Early on in my discovery of Korea, its culture and history, I became enamoured with Admiral Yi Sun Shin. He was to be my second favourite character or hero if you like in Korean history. The first of course being King Sejong, was who responsible for inventing Hangul in 1444.
Admiral Yi Sun-shin is famously credited for designing and skillfully deploying the Geobukseon, literally ” turtle ships,” boats protected by a spiked armored shell, that were used in battle against the Japanese invasion in 1592. Little is known of Admiral Yi outside Korea, but he arguably ranks alongside Horatio Nelson as one of the great heroes of battle. He goes down in the history books as undefeated in twenty three battles, a rare feat. His character and personal convictions won him a lot of admiration. He knew from the tender age of 22 that he had been called to a life in the military and pursued it wholeheartedly, knowing that it was far from favorable in comparison to the literary career of his peers. Some 400 years after his death, the spirit of Admiral Yi remains an object of great respect. When he died at the Battle of Noryang in 1597, he was posthumously granted the title, “Duke of Loyal Valor.”
Imagine my surprise when I found on our visit to Tongyeong as part of the Korea.Net tour and trip, we were going to visit a park dedicated to this great war hero.
I soon found out that the name ‘Tongyeong’ means command post and that Admiral Yi Sun Shin’s headquarters was located near here. It was unfortunate though, that the day we chose to visit, the entire city was pelting down with rain. This meant a slight change to the schedule which was not being able to spend as much time as we could have exploring the park, viewing the cultural hall, and finding out more about the Hagikejeong pavillion. Instead I, not so elegantly, slid across the square with umbrella in tow as it continued to pour down with rain, whilst gazing up the statue of Yi Sun Shin. The statue itself is in a different stance to the one of the admiral erected in Seoul at Gwanghwamun Square.
The admiral in Tongyeong, looks more authoritative and is pointing at something. Whether long after death he continues to act as a look out and protector for his country or simply the artist who created the statue has caught him in the moment of action, instructing his troops about what to do in the heat of battle, one can only wonder. I look at him through the heavy drops of rain,and gaze in awe at this man that was able in times of extreme danger and pressure to lead his men through battle and conduct himself with such dignity, precision and humility.
The little time we did spend in the park with our umbrellas was on the viewing platform, looking out onto the Korea Strait (a sea passage between Japan and South Korea) and as a moment to remember the great admiral and bask in his victory, we took many pictures as the rain continued to fall.
Photo Credits: Diya Mitra and Jeon Han of Korea.Net