglidangil ⓒGyeongju-si

 

Cheomseongdae Observatory, Seokguram, and night view of Bulguksa Temple ⓒGyeongju-si

Cheomseongdae Observatory, Seokguram, and night view of Bulguksa Temple ⓒGyeongju-si

 

Hwanglidangil is right next to the giant tomb, and small but tidy stores built in the 1960s and 70s stand closely together. There are two bookstores where tourists stop over for longer: Sosomilmil and EoseoEoseo (quick-quick).

 

 

A pretty picture book you want to give to your lover

 

Interior and exterior of Sosomilmil

Interior and exterior of Sosomilmil

 

The name “Sosomilmil” means “looser where it is loose, denser where it is dense.” Sosomilmil is a picture book-based bookstore run by a couple – easygoing “Soso” Ji-Hye and meticulous “Milmil” Gu Seo-Bo.
You can meet books selected by editor Ji-Hye and Illustrator Gu Seo-Bo, picture postcards the couple made, and drawing notes in Sosomilmil. The book Sosomilmil Walk with Pictures of Gyeongju, elaborately made by the couple, is composed of 50 pictures drawn with a pencil and short paragraphs; it is a unique present of Sosomilmil that wishes Gyeongju to be cherished for good.
Sosomilmil irregularly runs not only bookstore tour programs but also picture book nights where you can look deeper inside the book per field, DIY picture books, book review classes, and meet & greet with writers. Ji-Hye wants Sosomilmil to be a bookstore that has a story, a sustainable bookstore, and a bookstore you want to visit again, saying “I believe that Sosomilmil can become a sustainable bookstore if we do things we want to do in our unique way. Along the way, just as the bookstore gets old, pictures will pile up, and writings will gather together, creating our own story.”

 

 

I believe that Sosomilmil can become a sustainable bookstore
if we do things we want to do in our unique way.

 

 

Ji-Hye and Goo Seo-Bo, and their <Sosomilmil Walk with Pictures of Gyeongju>

Ji-Hye and Goo Seo-Bo, and their Sosomilmil Walk with Pictures of Gyeongju

 


Short Interview with Sosomilmil

 

What are the exclusive things you can only find in Sosomilmil?
Sosomilmil has “Sosomilmil’s Collection.” Well, usually people call this kind of book a sample book, but then it would give the readers an idea that they can treat the book without care. So we named it “Sosomilmil’s Collection” after thinking over it for a long time to imply that the book is the bookstore’s asset, owned by us.


What do the visitors say about Sosomilmil?
As Gyeongju is a tourist destination, guests in diverse age groups come. When they look at the picture books inside, they think of buying one for their kids, lover, niece, nephew, and granddaughters and sons. When we hear visitors’ conversations about their loved ones, we feel the greatest as the bookkeeper.


What is the charming point of Gyeongju?
Gyeongju is a city of recharge. Even though you visit the same place, again and again, it feels like a whole new place the next time, and you can enjoy looking at the sky so often as there are no tall buildings. The scenery with tile-roofed houses is pleasant and elegant. You can walk in between ancient tombs or go to the East Sea. So you can regain vitality after being exhausted in your daily life here in Gyeongju.

 

 

Book Prescription Available: a delicately selected book collection

 

Interior and exterior of EoseoEoseo

Interior and exterior of EoseoEoseo

 

In a place not so far from Sosomilmil, you can find EoseoEoseo, a bookstore that mainly focuses on poems, novels, and essays. While it seems to be proper to call it a select shop rather than a bookstore, you can easily find the traces of hard work of bookkeeper Yang Sang-Gyu who particularly puts effort into book displays and the interior of EoseoEoseo to shed the image of an ordinary bookstore. This is why many people visit the bookstore with curiosity even though they do not find books interesting as anyone would go to a famous landmark in the region, and buy a book as a souvenir.The unique point about EoseoEoseo is that all the books sold are the ones bookkeeper Yang Sang-Gyu has read until now. As the books reflect the taste of their owner, it feels like peeking at a delicately chosen book collection – no wonder why many visitors ask him for a recommendation. But, to choose just the right book for the guest even though it may be only a single book, he carries out a short conversation with him/her and recommends a book of his/her taste and preference.
Currently, the books sold are mainly poems and novels, but as the bookkeeper is reading books in the fields of humanities, science, and art by running a reading club, the shelves are expected to become more colorful in the future. If you are visiting Gyeongju, how about a book prescription just right for you?

 

 

The unique point about EoseoEoseo is that all the books sold are
the ones bookkeeper Yang Sang-Gyu has read until now.

 

 

Yang Sang-Gyu, book prescription envelops

Yang Sang-Gyu, book prescription envelops

 


Short Interview with EoseoEoseo

 

What are the exclusive things you can only find in EoseoEoseo?
To help online buyers to find interest, I write the name and date on the book prescription envelop when a visitor picks one. There are even people who buy books to have this. Also, I give out one bookmark per book purchased, and display stamps in the bookstore to let visitors make their own bookmarks.


What do the visitors say about EoseoEoseo?
Visitors who did not know about EoseoEoseo are bewildered when I ask their names at the counter, but looking at the books put inside the prescription envelop, they turn so happy. And naturally, they get to buy books not only for themselves but also for gifts. Now many people come in groups and recommend a book to each other.


Is there a tourist site you recommend in Gyeongju?
I recommend my favorite Hwangnyongsaji (Hwangnyongsa Temple Site). When Silla was in trouble, this huge wooden temple was built to overcome the crisis. Now there are only traces after a fire burnt it down. When I think of the temple that would have had solemnly kept the area, it makes my heart heavy. It is also good to meditate while sitting there, enjoying the sunshine and wind.

 


Written by Hwang Jin-Ah

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Hwang Jin-Ah

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