Tag Archives: Jeonju

The Great South Gate of Jeonju: Pungnammun Remembers

The Prosperous South Gate they named me, and I have borne that name with pride for centuries. I have been a rampart against attackers and a conduit of prosperity to my people within; the First Fortress of the Honam region, I was the first, the greatest, and now I am the last. I am Pungnammun.

Pungnammun sign

I do not track the passage of time itself beyond remarking the change from the bitter cold that grips at my mortar to the sweltering heat that bakes my stones and slate roof. Still, I remember. I remember the people, the little ones that have walked over and through me and I feel for them in their brief little lives, so full of tragedy and desire.

I remember the day when they passed judgment on three of their kind for worshipping a deity from a faraway land. They beheaded them and hung the heads from my walls. That night the skies poured down rain and soaked my stones with tears that I was unable to cry, washing the martyrs’ blood from my walls and into the eternal soil for burial. I remember an endless stream of peasants and goods entering in to sell at my markets; I remember the bodies being carried out for interment on the mountain slopes. I remember each and every one of them.

Pungnammun in the 19th century. Source.

Pungnammun in the 19th century. Source.

What I remember most happened long ago, back when my walls were intact and people and animals passed through me every day. Invaders were attacking the country from the east and a young lieutenant of the city guard left to aid in the defense. The night before he left, he met his beloved in my gatehouse and pledged to return to her, if he could. Her name was Seon-Mi; I know because he said it over and over as they held each other. I did not know his name, for she called him only “my lord”.

I never saw him again, or felt his feet on my stones and planks. Seon-Mi came every day to sit in my gatehouse and watch for his return. The tears that she shed soaked into my planks and I kept them for her, pledging silently to hold and guard her until her lord could return. I kept the rain and snow off her as she sat and waited through the years and then, one windy night, I held her body as her soul flew at last beyond the reach of my protection and help.

I am alone now. The wall has been demolished and my sisters and brothers, the North, East, and West Gates of the city, have been torn down to make way for the insatiable step of progress. Their places are forgotten, but I remain. And I remember.

Pungnammun at night

The above account is a mixture of fact and fiction concerning the iconic south gate of the city of Jeonju, South Korea, written in part for the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge, whose theme this week is “Iconic”.


The Wrong Tourist – Friday Fictioneers

Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for choosing my picture for this week’s Friday Fictioneers. This was taken in Jeonju, South Korea. Pungnammun, the historic south gate of the city is in the background.

The Wrong Tourist

He nodded when I pointed to the gate and proffered my camera. I walked towards it . . . and turned to see him take off running.

He picked the wrong tourist.

I screamed like a berserker and tore after him. He was almost at the road, a patch of wet cement between us.

That Nikon was two weeks old.

I made a flying leap and grabbed his ankle, just before crashing into wet goo. He flailed frantically but I death-gripped him ten minutes til the cops came.

We made the evening news.

I hear they put up a statue to commemorate it.


The Woman Who Wants to Meet Bush

Considering this is a fiction blog, almost everything I put up is fiction, even if it’s written in a realistic way. This post, however, is totally true. It actually happened to me last week and nothing is exaggerated. For those of you who don’t know, I live in the city of Jeonju, South Korea. The conversation below took place in Korean, so what appears here is an approximate translation.

*   *   *

I was walking through one of the outdoor markets on the way to lunch when a woman grabbed my arm. She was older, with a heavily wrinkled face and sporadic, yellowed teeth. She was dressed up in several coats.

Her first question was where I was from. This is not that unusual; it’s the number one question people ask me. Before I could answer, she asked if I was Mexican (that’s a first). I told her I was Canadian.

Woman: You know America?

Me: Yeah, America.

Woman: I don’t know who the president of Canada is, but the president of America is Bush. I like him. He’s four stars. I wanted him to come to Korea before, but he didn’t come. Here, let me write my name down. Do you have something to write with?

Me: I got a pen.

She wanted something to write on too and dug through her coats (proudly showing me the US Air Force patch on one of them) and pulled out a small day planner. She laboriously wrote down her name and her address and then wrote down “To the American President” I had to tell her how to spell the last syllable of the Korean word for “president” which is the first time I’ve ever helped a Korean spell a Korean word. Then on the side she wrote “I am inviting you”.

Translation: Korea, Mrs. Son Il-Kong, Jeonbuk, Jeonju, Geumam 2dong, Block ---, To the American President. I am inviting you.

Translation: Korea, Mrs. Son Il-Kong, Jeonbuk, Jeonju, Geumam 2dong, Block —, To the American President. I am inviting you.

She gave me the paper and told me to be sure to ask him to come. People passing by were giving us looks as she was writing all that down, but I didn’t care. She told me again to be sure to tell him to come and I said I would, because seriously, what else can you say in a situation like that?

Me: You know, the president now is Obama.

Woman: No, the one before the black president.

Me: Okay. (the woman knew who she wanted)

Woman: Maybe you should take a picture for him to bring.

Me: Sure thing. Let’s do that. (I take her picture.)

Woman: What’s your name?

Me: David.

Woman: Can you write that down? (I write down my name, but not my address.)

The woman who wants to meet Bush

I almost laughed when she threw up the peace sign.

At that point, I shook her hand and said good bye. I walked away feeling great; it was such a great experience. You might think she was mentally unbalanced and perhaps she was; I can’t comment, since I don’t know her. All I know is that she really wants to meet President George W. Bush.

P.S. I really did email President Bush and passed on her invitation to come to Korea to meet her. The ball is in his court now.


Visual Fiction – Tower Camp

Tad looked up the moon burning like white phosphorus above him. It was growing, fattening, and three days from now it would be full. He lay down and listened to the soft hum of electricity running above him. Already he could feel that wildness that grew inside of him every month, the atavistic ferocity that led him to desert his comfortable town life and move his dwelling to this rude camp under the tower. His neighbors had laughed at him anyway and called him crazy.

He didn’t care though. Three more days and he could hunt werewolves.

taken in Jeonju, South Korea

taken in Jeonju, South Korea


Visual Fiction – Vanishing World

I watched it from the mountaintop: the creeping whiteness that devoured the landscape below me. I had climbed up, camera in hand, to capture the view but instead what I saw was nothingness. It was not fog, it was simply white. I should have been frightened, I suppose, but instead I watched with dread fascination as it ate away at the landscape, slowly approaching the mountain where I stood. Just as it was climbing up the slope, I saw far away, a glimmer of something. It was a single spot of color in the vast field of white, but it was enough to give me hope. So I saw down on the bench to watch and see what would happen.

Vanishing World


Visual Fiction – Seasonal Divide

The town passed an ordinance: summer will always be maintained in a certain neighborhood. They set up lines of demarcation and for a while it worked. Fall came and weather got cooler, but inside the summer zone, the trees remained green and the air was warm. People would take off their coats as soon as they stepped inside.  Eventually, however, fall began to creep across the line…

Seasonal Divide

taken in Jeonju, Korea


Visual Fiction – Moonlit City

The moon glowed bright above the sleeping city. Below, thousands of people slept, ensconced in cocoons of warmth to keep out of the cold and snow. Each with their own lives, their own stories. For each one, the old year was past and with the rising of the sun, each could start anew.

Taken in Jeonju, South Korea on New Year’s Day, 2010


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