Read an Excerpt
KoreaA Walk Through the Land of Miracles
By Simon Winchester
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Simon Winchester
All right reserved.
In the Seamen's Wake
The Kingdom known to us by the Name of Corea, and by the Natives call'd Tiozencouk, and sometimes Caoli, reaches from 34 to 44 Degrees of North Latitude, being about 150 Leagues in length from North to South, and about 75 in breadth from East to West. Therefore the Coresians represent it in the shape of a long square, like a playing Card. Nevertheless it has several Points of Land which run far out into the Sea.
It is divided into 8 provinces, containing 360 Cities and Towns, without reckoning the Forts and Castles, which are all on the Mountains. This Kingdom is very dangerous, and difficult for Strangers.
From The Description of The Kingdom of Corea, written in 1668 by Hendrick Hamel -- the first Western account of the 'Hermit Kingdom'
This story starts a very long way from Korea -- indeed, very nearly halfway across the world from Hendrick Hamel's 'dangerous and difficult Kingdom' -- on a gloomy, rainswept, industrial street in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Newcastle was where I had my first job on a newspaper in the middle sixties: it was a grimy and then rather depressed old place tucked away up in the farnortheast, a place of deep coal mines and half-closed factories that were worked by men (the luckier ones, that is -- many had been out of work for years) who still wore overalls and cloth caps, drank the strongest beer brewed in Britain, and had a tradition of making the sturdier items of advanced society --things made of iron and brass and heavy alloys, things like battle tanks and cantilever bridges, artillery pieces and cranes, telescope mirrors, power-station turbines and railway locomotives.
But it had a softer side, too. As robust and no-nonsense a place as it might have been, the Newcastle I came to know was a city surrounded by and shaped by a wild and starkly beautiful countryside, and a place whose whole life and economy and folk history were dominated by two mighty waterways that were born high up in the nearby hills, the River Tees and the River Tyne.
The Tyne! Such -- or so it seems at this distance -- such a grand old river and such grand old memories! The Tyne remains for me, and probably for anyone who has ever fallen under the subtle spell of what they call the Geordie country, one of the great streams of the world. It is neither a very long nor in truth a very great river, yet somehow in its brief passage from source to sea it manages to capture all the alluring mixtures and contrasts that make England what she is -- grace and power, rustic charm and ironbound sinew, breeze-ruffled heather and hot industrial oil, lonely moorlands and bustling factory gates. These contrasts exist in many river passages, perhaps, but in the case of the Tyne seem to represent so accurately all that for which the country once stood and all that had been for so long part of the leitmotiv of Empire.
The Tyne rises high in the broom-covered hills near the border between England and Scotland. It chuckles merrily through narrow gorges and across small waterfalls. It matures and lazes through meadows and prosperous suburban villages. It washes grandly between the great old cathedral cities of Newcastle and Gateshead, cities of grey sandstone and marble monuments, vaulted railway stations and imposing city halls; and finally it passes by the low-lying, swampy slakes of Jarrow and Wallsend -- the latter named for the eastern end of the mighty wall Hadrian had built to protect Rome's English dominion -- on its way to the cold and grey heavings of the North Sea. And in those last ten miles of its brief course, by which time it has widened and deepened and slowed to a kind of majesty, the River Tyne became over the centuries the home for an industry that perhaps more than any other has made the northeast of England famous throughout the world: on the lower reaches of the River Tyne they build ships.
Vessels of war and passenger liners, gritty little tramp steamers and sleek container ships, ugly grain haulers and bulk carriers, motor vessels of every imaginable type that now ply between faraway ports, Baltimore and Capetown, Pago Pago and Papeete, Shanghai and Port Moresby, Colombo and Mombasa and (with a cruel irony that will shortly be apparent) the Korean ports like Inchon and Pusan, and a thousand places besides. Anything that was made of iron, and that floated, and that was made in England seemed to have some inevitable association with the River Tyne. So many of these ships in their uncountable armadas have, on some 'tween-deck bulkhead, an oval brass plate with the engraved name of the shipyard and a final phrase of simple geography that still stands out proudly like a mariners' seal of approval -- made, the plaques say, in Newcastle upon Tyne.
When I arrived there as a reporter in 1967, they had just started work on the last family of truly great ships ever to be built on the river. The first, the flagship, was called the Esso Northumbria, and she weighed in at something like a quarter of a million tons -- a supertanker, everyone called her. The people of Wallsend, where she was built, were glad indeed after many months of short orders and short time -- for the Tyne was suffering from a near-terminal case of slump -- to have won the order to build her. I was fascinated by her construction. (I had been brought up in Dorset, and the biggest boat I. had ever seen was a six-man whaler built of teak.) Each weekend I, along with scores of other local people, would drive down to Wallsend to watch her progress. I would walk down to the tiny lanes of terraced houses where the shipyard workers lived, and I would watch her mighty hull rise behind them.
Excerpted from Korea by Simon Winchester Copyright © 2006 by Simon Winchester. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.