Monday, February 24, 2014

Tight-Rope Walks, Farming, and Medieval Punishment: Visit the Korean Folk Village 한국민속촌


February marks the last month of over two years' posts about living and working in South Korea as Foreign English Teacher. It's been a lot of fun reminiscing and processing all of the beautiful and colorful experiences in and around Seoul, but in honor of St. Patrick's Day, this March The Wanderer Blog will be jetting over to none other than Dublin. Yep, it's time for an Ireland Travel Series. I have an uncle who practically lives over there, and in 2005, I got to see why he fell in love with those rolling green hills during a five month stay. I hope a spotlight on Ireland can bring back many fond memories for those of you who've been there, as well as encourage future travelers.

So although it's time to say goodbye to South Korea for a little while, it will still stay a major presence in this blog, and it is definitely going out with a bang as we visit the Korean Folk Village outside of Suwon, Gyeonggi-do:  


The Minsok village is an immersive walk through the village experience of South Korea during the Joseon Dynasty era. Housing styles varied not only by class--peasant, landowner, or the elite yangban--but also by region. After strolling through the huts common in the northern and central parts of Korea, where various employees can be seen sewing, farming, and making furniture, the complex opens up to the southern style homes found as far away as Jeju Island.  

Check out this cow's day job.

A relative took me out here by car along with her young daughter. It immediately became apparent that her daughter was no stronger to the village, pulling me over to a giant cart horse patiently standing by while tourists gawked and petted it. She also showed me a popular game in both China and Korea during the new year and Chuseok, which was called Tuho. In Tuho, one attempts to throw long slender sticks into a ceramic pot. There were plenty of people enthusiastic to play despite the game's difficulty; I was quickly shown up by the seven-year-old's skill.
I get to work.

Fan of the Korean drama "Dae Jang-geum/대장금" (Translation: "The Great Jang-geum," also known as Jewel in the Palace)? This popular time period show follows the trials and romantic entanglements surrounding Jang-geum, based on the life of the first and only female physician to King Jungjong during the Joseon Dynasty (est. early 16th century). Parts of it were shot here in the folk village. I haven't seen the show myself, which fictionalizes Jang-geum's early career as a chef, but my relative assured me that this scene among the kimchi pots was quite famous. You can learn more about the show here.
After being put to work and discovering how long it takes to pound rice, we were awarded by catching a late show. Interactive performances of namsadang, which consists of such theatrical feats like acrobatics, pungmul nori (spinning hat dance), and salpan (tumbling) reoccur throughout the day, but we'd spent a lot of time exploring the park. We managed to see one of the last shows, the eoreum, or tightrope dancing. I kid you not, it was something like thirty degrees Fahrenheit outside, but once this older performer warmed up to the icy rope, he was unstoppable. 

We rounded out the trip with a visit to my relative's daughter's favorite spot--the ghost house. It does cost a little extra to take the tour, but there's all sorts of spooky fun inside. My relative told me to go through the house with the daughter, since she'd already been through in the past multiple times. It was quite entertaining to see a few other boys lose their cool inside, but my relative's daughter didn't bat an eyelash. I almost wondered if she had fun, she was so quiet during the ghost house walk, but afterwards, she squealed and wanted to go again. 


Sunlight catching off the ice in winter.


After shivering through the village walk in winter, I had the opportunity to go again in the spring when my parents visited. Activities like the "jail" and "punishment square" didn't seem quite as menacing when illuminated in cheery sunlight.

I was an old face at the "jail," here are some more pictures from my winter imprisonment.

Not quite the expression of terror they were going for.
We even caught more parts of the namsadang performances, this time checking out the aforementioned spinning hat dance. You might recall a scene matching this description from Changeling Sisters II: Year of the Tiger. The acrobats run progressively faster and faster in the circle, performing several flips and tumbles, while the streamers attached to their hats dance and ripple through the air. 
We ended our visit by strolling along a thawed river, where people played by the stream and several traditional rafts could be seen bobbing along the banks. By this time we were starving, and bought some ddeokbokki, tasty spicy rice-fish cake glazed with spicy red chili pepper sauce, to tide us over for the long drive home.

Ready to plan a trip? Check out the “Contact Us” section for detailed instructions on how to reach the Korean Folk Village from various points in Seoul:

*Disclaimer: The above is depicted as fiction, not fact.

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