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2011 Travel Diary day 8: Seogipwo’s Lee Jung-seob museum and Jeju’s stone tomb guardians

Seogwipo's Lee Jung-seob museum
Seogwipo’s Lee Jung-seob museum with (in foreground) the roof of the small cottage where he lived for a year in 1951

Jeju Stone Park, Saturday 7 May 2011. We wake up on our second morning in the Stone Park. We go on a pleasant stroll through the parks’s extraordinary recreation forest. The part of the forest accessible from the Stone Park has had pathways sensitively constructed enabling families to enjoy the unusual gnarled shapes of the trees which seem to thrive despite what seems to be the poverty of nutrients in the soil. Jeju, being an island of rocks, is not particularly friendly to trees, but nevertheless the local trees have adapted. Gotjawal (곶자왈) forest is a type of landscape which seems to be unique to Jeju-do: rocky, inaccessible terrain thickly forested with trees and bushes and it has an important role in maintaining water levels in Jeju’s aquifers, as a large percentage of the island’s abundant rainfall permeates through the forest’s lava and soil. The trees seem to cling to the rocks, supported by numerous free-standing roots like mangroves, or splayed out like the hands of a snooker player supporting the cue in a difficult-to-reach position on the table.

Mr Baek Un-cheol, honorary director of Jeju Stone Park (right) with Mr Kim Yu-jeong, writer and critic
Mr Baek Un-cheol, honorary director of Jeju Stone Park (right) with Mr Kim Yu-jeong, writer and critic

After the leisurely early morning walk it is time to say our farewells to Mr Baek. We had not slept well the previous night. Outside our small cottage so typical of a Korean pension there had been sounds of rustling and snuffling, of large beasts on the move. In the pitch darkness our imaginations had run riot. “Oh, so the cows were in the accommodation area last night were they?” asked Mr Baek nonchalantly the following day when we told him about it.

I retrieve my camera from him, battery now fully charged to last me the rest of the trip. We sit around his table in his office, drinking tea and talking about his life-long passion (the materials are incorporated into the write-up on the park from yesterday’s diary). We are joined by Mr Kim and then head off to our next stop: Seogwipo.

Lee Jung-seob lived for a year with his wife and two children in one third of this cottage
Lee Jung-seob lived for a year with his wife and two children in one third of this cottage

We drive straight to our destination: the art museum dedicated to Jeju’s most famous artist, Lee Jung-seob. We are met by the curator of the museum who shows us around the tiny hut, now in the grounds of the museum, which the artist rented with his wife and children for most of 1951.

We have a break for lunch – a tasty fish stew seasoned with anchovy paste – and then return to look around the museum. The curator, Ms Jeon Eun-ja, is generous with her time, and tells me a little about the artist and the museum. What materials there are available in English she gives me to take away and read, which has enabled me to do a brief sketch of Lee Jung-seob’s life here.

We need to travel across the island to catch a flight to Seoul. Our friend Mr Kim Yu-jeong offers to drive, because he has a little detour in mind on the way. He is something of an expert on the native burial customs in Jeju-do, and in particular the stone statues which stand guard over the tombs – the Dongjaseok (동자석). Mr Kim hands me a copy of his book on the subject. One day I shall have learned enough Korean to understand it. We stop briefly on at what I am told is the tomb of a yangban banished from Seoul who lived and died in exile in Jeju-do. The stone statues are of course much less imposing than one finds guarding a royal tomb. Their expressions are simple, and one of them has cartoon-like qualities. Dongjaseok are in fact statues of young children, rather than the scholars or military officials that guard the royal tombs. They usually appear in pairs: in the Stone Park yesterday they had been standing side by side, but in their natural situation they face each other on opposite sides of the tomb. Often the figures hold objects in their hands which give clues as to the religious or ritual preferences of the family of the deceased, for example a baton for a Confucian preference, a fan for shamanism or lotus flower for Buddhist.

We say our farewells at the airport, and I am soon travelling on the KAL limo bus into downtown Seoul, where we crawl along in almost gridlocked traffic: it is the Hi! Seoul Festival or something similar, which seemingly involves traffic congestion as a mandatory side-effect.

I reach the Lotte Hotel and walk to Insadong for a quick snack of dumplings and beer. An early night is called for after a busy trip down south. Lanterns dot the route back from Insadong to the hotel.

Seogwipo’s Lee Jung-seob museum is at 87, Ijungseopgeo-ri, Seogwipo-si, Jeju | 제주특별자치도 서귀포시 이중섭로 27-3 (서귀동) [Map]


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>> Bonus article: Lee Jung-seob — a wartime artist taking refuge in Jeju-do <<

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