▲ Jeju's Stone Grandfathers stand guard at Jeju Stone Park. Photo courtesy Jeju World Natural Heritage Team
The late Jeju-based artist Kim Young Gap used to call this hinterland of oreum and forests his “secret garden,” a place to commune with nature and lose the self in contemplation. The garden nestles in Jeju’s Jungsangan, the mid-mountain region where the wind scythes and the fog blankets.
Gyorae-ri is one of its bastions, and it is amongst its lofty forests and grasslands that I walk with Paek Uncheol, founder of Jeju Stone Park, along 2.3km of paths wending across over 3,000 square meters of his own secret garden dotted with stone sculptures, artifacts and rustic cottages, and surrounded by four oreum.
If Korea did Hobbits, this would be the Shire.
▲ Many of the stone sculptures at the park are within the Jeju gotjawal habitat. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
“Visiting the park is intended to be a journey through the mythology of the island, entering through the ear of Seolmundae [Jeju’s creator goddess], progressing through the body and exiting at the feet. It represents the journey of life and death,” says Paek.
On this journey, Paek guides us through hamlets of traditional thatched cottages, or “chogajip,” linked by his very own “olle,” stonewall paths between houses. All painstakingly recreated following tradition, Paek laments that it was the least he could do after Park Chunghee’s 1970s New Village Movement left “almost nothing left of Jeju’s traditional culture.”
As the olle guides us out, he shares his fear that materialism now reigns, benighting the island’s cultural genius, which immediately appears in front of us in the form of dolhareubang, swarthy sculpted basalt guardians, their warm expressions rising from the mist as we approach.
“The stones contain an essence of the Jeju spirit and people, which should always be preserved. Humans cannot perceive stones moving and therefore presume they are dead, but they contain the essence of life itself, just like the earth.”
This park keeps many secrets, yet Paek doesn’t want it that way. He wants more people to be enchanted by his love’s labor of 20,000 stones and gnarled tree roots collected over four decades.
It is a passion that even drove his younger self to exhaustion on the slopes of Mt. Hallasan, leaving his mother praying to the mountain gods. He displays this same parental love for Jeju’s disappearing culture.
▲ Paek Uncheol has been on a four-decade mission to save Jeju's culture. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
“If we allow our culture to forget these stones we lose what keeps our culture alive. In many ways Jeju culture has already been orphaned, so our responsibility is to be its foster parents.”
For his part, Paek opened Tamla Mok Seok Won in 1971, with Jeju Stone Park opening in 2006, seven years after the 1999 200 million won investment by then-North Jeju County in Paek’s collection and the current site.
The park is still in development, with an artists’ village and campsite on the horizon. Its crowning moment will be the opening of Seolmundae Exhibition Hall in 2020, a repository for Jeju’s “legends, history and people.”
As we stroll aside fields of cattle serenely chewing the cud, Paek concedes his educational mission must face the cold capitalist reality that demands a return on the province’s investment. The answer could lie in MICE, an industry in which Jeju excels, and to complement the park’s strengths, Paek wants to host more concept-themed art and healing events.
“Although event-holding wasn’t something we had in mind from the start, Jeju Stone Park is one of a kind in Jeju. Due to increasing development, people need somewhere to rest and be healed,” he says.
As we reach a large courtyard in front of the 500 Generals Gallery, Paek shares his vision of holding open-air concerts and arts events in this “nature-friendly stage,” as a murder of crows circles overhead.
“Even if you go to a temple it is hard to find this kind of environment. There is no music here, just bird song and the wailing of the wind,” he says, guiding us toward the shimmering Sky Pond, representing Seolmundae’s fateful bowl of soup.
▲ The Sky Pond at Jeju Stone Park doubles as a unique stage for MICE events. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
“I always had this concept in my mind, to provide somewhere for people to purify their souls. This is not for normal people wanting convenience, but for people who love inconvenience, and to rest and purify the soul.”
To comprehend his vision, Paek escorts us to the nearby Gyorae Natural Recreational Forest, Jeju’s unique “gotjawal” habitat which absorbs the south perimeter of the park. Surrounded by its mystique of glistening moss, tangled roots and twisted boughs, Paek seems genuinely awestruck and derides the overdevelopment seen elsewhere on the island.
“We are just guests not owners. My work is not for people living now, but for future generations. We just need more time,” he said, bringing my attention to volcanic stones that could provide a stage for a poet or singer.
“I don’t want too many people coming here; that would not be conducive to contemplation. I want to attract people with a sophisticated appreciation for healing and who won’t disturb the peaceful atmosphere,” he says, before talk turns to who might be heir to his legacy.
“As a Jeju person, I am thankful for having the opportunity to preserve Jeju’s culture, but the Jeju government should continue the mission. It is their duty to continue it.”
▲ The Jeju Stone Park grounds. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
Walking routes at Jeju Stone Park
Course 1 / 1,300m / 1hr 20mins ~
This path passes stone sculptures representing the goddess “Seolmundae” and the 500 Generals of legend including “The Passage of Legend,” “Symbol Tower,” “Sky Pond,” and “Statue of Mother and Son.”
Course 2 / 970m / 50mins ~
This path introduces Jeju’s traditional culture and passes eight “chogajip” thatched cottages. It also includes the Stone Culture Exhibition Hall which displays Goryeo and Joseon relics, Jeju religion, dongjaseok (stone child grave guardians) and “dolhareubang” (stone grandfathers).
Course 3 / 1,080m / 50mins ~
The third path passes a recreated traditional village, gravestones, a mill and a flavor of Jeju before modernization.
Jeju Stone Park
Begun in 1999 and opening in 2006, the park will not be fully complete until 2020 when the Seolmundae Exhibition Hall opens.
The Stone Museum itself is underground and contains a vast array of stones and tree roots. There is also the 500 Generals Gallery which regularly hosts art exhibitions and events.
Paths outside lead visitors through grounds boasting dolhareubang (stone grandfathers), dongjaseok (stone child grave guardians) and much more of Jeju's heritage.
2023, Namjo-ro, Jocheon-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do
+82-64-710-7731 / jejustonepark.com
9am to 6pm (last admission 5pm)
Adults (ages 19-64): 5,000 won / Groups (minimum of 10): 4,000 won
▲ Jeju International Healing and Arts Festival. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
The Jeju Stone Park MICE difference
- Specializes in international “nature+culture+art+healing” events
- Indoor (200+ guests) and outdoor performances (1,000+ guests)
- Outdoor dinner parties
500 Generals Gallery
Large/Medium Outdoor Stages
Small Outdoor Meeting Area
- Seolmundae Halmang Festival
- Jeju International Healing and Arts Festival
- Dokdo Love Concert
Stay in a traditional Jeju village
▲ Some of the park's traditional "chogajip." Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
Jeju Stone Park includes a total of 49 “chogajip” structures designed and built with the support of the one remaining expert, Yang Sang-ho of Tamna University. Traditional Jeju houses comprise two or three separate small buildings, each containing a kitchen, store room, and common room. The walls are of stone with the outer “chukdam” low stone walls surrounding the property without mortar.
For the house walls, a mortar reflecting that used in wattle and daub is made from clay, barley stalks and other vegetation. The roofs are constructed by spreading Eulalia straw evenly, reflecting European thatch rather than the pointy bundling seen on the Korean mainland.
Jeju Stone Park Gyorae Natural Recreational Forest
▲ Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
▲ Goyorae-ri gotjawal on the outskirts of the park. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
This 230,000 square meters of Jeju gotjawal is split into four sections: a recreational site with traditional “chogajip” and outdoor performance hall; a campsite; an ecology experience hall; and an oreum walking trail.
Eight fully equipped “chogajip” (traditional stone cottages) are available for rent from 40,000 won per night in the heart of the gotjawal forest.
Outdoor camping is also available from as little as 2,000 won or deck camping for 4,000 won.
Other facilities include an outdoor classroom, stage, futsal pitch, nature trail and more.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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