Where there is a village, there is a name. Where there are people, there is a history. And where there is a dream, there is hope. Nakcheon-ri, also known as the “Village of Nine Good Things,” is a peaceful village of humble roots. More than 200 years ago, the land was named “Nakcheon,” literally meaning “happiness,” because it offered its villagers a life of Arcadian features: fertile soil, fresh water and ample space to raise a family.
The villagers were able to use these resources to produce domestic necessities, such as iron pots, which they sold throughout the island in the years prior to the age of industrialization. According to Nakcheon’s artistic director, Yang Gi Hoon, the villagers would extract soil from the land and use it to form molds for the iron goods that they made, leaving holes in the ground.
Over time, these holes became bigger and deeper, thus allowing them to collect water and form ponds. Today there are a total of nine ponds in the village of Nakcheon. As he looks at the ponds, Yang visualizes the pastoral life that has come and gone, with children playing in the dirt, parents working in the fields and nature being appreciated to its fullest.
In his pursuit to ensure the village’s survival, Yang has promoted visits to Nakcheon as a cultural experience. Adorned with 1,000 chairs of various styles, shapes and sizes, the Village of Nine Good Things invites everyone to come, sit and enjoy the scenery that the land has to offer. These chairs, made by Yang, each have a carving of a different phrase. The phrases speak of hope and wish good fortune for the village to become a popular destination for visitors in the years to come.
The village environment is in itself very welcoming. As visitors explore the land, they are encouraged to stop by each of the nine ponds and walk a trail that circles the activity center. If a visitor likes more manual work, Nakcheon-ri also offers the opportunity to participate in baking fresh bread or making delicious Sujaebee (a dish containing flour dumplings), molding iron plates and bronze pots, making dye for clothing, learning about agriculture, picking tangerines or playing traditional Korean games.
▲ Yang Gi Hoon wants to invite the world to Nakcheon-ri, the “Village of nine good things.”
When asked his ultimate goal, Yang said that he would like one-percent of the South Korean population, which amounts to approximately 60 to 70 percent of the population of Jeju Island, to become aware of Nakcheon village. He has already given exposure to the village name through online advertisements on Naver and Daum, funded by the provincial government. He also organized a festival in the village to which he invited residents from all across Jeju Island. With the help of external parties, he is confident that he can achieve his dream of making Nakcheon a household name.
It is obvious from his efforts that Yang is devoted to the village and cares deeply about it. At the entrance to the village’s activity center stands an enormous wooden chair, composed of twenty-eight smaller chairs, which he made. He said that the structure is a metaphor for the world. Although we may all come from different places and have different ways of living, “we are one because of our differences.” One day, he hopes to fill the twenty-eight chairs with people from different places in the world. Whether their place of origin is a big city or a small village, he feels that every culture is a necessary component of the world.
Just as with his home of Nakcheon, the smallest village should not be forgotten or disregarded, but valued for what it was, what it is and for its potential for what it can become. Yang’s hopes for the Village of Nine Good Things are that it becomes a recognized place of cultural importance for South Korea, as a symbol of humble roots and unwavering beauty, and that it last a long time.
If coming from Jeju City, take the 95 toward Ishidol and pass the Spiritual Garden. Nakcheon is along the way and it should take you about 40 minutes. You can also take the 12 towards Aewol, which will take 50 minutes.
If you are coming from Seogwipo, go towards Jungmun and pass Cheong Su. Nakcheon is along the way and it should take about 40 minutes.
If you are traveling to Nakcheon by bus, take any bus to Shinchang, and transfer to a neighborhood bus to Nakcheon-ri. There are direct buses from the bus terminal in Jeju City but only three times a day.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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