Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ojukheon Shrine

On Thursday, April 9, we left Mrs. Kim's little valley on the #308 bus for a visit to Ojukheon Shrine. It sits right on Hwy. 7, on the northern outskirts of Gangneung City. There's a bus stop right at the front gate, and we got off there. Ojukheon is the birthplace, and home of Lady Shin Siamdang (1504-51), a scholar, artist, and poet, who also excelled at sewing, and embroidery, and her son Yi Yulgok (1536-84), a renowned philosopher, scholar, and statesman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_I.
Yi Yulgok is pictured on the Korean 5,000 wan note (about $4.50 U.S.). A typical upper-class home of the period, Ojukheon is comprised of many buildings, such as men's quarters, women's quarters, servants quarters, library, kitchen, storage rooms, and so forth. It is in a beautiful natural setting, with a slight hill shielding the grounds from the city, and highway that have sprung up around it over the centuries. We came to Ojukheon on our last visit to Korea, in 2001, and I remember it as one of the highlights of the trip. It was exactly as we remembered it from before, beautiful and serene. There are so many great photo opportunities here, it makes me sad that I can not include all the great photos we took here. This photo is probably my favorite of the whole trip. What beautiful architectural details. The roofs on these buildings are simply amazing, and the interiors are such elegant, uncluttered simplicity. One thing seems very evident about Korean culture, past and present: they keep very tidy, uncluttered homes, and have no furniture to speak of, preferring to live mostly on the floor. They have small shin-high folding tables that they bring out at meal time to eat off of, and thin futons to sleep on, which are folded up and put away in cabinets during the day. Modern Koreans heat their homes with an ingenious floor heating system that I still haven't figured out. Back in Yi Yulgok's day, as I learned from our visit to Ojukheon, the floors were raised up, and an outside, wood burning furnace, with under the floor duct system heated the homes. I still haven't figured out exactly how that works, either. The good folks who run Ojukheon nowadays take extremely good care of the place, especially considering the many thousands of visitors it gets. The grounds include many gardens, walls, pathways, sculptures, and quiet places to sit and contemplate the beautiful surroundings. There is a large exhibit hall which showcases many original artworks, embroidery, writings, and belongings of Lady Shin, and Yi Yulgok. Also, there is the obligatory gift shop, selling many wonderful things Ojukheon. I was able to find a book in English titled "Yulgok's Selection Of Prose & Poetry On Mt. Keumgang Exploration", published by the Yulgok Society. It tells of his exploration, at age nineteen, of "every corner of Mt. Keumgang", a sacred mountain to the Koreans. Unfortunately, Mt. Keumgang sits in what is now North Korea, and was for many years off limits to those in the South. Recently, however, the North has allowed a tour company to bring in a limited number of South Korean tourists, by boat, to the place on the coast nearest to Mt. Keumgang, and then directly to the mountain, without stopping to see anything else along the way. It just goes to show how paranoid those in power in the North really are. They will gladly take the money that the tourist trade generates, but, will not really open up. Hopefully, some day soon, the spirit of the great Confucian scholar, and statesman Yi Yulgok will prevail, and the divided Koreans can come together as the one people that they truly are.
Here is a link to the pictures I took at Ojukheon:
The official website of the Republic of Korea: http://www.korea.net/.

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