The Korea Herald


Stories hidden within southernmost strip of Korea

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Nov. 24, 2017 - 17:13

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HADONG, South Gyeongsang Province - Take the scenic route to South Gyeongsang Province by train. Drift down past Gyeonggi Province, Sejong City, and Namwon, where the most famous pansori love story of Chunhyang is set.

Change at Suncheon and it’s a short trip to Hadong-gun and Namhae-gun -- where you will find unique people with stories to tell.

When you are visiting a place just a stone’s throw away from the shore, make sure to try some of the seafood. One of the delicacies of the area is the Chinese mitten crab soup, which is served with the crabs ground up to a porridge-like consistence. The taste is unique, although might not be to everyone’s liking.

The German Village in Namhae-gun, South Gyeongsang Province / GNC21 The German Village in Namhae-gun, South Gyeongsang Province / GNC21

If you visit Hadong in autumn, you will find yourself surrounded by mountains colored in the various shades of the season. One of the gems of the region is the tiny village of Pyeongsa-ri, where famed writer Park Kyung-ni got the inspiration for her epic novel “Toji.”

“Toji” is a grand saga that looks at the fall and revival of a once-prominent family during the late Joseon period and times of Japan’s colonization of Korea. The story follows Choi Champan -- a former “yangban,” which is equivalent to the aristocrats of the West -- and his family through Korea’s most tumultuous years.

While Choi is a fictional character, those captivated by his story have built a house exactly like the one depicted in the books and the building has become a tourist attraction on its own right.

A replica of Choi Champan’s House in the book “Toji” in Hadong-gun, South Gyeongsang Province. (GNC21) A replica of Choi Champan’s House in the book “Toji” in Hadong-gun, South Gyeongsang Province. (GNC21)

Poet Choi Yeong-wook built and managed the house, based on his close relationship with the author Park.

He is one of the experts chosen by the state-run Korea Tourism Organization to offer tourist programs that best describe their region.

“This is where Seomjin River and Jirisan meet, the lands with a sad history. This is why Park decided that it should be the background for her story,” said Choi.

The house stays true to the traditions, with separate sections for workers, different members of the family, and in accordance to the rule that the most important elements -- including the building where the husband stays -- stay on the right side of the center of the house where the wife stays.

It provides a spectacular view of the entire village, including the vast farmlands, surrounding mountains, and the skies that extend as far as the eye can see.

Seok Suk-ja (GNC21) Seok Suk-ja (GNC21)

Choi has been sharing his stories related to “Toji” and Park with visitors, but there are not yet regular tourism packages featuring the poet and the house. Those lucky enough to get a glimpse of him around the house can ask for tales related to “Toji,” albeit in Korean.

For more information, (055) 882-2675. The house is closed on Mondays.

Heading on further south, you will enter Namhae-gun. The area is surrounded by the ocean and has beautiful views of the coast.

Stepping into Samdong-myeon, however, you will find a town of European-style houses with white walls and red, pointed roofs. You have entered the German Village, hosted by Namhae-gun since 2002 to offer retirement homes for former Korean nurses and miners who were sent to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s.

The nation was in the process of rebuilding after the 1950-53 Korean War left the land in ruins, and was in dire need of foreign capital. Germany, on the other hand, was suffering a labor shortage.

A museum dedicated to the miners and nurses offers stories of how they worked in hopes of a better future.

Seok Suk-ja, a former nurse who went there in 1973, was one of the first residents to settle in the German Village. She works at the museum now, telling tales of her life and work as a Korean nurse in the little German city of Leiclingen.

“Of all the countries around us, Germany was the only one that reached out to us,” she said. “We were so thankful that Germans paid us a similar amount to what they did their own citizens. Civil servants of Korea at the time were paid around 15,000 won, and us nurses were paid over ten times that amount.”

From 1965 to 1973, the miners and nurses sent home $102 million, which accounted for 10 percent of Korea’s export during that time.

Seok and around 40 former nurses and miners had set the foundations for the village. Every October, the villagers host a beer festival that is designed to be a local version of Germany’s Oktoberfest. Some of the 40 homes in the village also offer lodgings.  

For more information, call (055) 867-8897.