I remember once long ago asking my father what part of Korea he was from. He told me and then added, “There’s absolutely no reason why you would have ever heard of it.” On Tuesday we drove two and a half hours south of Seoul to Yesan-gun in South Chungcheong Province to visit my father’s last living sibling. As we were driving there I looked it up on wikipedia and found that in 2009, it earned the designation of a “‘slow city,’ one in which traditional cultures and communities are preserved.” Its most famous native son is the resistance fighter Yoon Bong-Gil. In 1932 during the Japanese Occupation, he carried out a bombing in Shanghai which killed a Japanese general and a Chancellor. Left seriously wounded were an army commander, the Japanese Consul-General, and a special envoy. As we got closer, the view out the window was mostly muddy rice paddies and greenhouses. In the midst of this agricultural landscape, it was quite a startling sight to see the monolithic memorial in Yoon Bong-Gil’s honor decorated with what looked like a million Korean flags.
We pulled into a narrow alley and came to a stop here:
This is a newer house that was built in the place of the old hanok, where my father lived as a child. It is now occupied by the widow of one of his older brothers, the second woman to the left:
My father’s brother (furthest to the right) and his wife (furthest to the left) drove the short distance from their own house to meet us there.
I was delighted when my aunt brought out an ancient-looking photo album. We have very few photos of my father, and none of him as a child. I had never seen this photo before:
My dad is not in this photo, but pictured are a lot of my aunts and uncles. My grandmother is in the center, fifth from the left.
Here’s one of just my grandmother. My dad has always said I look like her:
What do you think?
We admired the garden and the cats in the courtyard before heading to lunch. The calico’s name is “Nabi,” or Butterfly – a generic cat name in Korea. I wish I knew what the other kitty’s name is…My mom says it was probably also Nabi!
The county’s other claim to fame is Sudeoksa, a Buddhist temple, which has been designated a National Treasure. We drove there for lunch along with busloads of tourists who had the same idea:
A pama (perm) and a bright colored jacket – the official uniform for tourism.
We took a few photos:
and then went to my uncle’s house:
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture of the whole house, which is perched on supports with the entryway on the second floor.
This is the view from the front entrance:
Inside the house we were thrilled to find:
25 day old poodle puppies!
and a sweet Yorkie.
Both dogs immediately took to my dad, who has always been a dog-lover. Now I’m thinking it’s genetic…
After letting the mother poodle finish up his yogurt…
…my uncle kept hand feeding her and the Yorkie something else. He would crunch something in his own mouth and then spit it into his own hand to feed both of the dogs in turn. I was dying to know what it was. Later my dad told me it was candy.
After hugs and farewells, we headed back to Seoul with a stop for dinner: