Monday, October 18, 2010

Hahoe Folk Village

On a recent weekend I went to Hahoe Folk Village. What a place! It’s a UNESCO-protected village founded early during the Joseon dynasty (1592-1910). It’s notable today because a lot of the structures have remained unchanged since their construction. Many of the houses’ roofs, both thatched and slanted, remain in excellent condition. I was down there in order to take advantage of the Andong Mask Festival and see some of the masks which have played a prominent role in Korean culture for many years.

During September in Andong-about a three hour drive south of Seoul-there is a festival centered around the of Korean mask. At the festival, one can sample a variety of Korean foods, can buy traditional Korean gifts, can make one’s own mask, and can also take in some musical and dramatic performances at a large stage in the center of the festival. I didn't stay in Andong too long because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to adequately see Hahoe and that was the main purpose for my trip. For this reason, I soon headed off on the 45 minute shuttle ride to Hahoe. It is quite rural and situated on the Nandong river. There are some spots nearby from which you can get amazing views of the village and the surrounding countryside.

Seeing the old houses and the tree (known as Samsindang) that dates from the time of the founding of the village wa wonderful. The village is, as noted, out in the sticks a bit, which for me was wonderful. I love Seoul but at times the never-ending press of people can be overwhelming and it’s lovely to get away from the hustle and bustle. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to imagine what the village was like 500 years ago because the area hasn’t developed too much. There is a very informative mask museum in Hahoe which has masks from all over the world. The museum is fully captioned in English as well as Korean so non-Koreans can enjoy and learn about the variety of masks and how and why they came to exist. It’s very interesting to learn how and why masks are significant in their cultures.

Walking through the Folk Village of Hahoe is akin to stepping into a time machine. Old walls, tiny lanes, and only the slightest hint of tourism-several road-side stands hawking Andong’s famous soju (Korea’s national alcoholic drink, a grain-based drink which is made stronger in Andong), masks, figurines, and a variety of other traditional Korean gifts. The houses are well-maintained to a large extent. I saw two houses which had fallen into disrepair and I walked most of the village. I don’t know which regulations compel the upkeep of the village other than pride in its history. That would seem to be a pretty compelling force, to the benefit of visitors and to the credit of Korea. The landscaping of some of the properties also only enhances the beauty of the village.

Truly, coming out to rural Korea, seeing how a village would have looked in Korea 500 years ago, and being able to see the mask festival made for a great day.

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