Destination: the Tomb of the Rainhat Poet (middle of nowhere, Gangwon-do)

With eyes that glow despite the shadow... I'm a poet and I know it! =)

Every so often, a place stands out as being remote – that’s part of its appeal, perhaps, although when directions are unclear it makes for some… frustration… Presenting a story about a place we almost didn’t reach.

Meet Kim Sat-gat (remember the ‘a’ sound in Korean is like the ‘ah’ sound in ‘father’), born as Kim Byeong-yeon (김병연, 1807-1863). One Huffington Post article compares him to the best of the Beat generation – albeit from the mid-1800’s. When he was four years old, his grandfather, Kim Ik-soon (김익순) participated in a rebellion against the Joseon Dynasty – a rebellion that left him guilty by association. His mother moved them to the middle of nowhere and never mentioned their lifelong shame. At 20 years old, he took the civil service exam, which required a poetry entry about the grandfather in question. Kim, of course, wrote a poem that dishonored and satirized his grandfather without knowing it.  Despite his poem winning first prize in the exam, he could not bear the shame of his grandfather’s past – or in mocking his ancestor. He left his mother, wife, and child behind, donned a rainhat, said he needed to hide from the sky, and was reborn as the Rainhat Poet. From then on, he was the man who would literally sing (or write poems) for his supper and room. A life drinking makgeolli, partying, flirting, and making fun of the wealthy? Sign me up!

So we made it to Yeongwol station, where a bit of research on Naver Maps told me there was a 농어촌 bus (literally ‘farming and fishing village’, better known as ‘rural bus’ in the vernacular) that went from the train station to the site. Despite the train station offering up some information about the legend, there was no clue as to where the bus stop was. After a quick chat with the information desk (in quick Korean), we found the bus stop and hopped on.

It was this beautiful outdoorsy area near a three-way intersection where we got dropped off. Crap. Apparently, the bus we jumped on (the one we were told to get on) stopped 5.8 kilometers short of the goal. Let the record show that neither my girlfriend nor I were especially inclined to hike an hour to a site, complete with backpacks, in 30-plus degree heat. We then hung out at the bus stop, waiting for the next bus to rumble through the countryside.

30 minutes later, still nothing.

After nearly an hour, a miracle happened: a taxi with the magical ‘빈차’ (for hire) light passed by. We promptly took it up the hill to our destination, talking the taxi driver into taking us back to the bus terminal after our visit. That shouldn’t have been a lot of convincing, seeing as how he ended up making a few manwon for his hard work.

Presenting the Kim Sat-gat Literary Museum (김삿갓문학관) – a two-floor tribute to the man’s poetry. Don’t forget to look around first:

Entitled ‘정담’ (Jeong-dam, or ‘friendly’), he and a female figure were joined in the same robe. Engraved on the robe is one of his poems, written in hanja and translated into modern Korean.

There’s nothing of note in English within the museum, although the classic Chinese has been translated into modern Korean for your reading pleasure.

The original manuscripts are behind glass, but there are panels displaying some more poems (in Chinese and Korean).

Since there are no examples of his work in English within the museum, here’s one example of his brilliance in working double entendres (with props to a fellow blogger who wrote about this in 2011):

Wow, 10 Chinese characters – that’s a poem?
Seriously, though. The poem translates to “No matter how far you go, the sky is too high to ever be caught / The butterfly does not come on withered flowers”.
If you translate the Chinese characters to Korean, you get this:

천장거무집 (Cheon-jang-geo-mu-jib)
화로접부래 (hwa-ro-jeob-bu-lae)

Which, if you tweak a couple sounds…

천장거집 (Cheon-jang-geo-mi-jib)
화로겻불내 (hwa-ro-gyeot-bul-lae)

Translates to “Spiderweb on the ceiling / Smell of a fire made with hull of rice in the brazier”.

A bit abstract, I know, but it’s the double meaning by changing such a small number of characters that makes it brilliant, or so I’ve been led to believe.

It’s clear some money has gone into this place – a fact I’m sure the tour buses appreciate.

Walk back down the road for about 3 minutes to reach the entrance to Kim Sat-gat’s tomb (김삿갓묘역). It’s not the only thing to see in the area, of course:

More poems, more hanja. Since it’s still way off the beaten path to non-Koreans, there hasn’t been a real need to translate it into English.

A poem about fish?

Entitled ‘환갑’ (Hwan-gab), or 60 years old, I’m a little confused as he didn’t reach his 60th birthday.

The tomb itself – a bit difficult to approach, but it’s probably better that way. A number of hiking paths lead elsewhere, but we didn’t have the time or interest in exploring much further.

If this place happens to be part of your guided tour, it’s a fine place to spend the 30 minutes or however long you have. It’s remote, however, and quite difficult to reach without a car. There isn’t much in English (the only sign that explains any of this in English is as you enter the tomb area), so you may be left with more questions than answers. It’s close to the worthwhile Gossi Cave (WARNING: old post – the place has expanded a bit), so if you caught one of the early buses, hit that up on the way back.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks – How do I rate destinations?):

Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Name: Tomb of the Rainhat Poet (김삿갓묘역 and 김삿갓문학관)
Address: Gangwon-do Yeongwol-gun Kim-sat-gat-myeon Waseok-ri 913-1

Korean address: 강원도 영월군 김삿갓면 와석리 913-1
Directions: Forget getting here by public transportation – save this one for when you’re renting a car. If you’re gungho about getting here on a local bus, start from Yeongwol station. From the exit, turn left and walk 400 meters to the intersection. Cross to the opposite corner and look for the bus stop in front of the post office. Catch the bus that leaves for 김삿갓 at 6:25am, 8:30, 11:30, 2:20, or 6:40pm (which returns from the area at 7:10, 9:20, 12:20, 3:10, and 7:20pm). The bus for 하동 (Ha-dong) comes more often, but stops about 6 kilometers (or an hour’s walk) away, and good luck flagging a taxi down. If you’re up for the walk, tell the bus driver you’re headed to 김삿갓묘역 (Kim-sat-gat-myo-yeok). A taxi from the bus terminal or train station costs about 30,000 won each way.

Hours: 9am-6pm
Admission: the museum is 1,000 won, while the tomb is free.
Phone: 033-375-7900 or 033-374-2101