Saturday, 30 August 2014

북촌한옥마을 | Bukchon (& Dongdaemun)

Going on a recommendation from an acquaintance we managed to bump into at Changdeokgung, we thought we'd go for a fairly relaxing walk around Bukchon Hanok Village. It's really cute and, to me, pretty hipster. A whole area of traditional wooden houses, and little indie cafes and trinket shops erupting from more modern (but still old) buildings in an oddly European way.

Being, essentially, a housing area, there are lots of doors to look at. Something I've noticed about Korea that I really like is the way older houses seem to have really wonderful, ornate front doors and gates.

Most of the houses are walled in, so you can't see much, but the overall aesthetic of the place is what we're here for. It's really lovely and peaceful, even with all of the tourists following the same route.

Can I just take a moment to say that, for the past 3 days, we bumped into the same group of girls. Considering Seoul is pretty varied for tourist attractions, and we were just picking things off the top of our head, it's kind of creepy.

Even the doors have their own little baby doors.
 I'd hazard a guess that many of the buildings are in fact new, or at least renovated to the point where they look very new. Also, judging from the cars parked about, the sheer square footage these houses take up, the fact some of them have garages and gardens, in Seoul, suggests to me this is by no means a cheap area to live in.

Palace photobomb.
There seem to be quite a few workshops in the area where you can watch or experience traditional Korean crafts, but a lot of them seemed to be closed. I was particularly intrigued by the soju tasting experience, boo ;(

One house had been turned into a sort of model home. A neatly-dressed lady stood in the gateway, encouraging people to have a look inside. It's not what we expected.

It's actually someone's holiday home. If memory serves, a Korean lady who now lives in South America, and opens her house to the public (for a fee) while she's away. She's either an interior designer, or just very rich (or probably both), because the house is the sort of thing my dreams are made of. (No photos for this bit, because I felt weird just taking photos inside someone's actual house)

I really enjoyed it, because I'd been wondering what a modernised traditional home would look like. The living room is open to the elements, like a proper hanok, but with heavy wooden shutters built in, like the palaces. The kitchen, confusingly, is incredibly modern, with art pieces hanging up, and all the mod cons in a whirl of red tiles. It just looks like a tiny, trendy cafe.

There's a small bathroom, again in a modern style and tiled, but this time covered in blue and mother-of-pearl-esque colours. Apparently the owner focused a lot on the bathrooms, because we spend a lot of time in there alone, so it's important for it to be beautiful and peaceful. I like her thinking.

The other rooms are alarmingly traditional, in stark contrast to the other glossy, expensive-looking rooms. Paper-covered doors and walls, wood and matting on the floor with traditional Korean mat beds tucked away in the cupboards. Then, hidden behind one of these paper doors, is the master bathroom. Very similar to the smaller one, but this time with a shower room and a large number of cosmetics and toiletries that I know for a fact are very, very luxurious. And expensive. Goodness me.

The other rooms are a dining room and sort of reclining room, once again back to the very traditional. The modern amenities you'd expect from a comfortable house in 2014 are still present but very cleverly hidden away in the structure of the room so that you can't actually see them unless you know they're there.

Back around to the living room, and the tour guide sets up a small table and brings out some cold plum tea (very moreish!) to sip at, while the perfectly-positioned building grabs a breeze running through the solitary tree in a perfectly-sized courtyard garden. As a holiday home, in the middle of an incredibly busy city, the owner did a pretty good job of making her own little oasis of calm.

Refreshed and revitalised, we finished up the walk, and decided to head over to Dongdaemun, because I can't believe we've been in Korea all this time and not even seen ONE of the big gates.

In my head, Dongdaemun is cuter because it was at a defensive disadvantage, so they added an extra semicircular wall around it for extra protection. Why that makes it cute, I have no idea, don't ask me how my weird brain works.

It's really odd, being in the middle of a hectic shopping district, next to a very busy road, where everything is modern and neon or then turn around and see this gigantic structure, looking like it's been dropped on its way to a museum or something.

This becomes especially jarring when you reach the Design Plaza, which I'm told has no straight sides. It's all curved like some sort of strange, amorphous metal blob. It's also huge. We were only there for a brief time though, so I'll probably have to go back again one day.

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