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Melbourne City of Lit meets Wonju’s Tudeukgol Bookshop

In this series, run in partnership with the Melbourne City of Literature Office, we get to know some of the bookstores in the UNESCO Cities of Literature network. In the final instalment we meet Tudeukgol Bookshop, nestled in the mountains outside of Wonju, South Korea, where the furniture has become as much of a draw-card as the books.

Up a winding road, in Wonju, South Korea, there’s a building tucked away in the mountains. Here you’ll find Tudeukgol Bookshop, one of the city’s most iconic independent bookstores.

Teodeuk is a Chinese character meaning “enlightenment”, or “something of a spiritual awakening”, and gol is also a Chinese character meaning “valley” where two mountains meet but are sunk and caved in,’ explains Wonju UNESCO City of Literature’s Drake Yang. ‘This word of Teodeuk-gol hits Koreans something like this, “Aha, this is the place where we are able to get out of our ignorance, stupidity, or illiteracy and into enlightenment or awakening.”‘

The location is idyllic. Wonju is a city with a population of about 350,000, and is around 90 kilometres from the capital Seoul. Tudeukgol Bookshop is at least a 30-minute drive from Wonju’s city centre, and is up on a hill near Chiaksan National Park and Baegunsan Natural Recreation Forest. ‘Ever since I was a young man in my 20s, I dreamed of living deep in the mountains, and following this dream, I came to settle down here in Tudeukgol,’ explains store owner Namuseon.

‘I opened Tudeukgol Bookstore five years ago after running a publishing company for 35 years,’ he continues. ‘After publishing some 300 books as a publisher, I came to strongly wish to live in the world described in those books. So 27 years ago, I moved from Seoul to Wonju in Gangwon province, and lived in an apartment in a rural area for 10 years. Then for the past 17 years, I have built a house and a bookshop in the mountains and settled down, engaging myself in the traditional cultural industry, books and bookstore, with the main fields: meditation, self-sufficient life, and how to make handmade goods.’

The bookstore only makes up one aspect of Tudeukgol. Namuseon, who lives on-site, explains there is also a bakery, a forest for meditation, and an outdoor performance hall where music recitals, author events, and performances based around books are held. For those wanting to spend a little bit more time there is a new guesthouse, allowing for overnight visitors.

The store has been slowly building up a reputation in various areas. It’s not just the location, and the focus of its stock, but the space itself. Outside, there are views of the surrounding mountains. Inside, the architecture and furniture itself is a drawcard. ‘Modernist carpenter Bahk Jong-sun, who built the bookstore building 12 years ago and designed the furniture, was in charge of the furniture for the movie Parasite, which won four Academy Awards in 2020,’ Namuseon explains. ‘So many people are flocking to Tudeukgol Bookshop to see the furniture. Our bookshop has become a museum-like place where one can see the growth of a local furniture designer, who overnight won world-class fame.’

Every part of the space comes back to the key philosophy of living in harmony with nature and living a fulfilled life. This comes through in the books that are available, and the activities that are offered to visitors. Namuseon runs the Tudeukgol Life Design School, which offers classes which predominately take place at Tudeukgol.

The books the store focuses on are predominately ‘picture books and books on how to conduct a natural lifestyle,’ he explains. ‘Other fields are adult books that are part of the various categories of Tudeukgol Life Design School, for classes conducted mainly here at Tudeukgol. The main categories are meditation, carpentry and house plans, health and natural remedies, cooking and baking, literature and travel, occupations and work, and books about the local Teodeukgol area… We focus on being a unique curation that can only be obtained here. Teodeukgol Bookshop has thus become a must-visit bookstore for Koreans who dream of a turning point in their lives and to live in nature.’

One of Namuseon’s favourite elements of the store is the ‘Before I Die’ board. He explains that this is ‘where visitors of the Tudeukgol Bookshop share their dreams with other people. The visitors think about death for a brief moment, write what’s of top priority to them in life on a stationery paper designed by the bookshop, choose one or two things from their list, rewrite them on a sticky note and share with others by attaching the notes on the board. One’s wishes and dreams must be written in the present tense. That is because a thought is a seed, and wishing and dreaming is planting that seed as a complete being.’

Namuseon has many plans, but one of the biggest ‘is to develop Tudeukgol Life Design School into a school of books’. ‘I wish Tudeukgol Bookshop to be a small guiding light in this unprecedented time where almost everyone is facing a turning point in their lives due to the devastating pandemic Covid-19.’

In terms of the series of books he has planned, ‘Superficially, it would resemble a library. The goal is to create an open platform school that helps each individual develop their commitment to work and their career. It is an open school where you can freely set your career path outside of the framework established as a norm by existing schools, or religions, and powerfully implement them.’



Category: Features