Totem Poles in Korea

Jangseung and Sotdae at National Folk Museum
Jangseung at Nagan Eupseong Folk Village

2birds2Jangseung and Sotdae

Extraordinary, striking

A really fascinating part of Korean folk art is totem poles, known as jangseung and Sotdae. We first saw some at the National Folk Museum in Seoul a number of years ago, then at the Nagan Eupseong Folk Village near Suncheon last August. There, we saw rows of jangseung at the edge of the village and single jangseung at the entrance to most of the houses within the village. This April we visited the National Folk Museum in Seoul again and sought out the jangseung. They are so striking and unusual that I wanted to find out more.

A Jangseung is usually made of wood, but sometimes can be made of stone. At the National Folk Museum, we saw many examples of stone totems in the grounds, next to the wooden ones.

Stone ones at the museum
Inside the museum
Guarding a house in the village

Although nowadays the Jangseung are mostly found at folk villages or in museums, they were traditionally placed at the edges of most villages in Korea. They had multiple functions: to greet visitors, to mark the village boundaries and frighten away demons or evil spirits that caused famines, natural disasters, epidemics or other diseases. They were also worshipped as village protective gods and villagers prayed for the health of their families, for a baby, or for a good spouse, and for good abundant crops. They believed the jangseung had their ears open to the wishes and hopes of villagers. Each year villagers would hold jangseung rituals, placing offerings of rice cakes and fruit at the foot of their honored guardian.

Jangseung often appear in male and female pairs, with their names written on their bodies, and are distinguished by their head apparel; the male hat is more elaborate, and is probably a soldier’s or government official’s hat. Quite often, the inscriptions refer to ‘generals,’ major generals’ or male and female generals.



Jangseung frquently elicit an emotional reaction. The first impression of a jangseung is that it is both scary and humorous, a dichotomy that seems o have grown out of the artists’ attempts to po2tonguertray folk gods in a more familiar and accessible manner within people’s everyday lives.

Some are painted, but many are not. Usually, there is an intentional altering of human facial features, such as coarsely-shaped bulging eyes, a fist-like nose, andprotruding canines and front teeth. Through such distortion and exaggeration, the talented jangseung craftsmen depicted a guardian god image, reminiscent of a monster or god from the underworld, while at the same time offering a kind of portrait of the common people in a friendly yet satirical way. So, we might see sagging and benevolent faces of a grandfather- and grandmother-like jangseung; or a toothless, wrinkled smile of a grandmother jangseung and the long braided whiskers of a grandfather jangseung; a character with huge ears, or a gaping mouth, or a scowling mouth.



totemhousePart of a jangseung’s allure lies in the relationship between the form of the wood and the way in which the artist has used that to carve something that fits perfectly. Look at any of them, and you’ll see that the face fits the form of the wood. Frequently, next to a jangseung you can find a sotdae, which is another kind of guardian pole with a carved bird attached to the top. Sotdae are still commonly seen in rural villages, even today, and have similar functions as the jangseung.





2stonefaceIn the southern areas of Jeolla and Gyeongsang, jangseung are also called beopsu or beoksu, meaning a male shaman.




Damyang Bamboo Park (Juknok Won)

A winding trail meanders through the bamboo forest

entranceDamyang Bamboo Park (Juknok Won)

Cool, green, rustling

If you’ve never experienced an actual bamboo forest before (as we had not), this is well worth a visit. We’ve seen some bamboo growing before, but never so much in one place! Chang wanted us to see this, and we’re very glad that he did.

Damyang is in Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), one of Korea’s least developed and greenest provinces. They are known for pesticide-free and organic farming, and fish farming has also taken off in a big way. There are not many areas in Korea where bamboo grows, but South Jeolla’s climate is the most suitable on the Korean peninsula.


Damyang, 13 miles north of Gwangju, is famous because of its Bamboo Park (Juknok Won), which is the center of bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship.

Note the fake panda at the top of the waterfall
The pandas look kinda real!

For many people, the first thing they think of when hearing the word ‘bamboo’ is likely pandas! This Bamboo Park certainly has pandas but not the playful and cuddly kind, although children might not agree. There are a few rather kitschy fiberglass panda bears just beyond the entrance, which are usually surrounded by tourists waiting to take their picture, but otherwise, the bamboo forest is just that: a forest of bamboo… a lot of bamboo. You’d almost expect to see an actual panda there, but of course you don’t.

Besides the bamboo, there are, however, an old Confucian school (Damyang Hyanggyo), a small stream and man-made Jukrim waterfall, an art gallery/gift shop, an ecological bamboo exhibition hall, and a pavilion and Korean traditional structures and bamboo gazebos on the grounds of the forest.

One of many gazebos in the forest
Map of layout of the Bamboo Park

Seonginsan Mountain behind the Confucian school was transformed into Juknokwon Bamboo Garden. It was established in May 2003 and is around 16,000 square meters in size (a little over 19,000 square yards).

Damyang’s Bamboo Park (Juknokwon) is also known as the Juknokwon Bamboo Garden and Juknokwon Bamboo Forest. Sometimes, it’s also billed as a Bamboo Theme Park. It is a little difficult to classify what this attraction really is. Is it a garden or a park or a forest? Well it seems to fit all descriptions, as there’s a forest of bamboo, but also benches, pavilions and a cafe can be found throughout the park if you want to stop and rest or just enjoy the bamboo scenery. It’s also considered to be a place of “green therapy” regardless of season. People believe that walking there relieves stress and encourages clean, deep breathing.

We were impressed with how tall the bamboo can grow—that’s why it seems curved in the photo
Viv and Chang with a statue of a philosopher

It can get busy, but the garden area is large enough to absorb plenty of visitors. As with all places in South Korea, the best time to visit is in the morning, before the crowds arrive. This is especially true on weekends, so one should try to get there early.

The paths spread in multiple directions within the grounds and each of the 8 loops has a different name. We encountered the Trail of Luck, and the Trail of Philosophers, which had a statue of a famous philosopher at one end. Other trail names we saw were the Trail of Eternal Love, Trail of the Byway of Memory, and Trail of Thoughts (each of them has a plaque with rather fanciful descriptions!). It was fun just to wander for a couple of hours, taking many photos. It was surprisingly cool in the shade of the forest, a nice break from the heat and humidity of Korean summers. It’s suggested that visitors need at least 2 hours.



Rod and Chang on a trail in the forest

We were fascinated to see the bamboo trees in different stages of growth in the park. Bamboo is technically categorized somewhere between grasses and trees. Since their use is similar to tree trunks, it has been referred to as ‘trees’ by the Korean Forest Service. From the amazingly tall bamboo, to its fine roots, to the vines that latch on the bamboo’s stem joints, the bamboo park gave us plenty of things to photograph and learn about.

There are many information boards and we learned lots of interesting factoids, such as: there are 2 main varieties of bamboo, 90 different genera, and 1500 different species globally; that Korea has 13 different species; and that this garden has 26% of all bamboo in Korea. Here in the Bamboo Park it’s mostly thick-stemmed bamboo and black bamboo, with a little borealis amkino too.

Other vines grow on the bamboo too
A board explaining about a movie shot here

New bamboo growth appears bright green. The shoots emerge with a protective sheath; once the bamboo has grown a bit, the sheath falls off showing the vibrant green of fresh growth.

Since the park is so picturesque, a couple of popular Korean shows and movies were filmed there, and there are boards explaining that.

From mid-September to end of October 2015 the park was going to host the World Bamboo Fair. I wonder how that went? When we were there, workers were busy constructing more pavilions ready for the Fair.

Constructing a new building for the 2015 Bamboo Fair
Souvenir stand in the park
Some bamboo crafts

Outside the park are many bamboo shops. They say that bamboo has 101 uses and these certainly prove that. It is traditionally used in construction, as pulp material, for interiors, and for gardening. But, there’s also an amazing array of bamboo products—furniture, woven baskets, fabric (which is surprisingly soft and supple), household goods, even bamboo jewelry and a bamboo teapot.

Bamboo markets are also held every 5 days apparently.

We decided we had to sample bamboo leaf icecream (delicious), and a bamboo leaf donut with bamboo sugar (nice but not as distinctive as the icecream). But, we didn’t buy anything made from bamboo, although we were tempted.

Definitely worth a visit!

Chang holds an “alternative-to-wife” bamboo pillow—a Korean joke!
Lovely bamboo bowls







Green Tea and Lunch with a View

Entrance gate
The lovely cedar tree path

Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden

Imagine a hill, rippling with rows and rows of bright green tea bushes. This is the Daehan Dawon Green Tea Garden.

On our first day of the road trip with Chang we drove to this plantation, in Jeollanam Province in SW Korea near the town of Boseong. Open daily 9am-6pm.

In the Boseong area there are many smaller tea plantations, but this is the largest and has featured in many Korean movies. Supposedly it’s ranked as one of Korea’s top tourist attractions, for Koreans and international visitors. We discovered it is a popular spot with Korean tourists year-round and certainly is in a stunning setting.

Steps lead up into the plantation
Chang and Rod—so many tea bushes

slope2After parking, we approached along the lovely cedar tree path, almost like a tunnel, next to a small stream. Ahead is a steep hill covered in cultivated tea bushes that curve in rows following the contour of the hill. It’s amazing to see so many bushes in one place, and growing on such a steep slope. It was lovely to just wander around on the paths, trying for that elusive “great photo”. It was pretty crowded, but the area is large enough to largely absorb the crowds.



viewdownIt’s a beautiful sight, with the rows of tea bushes at high elevation, surrounded by forests. Visually it’s a great spectacle, but actually not that educational, as there were very few information boards. The focus seemed to be more on eating and drinking with a tea theme. We thought they could do better in explaining how they process tea, what the differences are between green tea and black tea, a history of tea in Korea, for example.

What we did learn was about 4 grades of tea, all organically grown and produced, based on

The 4 grades of green tea

seasons. In Korea tea leaves are collected 3 or 4 times a year, and taste and quality will depend on the time of picking. Woojeon Tea is made from the first young leaves picked after winter. It’s a premium tea produced in very limited quantities. Sejak is the most popular green tea, made from leaves picked during the first part of May before the leaf is fully matured. Joongjak, made from leaves ripened a bit more and picked by end of May, has a fuller taste. Ipha is made from fully ripened leaves picked in June and July.

Green tea for sale

A small pamphlet we got with our tickets does have some information. In very early days tea was cultivated in/by Buddhist temples, but in the Jeoseon Dynasty more widespread cultivation began in this area, as climate and soil were ideally suited.

This is Korea’s largest tea garden, started in 1939 but devastated during the Korean War. In 1957 the garden and surrounding woods were take over privately and built up again. Over time, millions of tea trees and other decorative trees (such as cedar, cypress, juniper, ginkgo, maple, bamboo, cherry, magnolia) were planted, creating a natural ecology area that gives shelter to many kinds of animals birds and insects.

One of many green tea products

It was also interesting for us when we tried to put this garden into context; it’s producing greenteawhiskgreen tea, which is so famous and popular in many East Asian countries. We grew up in British colonial culture in which black tea is popular. I’ve tried green tea before in China and at home, as many of our students bring a gift of green tea. And of course, green tea icecream has become very popular in recent years—I think it came mainly out of Japan.

But, I’ve not seen so many other products using green tea as we see here. Noodles, rice, candy; face creams and face packs, green tea bath packs, body lotions, sun block; medicinal purposes, such as helping food poisoning and motion sickness etc. All on sale in the shops here. Green tea has the connotation and reputation of being healthy, so supposedly any of these products would be more healthy for you than one without green tea. The shops were all doing brisk business, and I’m sure any of these items would make great gifts or souvenirs.

Rod and Chang walking to the cafe for lunch
Look at that view!

Lunch with a view!

We had lunch here at the DaWon ShimTe Cafetaria, which was delicious and with a tremendous view across to the tea slopes. I had cold green tea noodles, and Rod and Chang had green rice bibimbap. You can also buy green tea shakes and green tea yoghurt. We opted for a leisurely green tea icecream at a small shop, before leaving.

Definitely worth a visit.

Green tea noodles bowl


One of Korea’s Best Folk Villages

The main entrance gate
Traditional houses on a dirt alley

Nagan Eupseong Folk Village

Rich in History and Well-Preserved

This was the second stop on the JRS day tour out of Suncheon.

It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011 and I can easily see why, as it’s one of Korea’s best preserved fortress towns and traditional folk villages. We’ve always been interested in folk traditions in any country, so we were delighted to visit here and learn more about Korean old customs.

A fortress-like stone wall surrounds the village
One of the lovely gates

Very brief history: In 940 a small village on the site changed its name to Nagan-gun under the Goryeo Dynasty. It began to flourish in the later 1300s under the Joseon (Chosun) Dynasty. Then, in 1397 Kim Bin-gil raised an army against Japanese intruders, built an earthen fortress wall here and defeated the enemy. However, during King Sejong’s reign (perhaps Korea’s most important king) from 1418-1450, the wall was rebuilt with stone, and the village within it further developed, remaining virtually intact and unchanged for hundreds of years.

View across village from a gate
Rice paddies on the other side of the gate

It is very much a tourist attraction now, with 1.3 million visitors recorded in 2013. But, the beauty is that it is also still a working, living village and not just a showpiece, where all the workers go home to someplace else at night. It’s unique for its setting, completely enclosed by stone fortress walls with three main gates, built to protect the inhabitants from marauding Japanese pirates. The gates were built in a grand style with painted curving tile roofs and beautiful decorated eaves. If you climb up on the wall from one of the gates, you get a good view out over the village, and across to rice paddies outside.

The village is crammed with narrow alleyways, leading to vegetable plots, penned animals, a lotus pond, many fruit trees, and adobe and stone thatched homes, and a few larger buildings with slate roofs.

Sesame plot
Sesame drying outside a house
Kimchi pots, someone sleeping on the step—you could almost image you were in the 18th century

We thought a visit here was a wonderful way of getting a glimpse of what rural life was like hundreds of years ago, and continuing today in some places. It’s fascinating to wander along the narrow dusty lanes with mud and thatch houses, trying to imagine what living here would be like. Our time was rushed, but what we saw was very interesting: village life and how they are maintaining some traditions. There are of course modern touches now—like electricity and cars and motorbikes—but still it’s a different way of life; small houses in a small community—maybe around 100 households now, with 280 people living in the area. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see old houses, with shiny new cars parked in the dusty yards. Each house has an enclosed yard, and we see fruit trees, small patches of vegetables, sesame drying on straw mats or a tarpaulin, a dog or a baby sleeping in the shade. We’re told that each house has 3 rooms in a line, an outhouse, a shed (for equipment or cows) and a toilet.

One house showcasing what can be made with rice straw
Preparing the rice straw
Totems at village entrance

Outside the entrances to the village are special totem poles carved from wooden logs—they are often grouped in twos or fours and are kind of like guardians of the village. Each pole has a funny or scary face carved on it. Inside, all the houses have a street number, many etched on a wooden totem pole. Probably the guardian of that house.

Inside, a couple of the larger buildings have curved tile roofs; they were/are the official buildings, like the prison (fun to visit and watch a re-enactment of a prison beating), the governor’s house, the administrative office and the village school. The other houses have thatched roofs and it was interesting to see that many of them have pumpkins growing on the roofs.

Note the pumpkins growing on the roof
Many pumpkins are carefully nested on the roof

Many houses are still inhabited, some are guesthouses now, a few are small shops or cafes, and some are demo places for traditional folk arts and crafts (for example, items made of rice straw, pottery, a wishing rope, calligraphy, and traditional Korean musical instruments). We were interested in the rice crafts, and what you can do with rice straw.

General Lim Gyeong-Up Pavilion

The scientists in our party also noted the large stacks of rice straw, many covered in black plastic. The straw is ammoniated, which is a way to improve digestibility.

The oldest and biggest tree in the village is a giant Ginkgo bilobe, which some believe is as old as from 1397. On our way out we also noted the Monument and Pavilion of General Lim Gyeong-Up. He was governor of Nagan in the 1620s and was much respected for good works. It was erected in 1628 when the General left Nagan. Sacrificial rites are given to him on Full Moon’s Day every year.

Most houses have an identifying (and guardian) totem
Re-enactment in the jail yard

It’s a really interesting place but we had limited time, plus it was so hot and humid it was actually not very pleasant. Generally, one wouldn’t choose to come here in the hot summer. We missed a lot so it would be fun to return one day, in cooler weather and spend more time.

Open daily, with hours varying depending on season. Adults 4,000 won (US$3.30), middle and high school students 2,500 won (US$2), and elementary school children 1,500 won (US$1.25).

Suncheon Bay Wetlands Reserve

A river runs through the Wetlands Reserve
Rod at the entrance to Suncheon Bay Eco Park

Suncheon Bay Wetlands Reserve (aka Sucheonman Bay Ecological Park)

Suncheon Bay in SW Korea is billed as one of the most beautiful coastal wetlands in Korea where visitors can enjoy the natural coastline and the diversity of ecosystem and wildlife habitats. The pamphlet tells us that it is one of the five largest coastal wetlands in the world.

The reserve is gaining international recognition as a natural eco-system and protected wetland area on the Korean peninsula. In 2003 the Korean Marine Fisheries Department declared the Bay a wetland preservation area, and in 2013 it was selected as an eco-tourist site of Korea.

Our day trip bus from the university
We begin walking on the boardwalk
Reed fields

So what exactly is this Bay Wetlands Reserve?

The JRS Conference at Sunchon National University organized a day trip for the attendees, and this was our first stop, as it’s not far out of Suncheon City. It’s a lovely place at the top end of the Bay and the local people are justifiably proud of it and of what they have achieved.

The main activity was a long, but easy, walk along a boardwalk over some of the wetlands and reeds, which gave us a good overview. I’d say you need a minimum of 45 minutes, longer if you want to stop and read the boards, relax on a bench to enjoy the scenery, take photos etc. It gets quite crowded on the boardwalks, but it’s okay, as people keep moving along. There are pretty good information boards—many in English and Korean so we can have an idea of what’s what.

One bird board

blackvultureSuncheon Bay is an intact coastal wetland that has a wide range of geographical features, such as a river mouth, reed fields, salt marshes, mud flats and islands. The bay is also adjacent to rice paddies, salt farms, seaside villages, fish farms (sites of old salt farms), rolling hills and mountains. So, it really is very diverse and very pretty.

The brackish water zones, marshes, fields of reeds and mud flats attract many different kinds of birds, a special feature here. We all took note of the pictures of the hooded cranes that apparently over-winter here. However, at that time of year (August) we didn’t see many birds at all.

Amazing scenery
Crab in the mud

The mudflats attract mudskippers, many types of crabs, and even small octopuses where the tide rolls in twice a day. The shallow tideland at the river mouth has reasonable salt content, many organisms, and a healthy water quality, which make it a spawning ground for fish, crab, shellfish. We did see many crabs and little jumping fish.

Salt plants are a feature, notably reeds (which are known for water purification). The boardwalk allows people to look out over the 5.4 km-wide (3.3 miles) reed fields (apparently 570 acres). At different times of the year the changing colors are spectacular, we’re told. Even when we were there it was lovely to see all those reeds swaying in the wind, making whispering sounds.

Stop a while to look and listen

Besides the boardwalk, there are possible boat rides on the tidal channels and a monorail to the flower gardens (we didn’t bother to do this as it wasn’t the flower season). Might be nice to do that in cooler weather. There’s also an Exhibit Hall, a Planetarium, and an Observatory, which we didn’t have time to visit, so it appears they are making a big effort to impart information.

Good facilities—toilets, cafes, and a handicraft hall (where we bought 2 small cloths, dyed naturally, and supposedly with antibiotic and anti-allergy properties).


Overview of Suncheon Bay near the sea

The downside: It was very hot, and not the season for migrating birds. So carry plenty of water and definitely bring a hat.

It’s open daily 8am-sunset. Regular adult ticket costs 7,000 won (about US$ 5.75)

Later we drove to the other end of the Bay near the sea for an overview of the bay—pretty impressive.


Guardian Zelkova Trees

I wrote about a couple of old trees in Korea recently (see here ).

Zelkova at palace in Suwon

In many parts of the world villages have collective expressions of spirit belief, as in the reverence paid to a particularly large old tree that has shaded generations of ancestors. It’s believed that there’s a special spirit, or sometimes a God, of the tree and that this spirit will protect the village and villagers under certain conditions.

Here I want to focus on the wonderful old Zelkova trees that we often find at temples or palaces in Korea. These amazing trees stand as a welcome near the entrance to temples, usually in the temple or palace gardens. These are Zelkova serrata (Japanese zelkova, Japanese elm, or Keyaki), a type of tree that’s native to Japan, Korea, eastern China, and Taiwan.

Besides being beautiful old trees, they are lovingly looked after by generations and often propped up if necessary.


Zelkova sign at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace

The first one we found was at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace in Suwon, an old city about 48 km south of Seoul. This zelkova on the edge of the entrance courtyard to the palace is more than 600 years old and is very sacred. It has grown here and protected Suwon city since before the construction of the Hwaseong Fortress and Hwaseong Haenggung Palace.

It was believed that there was a God of the tree, which would punish anyone who broke one of its leaves or branches. There is a legend that if you make a wish to the tree the wish will come true. A plaque near the tree suggests: “Make a wish for your family or friends to the tree, which still holds the spirit of King Jeongjo. Write your wish on the paper and tie it to a straw rope around the tree.” Many people do this and there are lots of white papers tied to the rope. We asked our Korean friends about this, and they laughed and said, “maybe we believe in that. But it’s a good thing to try.”

At the Folk Village
Viv M makes a wish at the Folk Village

The next tree was at the Naganeupseong Folk Village, which we visited on a day trip organized by the conference held at Sunchon National University, in Suncheon not far away. It’s a really interesting Folk Village (which I’ll cover in more detail later), established during the Chosun Dynasty and at least 600 years old. It’s thought that the tree is a similar age. This tree didn’t have ropes with notes tied to it, but close by was a special small hanok house with a table outside. There, visitors could get a strip of yellow paper, write a wish on it and then tie it to a piece of twine strung out like a clothes line. I did that (but the wish is a secret!)

At Naesosa Temple
At Naesosa Temple

The final zelkovas that we found on this trip were at Naesosa Temple (I’ll write about that in more detail later). It’s an ancient Buddhist Temple, built around 633 AD, on the Byeonsan peninsula (the same peninsula with the salt fields and cliffs I wrote about). Trees are all around, as the temple complex is surrounded by the fir forests of the Buan-Gun National Park. But, the huge zelkovas are different. They are very big, and very much a part of the temple proceedings—bedecked with strings of colorful banners and thick straw ropes in different shapes. So nice to see.




Venerable Old Trees

A revered temple tree

Old trees, new trees, big trees, small trees

We love trees—for many reasons—and can’t imagine living anywhere that doesn’t have a variety of trees.

I’ve written about Arbor Day before, as trees are so lovely and so important to all our communities. See here:

So, it’s very interesting to travel in some Asian countries, especially Japan, Korea and China, where trees are actually revered, and people go to great lengths to keep old trees alive.

Ginkgo tree on Ginkgo Tree Avenue in Jeongju

People there of yesteryear believed that trees had spirits or were gods even, and some of those beliefs still linger today. Many of these special old trees have legends and stories attached to them, and all kinds of symbolism, so the tree becomes more than “just a tree”.

I’m hoping that on our next visit to Korea we may find examples of more old trees, but for now here are two lovely specimens.

First, we checked an old ginkgo tree in Jeongju hanok town (or Jeongju traditional style home town, sometimes written Chonju) on Ginkgo Tree Ave. This 16m-high tree (about 51 feet) was classified a Natural Monument in 1982, and is thought to be almost 600 years old. A carved stone plaque tells us: It is free from bugs, and was planted in the hope that young scholars would similarly advance in government posts free from the taint of injustice. It was planted in the courtyard of a high-ranking official involved in the founding of the Chosan (Jeosan) Dynasty after he returned to his home town to establish a school for young scholars. This tree is a living witness to the Chosan Dynasty’s 500 years of rising and falling fortunes. It also symbolizes Chonju’s position as a center of Confucianism in Cholla Province.

Chang in front of the stone explaining about the ginkgo tree

It’s said that the people of Chonju love Ginkgo Tree Ave as being full of warmth and historical sites. We thought the avenue was charming, and loved the idea that the tree is being so well protected.

Very old Chinese juniper tree

Later, in Seoul we visited the famous Chandeokgung Palace, where our min purpose was to visit the Secret Garden (see later). At the end of that garden tour the guide stopped and told us about this old Chinese juniper tree in a small garden near some of the government buildings of the palace complex. At around 750 years it’s one of oldest trees in Korea. It’s 5.6 m high (about 18 feet) and 5.9 m in circumference (about 19 feet) at the widest part of its trunk, so is pretty big, although some of its sprawling branches are now propped up.

A plaque tells us that juniper wood is very aromatic and is used to make incense for rituals.

Viv and the juniper tree—it was an extremely hot day!

This aromatic tree was planted here to provide incense for ancestral rituals at Seonwonjeon Shrine to the east, where portraits of former kings were enshrined. This tree is depicted in Donnwoldo (Painting of East Palace), which was done around 1830 and provides a panoramic view for Chandeokgung.

Next…Lovely old Zelkova trees.




Pretty Poles, and Conference at Sunchon National University

One part of the campus 


Traditional entertainment at the conference

Sunchon National University: the Conference Venue

The special conference we were attending in Korea was the 10th Joint Symposium on Rumen Metabolism and Physiology (JRS), held at the Sunchon National University in Suncheon. Rod was a main speaker and one of the special judges of talks and papers by young scientists.

Suncheon is a city right in the south of Korea in South Jeolla Province. It’s an agricultural and industrial city, on the edge of Suncheon Bay, and they bill the city as “Korea’s Ecological Capital”. We didn’t spend any time in Suncheon itself, but did visit the Bay (see later).

A ‘pretty pole’
“Follow Your Dreams” found on a random sidewalk
Note the baseball rabbit, just on the right!

While Rod was busy at the conference I wandered around the streets near the university campus and was impressed by how clean and pretty it was. There are a number of coffee shops and small restaurants or bars, and lots of public art—statues, sculptures on the streets or plazas. I also saw many street poles attractively wrapped or decorated, and a long stretch of sidewalk brightly painted—partly advertising, but partly just for fun. It certainly makes what can be urban sprawl and ugliness much more attractive.




Book coffee shop on campus

It seemed like a very nice campus-town area, not too busy and crowded but with everything a student or a staff member might need.

Statue in a civic building’s plaza

Korea’s Rocky West Coast

Scene from the wetlands area
Some of the cliffs

Chaeseonkgang Cliffs

I wrote recently about a Korean Salt Field (see here ) called Komso (Gomso) Salt Field on the Byeonsan peninsula in the north part of Jeolla Province in the western part of Korea. Gomso is along the Gomsoman Bay, adjacent to the sea.


If you look closely you can see people looking for pebbles

The coastline around here is very interesting, stretching from Chaeseonkgang Cliffs to Gochang, an area that includes Gomso Salt Field. It features a very well-developed wetlands area, bays and inlets, and miles of cliffs.

After visiting the Salt Field and having lunch at Naesosa Temple, we walked along a short stretch of the Chaeseonkgang Cliffs, which are steep and rocky, with spits of rock and rock pools running along the “beach” area and into the sea too. It was lots of fun to look at and collect some of the multi-colored stones on the small sections of pebble beach—as many other Korean visitors were doing.

Rod and Chang amble around the rock pools
Some of the pretty pebbles

This is not a big tourist destination, although there are a number of large resort hotels nearby, largely used by Koreans. So, we felt very privileged to be able to visit somewhere so off-the-beaten-track in Korea and to see the “wild side” of the countryside (not an easy feat in this small country!)



Harvesting Sea Salt


generalKorean Salt Field

I wrote recently about the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland near Krakow, a very deep underground rock-salt mine (see here )

Note the workers on the walkways between the ponds
Note the black tiles on the shallow ponds, and wagons for collecting salt

That got me thinking about other ways to obtain salt, and one of the earliest in many parts of the world has been salt extraction from the sea or brine pools.

On our recent visit to South Korea our wonderful host Chang Kim took us on a road trip around the southwest part of the country. One of the days, on our way to the Naesosa Temple on the Byeonsan peninsula in the north part of Jeolla Province, we stopped to take a look at a huge salt field.

It’s called the Komso (Gomso) Salt Field, a large system of very shallow salt pans or salterns. It’s one of the few salterns in Korea that produces Cheonilyeom solar salt. Gomso is not on the ocean but along the Gomsoman Bay, adjacent to the sea, and covered canals bring in the sea water.

A pile of new black tiles
Inside the shed

The pans are built on black tiles, which speeds up the evaporation process—it apparently takes about three days for one pond to dry out, leaving the salt ready for harvesting. Doing it this way produces very large salt crystals (which we tried to photograph but didn’t really succeed). The workers shovel the salt into a type of wheelbarrow and then in a very simple shed it’s funneled down and into bags.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), salt fields covered the area from Julpoman Bay to Gomsoman Bay, producing salt that was sent, along with rice, to the bigger cities.

Roadside salt stall
On the other side of the road

Chang told us that, aside from its long history, this sun-dried salt is known for containing around 10 times more minerals than other salt, and has a special flavor because in May and June pine seeds drift into the salt pans.

Tourists are permitted although not many seem to come, and we were lucky to see people at work on some of the pans in the distance. When the weather is too hot in the summer (and I can attest that it does get very hot and humid) work is done mostly in the early morning.

At small stalls alongside the road we saw large bags of this salt for sale. A 20kg bag (44lbs) costs 15,000-18,000 Korean won (about US$ 13-16). Amazingly cheap!


bagsThe coast from Chaeseonkgang Cliffs to Gochang, which includes Gomso Salt Field, features a very well-developed wetlands area. See next post on the cliffs.