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It is a mistake to try and compare Jindo, Korea’s third largest island, to Jeju, her sister to the south. At first glance Jindo isn’t much to look at. Yet despite being home to the Jindo Dog (Korean National Monument #53) and the location of a decisive 1597 naval victory against the Japanese, many people outside the surrounding mainland counties draw a blank when you mention the island. There aren’t many fancy buildings here, the festivals are few and far between and the intermittent bus schedule makes access to Jindo’s natural beauty difficult.
So why bother?
At first glance, there’s not much happening here. And depending on your perspective, that can be a good thing.
Jindo’s personality is perhaps best understood by translating the island’s name, which means “Treasury Island.” Beginning around 1001 CE, Jindo was a refuge for Koreans, including the royal family, who fled from invading armies. More recently, Jindo has been the protected breeding grounds of the Jindo Dog, a breed that earned recognition in the United Kennel Club in 1998.
These days, while still fiercely proud of the breed bearing its name, Jindo has been offering refuge to a new group of people: artists. One of the first Jindo artists to make a name for himself was the 19th century painter, writer and composer Sochi (Huh Ryun, 1803-1893). If you visit Ullimsanbang, the artist’s home and gallery, you’ll find art from four generations of painters in his family. Next to the gallery is a Saturday art auction featuring the work of local and nationally recognized artists.
Jindo is also home to the Namdo Performing Arts Center, an organization dedicated to preserving Korean traditional music and dance. As a result, there are many artists who live on Jindo.
Jindo isn’t the first island to attract artists, and it won’t be the last, but what is it that makes it so ideal for creative types?
As it was historically, Jindo is still a safe haven from the outside world. In this case, that world is the extreme modernization that has swept the Korean peninsula. The first thing one notices upon arrival in Jindo is the lack of everything. In particular, the lack of high-rise apartment buildings and blinding neon signs. There aren’t any Western restaurants and few foreigners. It is a place where people take their time and do things the old way.
In the small towns around the island it is rare to hear the sound of honking horns or sirens. A few taxis can be seen waiting for passengers at the bus terminal in Jindo Village, their drivers sitting patiently. Jindo’s traffic, like its residents, isn’t usually in a hurry. It is this unhurried culture that makes the island lifestyle appealing to the artists I have met, that sense of protection from outside distractions.
To other people, Jindo provides a way of life not possible elsewhere in Korea. It is a place where one is free to live without the pressures of the big city and the sounds of late night traffic outside the bedroom window. Jindo provides a home to those who savor fresh seafood, to parents who still walk their children to school, and to those who prefer their meals seasoned with herbs grown on rooftop gardens. Jindo is a place best enjoyed by those who are prepared to slow down.