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Art&CultureHistory
Charles Chaille-Long: In the footprints of Kublai Khan, Part 4
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승인 2009.12.17  00:17:36
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▲ An illustration from a French newspaper circa 1867. Photo courtesy Robert Neff

Having finally been invited ashore to Jeju Island, Charles Chaille-Long was a little apprehensive as to what fate awaited him. Summoning up as much dignity and courage as possible, he entered the Korean officials’ tent and found the prefect of police and his assistant pompously seated and impatiently waiting. They were dressed in outfits that resembled those of the ancient Tartars, complete with black felt bell-crowned hats adorned with peacock feathers and long red tassels; they could have easily been mistaken for apparitions from the past except they were wearing glasses.

Their glasses were “immense colored crystal goggles after the manner of almost all Oriental men of rank, ostensibly for protection to the eyes, but in reality a pure affectation, which is supposed to lend dignity to their bearing.” Chaille-Long described the scene as “novel in the extreme, and not a little embarrassing.”

The prefect examined the Westerner for a minute and then began to earnestly interrogate him. “Who are you and why did you come to Jeju,” he demanded, but Chaille-Long merely replied that the answers to those questions could be found in his passport. Undaunted by the Westerner’s smugness, the prefect suddenly asked, “Are you a missionary?”

Incredulous at the absurdity of the question, Chaille-Long began to laugh and then pointed to his uniform and asked, “Do I look like one?” The prefect conceded that he did not. The question, however, aroused Chaille-Long’s suspicion that the man was originally from the mainland and he had “imbibed there the prejudice against the missionaries, and hence the query.”

It soon became apparent to the prefect that he would get no satisfactory answers from the insolent foreigner so he commanded his men to bring one of the Japanese sailors. The frightened sailor was likewise interrogated and his answers, including the names of the expedition’s members were all duly recorded. Chaille-Long sourly surmised that the information might “serve some future Oriental society in Chae-Ju a thousand years hence to commemorate our visit.”

Once the interrogation was complete, a banquet of fried seaweed, fish, abalone, rice and, of course, alcohol were brought out for the foreign guest. Chaille-Long may have been daring in many ways but he appears to have been somewhat of a coward in regards to sampling Korean food. He drank the alcohol and partook only in the seaweed. It was only after he had consumed his fill that Kim, his interpreter, whispered into his ear, “Don’t eat the food nor drink the sul [alcohol], it may be poisoned.” Disgusted with his servant for his tardy warning, Chaille-Long berated him.

“Has it only now occurred to you to counsel caution when you have seen me take enough to settle me?”
The Koreans were extremely interested in Chaille-Long’s clothing, which prompted him to opine that “the people in Quelpaert, in common with those of Corea, are maniacs on the subject of dress.” More than likely he was aware of the Korean clothing shops in Seoul that rented fancy clothing to those who required it for an official event or to visitors from the countryside wanting to make a good impression on city relatives.

To amuse himself and his host, Chaille-Long demonstrated the use of his binoculars to the assembled crowd. When they looked towards Mount Halla “they held out their hands as if to touch the mountain, and said, ‘this is surely magic. Eventually Chaille-Long grew bored; said goodbye to his host and made his way back to his boat with assurances from the prefect that the governor would soon agree to meet.

The following morning, a message arrived that Chaille-Long, his Korean servants and one Japanese sailor would be escorted to Jeju’s capital to meet with the governor. Promptly at 10 in the morning, dressed in his uniform and accompanied by his servants and the sailor, he went ashore where he was met by the prefect. Together they walked to the assembly area where the escort awaited to take them to the governor.

It is perhaps better to use Chaille-Long own words to describe the spectacle that greeted them:
“Mounted on little ponies I beheld 200 or more men holding in their hands, each, a banner or flag on which was inscribed some strange device. Their dress consisted of a complete coat of mail, whilst on their heads they wore a round copper or brass helmet surmounted with a heavy spike. From the helmet a curtain of plated leather fell upon the shoulders, and down over the faces of the warriors themselves a mass of long black hair straggled in disorder, lending to the great black eyes, set in faces bronzed to a mahogany hue, an expression of brutality, anything but pleasant to the sight. Covered with dust and clothed in a dress several centuries old, what wonder that I started as at a ghostly apparition of what seemed a detach-ment from the armies of Genghis and Kublai Khan...”

He was convinced that these “traditional and professional soldiers” were the descendants of the Mongolians who conquered Jeju in the thirteenth century. Their primitive weapons and armor that “all bore the imprint of great age” were undoubtedly passed down through the successive generations. These warriors were the “grand object” of Chaille-Long’s journey.


ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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