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Korea, Gangneung Ojukheon House

South Korea Gangneung Ojukheon House
Written by Duke Stewart

Gangneung Ojukheon House

Shin Saimdang possessed talents rarely seen in the world and hardly since her death in 16th century Korea, then the Joseon Dynasty. Yinsun (her real name) rose to fame as a writer, poet, and calligrapher but her paintings have reached legendary status. One story that’s been passed around involves a younger lady who’d spilt some tea on her skirt, which was borrowed and too expensive for her to replace. Being nearby, Shin learned of the woman’s plight and decided to help. You can read about this story and more at her old home, Ojukheon House.

Walking around Ojukheon in Gangneung Korea

Continuing the story, Shin took the skirt and constructed a beautiful painting of leaves and grapes that attracted eager buyers at a nearby market. The woman was able to replace the skirt and even buy one of her own. It’s interesting that I’m walking around a place where such a talented person once lived. It’s not the original considering Ojukheon House was torn down and replaced by a reconstruction.

Signboard at Ojukheon in Gangneung Korea

It’s yet another unfortunate truth found throughout Korea when safety and/or aesthetics trump authenticity. Regardless, it’s important to remember the person and the fact that they were here, I say. Shin Saimdang is referred to in many circles as the ideal woman, a loyal mother and wife. It’s a characterization that drew intense criticism from Korean feminists when Shin was chosen to be one of the faces on Korea’s monetary notes. But I still can’t get over the legend that surrounds her and the talent that came out of this home.

Flowers blooming at Ojukheon in Gangneung, Korea

Her son was no normal man either. Yi Yi or Yulgok ascended to “boy prodigy” status at a very young age. I stare at his recreated living quarters and think about how important this household was to Korean society. But his story didn’t stop there.

Yi Yi Statue at Ojukheon in Gangneung, Korea

Yulgok attempted to make big changes and implemented codes that would hopefully steer Joseon education in the right direction. It seems that the things he fought against (rote memorization, books over applied knowledge, etc.) are still an endemic problem in today’s Korea. I can vouch for that after years of teaching various levels of students in the country.

Traditional Korea at Ojukheon in Gangneung, Korea

Nevertheless, his books and words on educational reform are preserved and hailed as a compass that the education should strive towards, yet it ignores. Shin Saimdang and her son Yulgok didn’t just fade away. They are two of the faces featured on Korea’s monetary notes, with Shin on the 50,000 won note while her son features on the 5,000. Perhaps people think more of the mother than the son after all?

Sunshine at Ojukheon in Gangneung, Korea

What’s more interesting is that the people selected to appear come from a small time period and one far removed from modern Korea. These figures are all closely connected and important parts of Korea’s final dynastic period. The fact that two shared a home at Ojukheon house makes the relationship even more interesting.

Entrance at Ojukheon in Gangneung, Korea


Special Thanks to Gwangju News for the background information on Korean Money. The Korean Spirit and Culture Project helped immensely with Shin Saimdang’s backstory. The Ehwa Voice also helped with understanding the dissent surrounding Shin’s fame and status as Korea’s ideal woman.

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South Korea Gangneung Ojukheon House by Duke Stewart

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About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

30 Comments

  • I love learning new things about Korea, so thanks! I’ve been to Gangneung, but never here. Next time I’ll have to visit.
    Thanks for sharing your photos- they’re beautiful!

  • Yeah, I read about all the money faces recently and I thought it was really interesting. Another thoughtful post with relevant historical facts! Thanks, Carl!

  • This truly is an excellent post. I love reading insightful and historical posts about Korean history. I knew some of these facts but didn’t know about the relationship between the two! Mother and son both featured, and his legacy for balanced and meaningful education. Well written and researched. I enjoyed this thoroughly.
    Ryan

  • 1. I would never have thought to learn about the history of who is on the money in Korea! In fact, I have never thought of it in any country! And to be totally honest, I couldn’t tell you who is on some of the money in America! 2. This is a really cool story and makes me want to learn a lot more about Shim Saimdang. Keep exploring and doing research and teaching me about the history of Korea, please!

    • Hi Katie. Thank you so much for that kind comment. Don’t worry, I’m on it as far as researching parts of Korea and the history attached to them. I just hope you keep on reading:)

  • I’ve never been to Gangneung as its just miles away from where I live,so I will live through you! Nice photos, I like how you added more photos than usual 😀 The history of Korean structures is always so intense. And I find it interesting how a lot of structures are destructed some how but almost always rebuild or reconstructed. Interesting post, thanks!

    • Thank you Rafiqua. Gangneung was such a brief stop for us, that I only remember this house. The East Coast has so much to offer that we had to move on from it. I’d definitely recommend a walk around Ojukheon when it warms up.

  • I really love how you organize all of your blog posts with headings. I know I’ve said this before, but the work you put into the accuracy of each post is so inspiring. I learn something new every time I read your posts!

    • Thank you Meaghan. I really appreciate your comments on my style. I’ve continued refining things from the very beginning. Some posts didn’t have that style before but as I keep editing my stuff, that’s changing:)

  • Wow! What interesting history surrounds this spot…Now I am all fired up to do some more reading into the background and legend surrounding Shin Saimdang and look into digging up some of her poetry. It is pretty cool that a female figure is depicted on the currency- and an artist at that! A definite rarity. I hadn’t yet taken the time to wrap my head around who from history appears on Korean money so thanks for that bit of info…Definitely sounds like a place I would like to visit.

    • Thank you Lara. I really am happy that you enjoyed reading this. It makes us consider what’s going on with the basic things in life, I guess. Money is something we take for granted and don’t really look into the backstory of it all. I hope you keep coming back for more. Take Care.

  • Awesome to learn about who is featured on the money! I knew about Sejong on the 10000 won note but didn’t know about these two. I think my students may have mentioned it before but I’m not sure. Anyways, it’s cool that they feature an artist rather than only political leaders like we do in the U.S.A.

  • It’s lovely to learn something new. I hadn’t considered who the people are on paper that I use everyday but rarely ever look at.
    I have to say, it is a shame that so many temples, palaces etc… are reconstructed. Although the replicas are beautiful, it does seem a shame that the originals are lost forever.

    • Thanks for your comment. I do agree with you on the shame that these places are reconstructions. In some cases, it’s unavoidable though. Hopefully people can understand that and in other cases, avoid it.

  • Duke, your photography is beautiful. I haven’t been to a place in Korea with as much authenticity as you conveyed here, but I’m on the look out for the opportunity. Great background on the Won. 🙂

  • Interesting history and yet a bit confusing that even though his teachings are preserves they aren’t observed. I can image that this poses a challenge for teachers! I appreciate the history and most especially the photos of Ojukheon and Gangneung

    • I first discovered his Yi YI’s paradoxical history when doing some research for a collab effort a few years back. Visiting his house rekindled my curiosity. I still can’t get my head around this, because the issue still persists here. How can you stare at someone who pointed out a better way and hail them as a savior, all the while ignore them? It just baffles me, to be honest. Thanks for the comment, Jacquie. Maybe this’d make a good “Where’s the Justice?”

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