Until recently, I hadn’t spent too much time on the west coast of Korea, so I was pleased that last weekend I was able to remedy that with a whirlwind trip to Mokpo (목포), a port city in the southwestern province of Jeollanam-do (전라남도). Mokpo has been growing rapidly in recent years, hosting big-name events like the Korean Formula 1. I had the chance to explore some of those up-and-coming areas and share my impressions.
Museums & Memorial Halls
The Gatbawi Cultural District or Museum Road is a beautifully manicured street lined with museums. We first visited the National Maritime Museum (국립해양유물전시관). There were four exhibits: Goryeo Shipwrecks, Sinan Shipwrecks, Fishing Village and Folk History, and History of Korean Ships. I enjoyed the exhibit about the lifestyle and history of fishermen since it covered everything from food, tools, and housing to costume and trade. The exhibit on Korean ships was interesting as well, featuring scaled-down models of some impressive vessels. Although I didn not have time to explore them, the shipwreck exhibits are a specialty of the museum as it is the only place in Korea displaying artifacts from undersea excavations.
From there, we moved to the Natural History Museum (자연사박물관). The museum boasts that it covers “4.6 billion years of Earth history” and this includes life-sized dinosaur skeleton models, fossils, shells, an extensive rock and gemstone collection, and some taxidermy samples of animals native to the Korean peninsula. They also had a 4D animated movie, though I suspect that the jolting chairs and gusts of wind that accompany the film would be better appreciated by the elementary school set. The museum was beautiful but some more context about the exhibits is needed. Still, I enjoyed seeing a complete picture of the natural history of Korea. Other museums to see in the area include the Literary History (문학관), Ceramic Livingware (한국산업도자전시관), and Nam Nong Memorial Art (남농기념관) museums, though I did not have the chance to explore or review them.
From there we moved to my favourite destination of the entire tour, the Kim Dae Jung Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Hall (김대중노벨평화상기념관). Kim Dae Jung (김대중) was the eighth president, serving in office from 1998 to 2003. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his work opposing dictatorial rule and for his implementation of the Sunshine Policy, which worked to strengthen ties between North and South Korea, resulting in two high-profile political summits, several joint business ventures, and intermittent reunions for families separated by the Korean War. Touring through this memorial I was moved to tears more than once. The memorial gave a wonderful background on the history of the Nobel Prize and laureates, as well as providing a context and history for Kim Dae Jung’s rise to world renown. Personal artifacts, legal documents, news articles and films, and dioramas recreating important political moments were organized in an easy-to-follow layout with well-written English-language signage, making this museum a delight to peruse. I learned many new things about the former president, including that he held a Guinness World Record for “Longest Speaking Record in National Assembly” for a filibuster speech he delivered on April 24, 1964 lasting 5 hours and 19 minutes! Ultimately, former president Kim’s story is one of triumph, returning to politics from prison and near-death, to becoming one of Korea’s dearest-held leaders. I would recommend this memorial hall to anyone who wishes to know more about Korea’s modern history and politics.
Dancing Sea Fountain
In the evening, we moved to the Mokpo Dancing Sea Fountain (목포음악춤분수). Korea has a love affair with musical fountains that I once found amusing, but I admit I’ve been sucked into as well! Currently, Korea holds three Guinness Records for their musical fountains (Largest Outdoor, Indoor, and Bridge Fountains)… could Mokpo’s become the fourth? The fountain features 292 LED lights that are animated in conjunction with 203 air-jets capable of shooting water 70 metres high into the air to create a 20-minute musical show, if you can even imagine it. We watched a show animated to five K-pop and Western songs, but the most memorable was “Gentleman” by Psy since it featured a laser version of the famous Korean singer gyrating in the night sky. Depending on your feelings for the star, that could be a good or a bad thing!
Korea International Circuit – Formula 1 Racecourse
The next day, we toured the Korea International Circuit (KIC) in Yeongam. Since October 2010, Korea has held the Korea Grand Prix (코리아 그랑프리), a weekend of fast-paced Formula 1 racing. The 5.6km (3.48 mi) KIC course features the longest straightaway on an F1 track where drivers can reach speeds over 320 km/hr along the 1.2km stretch. The course is also only one of five in the world to run counter-clockwise, adding an additional challenge matched only in Turkey, Singapore, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi. The 2013 event will take place October 4-6, making it the 16th race of 19 this year. Last year’s events were attended by 160,000 spectators, but we had a chance to experience what it felt like to be a driver as we squeezed ourselves into replicas of the actual F1 cars. We also got a taste of speed we cruised around the nearby go-kart racing track, but I don’t think I’ll be changing careers anytime soon.
The Legends of Samhakdo and Mount Yudalsan
Two final visiting sites on our tour were Samhakdo (삼학도) or “Three Crane Islands” and Mount Yudal (유달산, Yudalsan). Samhakdo get their name from a local legend. A powerful young military general had relegated himself to the mountains to continue his training, but he soon became distracted by the enviable beauty of three sisters who resided in the area. He could not concentrate on his work, so he asked them to sail away on a ship and they agreed to his request. As he stood on the mountain watching their boat leave port, he realized he would still long for them and so he shot arrows into the ship, sinking it and killing the three women. The women’s souls rose like great cranes from the sea, settling and landing as the three islands we see today. Ah, young love. It’s not for everyone, but I certainly won’t be accepting any offers for a boat cruise in Mokpo!
Despite its small stature, Yudalsan offers a panoramic view of Mokpo city from its peak. Here you can also admire a statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin marking where Korea’s most famous admiral and military strategist was said to have frightened off invading Japanese troops. Admiral Yi and his troops disguised rocks with straw thatches, making it appear as though their small army was much larger and stronger, thus avoiding battle. It reminded me of how I once stuffed a sweatshirt in my bed to make it look like I was sleeping so I could ward off the rampant bedroom invasions brought upon by my younger sister, but I was never awarded a statue unfortunately.
There you have it, a quick two-day tour of Mokpo. I enjoyed myself here, but thanks to those popular legends I now know that Mokpo is more than what it first appears to be. Which area would you like to visit? You can read more about Mokpo on Anna’s blog here.