Philanthropists and The Little Prince (Day 256)
Philanthropists and The Little Prince have made a tremendous difference around the world. A bit of a weird connection? Read on...
During our travels, we have seen the effect that one person, through their philanthropy, has had on an area. In Tasmania, David Walsh opened MONA. At first, many people were concerned about the art subjects and in the first year of opening, tourist numbers fell slightly. However now, the number of tourists to the island has grown significantly and according to an article in ABC news “last year 1.26 million people visited Tasmania, leaving $2.33 billion behind.” In Niroshima, Japan, we experienced the impact that introducing art and architecture to a small sleepy island had. The former head of Benesse Holdings, Soichiro Fukutake, wanted to house his art collection where it would have a local impact and could also be shared with the wider world. He chose Niroshima and it is now a vibrant tourist destination with many thousands, if not a million people enjoying the art and architecture this place has to offer. Today we visited Nami Island, or should I say “Naminara Republic”. It was designated independence in 2006 and has its own flag, passport, currency, stamp and telephone card. There are two ways to get there, boat or along the 940m zip-wire. Sadly we went by the former method. We have a budget you know. This small half-moon shaped island is in the middle of the Han River, resulting from the Cheongpyeong Dam construction in 1944. It is now a thriving tourist attraction, with swarms of people from Seoul as well as overseas visitors, like us, enjoying the many aspects this small island offers. Named after General Nami who died in 1468 at the age of 28 after being falsely accused of treason, how did this tiny island become so popular, attracting 3 million visitors in 2014? The island was purchased in 1965 by Mr Minn Byeong-do after he left his position as governor of the Bank of Korea. He loved nature and was dedicated to turning this island into a paradise. In fact, he had a bit of a competition with a friend to see who could plant the most trees, resulting in Nami Island becoming covered with a wide variety: Ginkgo, Redwood, Sequoia, Maple to name just a few. Mr Minn’s motto was "green trees and clean rivers are what we own and need to take good care for future generations." He sounds like a fascinating man, interested in art, literacy and music; founded the first symphony orchestra and the first publishing house in Korea. In 1966 he developed the island into a resort town attracting non-profit organisations to be involved in various environmental campaigns as well as supporting many literacy and art events. UNICEF has even designated it as Asia’s first UNICEF-designated child-friendly park. It also was lucky enough to be used in some very popular Korean dramas such as Winter Sonata, a love story and I am sure that many people come here to capture that feeling of love that they witnessed in the series. We saw many people cycling in tandem, just like the main characters of the programme. The place has a bit of a Disney feel and I can imagine at times it is heaving with people. What we liked about it was the peaceful walks amongst the trees, hearing the birds sing and the bells of the cyclists ring. Watching people whooping with joy and exhilarated by water sports around the island. Seeing whacky sculptures by award-winning Yu Qing Cheng of naked people baring all with a great humour about them. The island also holds an international children’s book festival (NAMBOOK) and it was interesting to see the diverse selection of entries. My favourite was a book very simply illustrated about the journey of a mother with her son, how she cares for him, holds him as a baby. Gradually over the years, he grows, becomes bigger than his Mum and in the end, she has shrunk and he cares for her. I connect with this. I remember when George became taller than me at the age of 13, the dynamic between us changed in a wonderful way. One of the joys for us, as we were walking around, was to suddenly hear “Summertime” one of Tim’s favourite tunes. We headed towards the sound to see a jazz quartet with Joep Van Rhijn. They played some classics and we all joined in one of the choruses. (I can’t remember what it was now, I am sitting in a café with the Rolling Stones playing). So, again, one person’s vision and philanthropy have changed an island significantly, for better or for worse is a personal opinion.
We carried on our exploration for the day. I had seen that there was a “neat French village” nearby. We had a spare hour and the bus was going that way. Oh dear. Not what we were expecting. We descended from the bus to see a small theme park that is supposed to represent a typical French village snuggly clinging to the side of the Alps, with earth-coloured walls and narrow steep alleyways. Argh! Tacky is the only word that would describe this place. The emphasis of the place was the celebrated and delightful French novel, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a bookcase full of this book translated into many languages and some pictures depicting the story. I’m not sure anyone would have an insight into the depth of this book from the exhibition. Or perhaps I missed this within the Korean writings. There was also a small exhibition about Pinocchio by Italian writer Carlo Collodi and also music by the German composer Beethoven. (Weird as this is supposed to be Petite France). I wonder who came up with the idea of this place. Another philanthropist with a weird taste? Ah, we all enjoy different flavours. “One person's trash is another person's treasure” springs to mind. Luckily our bus back to the comfort of our very hot apartment was in less than an hour so we didn’t have to waste too much time here. Ah well, win some, lose some.