Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jeonju Hanok Village (29 December)

NZ2 also has a friend visiting him from Japan so we’ve arranged to go to the traditional Korean village in Jeonju.  We’re on a bus by 11:00am so we arrive in Jeonju by midday.  Catfish told me that she simply asked a taxi driver to take her to the Hanok Village so this is what we ask once we’ve all piled into a taxi.  The driver, however, seems confused about our destination so NZ2 keeps trying out different pronunciations while I try to confirm the name of the village with Catfish.  Miraculously, we get to the village quickly where we take several photos at the top of a very slippery hill.

Who Are You?

We start walking around and decide that since the tourist information centre is closed for lunch, we’ll first have lunch ourselves.  Jeonbuk province is known for it’s bibimbap so naturally this is what we have for lunch.  On the way to a restaurant, we stop to look at the carved wooden name stamps outside a store.  While there, a Korean man approaches and starts talking to NZ2.  I assume that this is just a random conversation until he mentions Jeju and points at both of us.  As he walks away, I ask NZ2 where he knows this man from; NZ2 finds it rather amusing when he tells me that the Korean man is one of the senior people in the administration office at school – second only to the vice-principal.  Of all the people not to recognise, I have to choose one of the senior guys!

We finally find a restaurant and order our bibimbap.  When the side dishes arrive, we’re confused as we barely recognise any of them.  We then teach my friend how to mix the bibimbap together for a delicious meal – even if this particular one does have a raw egg on top.  Lunch is filling and we’re soon on our way once more towards the tourist information centre where NZ2 and his friend get information about the main tourist places in the village.  We then spend an interesting 40 minutes looking around ancestral memorials – all of which have been newly built simply to demonstrate what they would have looked like – but the ingenuity of the buildings is impressive. 

Traditional Korean Architecture

Traditional Korean buildings are constructed with no nails or screws. Instead, each beam is carefully inserted to create a type of Lego effect.  It’s interesting to see how the buildings are erected and, although it’s quite obvious that most of this traditional village has been newly erected for the sake of tourists and learning only (rather than being a genuine village), it’s an interesting day spent meandering around the various buildings and learning about memorial rituals and how the buildings would have been used. 

A quick discussion leads us to the top of the hill next to the Hanok village.  We can see that there is a temple like structure at the top of the hill and we’re eager to see the view from there.  The stairs leading up the side of the hill, however, are more treacherous than we initially realise as a result of snow that has accumulated and iced over.  The journey is well worth the effort though when we’re able to take some stunning photos of the snow-covered traditional houses and the panoramic views of Jeonju around us.  Getting back down the hill is just as hazardous and it’s tempting to keep pulling out our cameras to take photos of each other in various poses of falling down the ice.

Once back on less treacherous ground, we decide to walk in the general direction of the 600 year old Ginko tree indicated on the map.  There are a curious number of unusual sights along the way such a wall that has been partially eroded as a result of icy water constantly dripping down the side of it, the paper shops which have full hanbok (made of paper) on display, a makgeolli wine museum and some funny examples of Engrish. We also get to see how traditional ondol systems work.

Ondol is the underfloor heating that is still used in Korea.  Now, it runs mostly off gas but, traditionally, buildings were heated by large fires that were maintained in urn type structures beside the buildings.  The heat of the fire was directed under the buildings via pipes that run beneath the floors and heat the floors.  This is why traditional Korean accommodation means sleeping on a thin futon-style mattress on the floor – it’s warm!

Korean or Western Age?

When we finally find the Ginko tree, we’re confused: the large rock beside the tree tells us that the tree is 500 years old but the map tells us that the tree is 600 years old.  Since the map is clearly not 100 years old, I can’t help wondering if this particular tree is 600 years in Korean age which tends to make everyone age faster than Western age.  We end our cold day’s outing with some silly photos behind the photo cut-outs of Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) before deciding on some hot drinks at The Nameless Cafe.  This is an interesting coffee shop as the decor is rather bear and it literally has no name! Their drinks and cake, however, are good and the perfect end to a good day in Jeonju before making our way back to Gunsan where it has been snowing once more.

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