Moving back home at 42…a tale of 200 people on a silver sand beach

The Namhae Sea embraces villages in every concave bay. Silver sandy beaches surround Sangju-myeon, Namhae-gun, Gyeongnam, with a population of about 1,600.

On May 11, 2023, at the three-way intersection in front of the Sangju Welfare Center, Lee Jong-soo, 54, chairman of the Namhaeju Donggo Dongrak Cooperative, greets a boy with a book bag. “Is your father from Japan?” “Not yet.” Meanwhile, a young man in his 30s wearing a white bungee jacket whizzes by on a bicycle and waves at them. “I’m a friend from the Ugeumchi Theater Company.” Mr. Lee gathers the residents of Sangju-myeon to form a farm band and play jigoku.

We walk down an alleyway toward Eunsandae Beach and enter Dongdong, a local bakery owned by a cooperative, with vegan bread on one side. The shop also sells beer and other beverages made in Namhae. Further down the alley, right in front of Eunsandae Beach, is Sangju Middle School. The school was threatened with closure in 2016, but when it was converted into an alternative school, people gathered here for solidarity instead of competition.

In the small town of Eunsandae Beach, an initiative to create an alternative community has begun.

A junior who was supposed to see me tomorrow left on his own.

“I can’t live like this anymore.” In 2010, at the age of 42, Lee Jong-soo, who worked for a real estate asset management company (PFV) in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do, began preparing to return home. One day in 2009, an old coworker called him for a drink. He said he had guests to entertain and would see him tomorrow. That evening, he committed suicide. It was due to a failed investment.

Lee graduated from college in February 1997 and got a job at a major corporation. That fall, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) currency crisis erupted. Departments were hit with layoff quotas. Lee, who never married, worked in venture capital and construction.

“One day I realized that I was tired of my life,” he says, “and I was becoming increasingly skeptical of making money in the construction industry, knowing all the injustices.” Their oldest son was about to start elementary school. The couple didn’t want to raise their child on a pilgrimage to an academy.

Lee Jong-soo, chairman of the Dongo Dongo Rak Cooperative in Namhaeju, dreams of a community where youth and elders live in the same village and help each other, and more and more villagers agree. Contributed by Kim So-min

By the time the child was in the fourth grade, the family had moved all over the country. Lee’s hometown of Eumseong, Chungcheongbuk-do, was crossed off the list of options. An inland highway has been cut through and overpasses have risen. Warehouses and factories sprang up along the highway, and Lee’s heart was set on cattle barns, cement plants, and overpasses. “I thought, ‘I won’t build an overpass when I get to the end of the land.’ There are some places that give me a sense of security and draw me in, and Namhae was one of them.”

After hearing about Sangju Middle School in a newspaper, Mr. Lee and his wife decided to settle here. After renting a room for a year and getting to know the villagers, they moved down in 2015 and built a house. First, they got to know the village chief. All information in the village goes through him. He soon became the secretary of the youth group. I also audited the village management committee.

Eunbaji Club, a group of children protecting Eunsan Beach

In 2016, Sangju Elementary School was designated as a Happy School after Sangju Middle School. Parents who were thinking about alternative education gathered once a month. A spring and summer training program was also organized. “Alternative education has its limitations unless parents’ perceptions change. I learned about community at the parent meeting.” In 2017, these parents and teachers came together to form a cooperative. Their task was twofold. To create an educational community that connects the village and school, and an economic base for the community먹튀검증.

Lee Jong-soo, director of the Dongo Dongorak Cooperative in Namhaeju Province, dreams of a community where youth and elders live in the same village and help each other, and more and more villagers agree. Contributed by Kim So-min

The first thing the cooperative built was an imaginary playground. After school, kids who moved in from the city and kids who lived here before would hang out here. They formed the ‘Eunbaji’ club, which means ‘children of Sangju-cho who protect the silver sandy sea’. They played on the beach and picked up trash together. The cooperative also organized a village education community study group and held humanities lectures. Professors Han Hye-jung and Chang-bok Cho came to give lectures and returned as members.

They opened a cafeteria, “Food Warehouse,” to make care meals with local produce. They needed a place for people to gather and talk, such as a cafe or bakery. Lee applied for a competition to make bread with the idea of specializing in local garlic and was selected. The problem is, he doesn’t know how to make bread.

A man saw a man, a man came

He asked a junior baker in Bukchon, Seoul: “You send me the bread and I’ll make the sauce.” It was a crazy plan, but the junior chef from Bukchon came to Namhae to work with him. Now he works at Dongdong, a cooperative bakery. That’s how people came to see him.

The small cooperative on Eunsandae Beach has big dreams. Very big. It is an ‘ecosystem’ that is an alternative to capitalism. The eleventh word is ‘transition’. “If you bring an urban model to a rural area, it fails 100% of the time. You can build a nice department store, but there’s something nicer in Seoul. Instead of competitive education, a capitalist consumer economy, and an individualized life, you need to build a village for people who dream of education, a community economy, and a life.”

Jobs, education, housing, and culture will be connected within this ecosystem to ensure self-sustainability. That’s why the cooperative is expanding into processing local products. “In the early days of the cooperative, we used to go from house to house to study and play… but now we have too much work.”

The most immediate project is the Life School. Construction is scheduled to begin next year. It’s a school for people who want to change their lives. What will it teach? Lee envisions a “farmer culture” farm with an ecological self-sufficiency system.

“What should life be like in post-capitalism? I think an ecological community with individual freedom is the answer. Producing our own food and sharing the skills that are essential to our lives, such as electricity and carpentry, can sustain a community. Energy independence at the local level is also a solution to the climate crisis.”

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