The Secret of Suncheon Bay

Located in the far south of the Korean peninsula, the coastal wetland of Suncheon Bay lies amidst a forest of reeds and a type of halophyte that changes color seven times throughout the year. The bay is an ecological park where migratory birds stop to rejuvenate and rest in the rich saltwater flats.

 

It’s 5 a.m. in the morning. I pedal my bike hard. My hair is damp and my face is covered with drops of water although I’ve only been riding briefly. The fog shrouds all things from me, and thereby allows me to be completely alone; the fog turns all existing things into an island. Penetrating this fog, I am headed toward Suncheon Bay. The sound of the wind whizzing by my ears indicates the speed of my ride. I left the city behind me and it is quiet, still deep in slumber. The east stream, which runs through the heart of the city, merges from the darkness like a snake. Alongside the bike lane, there is a forest of reeds. It seems that the reeds have not awakened from their sleep either. They have not shaken off the darkness and remain damp in the fog. The reeds persevere in silence, one that was brought about by a tranquility that is not disturbed even by the breeze. When I reach Suncheon Bay after racing along the east stream, I shall be far away from this chaotic world. But I hope I can experience the freedom that isolation provides. What I like about the freedom I feel in the opaque fog is the absence of the smell of violence. I like this freedom that comes from profound solitude and tranquility. Instead of the ravishingly beautiful Suncheon Bay during the day, I prefer the mist-filled Suncheon Bay of the dawn without a soul around.

Suncheon Bay is made up of a tidal flat that is surrounded by ria-(like) shoreline of about 39.8 kilometers. And on this tidal flat, one can find a 30,000 pyeong reed forest. The sea starts where the forest ends. But a vast tidal flat surfaces when it is low tide. On this tidal flat, there is a water pathway that remains hidden in seawater. That which is revealed by what was hiding is more astonishing than it is beautiful. Just like the river that harmonizes with the surrounding mountains as it curves, the pathway of the sea too runs naturally in accordance with the lows and highs of the tidal flat.

The tidal flat is a moving river. It is the river beneath the sea. This water passage demonstrates the beauty of the invisible one who is devoted to its work. The life energy of the tidal flat lies in this water passage.

Suaeda japonica Makino, a type of saltwater plant, blooms in the tidal flat of Suncheon Bay. Starting out as a young bud in the spring, then transforming itself into a red and burgundy hue when summer passes and autumn arrives, this plant changes its color a total of seven times. Forming a colony in the vast tidal flat, the Suaeda japonica offers a different palette of wardrobe for each season. And toward the sunset when the day comes to a close, it shines even more luminously in red with the color of dusk, thus amplifying the beauty of Suncheon Bay.

The reed forest, which forms yet another colony on the tidal flat, looks like it is almost touching the horizon. Gazing at the vast forest of reeds, it appears as though the whole world has come together here. It looks like they are standing shoulder to shoulder, endlessly swaying in the wind, yet standing upright, communing with silence. The reeds blow where the wind blows, never defying anything, surrendering to providence; they become part of the oneness in order to give birth to a greater beauty, not once resisting anything in its humbleness—the subservience of the reed to the laws of nature is what makes the reed truly beautiful. No, to put it more precisely, it is not about beauty but adhering to the truth when one yields to the cosmic way. Only men refuse to follow the truth and instead, want to rule over nature.

I think I now know a little about what the subservience of the reed signifies. That is why I am ashamed when I behold the reed. I am shameful of the time I spent in defiance of the love that was given to me, and having written poetry without years of surrender. At one time, I viewed surrendering as submission. I sang of how I wanted to die, imperiously, rather than live on my knees. However, I now believe that encountering death is not a shameful act, and surrender, too, must be a part of the truth somewhere in its depths.

The name Suncheon means obeying the way of heaven. That is why the name of the city itself strongly signifies a place where people adhere to the order of nature. The beauty of surrender and humility, as they are manifested by the vast reed forest of Suncheon Bay, thus complete the meaning of its name. Like its name, Suncheon is a beautiful ecological city that has co-existed in harmony with nature, and Suncheon Bay clearly proves it.

At last, I have arrived at the dock, the central part of Suncheon Bay. The fog is even thicker than usual. I park my bike and begin taking a stroll through the reed forest. It feels like the mist is permeating through the pores of my face and my body. It is refreshing. In the midst of layers of fog, all that is within 100 meters of my view belonged to me. Like a lost child, I walked along only on the path that was visible to me. This reality, which has severed everything from me, has become my world. I am content with this hour, with this reality of mine.


Kim Seungok Museum

As I walked through the fog, A Trip to Mujin, a novel by Kim Seungok, a writer from Suncheon, came to mind: “No human power could disperse it before the sun rose and the wind from the sea changed its direction. You could not grab it but it was clearly there. It engulfed you and separated you from all distant things. The fog, the Mujin fog, that its people meet every morning, that makes them ache for the sun and the wind.” Mujin, which means “fog dock,” is the setting of the novel A Trip to Mujin. The author seems to have transposed the very landsc...