Learn to Make Kimchi, Wear Hanbok, Play Janggo - All at Home

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Learn to Make Kimchi, Wear Hanbok, Play Janggo - All at Home

Namsan Tower, luxury goods and bathhouses are some of the things that might first come to mind when visitors to Seoul remember their trip, and most follow a fairly well-trodden route when they are here. Visitors might take a trip to one of the Korean palaces, drop by at a department store to shop, and round off their tour by taking a bath and having a body scrub or massage. And most guidebooks to Seoul suggest excursions quite limited in scope. For many foreign tourists, Seoul is just just another Asian city.

But what do most foreign visitors really want to experience in Seoul? Perhaps they want to know what makes Korea different from other Asian countries. And they probably want to know more about what day-to-day life in Korea is like for Koreans.

The Sons' home in Yeoksam-dong, south of the Han River, is a place where foreigners can experience life in a Korean home. The two-story house, a few minutes' walk from Yeoksam subway station, has features characteristic of a Korean traditional house such as ondol, under-floor heating, and wood lattice windows. At the gate of the house is a taegeukgi, Korea's national flag, which flutters all year round to greet visitors to the house.

In 1999, two sisters, Son Yeon-sook and Son Jeong-sook, and their mother, Chang Bok-hi, opened their home to foreigners wishing to "live" Korean culture, such as making kimchi, wearing Korean traditional garments and practicing calligraphy. Over the last two years over 5,000 foreigners have visited the Sons' home.

"We used to ask people we met on our trips abroad what they would like to do first if they were to visit Korea. To our surprise, many of them answered that they would want to experience Korean daily life," the Son sisters said. So the sisters planned half-day cultural programs to cater to this need, such as tasting home-cooked Korean meals and playing traditional instruments such as the janggo, or hourglass drum.

Of all the activities offered at the Sons' Home, making kimchi is the most popular. Akiko Miyake, a Japanese visitor, said, "It was the first time for me to see how cabbage is seasoned leaf by leaf to make kimchi. Korean kimchi tastes rich and flavorful, whereas Japanese kimchi just tastes hot."

At the Sons' Home, it is the mother's job to give lessons on making kimchi. "My students really like it when I offer them a piece of seasoned cabbage," the mother said. She has even created a standardized recipe for kimchi for her students who otherwise have trouble figuring out details such as how much seasoning or how long cabbage should be left salted.

"I don't think a recipe for kimchi should be kept a secret," Mrs. Chang said. "Some Koreans may feel reluctant to make recipes for kimchi public because they worry about Japanese competitors in the kimchi market. But Japanese kimchi is no match for our own."

After finishing their kimchi-making lesson, visitors to Son's Home venture into the world of Korean traditional music, wearing hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, and playing instruments. Yeon-sook said, "In general, Asians are quick to learn Korean instruments, maybe because they have similar tunes at home. Westerners, however, seem to feel awkward even just sitting on the floor to play the instrument. This causes a lot of hearty laughter at our place."

The half-day program costs 70,000 won ($53) per person. Remember to reserve places at least one day in advance.

For more information, visit the Web site at www.sons-home.com or call 02-562-6829 (English available at both).

by Park Jee-young

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