I visited Gyeongbokdong and Insadong on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily, but we escaped into a tea house and tried a selection of obscure brews touting dubious health benefits. I had a particularly interesting and bitter tea that was actually rather delicious once you became accustomed to the bitterness.
On Monday, I decided to visit the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. However, it wasn’t easy. Because of my unfamiliarity with the rail system, whilst I didn’t actually make any mistakes, I did take a long time puzzling out each change. Consequently, it took me close to two hours to get from where I was in Seoul to Suwon station—a ridiculous length of time. And even then, I had to find the shuttle bus to the village itself. It turned out to be hidden around the side of the station, but with very poor signposting and nowhere near the place that my useless guidebook claimed it would be! Anyway, once I had spent so much time getting there, the last bus had already finished, and the prospect of taking an even slower local bus didn’t appeal, as I was running out of time to spend at the village itself. So I gave up for the day.
I tried again the next day. But this time, instead of three different subway lines and a shuttle bus, I took the better option: a direct bus to the village itself. Of course, finding the bus stop wasn’t easy—they like to change things very frequently in Korea, so any information that’s more than a few days old is already out of date—but I managed it eventually, and arrived in time for a long walk around.
The folk village is fascinating. Apparently, they use it to film most of the historical dramas on Korean TV, and I’m told that Korean viewers have come to recognise very well the buildings from frequent exposure! There are buildings in northern and southern styles, as owned by peasants and noblemen. The best thing, though, is the series of performances that run twice a day.
The farmers’ dance is much more lively than it sounds. Men in brightly-coloured clothing dance and play percussion (drums and gongs) simultaneously. Some of the dancers wear hats with long ribbons attached to a short, freely-swivelling arm. This means that, by tilting his head left and right, a dancer can make the ribbon trace huge circles around his head—whilst dancing and playing a small drum. It’s a hugely impressive spectacle.
After the farmers’ dance, I watched some girls on a see-saw. Unlike the kind you play on at school, however, they used it standing up to launch each of them in turn several metres up into the air, where they did gymnastic tricks during the time that they were flying. They were followed by an older man walking, jumping, and hopping his way along a tightrope in a decidedly alarming manner.
Finally, I saw a reenactment of a traditional wedding. It was all very streamlined and fast. It seems that all that is required is for the bride and groom to bow a few times, take a drink, swap cups and take a drink from each other’s cup, and they are married. It was a bit different from a church wedding, probably in a good way.