Friday, August 12, 2011


Korean Adventure (October 4, 2002 Chautauqua)

Jinju is a small (pop. 350,000) town to the southwest of Daegu. It is a very clean, pleasant place to visit. On the walk from the bus station, my friend G (who I met on the ferry to Japan) and I were offered sunny smiles from many of the school kids we saw.

The North Gate of the fortress.

The town is on the river Namgang, which makes a wide upside-down U through the town. Even though the summer season was over, there were a few people taking out the Duck Boats, and enjoying the breeze. There were some clouds that threatened, but held off until the evening.

Cannon-fired projectiles that probably really hurt.

The main attraction in the town is the fortress Jinjusanseong. It covers a fairly large hillock on the north side of the river. Included on the grounds are a few Buddhist temples, as well as a National Museum.

The fortress walls, covered with ivy.

The walls of the fortress have been restored, and there are many paths to follow around to the various attractions.

The fortress was built during the years of the Goryeo dynasty (100 - 1000 AD), and partially destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592 - 1593. It was here that one of the major battles of the campaign was fought, in which some 70,000 Korean soldiers and civilians lost their lives. The wall was rebuilt in 1605, and these remains are there today. They look pretty good for 400 year old walls.

You see these crews all over the place. I used to think they were some kind of groundskeepers, but they're actually scrounging for greens to put on the supper table. See how they protect themselves from the sun.

Overlooking the river is Chokseongnu, a large pavilion which was used as an exhibition hall for the poetry of the times. It was burnt down during the Korean War.

The roof of the museum.
The museum devotes its exhibits to pieces detailing the period of the Japanese invasion. These include some pottery, and some impressive paintings and drawings. The detail on some of them is very intricate. There are also exhibits of poetry books, which look very old. Koreans have a good appreciation for poetry, and some are translated and printed in the English-language paper that I read (The Korean Herald).

The main exhibit was some detail of the invasion, and how the battles were fought. If you can imagine hordes of samurai, battling their way up and over castle walls, trying to avoid spears, arrows, and boiling oil, you might get some idea of what it was like. There is one mural showing the defense of the fortress. There are huge crowds of samurai surrounding a little fort with only a few defenders. I was reminded of Custer's Last Stand, or the Alamo.

The cemetary - these steles rest on turtles - good luck charms.

There is a memorial to the dead, and some statues of heroes from the battle.

General Li, who dies during the fighting, is posed with his finger pointing at the viewer, as if to say, "I want you!" The other hero is a woman, Madame Kim. She is revered for sacrificing her own life and killing the Japanese general. She lured him close to the river's edge, clasped him to her, and threw herself in. She locked her hands together with special rings, so that he could not escape her embrace.

There are some very old trees which date back to the invasion, as well. They are marked as being the sites for defense of the fortress. One was where General Li stood, and another shadows the spot where Madame Kim made her sacrifice.

Namgang Dam
After the fortress, G and I visited the dam above the city. There is a resort area there, but we were happy enough just to sit on the grass. Real grass is at a premium over here, and there are not too many areas where a person can just sit and enjoy the cool feeling.

Before we left, we enjoyed a meal in one of the many restaurants downtown. For a small town, Jinju has a lively restaurant/nightclub area.

A monolith up by the dam.

I got some of the facts for this article from the "Lonely Planet" guide to Korea. It is indispensable for the traveller. There are many useful tips, and good advice on how to get where you're going, and what to do (and eat) while you're there.

If you look closely, you can see a pillbox guarding the base at Jinju.
Jinju was a pretty cool place to visit. At the time I went there, I only knew it as the place where the girlfriend of an American teacher I knew lived. He was a hound. He had two girlfriends, and it was a chore making sure neither knew about the other.
I returned to Jinju a few years later to see a live show. It was fairly popular in Korea, but I can't recall the name right now. It was about a family of martial artists who're visited by thieves one night. They each dispatch a thief with an amazing display of a particular aspect of the martial art.


  1. Great, a post about Jinju. I happen to be very fond of Jinju, it has been my home for the past 5 years.

    The statue in the fortress is of General Kim Shi Min, not Admiral Li. The city was invaded twice by the Japanese. The first time the Koreans actually fought them off, the second time the Japanese won. This general Kim helped fight the Japanese off in the first battle, but he got shot.

    Also, the fortress isn't that old, the city of Jinju restored it in the 80s or 90's. My wife told me that there was a movie theater there when she was a kid.

    Anyway, it is nice to see old pictures of places in Korea. Even though your post is dated 2002 the skyline looks a lot different now. All thanks to Korea's ridiculous construction projects.

  2. I blame the 'Lonely Planet' for my errors, because that's where I got the facts about Jinju for my story.
    Sorry about that.
    But yeah, I liked the look of Jinju. You're lucky to live there.

  3. It's cool. That is an easy mistake to make since there are statues of Admiral Li everywhere. Pretty much if you see a statue of someone in Korea, it is pretty safe to assume that that person is either Admiral Li or King Sejong.

  4. u hate korea but like jinju why