Old area offers eye-opening slumber party

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Old area offers eye-opening slumber party

Bukchon is most famous for one thing -- hanok, or Korean traditional homes.

Almost half the homes in the central Seoul neighborhood, between the Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces, maintain the traditional Korean architecture. The neighborhood sprawls out on the hillsides like a maze. High walls separate and hide each home. A slow walk through the narrow residential alleyways provides elusive glimpses of the life behind the walls.

Bukchon is best appreciated on an intimate level ?kneeling on the ondol floor of a living room, sipping piping hot green tea, listening to rice paper doors sliding open and shut with a thunk, looking out at a tiny, verdant garden or at laundry flapping on clotheslines and enjoying the charm of an era long gone.

The problem is that the homes are privately owned, so the chances to enjoy the charms up close are limited.

The Seoul City Government, the Space Culture Center and the Organization for Preserving Traditional Homes have organized a two-day Bukchon immersion program for tourists, both Korean and expatriates, on July 13 and 14. Bukchon residents will be participating. The program was scheduled for last weekend, but postponed due to the World Cup.

Similar programs have been held twice before, but this one will be an overnighter. Park In-suk, the president of the preservation society, will open up her home for guests to sleep. Her home has a gudeul jang, a room underlaid with flat stones to form heating flutes during the winter.

The idea took root last summer. "The neighborhood had a lot to offer," Ms. Park said, "from artisans' works to normal folk like myself opening up their homes." When the program began, it was not intended for tourists, but to educate the public. "Somehow, we've been attracting a lot of tourists," Ms. Park said.

The program includes a tour of the homes of artists and the residents of Bukchon and lessons in traditional knot-working, dyeing, calligraphy, papermaking, bamboo crafting, and preparing simple banquet dishes. Cultural shows in the evenings include pansori, a traditional recited tale, and a recital on the daegeum, or Korean clarinet ?all with a Korean dinner.

The next day will be a traditional breakfast with a tea-drinking ceremony, and a walking tour of Bukchon or one of the palaces.

The area was traditionally the dwelling place of high-ranking officials and nobility. The name Bukchon, or North Village, came from being north of the Cheonggyecheon River. Its counterpart was Namchon, or South Village, at the foot of Mount Namsan.

For more information, call 02-333-3910, and ask for Ju Deok-han with Space Cultural Center.

by Joe Yong-hee

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