Hanok villages

Hanok.

If you look it up in the web, Wiki suggests it is a term to describe Korean traditional houses, made from wood of course. Though in recent times this has also come to mean those with a mix of concrete too. Hanok (韓屋) today in the large cities would probably be a rarity given the ravages of war that this peninsula had endured. Plus there had been such a rapid development that much had been demolished away in the name of progress. Sigh. So how do you look for them?

When we looked around the web, there were many recommendations to visit a living one, or one that is “real” – in the sense it preserves its origins as wooden homes. Andong we think. A quick look up revealed that it is a 3-hour train ride away from Seoul. So unless your intent was to get around most of Korea, then it’s pretty much an excursion that have to last a minimum of 2 days.

Not for us unfortunately. So what can we do?

You might have read our post (here) where we gate-crashed a traditional Korean wedding. Well, it wasn’t intentional as you probably would understand. Just being at the right place and time! Well, that was the Korea house.

First, how to get here. You take the metro and alight at Chungmuro station. When you get out of exit 3, don’t make the first left at the petrol kiosk. It’s the next one.

Gentry living

haeringwan-entrance
The well dressed folks should have been a clue right?

You see, the Korea house is indeed traditional. One that has seems relatively untouched almost in the heart of the city. But as we found out (post mortem), this was only a recent development. Opened in 1957, its aim was to showcase Korean culture, food and music to visitors from around the world. While the site itself probably housed an old Hanok, what we see today was remodeled to resemble Jagyeongjeon in the Gyeongbok palace.

We had wondered in through the main hall, which was used as a reception for the wedding.

This essay shall focus on what you should really look for when you are here. Past the central courtyard there is a small slope to higher ground. Its where Munhyangru (means a ‘pavilion where you smell scents’) is located. Nokeumjeong, which is adjacent to Munhyangru – means a ‘pavilion where poems are recited in the thick green trees and the beautiful scenery of the forest’. While Cheongujeong the slightly elevated structure means a ‘quiet pavilion where only the sound of rain in the backyard can be heard when it rains’.

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But as you recall from our post, we had videos of the wedding but here to why we were drawn down to the courtyard in the first place. The cultural performance:

Now we know why the seating arrangement was made!

Museum piece

Fearing that sooner or later we’d be found out, we decided to make a dash for the exit.

view-of-namsan-tower
View of Namsan tower from Cheonu-gak square

No free lunch for us! It’s time to look for the real Namsangol! Right in the next street as it turns out, was it! Turns out we had made a left turn too soon, scoring ourselves a nice free cultural performance.

Ok, so now we are in the correct place.

An open museum, there are five transplanted homes from the Joseon era. Supposedly representing the different social strata of the time, these houses had been moved here. The land that is sits on today is actually a Joseon era resort, so there is some significance of placing these vintage homes here. Today it is a showcase of the life and times of the Korean people, and serves also to educate local folks too about their heritage. Something essential since the country is ultra modernizing.

When you get here, there is a large open square (Cheonu-gak), where cultural events are held. There is a nice stream that flows from the hill onto the pond behind the main stage.

namsangol-hanok-entrance
Enter the “village”

The houses are to the left side, and ascending the foot of the hill will lead instead to a series of pavilions in a garden setting. The houses are spaced out, and adjacent to each other, so you get the feeling that you are walking through from one to another without any sense of any change.

namsangol-hanok-village16
An open ground in front of the 5 homes

Perhaps if you read Korean it will be possible to know which one’s a commoner’s home and which is for royalty!

Fortunately there are signage here which explains where and whose homes these were. For example we saw the one that read as being the tea room of the Last Korean Empress’s uncle. It was said that during the weekends you can find cultural events here such as a mock wedding (noon time or so). Well, we probably give that one a miss since we saw the real one!

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Sheesh! People live here!

The one other place in Seoul which came highly recommended to see traditional Korean homes is at Bukchon. Many years back Mel researched this place and told himself that when he is in Korea for a business trip, he’d make it up there. Sigh. Years passed.

Get there via train and alight at Anguk station (line 3). From exit 2 you can take the main road (Bukchon-ro) to walk up to the residential area that comprises the “village”.

bukchon-hanok-village3
A nice stroll from the metro

This is essential a residential precinct, with the homes privately owned. So don’t be surprised to see that it is all locked up in the day since the owners could be at work! Evidence of this is the fact that little pieces of notices are pasted on the walls to remind visitors to keep their voices down. Because it is really jammed with tourists, even on the rainy cold day such as when we were there.

bukchon-hanok-village12
See Gyeongbok peeking over the trees and houses?

Though we did see a few that had converted the homes into little museums, entry costs charged. Oh how enterprising people will be!

As you ascend uphill, you will notice Gyeongbok palace emerging to your left. If one looks up the web, it is suggested that this area between the two palaces were inhabited by senior bureaucrats and aristocracy. Proximity to the royal family was possibly the reason this piece of real estate was so prized. Probably it was the in-place to live in Joseon times. But today it is a preserved district, with perhaps many of the original families gone. Or, at least fallen.

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Modernization has certainly removed much vestiges of heritage elsewhere and it is no different in Korea. These homes look quaint and out of place in the midst of the high rises and modern buildings all around them. We are glad to have finally seen them. Let’s hope it does not change, or become too commercialized!

November 2016

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