The library in the park: Reasons why I love Korea

There’s a reason why Dalseo-gu – a district in Daegu, South Korea – is also known as “Smiling Dalseo”. I was reminded again today why I loved this area so much, and why I’ll always return to it.

Sean and I lived in Yongsan, Dalseo-gu in 2011, our very first year of teaching in the EPIK program in South Korea. I still remember being picked up by my co-teacher, who took me to Homeplus to buy the essentials – a duvet, broom, cleaning supplies – and then dropped me off at my studio apartment near my school. I remember the confusion and the angst, brought on by the fear of never seeing Sean again (we didn’t have cellphones or any way of contacting each other). Luckily, his flat was just one floor below mine, and soon we were exploring our area and finding the best places to eat, drink, and get hair cuts.

All these memories came flooding back today when Sean and I (now married and living in a rather fancy three-room apartment in Jungni in the Seobu District) decided to take a walk to our old area and see if our favourite fried chicken restaurant (땅땅치킨) is still around (it is!) We decided to walk from Jungni to Yongsan, which wasn’t actually that far, and when we got there we were hyper nostalgic and super impressed with our former home.

One thing that really got me excited was the little free public library in the park next to my former school. Sean and I walked through that park every day on our way to our respective schools and I was so happy to see that the park officials have turned an old phone booth into a library for the children in the area. What makes the whole idea so unique and remarkable is that students are allowed to borrow books freely. There is no glass or barrier keeping kids away from the books and as I was taking pictures of the structure there were elementary school students milling about, reading books and chatting to each other.

Two girls mustered up the courage to greet me and I asked them: “What is it?” They looked at me and each other in a panic, and I quickly repeated the question in Korean: “이게 뭐예요?” They visibly relaxed and told me it’s a “도서관”. “Oh cool,” I repeated. “It’s a library?” They recognised the word and said, “Yes, yes! Library!”

Well, I think it’s the coolest thing in the world, a library in the park. Almost as cool as another story I read this week, of a father from the Cape Flats in South Africa who opened a library in his backyard for the neighbourhood kids.

What’s that quote about the power of books again?

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.

Maya Angelou

And one more …

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

Marcel Proust

This post and others like it by other EPIK e-Press members can be found on the EPIK e-Press website by clicking here.


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