Too few old trees in Korea
On July 24, the Chosun Ilbo reported, “Korea’s Oldest National Tree Found in Gangneung,” which is on the northeastern coast of South Korea in Gangwon province. The town is best-known as the birthplace of Confucian scholar Yulgok (1536-1584 C.E.), whose image graces the 5,000 won note, and his mother, Saimdang (1504-1551), whose image graces the newly introduced 50,000 won note.
Gangneung’s most recent claim to fame is being home to the oldest Rose of Sharon or mugunghwa tree in the country. According to the experts, the tree is 90-100 years old. Since mugunghwa trees normally only live 20-40 years, that feat is noteworthy on its own.
However, what makes this tree inspiring to many Koreans is the fact there aren’t many old trees of any kind in Korea. As the Chosun Ilbo notes,
It is hard to find old mugunghwa trees in the country, because most of the indigenous specimens were damaged as part of the Japanese colonial government’s policy of obliterating the spirit of the Korean nation. Only three 60-year-old protected mugunghwa trees exist throughout the country.
If you find that hard to believe, here are a couple of pictures from Chuncheon in 1996. These photos were taking on Bongui-san in Chuncheon above Gangwon-do’s provincial hall. The skinny trees in these photos are typical of much of Korea’s landscape even today. Most of these trees were less than 50 years old.
Gangneung is also known for the “Gangneung submarine infiltration incident.” On Sept. 18, 1996, a North Korean spy submarine ran aground while attempting to retrieve about a dozen spies who had been dropped off a few days before. This incident sparked a 49-day manhunt throughout Gangwon province.
My fellow teachers and I had planned a trip to Sorak Mountain National Park for the the Chusok fall harvest holiday. Our route would take us from Chuncheon, the provincial capital of Gangwon, along a winding (and frightening) mountainous route to Gangneung then north to Sokcho.
Korean military were swarming around the northeastern coastal area, though we observed a number of residents of Sokcho ignoring the 10 p.m. curfew. I think the fact that those around us were calm helped us stay calm as well.