Hop on the subway to a trip back in timeHowever long an expat stays in Korea ― for a week, or for years ― he or she will no doubt attempt to “experience” Korean culture. At the least, this will probably involve eating at a galbi house, drinking soju and mingling with Korean friends. But wandering among the Western-style high-rises and office buildings of modern Korea, a foreigner might wonder what life here was like in the old days.
For that foreigner, it’s probably time to visit Bukchon, which is a Hanok Preservation District (hanok is the word for the old-style Korean houses with the tiled, sloped roofs), and former residence to many yangban, or nobility. Here, a visitor can take part in programs and classes dealing with traditional Korean culture, while surrounded by the city’s largest concentration of hanok. It’s a chance to experience Korean culture hands-on.
Last year, the Bukchon Cultural Center held five classes; this year 44 are being offered, including “Making Traditional Drinks,” “Making Korean Antique Furniture” and “Natural Dye Art.” Twenty-six cultural organizations are participating; most instructors are specialists in traditional culture, and some are artisans who’ve been honored by being designated “intangible cultural properties” by the government.
Most of the Bukchon classes are intended for Koreans, but two, offered by the Institute for International Buddhist Cultural Development, are given in English, and are offered to both Koreans and foreigners. They are “Making Traditional Lanterns,” which meets Thursdays, and “Drawing Cosmic Design and Buddhist Painting,” which meets Fridays. Class times are 2 to 5 p.m. for each course. The fee is 70,000 won ($61), excluding the cost of materials.
The three-month courses begin Thursday, but students can join one in progress if there is room. Classes are limited to 20; for information, call (02) 722-2206 or (011) 9062-02659, and ask for Kim Yun-hee.
Visitors who want to stay a bit longer can check into one of the hanok in the neighborhood that have been converted to guesthouses. Some have their own cultural programs. Choose from Seoul House at (02) 745-0057, Bukchon at (02) 743-8530, Yoo’s Family at (02) 3673-0323 and Woorijip at (02) 744-0536. Adding a dash of modernity, Seoul House boasts a Web site, www.seoul110.com, where would-be visitors can inspect the rooms and surroundings before checking in.
In keeping with the traditional architecture, guests sleep on a heated floor, called an ondol, in small rooms built around a garden courtyard. But while the structure is about a century old, the facilities are modern. The cost for one night is 20,000 to 30,000 won per person.
To get to the Bukchon Cultural Center and the guesthouses, take subway line No. 3 to Anguk Station, exit 3, and walk 250 meters toward Chung-ang High School. The center is located on the left. Staff speak some English and Japanese.
by Chung Yong-baek, Song Hee-jung