Restoring a bucolic resting spot recalls makkeolli and riverboats

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Restoring a bucolic resting spot recalls makkeolli and riverboats

The winding Nakdong River joins two creeks at the town of Samgang-ri in Yecheon County, North Gyeongsang province. Samgang-ri, which means “Three River Village,” sits at the confluence of the Nakdong River, Naseong Creek and Geum Creek.
Samgang-ri used to be a populous ferry town frequented by a large number of salt ships sailing along the Nakdong River. There were often pubs in populous ferry towns, and disembarking the ferry, one can easily see the Samgang Jumak (Three River Pub) on the bank of the Nakdong.
This pub, built around 1900, was recently designated a national cultural asset (Folklore asset No. 134).
“It will probably be the first and last time a pub is named a cultural asset,” said Park Gi-hyeon, 51, who works for the culture and tourism department in Yecheon County. The 106-year-old building was recognized for offering a peek at the olden days.
Last December, Mr. Park noticed that the Three River Pub leaned towards the riverside and was on the verge of collapsing. The pub seemed more desolate as Nakdong River was frozen and the owner of the pub, Ms. Yoo Yok-yeon, had passed away in October at the age of 90. Ms. Yoo had tended the pub for nearly 70 years after marrying her husband, Bae So-bong, who passed away 50 years ago.
In the past, merchants and peddlers on salt boats bartered goods as they sailed inland from the mouth of the Nakdong River, patronizing the pub on their way. But since salt trading boats disappeared during industrialization, which began in the 1960s, in recent decades pub patrons have been local residents or travelers on their way to regional centers or the capital. Although the salt boats and ferryboats have disappeared, and the pub is rather deserted, new roads have since been built, bringing visitors who simply seek the good old days of the pub.
On a recent visit by the Joongang Ilbo, the kitchen was empty except for a few pieces of half-used briquettes. There is no electricity either. The 26-square-meter pub consists of two small rooms, an attic, a kitchen and a narrow wooden porch. The pub, which survived several floods, looks like a house for a dwarf with low ceilings under which an adult of average height can barely stand upright. Its tiny porch could hardly accommodate five people, but it was said that it served tens of passersby in its heyday.
Within a 10-minute walk lies the Three River Cultural Village, which is inhabited by 30 households of the Jeong clan of Cheongju. Jeong families do not have many stories about this ancient pub, but welcome its designation as a cultural asset.
Jeong Su-heum, 67, said, “I used to visit the one and only pub twice a day when it served makkeolli (crude rice wine).”
“The restoration project will start this spring. The village is looking for residents who will brew traditional drinks and make traditional food for tourists at the pub,” said Mr. Jeong. He added that an old lady in her 70s would be most suitable. An auxiliary building will be built for whoever manages the pub.
Yecheon County plans to restore the pub after hearing the opinions of officials from the Cultural Properties Committee, and then will promote the pub along with the nearby Hoeryeong-po boat landing as tourist attractions. The county has already purchased the pub and a surrounding site of 20 hectares (50 acres). The slate roof of the pub will be replaced with a new one made of straw, and the cement floor will be re-done in yellow earth.
Three very old trees, including a 200-year-old locust tree, in the front yard of Three River Pub add to its charm. Even until 20 years ago, people used a ferryboat to cross the river to Mungyeong. But the sailors have disappeared and floods dragged the ferryboats away. It used to be inconvenient to cross the Nakdong River, but the construction of the Three River Bridge has made it easier.


by Song Yee-ho
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