Korean Folk Village

My family ventured today to the Korean Folk Village in Giheung, an exurb of Seoul.  Reputed to be one of the best daytrips out of Seoul, Korean Folk Village definitely lived up to its great reputation.  If you visit Seoul and only have time for one daytrip out of the city, visit the Korean Folk Village.  It is well worth the visit.  Opened in 1974, the village is the most comprehensive of all the folk villages dotting the Korean countryside and cityscapes.  It’s truly a functional village.  I’ve heard that most of the people who work at the village and dress up as peasants and in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) actually live and work at the village.  It’s an intriguing sight to see next to the modern high-rise apartment buildings that end at the village gates.

We saw too much today to document in a single blog entry.  I will continue my story tomorrow or early next week.  We puttered around the house in the morning, until my wife finally lit a fire under me.  I dragged my heels a bit because weekends are sacred to me.  So much happens at work during the week that I prefer to hang out at home and unwind.  My wife and son want to venture further a field because they spend a lot more time at home than I do.  During the drive to the village, we missed the Giheung exit off Interstate 1 and ended up driving down to Osan (the village is situated between Giheung and Osan, closer to Giheung).  We backtracked on an arterial road that paralleled the freeway.  The route to the Korean Folk Village is definitely not well marked, and finding northbound Interstate 1 heading north Seoul isn’t easy either.

By the time we reached the village, we were very hungry, so we stopped to eat at “Korea” Restaurant near the village gate.  We decided that eating at a restaurant with a lofty name like “Korea” surely must be delicious.  It turned out to be a cafeteria-style, limited selection, massed-produced food operation.  All the restaurants near the village entrance are that way.  The food was mediocre at best.  The help was friendly and took a liking to our son.  If you visit the village, you’re much better off making your way all the way to the far end of the village and eating at the open-air village “Bazzar.”  We eventually arrived at the “Bazzar” and noted what other visitors ate there.  It looked delicious!  Live and learn.  I’m sure we’ll go to the Korean Folk Village again when we entertain my family next year, and we’ll eat there.  We’ll spare them the cafeteria-style lunch.

After lunch we went to “Seonangdang,” a religious shrine where one can pray to the village guardian spirits and ask them for favors.  Traditional Koreans, like many peoples around the world, carve ancestral totems out of wood.  They remind me of the totems made by the Native Americans and First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, although Korean totems are bit more free spirited (no pun intended).  Korean totems can be whimsical and a bit chaotic with laughing, asymmetrical faces.  They also follow the curvature of the wood so that they occasionally lean.

We then went to the ceramic village, where I bought my first kimchi pot (I mean a ceramic jar, not kimchi-flavored marijuana).  As the national dish of Korea, kimchi is held in very high esteem in Korea.  No meal would be complete without a side dish of spicy and sweet cabbage, radish, or cucumber kimchi.  Even the Italian restaurant where my wife and I dined on Friday served sweet pickles as a kimchi substitute (western restaurants in Korea often serve sweet pickles in lieu of panchan, or side dishes).  I’ve wanted to buy a kimchi pot for quite some time.  Mine is not too big, perhaps one gallon.  It’s not large enough to adequately make kimchi, because it’s easier to make in bulk.  To make kimchi you would need to buy a monstrous 20-gallon kimchi pot.  Although I paid more for the pot than I needed to pay, I was happy to buy a pot from the ceramics shop where it was made.  I saw the artisan who made my kimchi pot making another ceramic pot, and I saw the mud used to make my kimchi pot.  Buying from the source is worth more to me than buying an anonymous one in a market.  This one had character and an identity.

We made our way slowly through the village.  We visited a Disneyesque replica of a typical traditional Korean peasant farm, and we stopped to watch two elderly women in hanbok making silk.  I had never seen how silk is made.  One woman boiled silkworm cocoons, killing the silkworm larvae.  She separated each larva from its cocoon and cast it aside, and she helped a second woman unravel the silk cocoon.  The second woman spun the raw silk thread around a spinning wheel.  The silk-making process was utterly fascinating.  It’s amazing that such a manual, unglamorous process ends with the creation of one of the world’s most luxurious fabrics.

We moved on to an open area in the middle of the village.  We came upon a couple of traditional Korean games, arrow throwing and see-saw.  We saw some Koreans trying to throw 3-foot long straight sticks into narrow jars.  The game simulated the old Korean game of arrow throwing.  (Arrow throwing is akin to the American carnival game of throwing baseballs into small holes).  We also saw Korean see-saws, thick planks straddling sacks of hay.  My son enjoyed giving it a try.  Daddy put his foot on the plank and bounced him up and down.  He laughed and held on for dear life as daddy bounced him on the see saw.  He then took over and did it himself.  After that, we made our way to the “Bazzar” and stopped for ice cream.  I really liked the atmosphere of the “Bazzar” filled with old buildings and workers in peasant clothing serving customers in the open air.  At that moment, Seoul seemed so far away.

We left the “Bazzar” and crossed the Arch Stone Bridge, a picturesque bridge straddling a calm river that divides the village.  A water wheel mill next to the bridge is absolutely idyllic.  We wandered along the shore of the southern bank of the river.  I discovered my son is an adventurer like his dad.  As I crossed over a foot-wide footbridge to take a picture of the Arch Stone Bridge, he started to follow me!  Mommy caught him and helped him to the edge of the bridge.  I came back and took him with me partway across the bridge so mommy could take a picture of us together.

We then wandered through a group of farmhouses modeled after those found on Jeju Island (made with volcanic rock).  For the first time, my son saw farm animals he knows well but had never seen before—rabbits, chickens, pigs, goats, and geese.  His eyes lit up as he saw the real version of animals he reads in story books and sees as toys.  He especially liked the rabbits.  The geese were quite unruly.  We stood about ten feet from them, but four of them decided to come after us.  We backed away quickly and moved out of their territory.  I would have liked to scare them away from my family, but geese are notoriously temperamental and I decided to be non-confrontational.  If a goose comes after you, don’t confront it.  It could attack you.  I remember hearing stories of geese attacks in Seattle.  I wasn’t about to get bitten by a goose and end up getting rabies shots.  That would have been a lousy end to a beautiful day.

To be continued…

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