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No ordinary Jeju parkHallim Park: As rich in history as it is in flowers
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승인 2011.05.14  18:43:51
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▲ Hallim Park, located in Hyeopjae, Jeju City, began as the dream of Song Bong Gyu, who in the 1970s purchased a plot of unusable land and through persistance and hard work transformed it into a place of community and commerce. Photos by Darryl Coote

The weather was perfect this past May 5, and while most people enjoyed a day off due to the government holiday known as Children’s Day, those at The Jeju Weekly were hard at work. In the hope of making the best of it and soaking up some sun, two members of The Jeju Weekly Chinese edition and I headed out to kill two birds with one stone: to achieve some rest and relaxation while also covering a story about Hallim Park.

Surprisingly, Hallim Park is not a gimmicky tourist attraction, of which there are many throughout the island, but originated as a project of passion that now receives approximately 1 million visitors a year.

According to the park’s Web site, Song Bong Gyu, the chairperson and founder of the park, was the visionary behind it. Song was the head of the Hallim County Development Committee and, seeing that Jeju’s future lay in the tourist industry, set out to build a tourist asset that would also create a strong sense of community. He traveled to Japan in 1970 to study what had been achieved in this industry and upon his return used his inheritance to purchase 29,754 m2 of land located in Hyeopjae, Jeju City.

The land was deemed unusable for farming due to poor soil and was continually being passed over by potential buyers during auctions. Song began to transform the area by dumping tons of soil once the deed to the property was in his hand. The Web site states that “He ignored friends, neighbors and relatives who urged him to give up the project; some mocked him, commenting, ‘What are you shoveling the sand for?’” But he persisted.

Today, the land is obviously fertile and home to thousands of various plant species from all over the world. The park consists of eight sections: Palm Tree Avenue, Hyeopjae and Ssangyong Caves, Jeju Stone and Bonsai Garden, Jae-Am Folk Village, Bird Garden, Jae-Am Stone Exhibit Hall, Water Garden, and the Subtropical Botanic Garden.

Upon entering the park we were greeted by Palm Tree Avenue, essentially a vast paved street lined with tall palm trees which were planted as seeds in 1971.

Besides Palm Tree Avenue, most of the path through the park is rather narrow and leads visitors systematically from one section to the next, with the second being Hallim Park’s most impressive asset, the Hyeopjae and Ssangyong Caves, which together were designated Korean National Monument # 236.

When Song took over ownership of the caves they were in rough shape, and he spent several years trying to repair the damage caused (particularly to Hyeopjae Cave) by people collecting the stalactites and stalagmites either for sale or to keep as mementos. According to the park’s Web site, Song initiated a campaign to retrieve the missing rock specimens by visiting “schools, public organizations and private owners and actively called attention to the importance of the cave and its proper preservation. He ended up purchasing and trading back 19 pieces of stalactites and stalagmites and restoring them, placing them back into their original settings.”

The caves are dimly lit and are at a pleasant year-round temperature of 17 to 18 degrees. The walls of the caves show various layers of rock which create a beautiful marble appearance, and there are lots of interesting geologically-important phenomena which are well signposted in English. One that I found of particular interest is what they called an “active rock,” a small section of the ceiling that fell to the ground and is slowly but constantly becoming bigger from the limestone-rich water that drips onto it through the hole the rock once occupied.

Upon leaving the caves we walked for at least an hour, and I was surprised at the size of Hallim Park with our party still having several more gardens to view. The place was teeming with people, predominately families with young children and couples whiling away the day holding hands and snapping pictures of each other at the many photo zones that lace the park.

Walking from garden to garden, I noticed the connecting path was surrounded by colorful flowers and, to my excitement, plenty of animal exhibits that housed lizards, turtles, birds and insects.

The least interesting section of Hallim Park was the Jae-Am Folk Village, which seemed somewhat out of place amid all the gardens and not as impressive as the one in Pyoseon. However, according to the brochure, the village is home to the world’s largest Dolhareubang (Jeju stone grandfather).

The final garden we encountered was the Water Garden, which was a very serene way to end our journey.

Consisting of five large ponds covered in lilies and lotus flowers with a giant cascading waterfall in the background and an adjacent stone statue of a haenyeo (Jeju diving women), it was a beautiful sight.

Though not one who would normally spend a day off visiting garden after garden, especially on an island where similarly-advertised attractions are a letdown, I found Hallim Park to be a great way to spend time with the family or a group of friends. In total it takes about two and a half hours to see all that Hallim Park has to offer, but you will leave like I did, feeling that its creation was truly a labor of passion.

Darryl Coote의 다른기사 보기  
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