Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tongyong and Goseong: Admiral Yi and Mountains in the Sea

This post will be edited later and pictures will be added.
Oh Jeong Sook who studied in Indiana at South Bend Museum of art school and the University of South Bend is our host for four nights, beginning June 26 evening. She has a small American style house she had built adjacent to her home and above her ceramics studio (gas and electric kilns!) overlooking a small harbor in the south sea. Despite the left over winds and drizzle of Maeuri which has caused so much flooding in China, it is peaceful and quiet here. We sleep in a room on the main floor with beautiful wood cases to display her work, compact fluorescent lighting, and I’m writing from the loft which is a handsome tea room and display area for her ceramics. We arrived and she served us tea; then we went to the grocery store in Goseong and got a quick tour of the local scene: spa and good dining are in the area. Like everywhere else, there are vegetable gardens, but apparently in nearby Geoje there are some stunning Mediterranean inspired landscapes including some fantastic topiary work. Even if the storm prevents us getting on a boat, we should be able to enjoy the rocky island coast environment for there are numerous bridges to everywhere.

We went to the grocery store, Top Mart, which is a smallish supermarket, and I learned the long eel like fish in the markets are from Jeju. Here is the way the meat counter was arranged. We bought fruit and vegetables, organic eggs and makkoli, the rice brewed drink popular here. The three of us shared the makkoli, some tomatoes and almonds as an evening snack, and we slept very well.

Bulguksa, the big temple complex of ancient Shilla near Gyeongju was very impressive. Only a small portion remains of its one multi-acred grounds and buildings. We didn’t make it to Seokguram, and I’m sorry for it is the main attraction. However, the rain and Jim’s infirmity on Saturday made hiking there (3 km) impossible with our schedule. It will have to wait another time. The guardians at Bulguksa are also impressive and the spacious couryards indicate a grace not found at the other temples we’ve encountered. Hardly anyone was there the (Sun)day we went, probably because of the rain. We were drenched, and left to go to Tongyeong after a Chinese lunch near where we snacked with our art friends earlier in the week.

Tongyeong is a moderately sized city with the distinction of large fishing industry and its historical link to Yi Soonshin, the brilliant naval commander of the Imjin War in the late 16th century. We had seen a lengthy drama, but had previously learned about him in reading Korean history. In the past 150 or so years, he has symbolized national enthusiasm for defense: now many sculptures dot the south coast where he was most active. For years Japanese adventurers had raided the south coast, especially for food (the area is a cornucopia of rice and vegetables as well as fish) and ceramics, not taking only the products, but the makers of the craft as well in order to establish their own workshops. Art historians have told me that what makes Japanese ceramics special is the technology and traditions of Korea which they inherited. So here in Yi Soonshin Park, with its beautifully terraced gardens is a massive sculpture of the Admiral overlooking the harbor in Tongyeong. (Hint: it’s three times the size of Leif Ericson in Ballard)

Also in downtown Tongyeong are two recently build replicas of the kind of ships Admiral Yi built and used in the Imjin war. One is the kind of Korean warship, equipped with large cannon and numerous oars for manueverability. The other is the famous “Turtle Ship” or Geobuksan, which is a heavily modified warship for offensive strategies. Its top deck is not actually a deck, but a metal shield with spikes to repel both fire and boarding attacks. The massive dragon like head is meant to intimidate and originally cannon shot came from it, greatly intimidating the enemy. Below decks were oars and stern specially designed for great manuevers, and each size had state of the art cannon, much larger than enemy cannon. We could tour the turtle ship and there were child sized uniforms for kids to try on, replicas of the officers’ clothing as well as interpretive signs. We searched for lunch among the numerous kim bap and doughnut shops, finally settling on a side street and seafood soup which was packed with clams and mussels, delicious. then we drove out to Geoje in search of gardens and the Haegeumgang, a beautiful scenic drive.

Exhausted from all these activities, we spent Tuesday recuperating, Alice sleeoing most of the day, painting, going to the bath house with Jung Sook and enjoying a fine supper at an unnamed restaurant which Jung Sook had recommended. It was very relaxing and restorative; again we slept well. Today we explored Goseng with Jung Sook, taking in the dinosaur expo where real Seismosaurus tracks, along with other fossilized impressions were excavated and removed during road construction. There was a frightening (to Alice) film in 3-D with sensuround, including puffs of air and a very serious young interpreter of both dinosaur information and Yi Shinsoon, who also commemorated here for another important battle. There is a shrine with his portrait, this massive helmut, another Geobuksan. Jung Sook’s friend, the director of the center, very courteously arranged the tour and guide for us. Then we drove around Namhae and to German town. Namhae is very beautiful and the islands that dot the bays and inlets are like mountains in the sea. This is a beautiful and charming area.

We ended the day with a fabulous dinner prepared by Jung Sook’s friend, an artist currently working in interior design living with her husband, who is self-taught in English (impressively so) and her young son. They gathered a group of friends who were also working on their English; so we chatted aimably as we dined on the Jeju fish (tail fish it is called, and it is excellent, prepared with mild red pepper sauce and potatoes), two jun: mushroom and shrimp with squid, rice with beans, pork, kimchee (also very delicious). It was also not too salty, for which I was thankful. We sipped some fruit liquor from North Korea and another brew (very expensive, said our host) probably 80 proof with ginseng, also tasty with dinner, then enjoyed almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and dried persimmon with Chinese tea after dinner.

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