A Picture Says a Thousand Words: Life in Rural Jinbu

A Picture Says a Thousand Words is a new segment I am starting, within this column, to provide my readers with a deeper understanding of life in South Korea. I believe photos allow you to relate to and understand something on a more personal level; through these photos, you will become my eyes.

I wanted to start this series with a town that means a lot to me. As my partner works here as a teacher, I spend most of my time here. Slowly, I have been charmed by this mountainous little area. Jinbu-myeon is a quaint town in Ganwon province. With a population of just over 10,000, Jinbu has 1000 times less people than the capital, Seoul. 

The town itself is quite modest: there are a few cafes, restaurants, karaoke centers, and snooker rooms, but, other than that, there is not much else. The plus side to this sparse nature is that you get to know people on a deeper level: people go out to dinner together more often, children are always playing outside with friends, and the community itself feels warmer. 

As a province known for farming, Jinbu is surrounded by farmlands and most of the population are – of course – farmers. In the summer, the streets are lined with red as chilis are left to sun dry, whilst in Autumn, the fields along the main road are packed with pumpkins. If the farmers like you, they even give you vegetables for free, my partner was given an armful of squashes last October!

Protestant Christianity represents almost 20% of the total population. As such, churches are found at every corner of Jinbu. Like most countries, cold calling is common here, even in this rustic little town you will have elderly folk knock on your door and try dragging you off to Church. I remember a few months ago, one of my partners neighbours came to our door and tried bringing us with her to Sunday mass. She seemed sweet enough, the only problem was she was determined to make us go.  

Running along the centre of town is Odae river, named after the Odaesan national park, which is a couple of kilometres from here. Despite being such a small town, the river has at least five bridges, one of which was designed specifically for the 2018 winter Olympics. The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics almost defines this province; cab drivers like to point out where each event was held, and 2018 statues align the towns throughout the surrounding area. 

Odaesan mountain is probably the highlight of the area for me. Despite technically not being a part of Jinbu, the highspeed KTX train in Jinbu is called Jinbu (Odaesan) station. So, I think that’s enough of a justification to include it. Spread over a total area of 303.929km, the highest peak reaches 1,536m above sea level and is known as Birobong. The national park is also home to the largest natural forest in Korea.

The way up to Birobong, is adorned with lanterns of every colour and statues singing hymns, before you worry the statues have hidden speakers: I’m not insane. My favoured route takes you past three Buddhist temples on the way up – Woljeongsa, Sangwonsa, bokdaemisekam – and includes a ridiculous number of steps. Luckily, the view from the top makes it worth it! 

When you ask most people in Seoul if they’ve heard of Jinbu, they typically say no, or they laugh and ask why you went to such an obscure place. It’s sad because this town has played such a large role in my year abroad and yet even South Korean locals have never heard of it! However, if you are bored of life in the capital, Jinbu is perfect for escaping the claustrophobia and living simply.

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