As I navigated the Kimnyoung Maze Park to the east of Jeju City recently, this quote from Jim Henson’s 1986 film “Labyrinth,” kept repeating in my head. Especially when after five minutes of traversing the maze, I arrived at the place from which I initially started.
There is, however, more significance in these words with regard to this particular maze. The Kimnyoung Maze Park was designed to symbolize specific moments in Jeju history; a pony head for the Mongol invasion in 1276, a ship representing the 17th century arrival of Hendrick Hamel, and so on. Therefore, as one progresses and moves forward through the maze, one also experiences symbolic representations of Jeju’s rich history.
The way forward
The future of the Kimnyeong Maze Park is being shaped by Kim Youngnam. Currently a Ph.D candidate at Jeju National University, Kim will put the maze park in front of the eyes of the world when his graduate research paper premiers at a 2012 World Tourism Organization conference. Kim’s paper, a quantitative study on how to maximize the enjoyment of the park’s visitors, won a nationwide essay contest and will serve as part of a larger dissertation on maze tourism.
Kim, although obviously an academic, is a man of the field. When he’s not teaching tourism economics and international tourism courses to undergrads or researching tourism and management using flow theory, his boots are on the ground greeting guests and interacting with the whole maze park environment. Kim has worked at the maze ever since 1998, and has done every job there is to do on the premises, from greeting guests at the ticket counter to trimming the hedges and performing the landscaping work required to keep the park in shape.
For his winning essay, Kim conducted survey research on 307 visitors and discovered that the guests were happiest when they had to concentrate to complete the task.
Amira Yazghi, a teenager from France, seems to agree with this.
“I think this place is really nice. It was a little bit hard, but we went around and around and met lots of people,” she said. Her father, Paul Yazghi, also agreed with the findings of Kim’s essay. “It’s really challenging being here and it’s fun, but what I really like most about this place is that it’s fun for middle-aged people and children; for everybody.”
One of the ways the Kimnyeong Maze Park is evolving is through its recent addition of a night event. Having started on July 15, and runs until Aug. 27, the maze will be open until 10 p.m. (entrance until 9:30 p.m.) allowing visitors the added thrill of trying to solve the maze while immersed in darkness.
The way back
The founder of the maze, Prof. Fredrick H. Dustin, recalled the story of its inception in eidetic detail, and it’s quite a story. Fred was studying Chinese in college when in 1952 he was called to serve his country. Having previously worked as a professional musician in dance bands, Fred was drafted into service and spent the war touring Korea in a military marching band.
After the war he switched academic paths from Chinese to Korean and became the first person in the United States to receive a master’s degree in Korean studies. He later moved to Korea and taught at Jeju National University.
Upon retiring, Fred felt as though he needed a project, and he got the inspiration for his project from a chance collection of unlikely sources; a Scotsman, the Jeju pig, and beer.
The Scotsman, Murray Denoon, and Fred used to go out to the land (which would eventually become the maze park) and over beers would muse about what Fred should do with the property. One day Murray called up Fred with an idea. A friend sent Murray a landscape magazine article he wrote about the Jeju pig, and on the backside of the article there was a story about Adrian Fisher, a world renowned maze designer.
After a phone call it was all decided. In 1983 Fred began preparing the land, and in 1987 the first of the 2,232 leyland cypress trees was planted. The park’s first guests arrived in 1995, and in the meantime Fred retired from the university after 22 years of teaching. Following his work at the university Fred became the first foreigner to work for the public office as a correspondent and English teacher. Since concluding his employment at that post in 2001 Fred has dedicated all his time to the maze park.
Fred’s journey in Korea was not without its pitfalls. Lapses in employment, immigration issues, and legal battles over land ownership all at one point must have stifled his way forward. However, listening to his story and looking back into his past I got the feeling that this is a guy who has found his path. Furthermore, his and Kim’s work are helping thousands of people find their own.
This paradox: Sometimes the way forward is the way back, is a perfect expression for a place that makes being lost feel like finding your way.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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