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…

A Rant Against Delta Air Lines

I want to tell you about our miserable experience with Delta Air Lines.  Let me start by writing that our bad flight experience did not occur during our flight to Hawaii.  The crew members of the Delta flight to Hawaii were very helpful and gracious.  This rant is directed towards some members of the ground crew and the short-hop flight crew from D.C. to Atlanta.  Let me also preface this by writing that our situation is unique in that we are in the process of relocating long term to Korea and carried with us an unwieldy amount of carry-on baggage, and we were (are) all ill with the stomach flu.  That in and of itself made our traveling difficult.

The trouble started on the short hop flight from Washington Reagan National Airport to Atlanta Hartsfield on a Delta flight piloted by a crew operating out of Cincinnati.  If you fly the 8:05 a.m. route out of D.C., watch out.  In general, they are a very rude air crew and in my opinion have forgotten the meaning of customer service.  I am thankful we didn’t have the bad experience so many had with U.S. Air over Christmas, but we were still miserable because of the thoughtlessness of that Delta flight crew.  I imagine that Delta’s current troubles and flirtation with bankruptcy have much to do with their overall poor level of customer service.  The experience was bad enough that I will no longer fly Delta unless I am required to do so.   I also plan to write to complain to Delta and don’t mind sharing this story to give you a heads up about flying Delta if you have young children.

Our trouble started when we boarded the plane without special assistance.  As parents with small children, airlines usually take special care to ensure that people with special needs receive appropriate assistance.  Apparently Delta has discontinued the age-old tradition of pre-boarding for the handicapped, elderly, and parents with small children.  In an effort to save money and act more like no-frills leader Southwest Air Lines, Delta also discontinued boarding row by row and now board by “zones”.  We had the misfortune of flying on a full flight with seats in one of the last “zones” to board the plane.  We waited dutifully for our turn and were among the last to board the plane.  We were rushed and were told upon entering the plane that we could not stow our carry-on luggage as carry-ons–we would have to check them in.  We were told that we had “4 minutes” before the plane departed to get in our seats.  That would have been fine if we did not have children, but as a family with a small child and many carry-ons for our trip to Korea, including car seat and child backpack, we needed time to get ourselves situated.  The flight crew took our carry-ons and checked our son’s toys for the flight in all the way through to Honolulu!  He would have had to make it through all the way to Honolulu (over 11 hours plus connection) with little to keep him preoccupied.  I cannot believe that not once did any Delta employee–from the ticketing agent to the gate to the flight crew–offer to assist our family prior to boarding, and after we boarded we were treated very rudely.

While this experience was very irritating, what really makes me rant is that we were offhandedly accused by some employees of not knowing the rules and not asking for assistance ourselves.  In our ignorance we did not know pre-boarding had been discontinued.  We waited for a window of opportunity to come forward for assistance, but the window we expected was not there.  Not one Delta employee recognized us as a family in need and offered to assist us, even after I asked one ground crew member whether we had too much carry-on baggage.

In addition, we were told by the short-hop flight crew after the fact to ask for assistance before our next flight.  So, guess what…that’s what I did for our next flight in Atlanta.  Right before boarding for the Hawaii flight began I specifically went up to ask for assistance for my family.  I was told that we had to board “by zone” and that we would have to wait our turn.  That was the last straw.  I wasn’t about to put up with that after all the nastiness we received from the previous flight crew about not asking for assistance.  I grew animated, and we told our story to every sympathetic customer we could find.  I finally found a second Delta crew member who took pity on us and assisted us.  I am very thankful for what she did for us, and she should be commended for doing what her coworkers should have done all along.  Passengers are not cattle to be herded; they are customers who need to be treated as such.  It’s common courtesy anyone should have the right to expect.