From Busan to Tongyeong: Tracing Fiction

  • onNovember 16, 2014
  • Vol.25 Autumn 2014
  • byHam Jeung Im

Topophilia refers to the special love one has for a particular place. For four days from August 6 to 9, along with a group of translators from abroad, I visited Haeundae in Busan and the city of Tongyeong, the two places for which my feelings of topophilia were expressed in my collection of short stories titled Gokdu (Illusion). We began our journey around lunchtime on August 6 in Songjeong, which is located beyond Dalmaji Hill, “the hill where one greets the moon,” on the east side of Haeundae Beach.

Songjeong is the stage for “A Refreshing Night,” a short story in a three-part series that includes “Gokdu” and “Plum.” While the narrator of “A Refreshing Night,” Ha-rin, does not physically appear in “Gokdu,” he still serves as the character that propels the entire series. In “A Refreshing Night,” Ha-rin is at Gyeongju Station, waiting at the platform to take the northbound train to Seoul, when he sees on the other side the train to southeastern shores coming in, and on impulse takes that train all the way to Busan. He gets off at Songjeong Station, where his mother had many memories of her youth. To Ha-rin, the place in the black-and-white photo is strange and unfamiliar. Just as his half-sister, whom Ha-rin has never met, visits Tongyeong to ask him to attend her wedding in “Gokdu,” he instinctively follows the traces of his mother of whom he has only the faintest of memories in “A Refreshing Night.”

Our group held a seminar on Gokdu at Bibibidang, a traditional teahouse on Dalmaji Hill. Between the Hill and Haeundae Beach is a small inlet called Mipo, meaning “tail port,” named so for its resemblance to a thin tail. Along the coast spanning from Mipo and Dalmaji Hill to Songjeong spreads out a long, dense forest of pine trees. There are numerous narrow paths that go through this forest, connecting the coast to the railroad that runs alongside. The paths, together known as the Moontan Road, is where I set two of my stories, “A Single Cloud” and “Warm Welcome.” I explore the notions of beauty and misery, one’s duties as a human being, and sense of ethics through the fictional tales about taking one last journey in this world.

On the second day of our trip, we left Busan, Beomeosa Temple being our final stop there, crossed the long Geogadaegyo Bridge, and drove along the west coast to Tongyeong in Namhae-gun County. “Gokdu” takes place in this fishing town, in the Seoho Fish Market, Restaurant Sujeong, and at the Gangguan Port, places where Ha-rin had once visited, and where his younger sister tries to find her elusive, illusory brother. We left our luggage in a hotel near the market, and went to a nearby silbijip, where all alcoholic beverages are served with a table full of free food, to try some of the local delicacies. After a satisfying dinner of fresh fish, we strolled over to Gangguan. The port was filled with ships resting from their long journeys out to sea. As we walked along the port, quietly taking in the night view, for a fleeting moment I could see Ha-rin standing there, gazing at the white sails, fluttering in the wind like flags toward the sea. 


by Ham Jeung Im
Novelist and Professor of Creative Writing
Dong-A University