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Travel Notes: The Korean Folk Village

April 2, 2011

>The Korean Folk Village is about an hour south of Seoul by highway if you hire a driver, or about two hours door to door by train. It is an open air living history museum that opened in 1974 and is the Colonial Williamsburg of Korea. If I had only one day to do something while I was in Korea, the Folk Village (website here) would be my top choice. Here are some reasons you should consider going:

  • if you love history
  • if you love photography
  • if you are traveling with children
  • if your eyes tire of urban Seoul and need some green

If you don’t mind my unabashed love for the place, you’re welcome to come along on an electronic tour.

 

 

Last October, when me made our first return visit to Korea as a family, I was excited to see the Folk Village in Autumn for the first time, and to show the place to the girls. Faith, who you will see in a red shirt as a six year old in some of these photos, travelled with me to the Folk Village in 2006 and was enthralled. She had been telling Mercy and Hope about it for years and couldn’t wait to go back.

We arrived last October, as planned, in time to catch the morning set of folk performances. But my first reaction was dismay when I saw this:

It seemed we had picked ‘field trip day’ to visit the Folk Village. I’d never seen it as crowed. This was the scene at the dance amphitheater and I knew there was no way we could get close enough for the girls to see over the crowd. So we changed plans: to catch the afternoon performances and take advantage of the fact that the rest of the village must be relatively empty because everyone was watching the performances.

I was right. The morning haze was just beginning to lift. It was beautiful and almost like having the park to ourselves.

 

The Folk Village preserves the different folk ways unique to each region of Korea. So before you go, look at a map of Korea and divide the country from top to bottom, then again from side to side. Locate the quadrant your child’s birthplace falls in, then remember it. When you get to the Folk Village you can pay special attention to the part of the village representing life as your child’s grandparents likely knew it.
 outdoor stoves
a jiggeh (read A Single Shard)

Korea is only very recently westernized, modernized, urbanized. Friends who are my age recall growing up in Seoul in houses with thatched roofs, tiled-wall courtyards, and packed earth streets. This is very recent history for urban Korea.

 

The folk Village is living history museum and with lots to watch and see and do. Our first visit, another family invited us to share their hired driver. Since the commute to the folk Village was only an hour each way by van, we spent a half-day at the Folk Village. As adults we could set our own pace and it was just enough time to see the place. When we took the children last year, I planned our Folk Village visit as a day trip and that was a perfect amount of time in which to take the train (which the girls wanted to do) and to wander the village at their pace.

 

play dress-up
watch a traditional wedding
climb to a temple (2006)
observe a water-powered grain mill (2006)
scare crows away from the rice
 grind grain (2006)
contemplate the sign that said “Beware of Dangerous Donkey” (2006)
try a traditional see-saw (2006)
When you tire of seeing and doing and need some lunch, consult the map. Mercy was our map reader in 2010.

Head over to the Traditional Marketplace which contains a Food Court unlike anything we have in America.

 

At the front of the Market you’ll find a cashier and a large menu board. Choose what you want to eat. (No cheeseburgers here; it is all Korean food. But if your picky eaters eat rice, they won’t be hungry.)

Pay the cashier who will hand you a food ticket with a kitchen number written it. The year Faith was six our ticket said Leek Pancake she wanted was being made in Kitchen 8. So we wandered until we found Kitchen 8 and handed the cook our ticket. She made our lunch while we watched. Observing other diners, we understood we should take a bamboo tray to put our plate on, and ladle our own bowl of soy dipping sauce.

We found an outdoor table and sat down to a leek pancake that still live in Faith’s memory as the best she’s ever eaten.

 

Cousin Kimberly, who was living in Korea in 2006, spent the day with us.

While we were eating, several times, Korean children wandered over and very politely inquired if they could have their picture taken with the American girl.

 

Last October, Faith was disappointed to discover that Leek Pancakes (which she had been dreaming about for four years) were not on the menu board in the Traditional Market. So the girls settled for bowls of rice and very special kimbap.

After lunch, we headed back toward the amphitheater to catch the early afternoon set of performances. But first, we had to do some shopping.
hair sticks $3 each; up-do free
custom scroll $3 in 2006 (it says”Hope in God”)
My husband and Grandma and Joy went ahead to save seats at the amphitheater for the next dance performance.
 The girls and I wandered, looking for the small grove of pawlonia trees Faith and I had discovered in 2006.
This is the pawlonia Faith and I stood under, amazed. We have nothing like it in the Midwest. Each umbrel of leaves is as large as an umbrella and we wanted to see a pawlonia wearing its fall colors. We didn’t find the grove of trees but we were enticed up a footpath where the girls found enormous dragonflies.

The next five minutes by the pond belong to another story. God had a different plan for our afternoon so we never made it to amphitheater for the performances. But thanks to my other visits, I can give you a glimpse.

First up is the Farmers’ Dance. If your plan for the day will allow it, try to catch the morning and afternoon performances. We were blessed that last July, it was our Korean culture camp, Camp Choson‘s turn to host the Korean Traditional Music Association representatives so the girls had all just seen a Farmer’s Dance like this one in 2006 up close and personal.

You’ll also want to see the tight-rope and see-saw performances which take place immediately following the Farmers’ Dance in courtyards next to the amphitheater.
When the performances are over, another ten minutes’ stroll will bring you back to the entrance gates of the Folk Village. If you are on the entrance side of the village when hunger strikes, there’s a nice little sit-down restaurant with a menu of trusty tourists favorites like Bulgoki and  Jap Chae. There are also several more shops where you can buy tourist knick-knacks. (But for the arts and cultural goods, shop in Insadong for more variety and better prices.)
Outside the gates, take the shuttle bus back to Suwon and catch the next train back to Seoul at  the end of a day you’ll long remember.
Back in Seoul, when you stop in at Kyobo Books, pick up one of these books: The Korean Folk Village: the Hometown of Us All. Mine cost only 6,000 won:
Later, when you’re home and have recovered from the jet lag and get nostalgic about that wonderful day you spent at the Folk Village, you’ll be able to flip through the book and look at the pictures and learn more about what you saw that day.

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