A Day at The Korean Folk Village
I don't live in downtown Seoul. While some may view this as disappointing, I'd say it's advantageous for a number of reasons. Firstly, I'm removed from the chaos of Seoul, which can be overwhelming at times. Secondly, I'll certainly end up saving more money in the end. While Seoul isn't particularly expensive, it still tends to be a city where it's easy to spend a lot of money. That is to say that the goods aren't pricey, but there are plenty of opportunities to lighten your wallet. Most importantly, it opens up the possibilities to visit the satellite cities and attractions in close proximity to the capital. For example, Everland Resort, Korea's biggest theme park, happens to be a short cab ride from my doorstep in Jukjeon.
Another international tourist beacon also happens to be more or less in our backyard. That attraction is Yongin City's Korean Folk Village. Bri and I took a rather eventful cab ride over. Within the parameters of the short cab ride, the cabbie was able to A) show us a physical picture of his whole family B) display a picture on his phone of his son in San Francisco at a Taekwondo tournament C) make at least a dozen rather uncomfortable remarks about how attractive Bri and I were, being sure to make displeasing and regrettable eye contact during said comments D) use his arms to make a circle around his body while disapprovingly shaking his head back and forth, pointing to his youngest son in the picture and shamefully blurting out, "piiiiiigggggg." I gave an awkward thumbs up to him while departing the cab, then tried to focus my mind on the Korean Folk Village. It turns out, it was quite easy to forget about cars and cab drivers altogether in the confines of this famed tourist hub.
What is the Korean Folk Village, Anyway?
The Korean Folk Village isn't a traditional village left untouched, but more like a living museum of sorts. It attempts to paint a picture of what traditional Korean life would have been like towards the end of the Joseon Dynasty. From what I understand, features have been relocated to this site and refurbished so it is indeed authentic, and not just sheer gimmicks. It reminded me quite a bit of what Black Creek Pioneer Village would have looked had it been representing Korean history. However, "historic" Black Creek Pioneer Village outside Toronto goes back about 150 years while this is representative of a time quite a bit further back than that. The complex houses around 260 buildings while sitting on an impressive, and surprisingly natural, 243 acres of land.
They were careful to show examples of buildings all over Korea from all different wealth brackets. Personally, I appreciated the assortment of performances the most. The performances included farmers' music and dance, acrobatics on a tightrope, break-dancing to traditional music, and equestrian feats. The old man on the tightrope was legendary, and I strive to posses half of his mobility and agility at his age. Realistically, I can barely cross my legs comfortably, so maybe I'll strive to have half his mobility and agility at my current age. One can only talk about a living museum for so long before it becomes as boring as Stephen Harper's speeches, so I'll move on and show a few photos from the unique performances.
Aside from the performances, I also appreciated the individuals who were practicing talents that have long ago gone into disuse. As the Official Site of Korean Tourism notes, "About twenty workshops, various handicrafts such as pottery, baskets, winnows, bamboo wares, wooden wares, paper, brass wares, knots, fans, musical instruments, iron wares and embroidery are practiced. In the Korean Folk Village, where the customs and lifestyles of the past generations have been carefully preserved, various lifestyles prevalent during the Joseon Dynasty can be seen." I believe that about sums it up.
It really added to the overall feel of everything. Some of their talents were really quite impressive, such as the woman who was making silk by hand. It beats the hell out of watching "pioneers" churn butter at Black Creek Pioneer Village. On a serious note, while the world lunges forward into the technological age, we lose the need for some of these skills, so it's refreshing to see some of them in action. To watch a man skillfully slice bamboo with the blade of his knife. To see a man farm without a machine alongside him that weighs as much as an elephant. To realize that silk doesn't have to be made in a factory, but can be made by hand with a loom.
The fact that I actually appreciated this aspect is quite telling. This is largely because I hate gimmicky tourism with a passion. There is nothing that bothers me more than old mannequins filling out ancient scenes. I remember being deeply disappointed, and terrified, by the model portrayal of "old miners" deep in Poland's Wieliczka Salt Mine. As far as I'm concerned, it's either impressive or not, and a bizarre mannequin won't change that.
The salt mines were already breathtaking and, if anything, those models took away from the authenticity. I think I'm secretly afraid of the mannequins, too, but there's no need to talk about that now. I'll share it with my therapist in twenty years if I start to get recurring nightmares. But I digress, Bri and I inevitably got hungry and decided to enjoy some more traditional Korean food. After around seven months here, Bri and I knew we could stomach, and likely enjoy, any dish that we chose. I even found us our own little private dining quarters for the occasion.
As the general greasiness of my face suggests, it was a warm, beautiful day outside of these eating quarters. A day that lovingly accented the arrival of spring in Korea. After a dreary winter, it was a much appreciated sight. Mother Nature finally decided to roll over and show us her other side. Well, seeing as it is spring, perhaps she was more in the process of rolling over. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful day to be outside, and it was early enough in the season that my allergies didn't even flinch. You know, I'm quite fond of the whole "living museum" experience. I truly believe that it provides some perspective. I always have a moment where I envision a "folk village" a thousand years in the future in which tourists cackle and guffaw at the times which boasted the advent of iPods and blogs.
Human beings of all eras suppose they are at the pinnacle of human achievement. I've always really appreciated American author and historian David McCullogh's assertion that, "the past after all is only another name for someone else's present." I read that quote earlier this year in his book Brave Companions, which focuses on a handful of influential characters in history. As I'm learning more each day, he also contends that "history is a spacious realm." It's true, and the only way I know how to face that head on is to make each day count in some manner. On this day, Bri and I chose to stroll through the folk village, looking for nothing in particular, basking in spring's timely arrival.