South Korea 4 – Hahoe Village – 11/2014
While traveling through South Korea we were constantly reminded of just how modern this country is. Sometimes it was hard to find anything that would be ancient or historic, so we were delighted to stumble upon the Hahoe Folk Village. Located near Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, it was established in the 16th century during the Joseon Dynasty. It has been a one-clan community (the Ryu family) since that time. The village maintains old architectural styles that have been lost because of rapid modernization and development in South Korea. Aristocratic tile-roofed residences and thatched-roof servants’ homes allowed us to step back in time. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One of the more interesting things about Hahoe village was the extensive use of rice straw for many of the roofs. Rice is one of the main food crops here, but it seemed almost as important for the continued use of the thatched roofs which must be redone periodically. Once the rice has been harvested, the straw is gathered and stacked in the fields to dry. As we walked around the village through the narrow dirt streets we happened upon a group of men using an interesting sewing machine to gather the rice straw into bundles. As friendly as Koreans are, they invited us to join them for their midday meal and get a closer look at how they were preparing the straw for later use.
Peeking into open doors of private homes, however a private home can be when it’s part of UNESCO world heritage site, we were fascinated by some of the old traditions. Persimmons, cabbage and chilies were being dried and preparations were under way for making kimchi, a staple dish in Korea. We stopped by one dry goods store where they were selling an interesting snack, sort of like an egg omelet or crape on a stick cooked in a seaweed broth and basted with a soy sauce. It was quite tasty on this chilly day.
The Nakdong River flows around Hahoe in an S shape, which gave the village its name: “ha” means river and “hoe” means turning around. Some say, it resembles a lotus flower floating on water. On the highest point in town we found the 600-year old zelkova tree. The Goddess Samsin who resides in the tree is said be in charge of pregnancy and prosperity. You can make a wish by writing it on a small piece of the paper and then when the paper is burned on January 15th, your wish will come true. We asked for a safe trip to Japan and back to California, and time to celebrate Gary’s birthday in Mexico. More on that later.
Driving into the visitor parking area where we would camp for a couple of nights, we noticed some interesting woodcarvings and Korean totem poles. We later met the artist, Mr. Kim Jong-heung, who, as it turns out, is quite famous, having presented his works to Queen Elizabeth II on her 73rd birthday and even to both Presidents Bush. He invited us for tea and oven roasted sweet potatoes in his shop. After meeting his family and seeing his many carvings he kindly presented us with the token gift, a smaller version of his large totem poles more suitable for packing in our truck.