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The City of Islands and Stories,Tongyeong of South Gyeongsang Province

 

2019.06.10

 

 

Sometimes there are words you try to avoid using because they are tired clichés, but at times you have no other choice but to use them. So you take these 'dead phrases' out of the drawer, shake the dust off with a disdainful look on your face. One of these situations would be when people use "yehyang (a location from whence many artists have hailed)" as a prefix for the city of Tongyeong.

 

There, the 'Jaengi' lived

Tongyeong of South Gyeongsang Province. This was the location where Admiral Yi Sun-sin led the Battle of Hansan Island, attempting to fend off enemies from the Korean Peninsula. In honor of his memory, the city's name was Chungmu until 1995, Yi's posthumous name. The city's current name was derived from a phrase that referred to a naval command that had jurisdiction over the three provinces of Gyeongsang, Jeolla and Chungcheong. When looking at the bigger historic incidents of the area, one could think Tongyeong was solely home to battles and bravery, but then if that were the case, the oft-used 'yehyang' would no longer be needed.
Tongyeong was a city of the 'Jaengi'. Partially it was because of Yi. Or more specifically, because it was a naval city and in a location where the population was high, there was an equally high demand for merchandise. Not only did the people in Tongyeong need military supplies, but the officers leading the troops also required a substantial amount of goods. There was high demand for resources, but due to the poor quality of road infrastructure at the time, it was best to have manufacturers of goods located within the city rather than ship it in from elsewhere.
Due to this, Tongyeong needed many skilled hands. People who had skills and needed to make a living off those skills were drawn to the city. Many of these 'jaengi' consolidated within the area and with the goods they brought, the quality of the merchandise available in Tongyeong improved. This wasn't all. Tongyeong is adjacent to the sea and with the abundance of marine animals, merchants there were able to freely incorporate rare ingredients like abalones and top shells. Over time, the goods manufactured in Tongyeong were considered top-grade materials good enough for the king. Hearing they could receive good wages in Tongyeong, more 'jaengi' sought out the city.
Today, across the central market of Tongyeong, where tourism of the city begins and ends, are the 12 craft workshops that existed from the Joseon Dynasty to after the Korean War and their descendants. And past the hill where the workshops stand is the former house of prominent Korean author Pak Kyong-ni, called Myeongjeongdong.

 


* Pak Kyongni Memorial Hall

 


Pak was one of Korea's most well-known authors, recognized for works like Toji, The Daughters of Pharmacist Kim and Pasi. Pak's saga Toji has been translated into languages like English, French and Japanese and the translated versions received positive reviews from the countries they were exported to. One unfortunate fact would be that Toji is such a long saga it is difficult to summarize the entirety of it here. One attempt would be that it showed mankind through a variety of periods in contemporary Korean society, detailing how history and the lives of individuals intertwine.
Past Pak's former residence of Chungryeolsa, where Admiral Yi's mortuary tablet lies, reveals more stories about the city. Stories about poems and love.
For instance, one Korean poet born in Jongju in North Pyongan Province which is now in North Korea found his way down to Tongyeong on the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula decades ago. He began his journey to find a woman whom he had met only once. However, their paths never crossed, and the poet found himself lost at the aged stone steps of Chungryeolsa. He looked for his love among the women who came to the well nearby for water, but he had no way of knowing the woman he was looking for was in Seoul and his trip ended in vain.
Despite this, the poet wrote several poems about Tongyeong, praising the city. "Abalones, sea cucumbers and fish like snapper and halibut / green laver, gills and pickled octopus / drums cry out on the streets of early dawn / all night the boats cry on the sea / the sea beckons at all hours" are a few verses from his time in the city.

 


* Gallery of Kim Chun-su's relics

 


There are poets who were born and raised in Tongyeong, of course. Kim Chun-su, well-known for works like Flower and The Snow Falling on Chagall's Village is one of them. Kim is acclaimed for having expanded the horizon of modern Korean poetry, and he spent his tender years looking out at the sea of Tongyeong. His cherished intentions towards Tongyeong were not only based on his younger years, however.
In his poem Tongyeongeup that begins with "I saw a troll fire / with a long tail / shaped like a stingray", his special thoughts towards poet Yu Chi-hwanand composer Yun Isang are warmly expressed. Every spring, at the Tongyeong International Music Festival, different musicians play so many variations of Yun's songs that it is hard to imagine. Many travel to Tongyeong to attend the festival, somewhat like the poet who came to the city looking for a loved one.
There were many other artists who created art in Tongyeong. Artist Jeon Hyeok-lim who is known for his unique work using the five cardinal Korean colors, used Tongyeong as inspiration for his work his entire life. Acclaimed Korean artist Lee Jung-seob stayed in Tongyeong during the Korean War and created paintings. Tongyeong acted as an incubator for so many artists, giving them shelter and inspiration. Perhaps this was because it was a land that was warmer and more beautiful than other territories. The area touts many islands, many fish in the sea and many folks with skills - most likely because everything was beautiful and plentiful. And Tongyeong still is today.

 

 

From several years ago, another reason to visit Tongyeong appeared: books.
Books can now easily be ordered from anywhere and delivered quickly,
but people are traveling to Tongyeong for books.

 

 

Books As Warm As the South

 

Tongyeong is one of South Korea's key tourist cities today. This is because it is a rare location where many visitors' needs can be fulfilled as there are mountains and beaches and a large variety of food and culture. From several years ago, another reason to visit Tongyeong appeared: books. Books can now easily be ordered from anywhere and delivered quickly, but people are traveling to Tongyeong for books.
Some of Tongyeong's books can be found at 'Bomnal's Bookstore'. The store is adjacent to the art museum for Jeon Hyeok-lim. It had been an empty residence for a long time before it was renovated into the bookstore it is today. Inside, visitors can still see where the living room and rooms were, but they have long been filled with books of all kinds.

 

* Bomnal's Bookstore

 

* Books published by publisher Namhaebomnal

 


There are also books that have been published in Tongyeong. Books like The Days of the Tiny Store Where One Coin Brought Happiness, Witch Power and We Didn't Know Writing, But We Knew Life are warm, fun and bring acquaintances to mind to be thankful for. Nearby the art gallery is the publisher who created these books: Namhaebomnal (Spring day of the southern coast).
This publishing company has shown self-perpetuation that is hard to find in not only Tongyeong but Busan and all of South Gyeongsang Province. There are less than 10 people working at Namhaebomnal, but every time the company releases a new book, it manages to spark excitement. The Days of the Tiny Store Where One Coin Brought Happiness was especially one that was a hit among readers. The artist, who had gone through a long hiatus due to motherhood, felt compelled to work again after seeing small mom-and-pop stores disappear, wishing to express affection and sadness for them. For the next some-20 years, the author visited the tiniest stores here and there in South Korea, all with their own stories, and brought them to life on paper. The result, which was The Days of the Tiny Store Where One Coin Brought Happiness, was later introduced by the BBC and exported to France, Japan and Taiwan.
Local Future written by Helena Norberg-Hodge, a pioneer of the 'local economy' was imported and released by Namhaebomnal. Norberg-Hodge is the author of Ancient Futures, and her latest book suggests to readers that global economic growth has destroyed our lives and nature despite enabling mankind to accrue wealth. It also suggests regionalization as a direction for readers of where to go next. The writer has spent all her life in efforts to recover nature and find the meaning of communal life. Her latest publication has summarized the core message she stresses in her lectures, interviews and op-eds and defines regionalization as a solution. There are also hopeful examples of regionalization in the book.
We Didn't Know Writing, But We Knew Life is about the story of elderly women who have just learned how to read and write and are now learning how to draw. In comparison to usual essay collections, this book is a collection of journal entries that are drawings, making it easier for readers to empathize. The artists and their drawings were later invited to galleries in four cities in the United States including Philadelphia, as if in a testimony that the grandmothers' experiences speak beyond race or age.
In May, the grandmother artists who hail from Suncheon were invited to speak at a 'book-talk' in addition to showing their drawings at the third Korea Regional Book Fair in Gochang, North Jeolla Province. Some critics said their appearance was most in line with the book fair's catchphrase, "I live in the countryside, I live books" which refers to people who create and promote books in regions outside Seoul. (More information on the book fair in Gochang follows below)

Tongyeong was a city of the 'jaengi'. Many people had skills, no matter what they were, and there were as many things to inspire them there as the number of islands off the southern coast. And there has always been something that sparkles in Tongyeong and today, that is literature grown from the cultural soil that also made South Korea's modern-day art plentiful. One canonly wonder what dreams, beautiful(is ‘greed’ the best word here?) and hopes the books will continue to carry in the future. And this is the reason Tongyeong is still as enticing as it was before.

 

 

A Look Around Book Village Haeri
and the Gochang Korea Regional Book Fair

 



From May 9 to 12, the Korea Regional Book Fair was held in Book Village Haeri located in Gochang-gun, North Jeolla Province. The third of its kind, the fair was themed "I live in the countryside, I live books" and invited regional publishers to come and put their books on display.

 

 

"We have to think about content that other people don't,"
"It is important to secure originality with content unique to countryside areas."

 

 

The festival featured programs that showcased characteristics of the book village. A variety of booths themed after different regions throughout the country greeted visitors. A film festival within the book fair held on a mud flat made use of the surrounding beach, bringing a uniqueness to the event. The thoughts and determination of regional publishing professionals could be observed at the regional publishing busking event and regional publishing forum. "We have to think about content that other people don't," said Kim Jin-seop, who runs a book workshop in Samrye-eup in Wanju-gun. He found empathy from the audience by saying, "It is important to secure originality with content unique to countryside areas." There were meet-and-greets with authors young and old, a book cinema tour themed on Gochang and performances that made it an well-rounded festival.
Book Village Haeri that hosted the book fair became what it is today in 2012 after a closed-down school was renovated and re-opened. The book village is worth a visit for those who want to spend a day surrounded by books. Visitors can experience 'book jail', where people can voluntarily isolate themselves with books, the 'Book Forest, Forest of Time' which displays books and the passing of time in addition to other features that make it a comprehensive cultural zone.

 

* Scenes from the Gochang Korea Regional Book Fair


 

 


Written by Jeong Hwanjeong, Choi Dami

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Jeong Hwanjeong, Choi Dami

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