A modern doctor takes up a traditional businessYEONGDONG ― In the village of Yangsan, Yeongdong county, North Chungcheong province, stands a century-old thatched cottage in the shadow of Mount Bibong. Countless yellow paper bags containing raw materials for traditional cures, such as arrowroot and motherwort, hang under the eaves of the house, which once belonged to Byeon Seok-hong (1846-1926), a court doctor for King Gojong of the late Joseon Dynasty.
Down a slope from the cottage is a modern house with a sign that reads “Byeon Traditional Hospital” on the main gate. The hospital now belongs to Byeon Gi-won, 46, the great great grandson of Byeon Seok-hong. He inherited the hospital and has continued the tradition begun in 1902. When Japan began to influence the Joseon Dynasty, Byeon Seok-hong moved to Yangsan and opened a hospital called “Jewoldang,” saying he “didn’t want to work for the Japanese.” He discovered the location when he was touring the country after being ordered to provide medical assistance to the common people by the king. He was fascinated by the scenery and decided to relocate here.
In the cottage are artifacts used by Byeon Seok-hong including a medicine cabinet with 116 drawers, a straw cutter and Dongeuibogam, an extensive medical book written in 1610 by the famed healer Heo Jun.
Yeong-mok (1878-1923), Byeon Seok-hong’s son, died young at the age of 45. Yeongmok’s son, Sang-hun (1902-1989), was a doctor skilled in acupuncture and moxibustion. He compounded medicines for Presidents Park Chung Hee and Roh Tae-woo. Sanghun’s grandson, Gi-won, specializes in treating strokes.
“I am more interested in helping patients with incurable diseases than those with mild conditions,” Gi-won said.
He grew up in the hospital doing errands for his grandfather, Sang-hun. He cut raw materials for medicine with a straw cutter, sorted out patients and delivered prescriptions to other traditional medicine hospitals. Gi-won said he once dreamed of being an actor, but could not turn down his grandfather’s request to continue the tradition.
He began practicing here after graduating from Wonkwang University’s traditional medicine college in 1984. Though he opened another hospital in Seoul for patients who have difficulty traveling to Yangsan, he still provides medical services for poor patients and the elderly on the weekend. He also consults with patients for free on his Web site, www.okbyun.co.kr.
by Kim Bang-hyeon