Korean Folk Village (with Photos)


This is an update of two blog posts I published in July 2005 about our first visit to the Korean Folk Village near Seoul, South Korea. Although other folk villages in Korea also showcase traditional Korean architecture and culture, this is the one most locals think of when they hear the term “Korean Folk Village.” The village is featured on my list of Top Ten Things to Do in Korea. This post combines the original two posts into one and includes photos. The original posts are here and here.

My family ventured July 15 to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin, an exurb of Seoul. Reputed to be one of the best daytrips out of the city, it lived up to its reputation. If you visit Seoul and only have time for one daytrip, this is a great place to go.

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (1)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (2)

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Opened in 1974, the village is the grandest of all the folk villages dotting South Korea. Although it was built as a tourist attraction, it’s fully functional. Many of the employees dressed up as peasants and in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) also live there. It’s an intriguing sight to see next to the modern high-rise apartment buildings that loom next to the village gates.

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The route to the Korean Folk Village two hours south of Seoul is not well marked, and finding northbound Interstate 1 heading north is not easy.We missed the Giheung exit off Interstate 1 on our way to the village and ended up driving past it to Osan. We backtracked on an arterial road that paralleled the freeway.

By the time we arrived, we were so hungry that we stopped to eat at “Korea Restaurant” near the village gate. We thought that a restaurant with a lofty-sounding name representing the entire country had to have delicious food, but it turned out to be a cafeteria-style, massed-produced food operation with a limited selection and mediocre cuisine. All the restaurants near the entrance looked the same. At least the friendly help took a liking to our young son! If you visit, you’re better off making your way to the far end of the village and eating at the open-air village “Bazzar.” We eventually arrived at the “Bazzar” and saw some of the delicious foods sold there. Live and learn.

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After lunch we went to “Seonangdang,” a religious shrine where one can pray to and solicit favors from the village’s guardian spirits. Koreans, like many peoples around the world, at one time carved ancestral totems out of wood. The ones in the village reminded me of the totem poles made by the Native Americans and First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, although these totems were bit more free spirited (no pun intended). Korean totems can be whimsical and a bit chaotic with laughing, asymmetrical faces. They also follow the curvature of the wood and occasionally lean.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (7)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (8)

We walked to the ceramic village, where I bought my first kimchi pot (a ceramic jar used to make kimchi, not kimchi-flavored marijuana). As the national dish of Korea, kimchi is held in high regard in Korea. No meal would be complete without a side dish of spicy and sweet cabbage, radish, or cucumber kimchi. The Italian restaurant where my wife and I occasionally dine in Seoul serves sweet pickles as a substitute (western restaurants in Korea often serve sweet pickles in lieu of banchan, or side dishes).

I’ve wanted to buy a pot for quite some time because I thought they looked decorative. Mine is not too big, perhaps one gallon (two kiloliters). It’s not large enough to make enough kimchi to feed a family. To do that, you would need to buy at least a 20-gallon drum! Although I overpaid for the jar, I was happy to buy one from the shop where it was made. Knowing its source gave it character and an identity.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (10)

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We made our way through the village and visited a replica of a typical traditional Korean peasant farm.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (13)

We stopped to watch two elderly women in hanbok making silk. I had never seen how it’s made. One woman boiled silkworm cocoons, killing the larvae, separating each from its cocoon and casting it aside, and helped another woman unravel silk from the cocoon. The second woman spun the raw silk thread around a spinning wheel. Watching them produce silk was fascinating. It’s amazing that such a manual, unglamorous process ends with the creation of one of the world’s most luxurious fabrics.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (14)

In an open area in the middle of the village, we came upon some traditional Korean games, the see-saw and arrow throwing. In a simulation of the ancient Korean game, some locals tried to throw three-foot long sticks into narrow jars. (Arrow throwing is akin to the western carnival game of throwing balls through holes on a backboard.) The Korean see-saws were thick planks of wood straddling sacks of hay. My son enjoyed giving it a try. Daddy put his foot on the plank and bounced him up and down. He laughed and held on for dear life as daddy rocked him. He then took over and did it himself.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (16)

Ready for a treat, we went to the “Bazzar” and stopped for ice cream. I loved the atmosphere of the open-air market filled with traditional buildings and workers dressed in peasant clothing. At that moment, contemporary Seoul seemed far away.

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We left the “Bazzar” and crossed the Arch Stone Bridge, a picturesque structure straddling a gentle river flowing through the village.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (20)

We wandered along the far bank of the river through a group of farmhouses modeled after those found on Jeju Island made of volcanic rock. For the first time, my son saw farm animals that he knew well but had never seen before—rabbits, chickens, pigs, goats, and geese. His eyes lit up when he saw the real version of animals he had read about in books and saw as toys. He especially liked the rabbits. Unfortunately, the geese were unruly. We stood about ten feet from them until four decided to come after us. We backed away quickly and moved out of their territory. I wasn’t about to get bitten by a goose and end up getting rabies shots. That would have been a lousy end to a beautiful day.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (22)

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I enjoyed trying some of the rudimentary milling equipment, a gristmill and hammermill. It made me thankful that I buy my bread, rice, and pasta at a store.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (24)

After wandering through replicas of old Jeju Island farms, we ventured into an open area where a Korean acrobat on a high wire performed a delicate balancing act. He did a fabulous job defying gravity, bouncing up and down on the rope, sitting on it, straddling it, and balancing himself on top. He balanced himself grasping only a handkerchief in one hand and a large white fan in the other. He used the fan to control his balance, waving it slowly, then feverishly to bring his body back into equilibrium. Dressed in a white traditional costume, he wore a black Korean-style hat reminiscent of a Korean sage. I enjoyed his performance.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (27)

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We then headed to the Manor House, where we witnessed a traditional Korean wedding. The condensed ceremony that took place in the main courtyard highlighted some of its interesting aspects. As the ceremony began, the groom took his place to the east of the wedding altar and faced west, sitting cross-legging awaiting his bride. Symbolic foods lay atop the altar, waiting to be parceled to the bride and groom. An old sage to the north of the altar faced south and read the vows from a wedding book.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (30)

A few minutes later the sage called for the bride to come. She left the Manor House and descended its steps, entering the courtyard with two female assistants. They escorted her to the altar and helped her kneel on both knees to the east so that she faced towards her future husband facing west.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (32)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (33)

As the sage chanted the wedding vows, assistants offered food and drink to the betrothed couple. They ate chestnuts, a symbol of the yangban, or Korean aristocracy, and other delicacies. The bride’s arms were crossed and positioned over her face so that the groom could not see her until the ceremony ended. Prompted by the sage, the groom and bride stood and bowed to each other. Dressed in hanbok, they made a handsome couple.

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The sage pronounced the couple married, and the ceremony ended as quickly as it started. Having seen many weddings around the world, I enjoyed this unique depiction of an age-old tradition.

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After the ceremony ended, we headed to a modern children’s amusement park in the southern portion of the folk village across the river. Filled with amusements, modern architecture, and contemporary sculptures, it was much different than the rest of the village. We took our son on several rides. He had been such a good sport putting up with our wandering that we knew we needed to treat him to something he would enjoy. He first rode a roving mechanical dog. He was apprehensive about getting close to real animals but had no qualms climbing aboard this slow-moving “dog.” Afterwards, mommy took him on a carrousel for his first merry-go ride, and daddy took him on his first train ride aboard the children’s train. He had a great time.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (37)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (38)

2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village (39)

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Our son had so much fun that he didn’t nap all day long. Once we finished and went home, he was out like a light. I was tired too and wanted to do the same but had to wait until home to crash. Our fun adventure at the Korean Folk Village wore all of us out.

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2005_07_15 Korean Folk Village

Map picture

buythumbM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Bihu, Assamese New Year – Guest Post by Pranjal Borthakur


Bihu, Assamese New Year

Guest Post by Pranjal Borthakur

Bihu is a set of three cultural festivals celebrated in the Indian Province of Assam and other regions of the Indian subcontinent. The most popular, Rongali Bihu, celebrates the onset of the Assamese New Year in mid-April (around April 15). The second, Kongali Bihu, occurs in mid-October, while the third, Bhogai Bihu, happens at the end of the harvest season in January. Rongali Bihu commemorates the first day of the Hindu solar calendar and the beginning of the agricultural season when farmers cultivating their fields feel a sense of joy and optimism. The ancient festival lasts seven days and is known for its feasts, lively performances, and merriment. The celebration generally transcends castes and religion and has evolved into a more secular festival that promotes humanity, peace, and fraternity between the classes and faiths.

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The festival begins on the last day of the previous year — usually April 14. On the first day, called Goru (Cow) Bihu, cows are washed and smeared with paste, struck with sprigs of herbs, untethered, and allowed to roam free for the day.

On New Year Day, Manuh (Human) Bihu, celebrants clean up, put on new clothing, and ring in the New Year with vigor. Elders are shown respect, receive bihuwan (gamosa cloth), a hachoti (kerchief), and are asked for blessings. The red-and-white gamosa hand woven on a loom by mothers and daughters (see below) is especially revered as a mark of respect for the Assamese and a prized gift. Husori (carol) singing begins, and people visit family and friends.

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The third day, Gosai (Gods) Bihu, is dedicated to the worship of the gods, with requests for blessings in the New Year, and cleaning house. The remaining days, Hat Bihu, Senehi Bihu, Maiki Bihu, and Sera Bihu, each represent a special significance in the New Year.

Pitha, traditional cakes made from rice flour and fillings such as coconut, and larus or jolpan snacks help make the season more festive.

Music plays a central role in Bihu. Folk songs associated with the Rongali Bihu are called Bihu Geets (Bihu songs). Husori (huchari) are traditional carols that celebrate Bihu. Huchari comes from the Dimasa Kachari words for “land” (ha) and “move over” (char). Rongali Bihu is also a fertility festival, where Bihu dancing celebrate young women’s fertility with its sensuous movements. It is a time for young men and women to seek partners and mates.

 

Bihu Performances

Singing, dancing, and performing is a very important part of the celebration. Dancers dance on an elevated stage in an open area known as a Bihutoli popular throughout Assam. Performances may include Bihu dances, theatrical performances, concerts by solo singers, and standup comedy that entertain audiences late into the night. They keep the audience enthralled well into the early hours of the morning. In the photos below, village children in small groups sing husori and dance in traditional Bihu style.

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My niece Mamu posed with the village kids after their Bihu dance. She enjoyed it so much that she begged to take photos with them in Assamese, “Munu mur photo tana.”

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Children, adolescents, and teens perform suori or dhodhi monthon, a reenactment of the god Krishna’s childhood.

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Various tribal groups take the stage to compete with one another singing husori. The singers announce their arrival with drum beats and come on stage, where they sing songs and perform a ring dance. At the end of the performance, they are thanked with an offering. In one dance, young men engaged in a mock war with one another on stage. It was quite unnerving!

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In some parts of Assam, Kali Puja is also performed as a prayer to the goddess Kali. It typically involves the sacrifice of goats and other animals.

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40 idol of goddess Kali

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Young unmarried men and women wearing traditional golden silk muga dance the Mukoli Bihu and sing Bihu songs to celebrate female sexuality. The songs have themes of requited or unrequited romance and love. Although the songs describe tragic events, they are treated lightly by the audience. Bihu dance groups from different villages compete with one another for the privilege of joining the Village Bihu Group.

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proud moments for the group

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Other forms of Bihu that are celebrated in Assam include Fat Bihu, an old form characterized by spontaneity that is popular in Lakhimpur, Assam; the Jeng Bihu performed and watched exclusively by women; Beshma, and Baisago.

About Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School

The Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School is located in Guwahati, the capital of Assam Province in India. The school for boys and girls has 51 students in grades 1 through 12. Although the school is financed by private sources and resources are limited, Mr. Borthakur and his dedicated staff and teachers work hard to provide a quality education to these promising students. Since its founding, the school has grown from 12 students and continues to grow. Below are photos of the school’s students performing at the First Annual Day Celebration held in early 2012.

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54 child performing bihu

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51 head girl of school52Below are photos of the school principal and the staff. They are a dedicated group of individuals.

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Students and staff participate in a class activity at the school.

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About Pranjal Borthakur

Pranjal Borthakur is head of the Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School. Married and a father of two, he has dedicated his life to running Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School and offering an affordable education to children in Guwahati. Below are photos of Mr. Borthakur and his family in Guwahati.

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Pranjal’s daughter Asmita (center), son Manas (left), and niece Mamu.

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50 my daughter Asmita in Black specs

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Pranjal’s wife with a group during a school outing.

51 my wife front posing back in school picnic

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Photos from Pranjal’s childhood. Riding horses with his brother Pranab and with his father, Dr. Borthakur, and brother.

me and my brother pranab in our childhood(left me)

my father dr.borthakur,me and my bro

For more information about Assamese culture, the Shree Sai Siksha Niketan School, or to inquire how you can support the school, contact Mr. Borthakur at:

E-mail: pranjalbarthakur@gmail.com

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/@pranjalbor

Web page: http://sssniketan.blogspot.com/

Blog:  http://pranjalborthakur.wordpress.com/

Phone: +917399555359

Address: Pranjal Borthakur, Airforce Gate, Village Raibori, Police Station Palasbari, Post Office Bongora , Guwahati-781015

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