Saturday, September 15, 2012

Travelogue: distinct culture of Jeju

Renowned travelogue unveils distinct culture of Jeju-do  Island

Art historian and writer Yoo Hong-jun talks about his latest addition to the “My Survey of Cultural Heritages”series during a press conference in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap

Yoo Hong-jun's best-selling travelogue has covered various parts of the nation and even North Korea. The latest addition to the six-part series covers one of Korea's most famous tourist destinations ― Jeju Island.

The 7th edition of Yoo's “My Survey of Cultural Heritages” series hits stores today.

"At first, I wasn't sure if I could do a whole book on Jeju Island. Over the years, I've met many people from Jeju who encouraged me to write about their island," Yoo said at a press conference in Seoul, Thursday.

The author writes about not just cultural heritages, but about the people that have lived on the island for generations and how historical events, like the Jeju Uprising in 1948, have affected it and its inhabitants.

The uprising was a revolt on Jeju Island off the south coast of the Korean Peninsula, beginning on April 3, 1948. Between 14,000 and 60,000 individuals were killed in fighting or by execution between various factions on the island. The brutal suppression of this rebellion by the South Korean Army resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, the destruction of many villages on the island, and sparking rebellions on the Korean mainland.

But to most Koreans today, Jeju is more known as a tourist destination with a unique culture.

Perhaps the most distinct cultural artifact is the ubiquitous "dol hareubang" (stone grandfather) carved from a block of basalt. A picture of this is on the cover of the book. Also unique to the province is the "haenyeo" (sea women), a dying breed of female divers and breadwinners of some of the local families.

"Some experts expect the Jeju dialect to disappear in the next 20 to 30 years. Keeping it alive would be one way to preserve our traditional culture," Yoo said. "There are now about 2,000 haenyeo on the island. Efforts should be made to document their lives as they are an important part of the island's history."

The 472-page book has many pictures of the main tourist sites and cultural heritages of the island, about 80 percent of which were taken by the author himself.

The 63-year-old scholar has tried to engage the public in learning about our traditional legacy through famous quotes such as “To love is to know” and “We can only see as much as we know” found in the first series.

Yoo previously was the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea from 2004 until 2008. He is currently a professor in the Art History Department at Myongji University. An art historian by profession, he released the first part of the series in 1993, centered on his personal experiences of traveling through the southern part of the country.

No scholar in modern times has been able to write such detailed, enlightening and at times entertaining stories on the cultural heritage across the Korean Peninsula. Of the seven books, two of them are devoted solely to the cultural treasures in North Korea.

The main purpose of the travelogue has been to shed light on numerous unrecognized cultural artifacts all over the peninsula. The first of the series became an instant bestseller, contributing to a new sense of respect among the general readership of our own cultural heritage.

He plans to conclude the series with Gyeonggi Province and North Chungcheong Province. He is also envisioning a book on Korean traditional artifacts in Japan.

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