The Korean Folk Village in Suwon: It's About Time
|Guardian deities at the village entrance. Yes, I must have one to take back with me to the US.|
Since MsCaroline works on her own quirky timetable, it will come as no surprise to anyone that she, as a foreigner, has lived in Seoul for over a year without visiting the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. Turns out it's an extremely popular attraction for tourists and people new to Seoul, and actually is one of the first tour-type things that many people do. Naturally, it took MsCaroline 14 months to get herself there, but in her defense, there were a lot of typhoons in August.
Eventually, though, "Korean Folk Village' worked its way to the top of my list, and my friend L and I made arrangements to go on one of my days off from work. I don't know if it it was just this particular Tuesday, but the crowd was extremely light (at least by Seoul standards) and L and I found ourselves pretty much on our own with the exception of a number of school field trips and a largeish tour group of International Women In Engineering (or something along those lines.) The point is, it was delightful.
|School groups left their backpacks and mats in neat little circles in the entrance courtyard. Naturally, there was no concern about anything being taken or damaged : another thing I love about Korea- honesty.|
In fact, I wish I'd gone much sooner, because if I had, I would have already been back several times to enjoy it again - yes, it was that nice.
As you enter the village, you find a huge rock pile covered in what looks like ropes covered with tiny ribbons.
Our guide explained that villagers traditionally wrote wishes for health/happiness/luck on small pieces of a tough cloth-like paper and then tied them to the ropes covering these rocks. The village had provided pieces of this paper and pens, and L and I added our wishes to the hundreds (thousands?) that were already there:
|This pagoda was built up on a hill to take advantage of the shade and the breezes.|
The Folk Village is really more of a living history museum (a la Colonial Williamsburg,) complete with authentic traditional buildings, a working rice paddy, herb gardens, and a certain amount of domestic livestock.
|The cow in question seemed perfectly placid, but we avoided surprising her, just in case.|
Traditionally-dressed 'residents' of the village can be seen going about their daily business, from weaving to harvesting herbs to sweeping the courtyards. It has been built with painstaking attention to detail, and many traditional Korean TV dramas set in the past are filmed there. From what I understand, filming frequently takes place even when visitors are in the village, and there's always a chance you'll get to see a scene being shot (we did not.)
On the walls at the entrance to the village are numerous banners advertising a number of the dramas that are filmed there. Since I don't speak Korean, I don't watch the dramas, but I had to ask our guide about this one, featuring characters in traditional dress surrounding a single man dressed in modern clothing:
She explained that this show was about a man who traveled through time and space to different places and different eras. His name? Dr. Jin. Remind you of anyone? I didn't see a Tardis(or the Korean equivalent thereof), and it was unclear whether or not Dr. Jin traveled anywhere in space and time besides the Korean folk village, but I took a photo for Son#2 anyway, who is a huge fan of Dr. Who.
Anyway - back to the village.
The village has examples of many types of authentic Korean buildings and dwellings, from humble peasants' houses to a typical governor's residence - and just about everything in between.
The only way the village diverts from scrupulous authenticity is the fact that typical dwellings from all parts of Korea are represented, which means that you will find a typical northern-style dwelling just down the road from the type of home typically seen on the semitropical southern island of Jeju:
|Typical dwelling from Jeju island: the roof is lashed down to withstand prevailing ocean winds and storms, and the exterior features local volcanic rock.|
This geographical inaccuracy notwithstanding, the overall effect (at least to my untrained Western eyes) is wonderful.
The houses were furnished and decorated in the way that they would have been hundreds of years ago, such as this house, whose string of red chili peppers tells the neighbors that a baby boy has been born ( no peppers if you had a girl):
Herbs were gathered, dried, and hung outside of buildings:
Or labeled for sale in bins:
Part of the admission fee to the folk village includes traditional Korean music, dance, and acrobatic performances:
Visitors also have the option of viewing a traditional Korean wedding ceremony. Since the actual spoken part of the ceremony is in traditional Chinese (used for formal and/or official occasions for many years even after King Sejong developed the Hangul alphabet,) the wedding ceremony was read in Chinese, then translated into Korean - but not English. This didn't seem to matter much, since the costumes and 'props' were so visually interesting: the brightly colored robes of the bride, groom,and their attendants, as well as the various items used in the ceremony. Part of the traditional ceremony also included the bride and groom
The village covers quite a large area, and is surrounded by tree-covered mountains - on a gorgeous fall day, it was a beautiful place to be. As a resident of Korea, I was already familiar with much of the architecture and many of the customs, but I still found the tour to be interesting and informative. From an aesthetic standpoint, it was absolutely lovely. For visitors who have only a short time to spend in Korea, the Village provides an excellent overview of many Korean traditional and cultural practices, as well as examples of traditional Korean architecture in a variety of building types. The Folk Village is in Suwon, a bustling suburb of Seoul, but when you walk through the gates, it's hard to believe you aren't in a rural village out in the country. And, yes - I'll be back.
Directions, maps, prices and general information can be found here.