Not just for show, folk village is home for 200 folks

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Not just for show, folk village is home for 200 folks

"On the way home from visiting my son, I dropped by Mr. Kang's place near the east gate of the village and saw some laborers working busily to replace the roof. Some of them were sitting on the yard arranging the straw neatly to fit the roof and others were on the roof, thatching straw for the ridge of the roof. Turning toward home, I looked past a tavern and saw Mr. Park, who lives on the outskirts of the south gate, drinking makgeolli (rice wine)."

This is not an excerpt from writings of the Joseon Dynasty, but a description of what Kim Maeng-deok saw a couple of days ago in her village. Ms. Kim has lived in a village within a fortress called Nakaneup-seong in Suncheon city, South Jeolla province, for more than 50 years. While most of Korea has rocketed to modernity, Ms. Kim's village looks as if time has forgotten it.

The fortress was originally built in 1397, during the rule of King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty, to guard against the Japanese army, which periodically invaded via the South Sea. The fortress, originally made of mud, was reconstructed with stones between 1626 and 1628, during the rule of King Injo.

Circling the fortress on the west, north and east are high mountains, such as Jeseok, Obong, Geumjeon and Baek-i. The stone walls of the fortress are about 1,410 meters around, holding a village with more than 68 households and 200 residents. Most houses in the village are straw-thatched, but four have slate roofs. Those traditional houses have shoulder-high stone fences, covered with crawling pumpkin vines and red ivy leaves.

Each of the houses has a gate made of bamboo twigs and a small garden attached to the back or to the side of the building. Chinese cabbage, radishes, green onions and garlic grow in those gardens, adding to the rural, rustic mood. Purple and yellow chrysanthemums blooming around the terraces are beautiful enough to make passers-by stop and take in the view. Corn hangs on the walls and radish leaves dry out under the eaves. A puppy dozes underneath a wooden veranda.

Not all is residential. There are also government offices on the main street, between the east and south gates, stately edifices with their attractive tiled roofs. Those government buildings are in the architectural style of the Joseon Dynasty, and include the office and the residence of the chief of the village and a lodging place for envoys from the Royal Court.

Traditional architecture, however, is not the only thing that attracts tourists. Unlike other Korean folk villages that are mainly just for tourists, Nakaneup-seong is a traditional village with real residents living there. "In the old days, we all lived in this way, but this lifestyle has turned into something of a spectacle," an owner of a traditional house said while letting visitors in to her place to take a look.

Many visitors to Nakaneup-seong agree that it is nice to walk along the huge stone fences of the fortress, which are about four meters high, or to enjoy views of the old village from a small path on the hillside of the fortress. One only wonders how long this way of life can last.

For more information, call 061-749-3645.

by Lee Hai-suk

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