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Saturday, September 18, 2010

500 Generals Gallery

Sept. 18 (Jeju Weekly) A passing rainstorm at the commencement of opening celebrations for the Obaekjanggun (500 Generals) Gallery on Sept. 9 failed to dampen spirits. Members of the traditional Folk Culture Group from the Seoul Institute of the Arts had a wet start to the day of entertainment but the skies quickly cleared, allowing guests to enjoy the Bongsan mask dance and a white tiger mask dance in comfort before the official speeches.

The gallery is the latest stage to open at Jeju Stone Park, an ecological culture park on more than 300 hectares of land at Gyorae-ri in Jocheon. The park’s main theme is based on the legend of Seolmundae Halmang, the giant goddess credited with creating Jeju Island, and her sons, known in local mythology as the 500 generals.

One legend of Seolmundae Halmang tells that when her sons were out hunting, she made a cauldron of soup for their return but accidentally fell into the pot and died. The sons, oblivious to this, returned hungry and ate the soup, only realizing when the youngest son saw her bones at the bottom of the pot that they had eaten their own mother.

He wept bitterly and went to the west of Jeju where he turned into a solitary stone just off the coast known as Oedeolgae, or the Lone Stone. The other brothers also turned to stone on Mt. Halla and formed rock columns on Halla’s Yeongsil Trail called the Obaekjanggun. It is for them that the gallery is named.

Park founder and director Baek Un Chol first learned the legend more than 40 years ago and it has remained with him throughout his education, military service on Korea’s mainland and his return to Jeju. He said Jeju Stone Park had taken 40 years for him to conceive but he felt it had been part of him from a previous life. “I believe I was born for this project,” he said. “My entire life and Jeju Stone Park has been dedicated to actualizing this myth in concrete form.”

Construction of the gallery began in July 2006 and has cost more than 18 billion won. (Financing for the park has come equally from the national and Jeju provincial governments, Baek said.) The three-story building has an area of 6,830 square meters (larger than an American football field) and includes space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, a state-of-the-art performance hall and a cafeteria.

Jeju Stone Park has been created using five primary materials – stone, soil, trees, iron and water – and these are also the themes of the permanent and inaugural exhibitions. The permanent exhibition comprises the roots and remnants of Jeju’s Jorok tree, which Baek said is unique because it burns at very high temperatures and only grows at altitudes higher than 700 meters above sea level. Trees are also the origin of Lee Eun Hee’s preferred material.

The Jeju-born artist uses paper to create her works, and said the theme of her exhibition in the Obaek-janggun Gallery is “the co-existence of human beings going back to our origins.” Her pieces illustrate a cycle of rebirth merging into deep forest imagery, before humankind leaves the forest to go to heaven. “My mindset during the creation of these artworks was the desperate devotion contained within the Seolmun-dae Halmang myth,” she said.

Kang Tae Kil’s exhibit represents stone in a series of photographs of Jeju. The artist settled on the island in 1986 and writes that photographing the stones, hills (oreum) and forests of Jeju was “a process of finding out the layers of my life.” Media artist Kim Hyung Soo portrays water in projected images of the sea, running water, carp and dance movements, both in video and computer graphics. Lee Seung Soo’s material and theme is iron but his subject matter also embraces the importance of the sea to Jeju life. A bronze sculpture of a haenyeo (diving woman) stands on a stone in one corner of the room as iron mesh sculptures of her colleagues hang suspended from the ceiling, appearing to swim through the space. Ko Won Jong’s ceramic pieces complete the thematic quintet, as the artist uses soil, in this case clay, as his medium.

Despite Jeju Stone Park’s firm place on the tour map of the island, director Baek is adamant that it is not a tourist attraction. “The main purpose of this park is to preserve and display Jeju’s traditional culture and hand it down to descendants,” he said. “People cannot move forward without knowing their history or their culture. In order for Korea to move forward, there is a need for us to understand our culture and history.” The gallery is an important part of this process, he said, and is the only such venue on the east side of the Jeju Island.

Still to be built at Jeju Stone Park, Baek said, is the Seolmundae Halmang Auditorium, for which construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next year and be completed in 2020. That is also the year that Baek’s contract to oversee the park will end, but he has no intention of leaving. “I plan to work as a janitor here after that,” he said. “I will die here.”

WWOOFing Through Korea

Sept. 18 (Jeju Weekly) If such a thing as a typical tourist to Korea exists, Julian Evans-Pritchard is unlikely to fit the bill. The 20-year-old from Kent in the United Kingdom first came to the country last summer at the suggestion of his Korean girlfriend, with whom he had been studying Chinese in Beijing.

He returned in August to see more of the country and chose a relatively unusual means to do so – by joining WWOOF Korea. (The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and the volunteer workers in this movement are referred to as WWOOFers.)

“I wanted to spend a bit longer in Korea and get to know the place better,” Evans-Pritchard said. “So I decided I should do something apart from just being a tourist.”

A Swedish friend who had gained experience of the WWOOF program in England, where it began in 1971, recommended it to him. “I went on their Web site and it looked like something I would enjoy,” the Kent man added.

Evans-Pritchard recently spent a week in the sweet persimmon village near Changwon as part of a promotional program WWOOF Korea is running in the lead-up to the November G20 summit in Seoul.

“That was a really fun program as there were a group of us going together. There was me, a French guy, a girl from Taiwan and two Korean volunteers. It was a really fun experience because you did a lot of activities and got to know the other people really well,” he said.

He decided to continue the program on Jeju and explains how he chose the island as a destination. “I was looking through the WWOOF book and it stood out to me because it’s an island and it has so many beautiful things to see here.”

“I’d already traveled around a bit in Korea the last time I came, to the east coast. But I’d never been down to the south and I thought that coming to Jeju-do would be the most special thing I could do,” the traveler explained.

WWOOF Korea coordinator Jade Jo recommended Seoul Farm in the village of Shinrye in Seogwipo and Evans-Pritchard arranged with hosts Oh Mi Suk and her husband, Koh Moon Gyu, to stay for a week. He took a ferry from Busan to Jeju and a bus to Seogwipo, where the couple and their sons, aged 12 and 14, met him. On the way to their house they stopped at Soesokkak, a popular and picturesque tourist spot on the south coast, and fished from the rocks.

“This has been a different experience,” Evans-Pritchard said. “It’s been more getting to know and getting close with the Korean [hosts]. Now I’m living in their house whereas before we were living in separate accommodations on the other farm [which meant] more bonding between the WWOOFers. Now I’m on my own, so it’s more talking with their children,” he said.

Host Oh said it was for their sons that the couple first joined WWOOF Korea in November 2009. “I joined initially for my children to practice their English, but after a few experiences I really enjoyed it and that is why we kept doing it,” she said.

Evans-Pritchard is the eighth WWOOFer the third-generation farming family has hosted and Oh proudly displayed a scrapbook of photos of their guest workers at scenic spots on Jeju and postcards the family has received after their WWOOFers have moved on.

Program coordinator Jo said there are about 30 farms registered with WWOOF Korea, of which six are located on Jeju. “Compared to Canada or Australia, the organic sector is still small and still new,” she said. “It’s growing, but it’s still beginning.”

The organization acts as a link between the WWOOFers, who agree to work about five or six hours a day, and the WWOOF hosts, who in return provide meals, accommodation and agree to answer questions about their country and organic lifestyle. “WWOOF hosts are not just taking WWOOFers for labor,” Jo said, “they want to have more of a cultural exchange and to show the WWOOFers the area where they live and to share time with them.”

Cultural exchange is an important aspect of the program and the experience of Seoul Farm owner Koh demonstrates how both sides benefit. “At first I was nervous because we didn’t speak good English, but now it is a fun part of our life,” he said. “At first only our oldest son spoke English so while he wasn’t there, it was very quiet. Now Mi Suk speaks some English and I’m learning too.”

Evans-Pritchard also spoke highly of the program. “WWOOF Korea is quite new but it seems like they are really off to a good start,” he said. “People who have done WWOOF in other countries said WWOOF Korea is more personal. You feel less like a laborer and more like family.”

For more information on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms programs in Korea, go to

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building Friendships, Building Peace

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- Muscles ripple as young arms shovel cement and sand into a cone and form a crater in its center, unconsciously mimicking the volcanic peaks that dot the landscape of Jeju, a semi-tropical honeymoon island off South Korea's south coast.
The scorching sun is beating down upon a group of university students, now working as manual laborers. One girl pours water into the crater and the group begins to mix concrete by hand, sweat dripping from them as they laugh and joke in a mixture of Korean, Russian, English and gesture. Elsewhere on the site, others manhandle huge pieces of Jeju basalt into place to form a seating area.
Most of the students from seven countries that edge the Pacific Ocean met only several weeks earlier, when they arrived in South Korea to build the sixth Pacific Rim Park (PRP) on the coastline of Jeju.
"We really build our friendships on what we share, not on what we disagree on," James Hubble, the founder and artistic director of the PRP project, said in a speech during a recent dedication ceremony. Dignitaries who attended the ceremony included Jeju Gov. Woo Keun-min and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens.
The Jeju park is the sixth PRP project. Japan is the only country represented that does not yet have a park, but it's likely the next host wiil be Peru or Nicaragua. Sister parks sit on the shorelines of Russia, the United States, China, Mexico and the Philippines. Organizers want one park in each nation that borders the Pacific.
A pearl was a major feature in the first park, built in Vladivostok in 1994 "when Gorbachev was opening up Russia," Hubble said.
Hubble said he had formed a friendship with Gennady Turmov, president of Vladivostok's Far Eastern State Technical University, while in the country on an artist exchange and the two decided to create a park near the university.
Students from the United States and one from Mexico labored side by side with their Russian counterparts in a team effort few would have imagined even a decade earlier.
That stand-alone project grew into the PRP Project, which was established in 1995 as a non-profit corporation based in San Diego, where the second park was built in 1998. Financing for the parks is obtained through sponsorship and fundraising activities.
Prof. Koh Seong Joon of Jeju National University, who worked with PRP on the Korean project, said Jeju island was suggested as an ideal site for a Pacific Rim Park about two years ago and the preparation process and fundraising began shortly after.
He lauded the PRP project, saying that it helps build connections between cultures, many of whom have a long history of conflict. The university provided housing for the students, who only had to pay their travel costs. Organizers said about 80 percent of each park is funded by the home country, with the remainder provided by the project.
Each park is designed by the participating students so all differ in design, but they are united by a stylized pearl placed in each. The symbolism of the pearl, the organizers said, is of something that promotes harmony.
The Jeju park is about one-third the size of a football field and is the largest of the Pacific Rim Parks to date, Koh said, describing it as an area for reflection rather than play. Its pearl focus is located in the center of a semi-circular seating area that faces out to the Pacific Ocean.
Another feature of the park is an ascending spiral that leads to a grandmother sculpture, which represents both Seolmundae Halmang - the giant goddess that local legend credits with creating Jeju Island - and the strong women the province is also famous for.
Though on a coastal road, the site is relatively isolated but its location on "olle" trails guarantees frequent visitors. The trails are hundreds of kilometers of interconnecting walking paths on Jeju that have proven popular to visitors.
Sixteen years after it began, the PRP project continues to expand and connect Pacific communities. Much has changed in the interim and for most of the students working on Jeju's park, named "Stepping Stones of the Pacific," former enmities are simply historical footnotes.
Aleksandr Motorina, a 23-year-old student from Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok, expressed excitement about the project, saying that she also worked on the Philippine park with similar excitement and has visited her hometown's sister city of San Diego. She said she can't remember the time Russia and America were enemies.
"I was only three," she said. "I only know what my parents told me about from the past and some little, little memories."
For her, she said, the parks are not just construction projects but "about people, and feelings and the experience of connecting."
Although few of the students have personal memories of any conflict with their Pacific neighbors, Jeju bears its own scars. Military caves and tunnels in the cliffs and an adjacent disused airfield stand testament to the occupation of the island by Japan during World War II.
The students all spoke of the sense of community and family they now had with former strangers from other lands and how that will stay with them wherever they go.
"This is something that is not going to stop," said one of the students, Garrett Goodwin, 27, from San Diego. "It's a symbol of peace. It's a symbol of dedication and creativity through actions, through bridging the gap between the language barriers that we have and trying to understand each other just by working together."