Literary salon experiences one more chapterThe cherry blossoms have come out like popcorn and then fluttered about like snowflakes. The sailors walk past flowerbeds while couples stroll arm in arm humming the sweet tunes of spring. This is Jinhae in April. This is where the spring breeze blows off the South Sea, where spring shakes off winter like a snake sloughing its skin.
And this South Gyeongsang province city has the Black and White Teahouse, the artistic salon once favored by many of Korea's best-known literary figures. The cafe, opened in 1955 by Yoo Taek-ryeol, a painter from Hamgyeong province in North Korea, had in its heyday habitues like the writers Yoo Chee-hwan, Suh Jeong-ju, and Kim Chun-soo, the artist Lee Joong-seop and the composer Yun Isang. They came to hear Mr. Yoo's rare classic albums, drink his strong coffee and enjoy the scintillating company.
In most of the years leading up to 1982, the Black and White Teahouse hosted an exhibition during Jinhae's Naval Festival. The shows displayed marvelous illustrated poems, which drew artists from all over the province. But since then the show has been suspended ?interest had dropped off. Over the past 20 years, artists gradually left Jinhae. But early this month, after two decades, the exhibition was reborn at the Teahouse. A poet born in Jinhae but now residing in Ulsan, Jeong Il-geun, exuberantly suggested that all the artists from decades ago get together again. Most of them responded with eagerness. Even the poet Choi Geun-bong, who emigrated to Kyrgyzstan, sent poems via e-mail. In "My heart's Black and White Teahouse," he writes, "From far-off Kyrgyzstan my heart goes to the B&W Teahouse / I return on the back of a camel."
Those lines became the title of the event: "The Memorable B&W Teahouse / I Ride the Camel to Jinhae." This show was sponsored jointly by the Jinhae Literary Association and the poets that still love Jinhae. On the closing day of the exhibition, all the participating poets gathered to celebrate.
The participating poets can be classified in three categories. The first are lifelong Jinhae residents, such as Lee Wol-chun of "The Road to Seonghongsa," Kim Il-gyu of "I Came to Jinhae," and Kim Hong-shik of "My In-laws' Home of Jinhae." The second are poets who were born and raised in Jinhae but left to reside somewhere else. They include Bae Gi-hyeon, the former president of Jinhae's Literary Society, and Go Yeong-jo, Bark Mun-su, Jeong I-gyeong and Kim Seung-gang. The third are artists who became associated with the cafe through their army service, such as Oh Ha-ryeong, Lee Sang-gae, Lee Su-ik, and Lee Seong-bok.
Many of the participating artists gathering in Jinhae a couple of days before the exhibition began to hang out at the teahouse and reminisce about the old times while drinking soju, as well as to prepare their works. "This place is no ordinary place," said Bae Gi-hyeon, the former head of the Literary Society. "I remember in the '60s a beautiful girl worked here taking orders. Many poets and painters came to catch a glimpse of her. Then one day she vanished; apparently she was wooed by and later married a man who taught law at the Naval Academy. Later we found out that the man was Kim Tae-jeong, who used to be the attorney general."
Today, the Black and White Teahouse is managed by the second daughter of the founder Yoo Taek-ryeol, Yoo Gyeong-a, 37. An accomplished pianist, she holds a concert every first Saturday of the month, and a play two or three times a year to keep the teahouse alive as a cultural institution.
by Woo Sang-gyun