Today in Jeonju I went to “rail bike” (biking on some old rail tracks that are no longer used) with my friend. The first part was smooth sailing; we got the tickets, bought some iced drinks to bring along due to the heat, got instructions from the first 아저씨 who wished us a nice trip, and off we went. It was really enjoyable. We enjoyed the view, took pictures of the surroundings and each other, and we even got a wave from a train driver who drove by on the tracks parallel to this old rail road. Very peaceful and fun.
At the point where the bike had to turn around, things took a bit of a sour turn for a moment, though. The 아저씨 who handled the platform for turning the cart around immediately noticed my foreign appearance and asked if I was from Australia. When I replied that I’m from Denmark he suddenly name-dropped some historical person. I did recognise the name (from a street name at home), but when he got into some long-winded Korean explanation about trees and seemed to expect some sort of contribution from me, my confusion showed. My friend very helpfully interjected in English that he was famous for planting many trees. Still no bells were ringing.
That actually got him quite angry, and he asked me how I could even dare to call myself a Dane if I didn’t know this. After a couple of minutes of him ranting where I understood less and less, and didn’t necessarily want to understand everything either, I tried to tune him out and just wait for the okay for us to go back. At this point he asked me in English “you understand?!” and then started complaining to my friend in Korean that he thought it was rather strange that someone claiming to be Danish did not know about this particular person.
I was honestly a bit shocked even if my friend told me that he was rude and to just put it behind me. Afterwards I was therefore compelled to check online to find out what the whole thing was about. He was a 19th century engineer whose legacy is soil improvement and planting of heaths and forests in Jutland (the Danish peninsula) following the Danish defeat and loss of Schleswig and Holstein in 1864.
It is entirely possible that he was mentioned in some history book while I was middle school or so, but I simply missed it due to attending ballet school. During my time in ballet school, rehearsals for performances always overruled attending the academically oriented school, which cost me a whole year of school attendance spread out over three academic years from 5th through 7th grade until I moved back to a regular school, taking ballet exams on the side instead. As this meant that I couldn’t just redo one year to compensate for lost time, I had to catch up on on the side as I prepared for high school. While I did earnestly try to read up on things after going back to regular school and actually did well in history both in middle school and high school, maybe this poor engineer simply slipped away unnoticed.
It’s the first time ever I’ve been called out on not knowing something from Danish history – and in such a stern way. I didn’t sit there totally clueless about the Danish equivalent of 이순신, though, so his reaction was a little overwhelming. Let me just say that I would have handled it somewhat differently if I had been in his shoes.