Did you know that... (9)
In the early 1880s, umbrellas were highly prized and were often looked upon not so much as tools to keep dry but as symbols of prestige.
In February 1883, an early visitor to Busan wrote that apparently Korea did not manufacture and use umbrellas.
He complained that “the commonest coolies, engaged in out-door work, knock off at once when a shower comes on, and refuse to go on working even if extra pay be offered to them.” He did concede that the average coolies only had one set of clothing and if their clothes were wet would not be able to obtain employment until their clothes dried. But things were rapidly changing as the Japanese shopkeepers in Busan were enjoying brisk sales of Japanese umbrellas to their Korean customers.
In 1885, a Korean employee of the German firm of Meyers & Co., in Jemulpo had a “big beautiful umbrella” that he never let out of his sight for fear that it would be stolen or damaged. He patiently explained to his German employer that the umbrella was a symbol of high class.
While the umbrella may have been a symbol of prestige to many of Korea’s upper class, it was, at least in the hands of Horace Allen, the American minister to Korea, a weapon. One day, while out for a walk, Allen was accosted by a much bigger fellow American. In a letter to his friend Allen wrote:
“When he came at me, as I am no fighter and he knows it, I thought my time had come, and remembering what a man once told me about an umbrella with which you could render an assailant helpless by jabbing out his eyes. I did my best to get at his eyes, and it seems to have scared him off.”
While umbrellas were used as weapons and symbols of prestige by some, they were for most people nothing more than a way of staying dry during Korea’s rainy season.
And, speaking of rain, did you know on Aug. 2, 1920, nearly 355 millimeters (14 inches) of rain fell upon the city of Seoul? It was the most rain to fall on the city in a single day but appears to have not done too much damage.
However, less than five years later, on July 17, 1925, Seoul was completely devastated by one of the largest floods in Korean history. More than six hundred people lost their lives and another 226,000 were left homeless. The estimate of the property damage was 65 million yen or approximately $33 million.
Ironically, one of the places destroyed by the flood was the Mangwonjeong Pavilion which was located along the Han River. This pavilion was credited with helping to end the great drought in 1425 and, for a short time, had been christened the “Pavilion of Blissful Rain.”