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Monday, January 4, 2010

Science Made Easy

Jan. 04 (Jeju Weekly) When I first picked up “Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes,” by Park Bum Joon, I expected an informative text about Jeju’s three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites. As expected, the book provided this, but it also gave me so much more. Park has looked not only at Hallasan Natural Reserve, the Geomunoreum lava tube system and the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) tuff cone, collectively added to the UNESCO list in 2007 as Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, he also provides an enjoyable and highly readable book on Jeju in general.

Park opens by first introducing UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - and listing Korea’s eight World Cultural Heritage sites. The Jeju properties are the country’s first and, thus far, only sites to be designated World Natural Heritage sites.

The author then goes into greater depth on Halla Mountain and Jeju, citing a local saying that, “Hallasan is Jeju, and Jeju is Hallasan.” He does not concentrate on the National Park alone, however, but includes information on the formation of the island and its primary and secondary volcanoes, detailing both the local legend of Grandmother Seolmundae creating the island and the more scientific geological origin.

The book is published by TheBeetleBooks, who also print the useful and entertaining Beetle Maps, in conjunction with the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. Like the maps, it is scattered with cartoon characters and caricatures, which the reader can relate to while being both entertained and educated. Different characters, drawn by Moon Soo Min, pop up throughout the text to explain unfamiliar or scientific terms, or merely relate anecdotes.

Visually, the book is a work of art, with beautiful full-color photographs provided by the provincial government, augmented with Moon’s quirky cartoons and skillfully drawn illustrations by Kim Min Kyeong. These include representations of the island’s distinctive flora and fauna.

I have perused many publications on Jeju Island in my years of involvement with Korea and was pleasantly surprised to consider this the best I have found. Park explains scientific concepts and processes in terms suitable for any layperson and the text is interesting and accessible throughout. I had the pleasure of meeting the author early in December and he explained how he came to write the book.

“I didn’t know anything on natural history at all,” he said. “I was curious. They [the provincial government] wanted a person who was not an expert or scientist - a common person. I tried to learn and understand stories about volcanoes and culture on Jeju Island.”

Which he explains plainly for a layperson like myself, but I was concerned it might be a little simplistic for more scientific minds so asked for an opinion from an acquaintance of more scientific bent who has read the text. He wrote back that he found it “quite enlightening. I doubt even a small fraction of non-Koreans anywhere could fail to be educated by what’s there - nor even many Koreans off the island.”

I agree with his statement and purchased five more copies to send to friends overseas to show them where I’m living now. Five wasn’t enough, and I now need to order more.

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