Two Sundays ago (April 27) we took an hour and a half drive to Asan, a city in the province of south Chuncheong. We went there for the birthday festival of one of Korea’s national heroes, Yi Sun Shin (or Lee Sun Shin/Yi Soon Shin). It was I who suggested to go there as I haven’t been to the place and I’d seen the drama The Immortal Yi Sun Shin.
Yi Sun Shin has a god-like status in the country. If you could read the novel or watch the drama on his life, you would understand why. His statue dominates over one of Seoul’s busiest streets, Gwanghamun. There is also one street in Seoul, Chungmu-ro, named after his title of Chungmugong or Martial Lord of Loyalty. Sadly, he’s not well known outside East Asia (or I never knew him until I saw The Immortal Yi Sun Shin). I admit, I admired the man too after watching all those films and reading more about him. I bought my son a shirt with the number 23 at the back. It isn’t for Michael Jordan, but for the 23 battles the Admiral fought and won.
Yi Sun Shin was loyal to his country till the end, no matter how many times he was “betrayed” by the ruling class during his lifetime. He believed in social justice yet he also dedicated his life to the king. In the end, he got what he wished for… He died in a battle like a dignified soldier and spared his king the guilt and shame of putting a loyal warrior to death. The king, at that time, mistakenly believed that Yi Sun Shin was a threat to his existence.
In Asan, we went to Hyeonchungsa, a shrine built in the 1700s and dedicated to the war hero. Entrance fee is 500 won. The walk from the main gate to the main shrine is more than 400 meters. You’ll see two ponds to the left at about 50 meters from the gate.
At about 300 meters from the gate is Yi Sun Shin’s house. My husband said it is simple and small considering the Admiral’s status. He came from a Yangban (noble) family and his grandfather was a member of the King’s court. There’s the archery range at the right side of the house and further is Yi Myeon’s grave, the Admiral’s son who was killed fighting off the Japanese. I met two old men under the gingko trees at the archery range. They were Korean war veterans and told me that they lived in the Philippines for more than a decade, training at Clark Air Base. They spoke English well and were very nice.