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To ease the pain

Ganghwado강화도 Island is located at the point where the water from the Hangang River meets the West Sea. Capitalizing on such optimal geographical location, Ganghwado Island provided bases for merchants who traveled to and from Seoul on boats. Made to carry goods, cargo boats had a flat bottom, allowing the boats to easily navigate even shallow waters. Cargo boats also helped transport fishing boats’ catches to seaside villages. So, the boats loaded firewood, salt, and fermented shrimp sauce to sell in Hanyang, the old Seoul, and came back with items not available on the island.

The Hangang River is a huge body of water with an average width of one kilometer. So, imagine how difficult it must have been to row the boat up the river carrying a full load. At such times, boat crew would sing songs to cheer them up and give some rhythm to their work. The first song for this week’s episode is such a song, “Rowing Song” sung by Kim Yong-woo. Some lines from the song goes, “Some people are fated to live in wealth and prosperity, but woe is me, why was I born with the fate to make a living out of sailing?” Working on a boat must have been hard, but perhaps such songs provided some comfort to the diligent boatmen.   

Rowing Song/ Sung by Kim Yong-woo

Next song in the lineup is titled “Dondollari돈돌라리,” a folksong that originated in Hamgyeong-do Province. It is said that on spring days, women collecting mountain herbs near the Namdaecheon남대천 River used to dance to this song. During Japanese occupation, they used to sing this song to calm their nerves after hiding independence activists chased by Japanese soldiers. 

The term “Dondollari” refers to things or events that keep turning. Nothing in the world remains the same. Even when Korea under ruthless Japanese rule, Koreans believed that they would get their country back and live freely, and this song was the expression of their hope for change. Today’s version of “Dondollari” is a piece arranged to suit modern sentiments of today’s Koreans. “I have regrets for some days, but I tend to forget the past, because a new day will dawn, my love,” goes some of the lyrics. Hope abounds wherever there is faith that tomorrow will be better than today. Here’s Lee Han-cheol singing “Dondollari.”

Dondollari/ Sung by Lee Han-cheol

The last song we have for this week’s episode is danga “Sacheolga사철가” or “Song of the Four Seasons.” Its lyrics tell us that although the seasons turn every year and are repeated without fail, we should enjoy everything our lives have to offer and not waste our time since we live only once. This moderate tempo song has a melancholy vibe as the passing of time is associated with aging and death. Here are some of its lyrics.

Heartless time passes fleetingly. Even a young person, once grown old, cannot return to youth again. Let’s say a person lives to be eighty years old, but take out the days spent in sickness, in sleep, or worrying, his years don’t even amount to forty.

It is not known when exactly the song was composed, but it is estimated to be in the early part of the twentieth century. The song is presumed to have been written rather recently judging from the fact that the song doesn’t refer to ancient Chinese poems or history like in other danga songs. Instead, the song sings about the futility of life or natural sceneries in simple, easy-to-understand Korean words. Let’s wrap up today’s episode with Park Ae-ri singing “Song of the Four Seasons.” 

Song of Four Seasons/ Sung by Park Ae-ri

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