Tuesday, 26 August 2014

한국민속촌 | Yongin Folk Village

Looking through the photos for this post, I'm uncomfortably aware of the fact I didn't actually take many photos that weren't of us doing silly fashion poses. I like to think of it as just us having too much fun actually looking at stuff...? Maybe.

We busted out the 50mm for this trip, so enjoy a lot of blur and an unhealthy obsession with depth of field.

We got up early for a long train ride to Suwon and thankfully the weather looked like it was going to be pretty good for the day. There's a shuttle bus at the other end that we were certain we'd missed, but we caught the driver looking for stragglers and he wrote us all up a ticket, saving us a 10 minute dash to the ticket office.

It's then a long drive further south into Gyeonggi-do, until we reach the folk village. It's not what I'd expected. I was expecting a model village, maybe in the countryside somewhere, or possibly even an actual village, like Bukchon. What it actually was, was a sort of Korean History theme park.

There are two admission fees and we weren't sure which one to get, but rather than get the cheaper one then find out we can't do something or see something, we went for the more expensive one. I'll tell you now, that the slightly bemused look on the ticket girl's face, and her questioning gesture to the menu of rides available in the park should have made it clear as to what we were paying more for. In the village is a sort of kids area, with some family friendly theme park rides, little rollercoasters, carousels and the like. I'll assume you can pay individually for each one but the more expensive ticket gives you free reign. Oops.

Oh well, we had a great ride on a little train (with a whole class of what had to be 2nd graders) and a boat ride, so we didn't mess up too badly. We were going to go on the little rollercoaster as well, but there wasn't time.

ANYWAY. We had breakfast at one of the many Korean restaurants you're faced with once you stride through the big entrance gate, similar to those you find at the palaces and shrines. One thing I really like about this place is that the staff wear traditional Korean clothes, in a variety of qualities, which is something I was really interested in, having only seen the fancy, heavy, silk and satin affairs adorning shop windows all through the city. The easy answer is they went for lighter constructions, in linen, cotton, and maybe a sort of organza. Great for the summer heat.

We decided to split into two groups. Armed with two cameras, we decided we could maximise on our experience, as well as not worrying about dragging someone somewhere they're not interested in.

First stop was the traditional Korean wedding. A nice thing about this place is that they have a lot of reenactments and experiences of traditional Korean culture. Not only is it fascinating that marriage seems to be a universal concept in one way or another, but they're also pretty similar (to at home, anyway). The priest appears and I think says some prayers (the entire ceremony, while narrated, is in Korean, so it's all guesswork from here), blesses some offerings, and then the groom comes out with perhaps the Korean version of a best man. The groom does some praying, and then the bride comes out in a lovely, elaborately embroidered dress, supported by two other ladies that I will assume are something akin to bridesmaids and they both continue to pray and bow while the priest blesses them. Or something. I quite enjoyed the way the 'best man' would dash behind the groom every time he knelt down, to make sure the back of his tunic was neatly splayed on the floor and not tucked up under his feet.

We left pretty soon after the ceremony ended, but Nick's parents stuck around and got a lovely photo of the bride in what I can only assume is her transportation litter.

We came across a tree, covered in long swathes of fabric, with a pile of rocks at the base. Clearly something to look at. A little sign told us that it's to pray for good weather, and the rocks are for making wishes. You stack 3, and wish for something.

Most of the morning was spent searching for an archery experience marked at the top of our map. We saw lots of lovely little buildings along the way, as well as a 'yellow dirt path'. Not quite the Wizard of Oz, they encourage you to take off your shoes and walk barefoot, as the yellow dirt is meant to be full of minerals and be good for your health. Add in a lovely, quiet forest walk, with the trees rustling and the cicadas singing, and I can see why it's appealing. As I'm squeamish about feet, we didn't remove our shoes, but there is a 'massage tree' halfway along that they encourage you to lie on to stretch out your back, which I embraced wholeheartedly.

At either end of the path is a pool of freshwater to wash your feet in, and a quiet area that seemed to have no purpose other than for relaxing in.

I started snapping photos and accidentally took these very dramatic-looking photos of Nick. We decided to play "If I were a fashion blogger..."

Whereupon I just embraced my inner Disney Princess and Rapunzel'd the heck out of the little clearing.

I like to think I also channeled a bit of Jessie from Toy Story. It's the hat.
At this point we felt a bit lost and far away from anything resembling civilisation. Welp. Better drink my o-
Oh, we have a map.

While Nick consulted the map like a sensible person, I investigated a tiny little hut of a house that seemed to contain nothing but a kitchen. "Where did they sleep?!" cried I, plaintively. I found the answer in a room behind a small, raised door next to the kitchen door, which I promptly fell into when I realised that the floor was not level with the bottom of the door.

Squawking for help, I actually realised it was quite a comfortable place to lie, as well as surprisingly cool compared to the outside. Far too small for me though. I already feel kind of tall in Korea but this felt a lot like a Wendy House. Low roof, narrow doorway, tiny room. Nick finally appeared to help me up, and obligingly took my photo before reminding me that I was probably never supposed to go in there, and that the rope you can see next to my dopey grin in the photo below was probably meant to go across the doorway to stop anyone going in. Well yeah it sounds obvious when you say it like that.

 Anyway, thanks to Nick's A-Grade map-reading skills, we made our way back to the main village pretty easily (and by that I mean it was pretty much a straight line) and...I took lots of photos of animals.


Smile for the camera!

A traditional Korean crane, with some rustic-looking weights. Or not. Turns out SBS were filming one of their period dramas while we were here. I don't think it was closed off or anything either, which is pretty considerate. We discussed how a lot of productions back home would probably just rent the place for the day or whatever, tough luck tourists.

They'd even left some greenscreens up, so points mean prizes for the best photoshopping here:

We pretty much finished up with some performances, the first being "Farmers Music and Dance". So I'm expecting the Korean equivalent of Morris Dancing.

Incorrect! Look at those acrobatics!

The dancers jump and spin their way around the circle, accompanied by an ever-faster drumbeat from the rest of the troupe. The ribbons on their hats are like the ones that gymnasts use during Rhythmic floor performances, the tiniest flick sends them wiggling. So even when they're just walking, they're intricately wobbling their heads to get the ribbons whirling and spinning and it's really mesmerising.

Towards the end, there's a bit of a performative comedy act with a guy very skilfully spinning...something round on the tip of a stick. He would rush around with it, still intact, still spinning, tossing it into the air and catching it again as though it was the easiest thing in the world.

He then decided to ramp things up with a bit of audience participation. Who would be the lucky assistant?

Of course!
He really knew how to work the audience and get them cheering, getting Nick to not only hold the spinning disc himself (furthering the idea that it's not that hard, hoho), but then also flick the disc at him, like some kind of ridiculous no-touching game of frisbee.

At the end, he wrapped up, and everyone cheered while the music still played. He held Nick back and apparently this conversation happened:

"You dance?"
"Ah, no. I can't dance."
"... hm. Oh well!"

And he was then dragged back to the centre of the circle, and danced. Quite wonderfully, for someone totally winging it. There is actually video evidence of this, but I've been asked not to share, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Then there was this guy. Once the Farmer Dancers finished and took a well-earned break from the rather relentless sun (hi, hello, where've YOU been all week?) there was a tightrope show in the display area next door. You can't tell from the photo but this guy looked about 80, and was happily leaping around doing all kinds of gymnastics on a rather high-up tightrope whilst cracking jokes and presumably giving out a history lesson. Colour me impressed.

We still had an hour or so before the last shuttle bus, so we went and looked at the Governors building, which just seemed to be a nice big building where you could pretend to be high and mighty whilst overlooking a courtyard full of...torture devices. Interesting.

I'm adorable. Anyone who disagrees will be sent to the stocksifixion spanking table.
"Stocksifixion Spanking Table" being the only way I can describe the two main punishment methods in the courtyard that people seemed all to excited to try out. Unless they were doing it wrong, you lie on a crucifix-shaped table, your hands and feet are put into stocks at the ends of the cross, and then people come at you with oars and whack you with them. Two girls happened to be beating up a guy, and a Korean man seemed to be giving directions on how to more effectively punish him. I'm not even sure they all knew each other.

Annexed to the Governor's building is a prison, where you too can experience life as an old-school Korean Criminal.
"You forgot the stocks." "You're the worst prisoner"
"I don't like it any more."
"Hang on, if I push like this the block moves. I think I can get it out." "Don't-"
"THUD" "oops"
There's some nice creepy models in the other cells showing varying degrees of sadness for varying degrees of criminality. Cheerful.

Anyway, we headed over to the music area and found Nick's parents again, whereupon we took part in a flute-making experience. You take a chunk of bamboo, clean it up, and voila, a flute.

We crossed a, to be quite honest, terrifyingly rickety-looking stepping stone bridge. It took us a fair few minutes to wobble our way across, and when we looked behind us, Korean people of all ages were pretty much dashing along as though it were tarmac, not a scant collection of rocks with deep flowing water either side. I'm in constant amazement of Korean bravery/resilience/lack of concern for their limbs. It's like they never let go of that mysterious childlike ability most people seem to have at some point, where you're perfectly happy to throw yourself headfirst at anything without thinking "this could hurt at some point".

Halfway across the bridge I risked my life for this photo. (NOTE: I may or may not have actually been completely safe)
Back to the entrance, back on the coach, back on the train, back to Incheon, back to bed.

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