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Monday, April 19, 2010

Strong support for Jeju

April 19 (Jeju Weekly) The Honorable Maurice Strong is living proof that anything is possible with faith and perseverance. Despite having left formal education at high-school level, the man who introduced the United Nations, and hence the world, to environmentalism counts seven honorary professorships among his extensive list of awards. The secretary general of the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Human Environment and the first executive director of the U.N. Environment Program plans to spend his twilight years facilitating the establishment of the World Environment University in Jeju. On meeting him, one cannot fail to believe in his vision.

Strong said the idea of a World Environment University was conceived several years ago and has involved extensive consultation with interested parties in the environmental, academic and policy fields. “There are many universities that have faculties or institutes of environment,” he said, “but there is not a world network to keep them together.” Having identified that need, he felt it was natural “at this late stage of my life” to help create such a network. (Strong will turn 81 in late April.)

“Helping to create the World Environment University is the best thing I can do to make sure that this work not only continues but that a new generation of leadership can be educated and trained to ensure that our earth can still be a habitable place,” he said.

The government of Panama offered attractive incentives to locate the university there and Strong’s birthplace, Canada, also expressed interest but neither was ideal strategically. Then, two years ago, Strong came to Jeju and has since been in discussions with Jeju National University and the provincial and central governments.

He said Jeju is uniquely suited to host such a project. “When I say Jeju is very unique, I say it with knowledge of other unique and special places in the world,” he said. “It’s a number of things. One is the actual physical character of the island, which is very special, and its subtropical climate. Its location is a very big thing because it’s less than two hours from Beijing, from Seoul, from Osaka, from Tokyo - it is in the center of the biggest concentration of rural population. It is itself a living example of how to care for a very unique environment and the commitment of the self-government here, also supported by the commitment of the central government, is designed to make this a modern state but one which cares for its natural environment and is creating an example of how human beings can enhance that environment, rather than destroying it.”

The 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress on Jeju would focus the attention of the world on the island, he said. That, combined with the World Environment University would make Jeju truly a world environment center - “the center of a global network. ”

Establishing the university would be a two-stage project, with the first stage possible by the end of this year. “In the beginning, we hope that Jeju National University will start within the university a World Environment Institute, which would allow this to get started immediately, inside the structure of World Environment University.” “Under our scheme, there would be many universities and institutes that would be partners, but Jeju National University would be the main partner.”

That first stage would require an investment of about $1.5 million to $2 million, Strong said, with establishment of the university itself following gradually. “Korea and Jeju would need to take the lead at the beginning but gradually, as the university becomes more known, it will attract more funding.

Strong said his personal investment was to give his time and knowledge free of charge, and he saw it as the best way he could use his relationships and his knowledge. He has suggested a list of 25 world-renowned names to be considered as participants in WEU, all of whom he knows and has consulted with.

“They all have expressed their willingness to be associated in different ways, he said. “Some can come and actually teach a course part-time, some will teach a course at their own university and make it available here, and this will be helpful to Jeju National University, it will be helpful to Jeju and it will be helpful to the whole concept. But without the anchor of Jeju, it won’t work. The network needs a center and this will be the center.”

Asked, as a leading environmentalist who will now spend much of his time in Jeju, what advice he would give to policy-makers and residents of the island, Strong said it was important to keep Jeju as it is. “Don t allow any development on the island that will hurt the environment but rather encourage and give incentive to development that will take advantage, for example, tourism is a natural.

“It is to build the economic future of Jeju on its natural advantages and not to reduce those advantages by the wrong kind of development.”

Fresh from Shara's Garden

April 19 (Jeju Weekly) One of the things I miss the most about my adopted hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand, is my friends’ organic farm on the Otago Peninsula. With views out to sea and seals and yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho) virtually in the backyard, it is one of the most relaxing places I know. Add to that the wide expanse of garden growing a variety of organic vegetables and herbs and you have an experience that is literally grounding. There is nothing better than a salad of ingredients so fresh from the soil that they haven’t yet realized they’re no longer growing.

I have now found a similar refuge on Jeju Island, complete with an organic restaurant, and plan to return there as often as possible. Shara’s Garden, in the village of Sunheul, was opened by owner and designer Shin Young less than a year ago, and will celebrate its first anniversary on May 1. Shin, who goes by the English name of Monica, was born in the United States to Korean parents and the family returned to Seoul while she was still young. Monica (diners quickly become friends on a first-name basis) was educated in America, where she became a cosmetologist, and has been living at Sunheul for nine years, in a house she designed herself.

Monica said she first became interested in organic food after she became very sick and the doctors she visited, first Korean and U.S. and then Chinese practitioners of Oriental medicine, were unable to tell her why. She read and studied many books and decided her problems were food-related so she quit her job and started working on her own health instead.

▲ Photo by Tracie Barrett

“Every morning I walked and worked in the garden,” she said, “and found out that if the dirt is live, you are alive, but if the dirt is dead, you will be dead.”

It is a lesson she obviously learned well as this bright, vivacious woman looks nowhere near old enough to be the mother of a 30-something daughter - the Shara for who the restaurant is named. Like its owner, the restaurant building is a pleasant surprise, a stucco-finished building nestled among the surrounding farmland with rear windows that overlook a field planted in rape plants and other edible treats. The interior has two divisions, one nearer the kitchen that feels more traditional with medicine chest furniture and a private room with an excess of comfortable cushions, and a more modern glass and pale wood interior next door. A curved wooden stairwell leads to Monica’s private quarters above.

My friend Darryl and I began with coffee to warm us after our motorcycle ride to the restaurant, then sampled one of Monica’s “fermentations,” each of which is designed to alleviate particular health problems. I chose the Chinese bellflower root, which helps with breathing disorders. She then brought bowls of home-made soup, which I had smelled cooking the moment I opened the door on arrival. The recipe changes regularly (Jeju Weekly’s publisher loves the pumpkin variety) and this day we had a creamy vegetable soup, which was so good I finished the last few spoonfuls of Darryl’s when he stepped outside to take an important phone call.

We followed this with a salad that Monica calls Miss Jeju, most of the ingredients of which we’d just watched her pick from the garden behind the restaurant. A colorful combination of different lettuce and endive varieties with brassica leaves and topped with rape flowers, the salad was a fitting base for tender chicken slices and Monica’s piquant home-made dressing. Darryl said it was easily the best salad he had tasted since coming here more than a year ago.

▲ Photo by Tracie Barrett

We followed this with La Polo Loco, or crazy chicken - a fusion Italian/Korean mix of chicken in a slightly spicy Italian style sauce served on angel hair pasta with ddeok, or rice cake noodles. As with everything on the menu, the dish has a story, and part of the pleasure is hearing Monica relate the tale of each item.

We sipped her home-made raspberry wine to accompany our feast while chatting, as best we could with no shared language, with a three-generational Korean family dining in the room next door. (Good food, good intentions, open smiles and contented tummies go a long way to enabling friendly communication.) We were the only two tables dining on the Monday lunchtime when we visited, but Monica laughingly told us she doesn’t like to be too busy anyway. For that reason, she recommends that diners book rather than just show up, and she doesn’t mind being relatively hard to find.

Once you do find your way to Shara’s Garden, I’m sure that you will want to return, as do Darryl and I. The fresh flavors, warm welcome and friendly, fascinating hostess make this truly feel a home away from home.

Shara’s Garden
3976 Sunheul-ri, Jocheon-eup, Jeju City
Tel: 070-7773-9631