[OUTLOOK]A quiet spirit that offers hope

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[OUTLOOK]A quiet spirit that offers hope

Lee Tae-won, a biology teacher, began to study freshwater fish under the influence of his teacher, Choi Ki-chul. While researching the origins of fish names in old books and historical documents, he encountered a translated version of “Hyeonsaneobo” (“Illustrated Book on Fish”). This book on marine biology was originally written in Korea about two centuries ago by Jung Yak-jun, a Joseon Dynasty scholar of shilhak (“Practical Learning”).
Mr. Lee’s encounter with this book was, in his words, “a turning point” in his life. Since then, he has spent seven years visiting Shinji island, Ui island and Heuksan island in search of the fish described in the book.
Who was Jung Yak-jun, he wondered, who took interest in these small things and left exact and detailed records of them for future generations? On every vacation, Mr. Lee, like a detective investigating unsolved cases, collected records and rummaged every corner of the Heuksan island area.
Jung Yak-jun was the elder brother of Dasan Jung Yak-yong. Engulfed by political strife after the death of King Jung-jo, and involved in the suppression of Catholics in the so-called “Hwang Sa-young White Paper Incident,” Jung Yak-jun was banished to Shinji island, Ui island and Heuksan island, and his younger brother was sent to Jangki and Gangjin.
For 14 years, Mr. Jung moved about the islets of Huksan island, building schoolhouses for village children and completing his book detailing the island’s marine life. On his way to meet his younger brother on Ui island, he left this sorrowful world at the age of 59 without reuniting with his beloved brother.
Lee Tae-won invested half the time Jung Yak-jun spent in exile reviving Mr. Jung’s illustrated book on fish in the modern language. The crystallization of his painstaking effort is five full volumes of “In Search of Hyeonsaneobo.”
In Antarctica, the Sejong Research Base is built on the shore of the Barton Peninsula, in the southwest part of King George Island. Scientists gathered to ferret out the secrets of Antarctica on this cold and icy land of glaciers.
Oceanologists studied the temperature of sea water and the characteristics of the Antarctic Ocean. Ocean biologists collected shellfish and sea urchins and measured the amount of heavy metal in them. Geophysicists collected deposits to learn about global environmental events such as the volcanic explosions or climate change. Geologists collected gravel, soil and fossils to study geological strata in the frozen continent.
Geologist Jang Soo-keun is preoccupied with studying the poles, going to and fro between the Arctic Dasan base and the Antarctic Sejong base. He began his work in Antarctica in 1985 and worked as the leader of a research team after the Sejong base was completed in 1988.
He also published a book about his “dream of the Antarctic expedition,” which contains the history of the Antarctic expedition and the story of the Sejong base. In the preface, Mr. Jang wrote, “Jun Jae-kyu went out of the base to save his colleague who was fighting severe cold in a snowstorm in the Antarctic Ocean.
“As his rubber boat was capsized by a high wave,” Mr. Jang continued, “he fell into the sea of ice. The Antarctic Ocean took away his fledgling young soul relentlessly. Now I am about to talk about the Antarctic Sejong base, where his soul rests.”
We hear of all kinds of corruption scandals. Watching our politicians who spend their waking hours blaming and cursing other politicians, I feel as if all the years I have lived were futile.
The National Assembly makes the people despair, and prisons are flooded with our past leaders. Is there any hope for this country at all?
We see hope in the silent effort of a young teacher, who brings new light to a study of fish handed down from our ancestors, visiting islets at the tip of the Korean Peninsula. We do not despair because we are surrounded by the pure spirit of a young geophysicist who devoted his lifetime to the study of the polar regions, and who lost his life to save his colleague.
This is not all. Han Young-shik, a researcher and author of “A Traveler in the Beetles’ Kingdom,” has spent 10 years wandering throughout the country in search of beetles, collecting about 1,000 different species and making samples. Professor Hwang Woo-suk has spent his whole life studying cattle, and his research team at last opened the door for treating incurable diseases by cultivating the stem cell in the ovum for the first time in the world.
The leaders of this country are not those who are engaged in deception and cheating with their tongues. True leaders are those who silently devote themselves to science and to the public, such as the biology teacher, the geologist, the researcher on the beetles, and professor Hwang.
When these people are respected and rewarded, there will be hope and future in our society. Let’s start searching for hope, rather than remaining in despair.

* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kwon Young-bin
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