Beolgyo, South Korea
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  Posted June 22nd, 2016 by Zdenko  in Travel | No comments yet.

World travel

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Beolgyo’s Tragic History
One of my best friends in Edmonton came to Canada from South Korea. Kim Yonghun Hun was born in the town of Beolgyo. Though he never talks about his home land, I was curious and wanted to find more about his country and Korean culture. I “Googled” on the internet and the following blog by Brian & Robert is what I’ve discovered. I hope you’ll find this an interesting read just like I did.


 Beolgyo ( Boseong county, Jeollanam-do province)

A few days ago I visited the town of Beolgyo, in Boseong county. It’s thirty minutes away by bus, has 19,000 people, and is known for its Japanese colonial architecture, for its violent 1940s, and for being the setting of the novel Taebaek Sanmaek.

Before I get into the post, I’ll link to two great posts from two great bloggers: (1) this one, from The Marmot’s Hole, has good pictures and talks about Beolgyo’s history, and (2) this one, from Antti Leppanen, talks a little about the sites mentioned in the novel.

Boseong, Home of Green Tea and Music


Tourism video of Boseong, Jeollanam-do, Republic of Korea

 If you’ve got an interest in contemporary Korean history, there’s plenty to see and feel in Beolgyo, a town that is, for all intents and purposes, a product of Japanese colonial policy. The town was developed as a transportation center to ship agricultural goods from the Jeolla provinces to ports like Yeosu. The Japanese also engaged in a number of ambitious but divisive land reclamation products in the area. The Japanese penetration of the region and the colonial projects they pursued intensified class and ideological conflicts in the Beolgyo area that long outlived colonial rule. Jo’s The Taebaek Mountains examines this colonial legacy and the tragic conflicts that ripped South Korean society in the years between Liberation and the end of the Korean War.

Beolgyo’s downtown area is a place only a Japanese colonial administrator could love. Which, in a way, makes it kind of interesting. Like Gunsan, there are a number of old colonial-era buildings maintained as reminders of Korea’s difficult past. The town does get a fair number of visitors who come looking for the different places described in Jo’s book. Many of them, including the old Japanese Financial Collective building, Kim Beom-woo’s home, the Japanese-style Boseong Inn (now called the Namdo Inn), and the Sohwa Bridge, where mass executions took place during the 1948. Yeosu-Suncheon Uprising and, in the novel, rightists and leftists apparently traded turns executing political opponents.

Here are some pictures, sans captions. Here are photos of: Rainbow Bridge, Beolgyo Pogyodang, a Joro spider, an abandoned church, a view of Beolgyo from Buyongsan Park, the Financial Collective building, Beolgyo Station, another Japanese-style building, and Hoejeongni Church.


There are 40-some pictures on my flickr page, and further information about these sites, or about a Beolgyo self-guided walk-through can be found on the Galbijim page.
  Anyway, my trip was pretty shitty. The tourist map I was able to find hanging in town said “you are here,” but I was not “here.” It took me a long time to realize that the map had been moved some 5 blocks away, a big difference in a small town. The map showed the location of 16 sites from Taebaek Sanmaek, though I was only able to find 7. The small mountain Buyongsan had maps along the trails, but they seemed more for decoration than for guidance, and basically pointed in contradictory ways. And, I had to put up with pretty aggressive and abusive behavior from some of the local students. Screams of “Fuck you,” curses and taunts in Korean, the finger, and having a tennis ball thrown at me made me really happy to finally get back to the bus terminal.

Korean students tend to be disrespectful to foreigners as their default behavior. Unless they are taught to act otherwise, its fairly common to get shouted at, to get pelted with mispronounced “hi”, “hello,” “hey,” “you,” “and other misused salutations. I teach my students how to greet me on the first day of school, and I don’t tolerate “hi,” “hey,” “you,” “come here,” or “hello,” nor do I respond to people shouting my name. I’ve been with plenty of foreigners who consider this behavior cute, or polite, or a demonstration of Koreans’ curiosity, or interest in English, or interest in foreigners, and I’ve seen it explained in journals as a liberating experience, as English does not have the various speech levels Korean does (thus many Koreans incorrectly assume that politeness need not be minded in English). I ignore the “hi”s, and “hello”s on the street, and I always request that Korean speak to me in Korean. Sadly, I’ve been around foreigners who respond to every piece of shit who yells “hi” at them, and it sort of undermines what I’m doing. Anyway, I’m not sure exactly how the habit of shouting at foreigners came about, but it’s one I try not to encourage.

 Update: A write-up I did for the Gwangju News was published in the October, 2007 edition. Click here to visit their page, which links to a .pdf file of the October issue.

Much less touristed is nearby Beolgyo, a small hamlet that is now part of Boseong-gun. As fans of Korean literature are no doubt aware, Beolgyo is the setting for much of Jo Jung-rae’s magnum opus The Taebaek Mountains. Now, I’m not going to bullshit you and say that I’ve read it, although I am familiar with what it’s about and I did watch director Im Kwon-taek’s film version.

Home of Kim Beom-woo. In The Taebaek Mountains, it’s the home of Kim Sa-yong, the “good” landowner

Namdo Inn. This Japanese-style inn appeared in “Taebaeksan Mountains” as the place where the commander of the police counterinsurgency forces and his men were lodged.

Financial Collective. Red brick building of the type loved by Japanese imperialists for official structures. Viewed today as a symbol of Japanese exploitation of Korean farmers in the Jeolla provinces


Posted by: Brian & Robert in Korean history

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