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By Embracing History and Culture, Incheon Blossoms with Literature

 

2019.07.08

 

 

The remnants of history are always bound to be subject to different interpretations. Through that process, things from the past can be born again with new values. In the city of Incheon, signs of the passage of time since the port city opened its doors to the world can still be seen. The city is now blossoming with literature after having embraced that history. The literature of Incheon can be found at times in comparatively desolate parts of the city, but it's worth seeking it out, similar to how a reader can read between the lines of a book and feel touched.

 

 

The Museum of Korean Modern Literature

 

 

The Museum of Korean Modern Literature
resonates with visitors as modern Korean history,
invoking a faint longing and an aching which can be found in literature here.

 

 

One of the key images of Incheon, when one thinks of the city, is Chinatown, where traces of Korea’s chaotic modernization remain. In addition to former extraterritorial areas designated by China and Japan, Chinese eateries line the streets of Chinatown in Incheon, as a testament to the Chinese who lived here decades ago. In another part of town, traditional Japanese-style residences can be spotted. These were homes for the Japanese who lived in Incheon when the Korean peninsula was under colonial rule by Japan.

 

The Museum of Korean Modern Literature

The Museum of Korean Modern Literature

 

In this slice of town where unique cultural landscapes lie can be found the Museum of Korean Modern Literature - a humble building but full of value as it wholly modernized Korea. The building is also a friendly sight for Korean visitors strolling down the streets of Incheon's Chinatown as it is imbued with Korean culture on a street filled with non-Korean culture. The Museum of Korean Modern Culture was a former warehouse, twins of which can easily be spotted in the city's old center. The museum is full of exhibits for those wishing to go on a short literary journey through Korea's modern literature. One can feel as if they are communicating with Korean authors of the past who poured out their passion in words at a time when chaos reigned the land. A quiet stroll through the museum shows the work of authors who worked in an age of pain, from the 1890s during the period of Modern Enlightenment to 1948 when the Korean peninsula was divided in half. This was not only an era of pain but also one where people were thirsty for literature. The works of many writers can be found here, including author and poet Choe Nam-sun's The Ocean to the Youth; poet and freedom fighter Han Yong-un's Lover's Silence; and Cheong Chi-yong who is said to have provided the framework for modern Korean poetry with his Nostalgia. There are works by familiar novelists as well. Among those featured are Yi Kwang-su who wrote Korea's first modern long-form novel The Heartless; Na Do-hyang who was the author of realist novels Watermill and Deaf Samryongi Hyun Jin-geon, who was acclaimed as a pioneer for short novels like My Destitute Wife and One Lucky Day and Yeom Sang-seop, who wrote realist and naturalist novels like Tree Frog in the Specimen Room. In addition to these famous writers, others the museum showcases are poet Kim Sowol, famous for his indigenous and emotional poem Azalea that describes the Korean feeling of han; and Baek Seok, who opened the doors wide in Korea for modern poems with his I, Natasha and the White Donkey.
Original manuscripts of some of this historic work and video resources can all be found at the museum. While browsing through the works of some of these familiar writers, visitors can easily look back on the thoughts, the spirit of the times and passion for literature all of the writers melded into their writing. The novels and poetry these people wrote not too long ago, but in a completely different situation from this day and age are still touching the minds of today. It could have easily been an age where no literature was written, but the words they have left behind also tell the history of the Korean peninsula from that time. The Museum of Korean Modern Literature resonates with visitors as modern Korean history, invoking a faint longing and an aching which can be found in literature here.

 

Inside the Museum of Korean Modern Literature, where diverse exhibits on literature can be found

Inside the Museum of Korean Modern Literature, where diverse exhibits on literature can be found

 

Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley, where new life is breathed into books

 

 

The books and bookstores all bear the traces of time long passed and
welcome passersby who flock to the area with excitement and curiosity.

 

 

Those who seek out books that are more in tune with today can head over to the Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley. The alley used to be a street that was somewhat excluded from the rest of the city's development efforts but now, it has come to life thanks to none other than secondhand books that have been sold there for years. Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley was known as a location where those short on money but wanting to study would seek out. However, a few years ago when the hit K-drama “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” shot some scenes here, resulting in crowds packing the street. The books and bookstores all bear the traces of time long passed and welcome passersby who flock to the area with excitement and curiosity.

 

Bookstores offer respite with piles of secondhand books and snug reading nooks

Bookstores offer respite with piles of secondhand books and snug reading nooks

 

'Welcome to slow travel through Baedari!' A sign welcomes visitors at the entrance of the alley, beckoning. The number of bookstores can be fewer than what many expect, but those that remain have kept their locations for a long, even stubborn, time. One can find themselves leafing through books they finished long ago, scanning the familiar pages again. The pages have yellowed, but they resonate with readers when one thinks about the joy these books have given people over the years as they were passed on from person to person. After a short trek down memory lane in one of the secondhand bookstores, a further stroll down the alley stirs a sense of desire for more new store owners with their individual store signs and shops. There are small cafes where one can catch their breath with a cup of coffee and other locations where visitors can rest and read books. Visitors can easily hope the Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley can become a channel of communication for generations ahead, with its kind consideration for visitors.

 

Two bookstores in the Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley

Two bookstores in the Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley

 

Independent bookstores, declaring their affection for books

 

 

The stores are all perfect locations to escape
everyday life to enjoy a date with books,
and are a great new way to spend your time in Incheon.

 

 

Where small neighborhood bookstores once stood are now independent bookstores, once again filling locations that had been vacated due to the deluge of large bookstore chains. What sets them apart from bookstores that existed there before are charm and appeal one can't find in large bookstores. In Incheon, stores like 'Nabi Nalda (Butterfly Flies)' and 'Connect the Dots' located on Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley, 'Hongyeseorim' nearby Freedom Park, 'North Pole Bookstore' in Bupyeong-gu and 'Chaekbangmodo' in Dong-gu have all eagerly opened shop as independent bookstores. These stores differentiate themselves by communicating with readers actively in their own unique ways, but they all share the fact that they were born out of a special love for books.
Crowded with specially designed stuffed bears and cute books, 'Hongyeseorim' sells books that have been personally curated by the owner. 'Hongyeseorim' usually deals with independent publications, especially picture books, and this has made the store popular among picture book fans. The owner of the store recommends Yan Yan (Text Context) written and illustrated by Kim Seung-yeon. 'Hongyeseorim' has also engaged in a collaboration project with Korean publisher Minumsa and books like Kim Seung-ok's Trip With No End and Dazai Osamu's No Longer Human can be found here. 'Hongyeseorim' also runs a small club called 'Hongye Press -Make Your Own Book at a Neighborhood Bookstore', where joiners can create their own masterpieces.

 

<Yan Yan> (left), and <Trip with No End>, <No Longer Human> (right), from a collaboration project with Minumsa

Yan Yan (left), and Trip with No End, No Longer Human (right), from a collaboration project with Minumsa

 

Some of the independent bookstores in Incheon have a strong, vintage vibe likely due to the personal tastes of the owners. One of these would be 'North Pole Bookstore'. Capable of Anything (Wisdom House) and Incheon Cafes That Are Farther Away Than Seoul but Closer Than Jeju are both popular books at 'North Pole Bookstore'. Gem-like books including Flash and Your Own Beach published by the owner himself can also be found at the store. 'North Pole Bookstore' also runs foreign language classes as well as a program for short film production.
Another independent bookstore, 'Nabi Nalda' is run by an owner who has their own firm philosophy on civic movements and the environment. The bookstore, which is unstaffed, usually sells books centered on these two topics. 'Nabi', which is Korean for butterfly, is also an acronym here for 'divide and empty', according to the owner, reflecting his will to share more with society through books at the secondhand bookstore. 'Nabi Nalda' has operated for over 20 years and books that can be found there include Ecology Philosophy (Munsachol), The Private Life of Pets and Their Neighbors (Ima) and Shamefulness (Naznsan) which all deal with either civic movements or the environment. The bookstore sells items other than books, making it a fun visit.
Small reading groups choose to meet at some of these independent bookstores. 'Words and Books' is a quiet bookstore that has consistently hosted reading group meetings. The store looks more like a coffee shop that sells books, including independently published work. There are more books that make visitors curious than regular bestsellers, like I Walked into the Sentence of You (Dasiseojeom), Although I Pushed My Way Out from a Crowd (Sentences and Scenes), The Invisible Eternity (Dasiseojeom), which are all popular with readers. The store has a special stamp for purchased books that adds a bit of fun.
A former distilling plant, 'Connect the Dots' sells only used books and independent publications. It has attracted young people to Baedari Secondhand Bookstore Alley. 'Connect the Dots' was opened to provide a place of rest for people visiting the alley, rather than profit. There are many familiar titles there, in addition to independent publications like I am an Introvert, Happy on my Own (Book Reading Cat), Cat Restaurant (Bichae) and To Those Who Are Uninterested in my Loneliness (Byeolbitdeul). A second branch of the bookstore is being planned to boost communication with book lovers.
'Chaekbangmodo' is another interesting bookstore that is open until 1 a.m. , making it easy for people who usually can't reach bookstores at regular working hours. This bookstore sells beautiful picture books, as well as independent works of different genres like Do I Look Like a Person That Changes as They Age, Memoir at 30 (Memoir), We Loved (Mimesis) and Breaking Preconceptions About the U.S..
Independent bookstores may not all be flashy, but they were created for book lovers by those who also love books. They were all found to be expressing that affection in their different ways. The stores are all perfect locations to escape everyday life to enjoy a date with books and are a great new way to spend your time in Incheon.

 

Connect the Dots (left) Hongyeseorim (right)

Connect the Dots (left) Hongyeseorim (right)

 

Chaekbangmodo

Chaekbangmodo

 

There is no better place than Incheon to follow the trail of literature that also lives within us, after many generations and history. Time is needed for a flower to blossom, and it will be worth the wait to see what new blossoms Incheon will have in store for everyone in the future.

 

 


Written by KIM Young-Ihm

kbbok

KIM Young-Ihm

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