October 22, 2012


On the way down from Yudalsan, I stopped by at a serene Buddhist temple and then made my way through some winding alleys before emerging on to a main street. I hailed a taxi to the National Maritime Museum. On the drive there, a limousine passed us. Hanging out from the open trunk was a newlywed couple. We caught up to them at a traffic signal. The taxi driver rolled down his window and attracted their attention, pointing at me. They asked me where I was from.  I answered their query and congratulated them on their union. "Beeoootipool" the taxi driver said of the beaming bride, and the husband and I both nodded in agreement.

The pride of the National Maritime Museum is the wreck of an ancient trading vessel, a 700 hundred year old Chinese barge that used to traverse the aquatic Ceramic Road between China, Japan, and Korea before sinking off the coast of Korea. Artifacts from all three nations were found in the shipwreck of the Sinsan, as well as from India and other far off places.

The special exhibit was also fascinating, bringing to life the tale of a Korean fisherman who was shipwrecked (a recurring theme). He met with mishap after mishap as he tried to make his way home, spending agonizing months in Macao, the Philippines, and China until finally returning to his motherland. During those days, there was a gentleman's agreement among the nations of the South Asia to not harm castaways from other lands and to make their best effort to return them from whence they came. After he reunited with his family, the man took a prominent position in the Korean king's court. He helped those stranded in Korea return to their homelands, making good use of the cultural expertise and language skills he had picked up during his travails.

Mokpo's second most famous natural attraction is Gatbawi, a pair of rock formations shaped like two people wearing traditional Korean hats. The walkway leading to it had been washed away during a recent typhoon. I glimpsed it from behind and then headed to the main square of the city. The World Folk Music Festival was in full swing. I watched old people singing and dancing to traditional Korean music, as had been predicted by a young child at the train station. The seaside concert ended after sun set and was immediately followed by an impressive sound and light show on the 150 meter long Mokpo Dancing Ocean Fountain.


"They make glorious shipwreck who are lost in seeking worlds." - Gotthold Ephraim Lessing