Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mermaid on Haeundae Beach

The Legend of Princess Hwangok

The placard that gives a synopsis about the mermaid is a cultural comparison to another famous mermaid statue. 

I’m always perplexed why a culture would want to compare their own culture to another to the extent that Korea does; it’s almost like Koreans want to be seen as famous, as credible and as historically great as other cultures, but in their comparisons, they come across as having an inferiority complex. And by comparing themselves to something so famous, they put themselves into second-class citizen situations. Korea is unique with a rich history all its own, so the cultural marketing should be to reflect the peculiar differences in Korea to make people want to see and experience something original, exotic, and other-worldly, not something that’s an imitation of something Western of all things. Korea is an Eastern society (which I find very fascinating in its rich Eastern-Western differences), and therefore, with its distinct characteristics, it can market those singular attributes and be very viable in doing so!

Anyway, the mermaid statue is a representation of Sea Princess Hwangok (Topaz), who gazes into the open sea from the point of Dongbaekseom Island off to the west of Haeundae Beach. The sea princess came from the land of Naranda, a mythical sea kingdom of mermaids and tritons, to marry King Eunhye of Mugung, another legendary kingdom. However, estranged from her beloved Naranda where mermaids danced in the waves and dove deep below for pearls and shells, Sea Princess Hwangok missed her home-sea and so the waxing of every moon when her heart was at its heart-breaking fullest, the princess would sit on a rock and mourn the loss of her homeland while clutching a topaz bead given to her by her mother-in-law.

Right after I came to Korea (April 1991) a bunch of friends
and I visited the mourning Sea Princess Hwangok.
14 years after sitting on the shoulders of Sea Princess Hwangok I return to see her. She still eternally mourns the loss of her sea kingdom, but now she is sadder than ever as even visitors are not allowed to go near her mourning presence.

In reference to the legend, the mermaid princess was installed on the rocky shore of Dongbaek Island in 1974. However, after a particularly powerful typhoon in 1987, the statue was destroyed although the upper body was recovered and now is kept in the Busan Museum. Then in 1989 the 2.5m bronze replacement weighing 4 tons was installed on the escarpment, where she still sits in mournful silence clutching her topaz bead.

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