Park's rustic, time-honored lodge near the end of the mountain pass is far from a fancy bed and breakfast. It's a typical old countryside house.
After returning to Ulsan, she regularly travelled back and forth to Gombaeryeong and eventually settled down in the Gangseon Village in 2004.
Gombaeryeong is a scenic mountain pass connecting the coast with the interior, attracting tourists and climbers during summertime. Derived from three words, "gom (bear)," "bae (belly)" and "ryong (a mountain pass)," the term depicts the shape of the region surrounding the mountain pass, which is like a bear lying down with its belly up in the air.
In the past, it was a trade route, for traders passing with donkeys laden with salt on their backs. Herbalists also used the path to sell their products at the inland market.
Park's early days in the old-growth forest were full of laughable mistakes.
As a city girl, she had to adjust to a whole new life in the rustic village. She had to learn everything from scratch. Cooking, washing dishes and how to do laundry ― these were all things she had not done before.
Born in the southeastern industrial city of Ulsan, Park said that she used to be a "spoiled brat."
She is the youngest of her parents' four children: two sons and two daughters. When she was born, her father was 50. He was a typical Gyeongsang Province man ― as a father he was quiet, stubborn and blunt, and he rarely expressed his emotions. He was this way at least to Park's other siblings. But for her, he was a sweet dad who would do anything for his dearest little girl. Her other siblings were jealous of her.
"My sister, who is now in her 70s, used to complain a lot about our father. She used to say that she and our two brothers had no fond childhood memories with our father, and that, in her memories, he was always so distant. She said that he used to carry me on his back, which was treatment my other siblings had never been able to enjoy while they growing up,"
Her over-protective parents didn't allow their youngest daughter to do any family chores, such as washing dishes or cleaning the house.
Park studied the flute in university. After graduation, she gave private lessons to high school students preparing to study music in college.
After growing up, she was ill from time to time. She was diagnosed with leukemia at the Busan National University Hospital years before the cancer in her large intestine was found. She survived leukemia after years of treatment. Then colorectal cancer was detected as well, which eventually led her to relocate to the rustic village in Gangwon Province.
In Gangseon Village, she has lived a self-sufficient lifestyle.
Having no nearby grocery stores, she has had to improvise in the isolated, rustic village when preparing meals. She harvests various edible herbs and wild plants near her place and makes food with them.
After three years of an organic vegetarian diet, she felt one day that she had fully recovered from cancer. Miraculously, her medical checkup results confirmed that her gut feeling was correct.
"My doctor in Ulsan was surprised at the results. He asked me where I had been and how I came to recover from the cancer,"
She said that she believes her rustic lifestyle, fresh air and organic diet of local, wild plants helped her recover from cancer.
"In retrospect, I think I had no other option. Grocery stores were far away from my place and it was difficult to access them. But there were lots of healthy, edible plants here, so I used them in my food,"
After her health improved, she purchased an old house near the temple and opened it as a bed and breakfast.
Despite its inconvenient location, her bed and breakfast is popular among travelers and climbers. During my hours-long interview with her last Tuesday, her cell phone was constantly ringing. Most of the calls were from potential guesthouse seekers, checking to see if her bed and breakfast has the specific facilities they were looking for.
Park said that the organic food served at her lodge is one of the things most talked about by her past clients.
Her recipes for food are simple. She never uses any artificial additives or preservatives. Green onions and garlic are not used in her food, either.
Soybean paste, red pepper paste and soy sauce are the three most frequently used ingredients. Although she doesn't use spices, her food is still pleasantly delicious.
Fermentation and locally-sourced fresh, organic ingredients seem to be two key things that have enabled her food to satisfy the taste buds of many travelers.
"The proportions also matter,"
"Over the past years, I have tried hard to find the ideal proportions of ingredients that make my food taste good."
Asked to name her clients' favorite dish, she said it is vegetable jeon (fritter) made with naturally-grown, wild, edible plants that she harvested from her garden. It's the brainchild of her years of endeavoring to find her own kind of light, healthy food.
Park showed us how to make the jeon in her kitchen. She mixed together wild vegetables, flour, another white powder and water in a large bowl and. Then she poured vegetable oil into a heated pan, along with the batter.