Korea’s past lays out a welcome mat

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Korea’s past lays out a welcome mat

On the Web site of Andong, North Gyeongsang province, there is a mascot of a smiling boy clad in the traditional outfit of a yangban, or nobleman. The boy represents the historically scholarly atmosphere of Andong, which was home to several large Confucian academies during the Joseon Dynasty. But the modern caricature of this traditional icon reflects the accommodating image the city is now eager to promote.
On another Web site, that of the local Chirye Artist’s Colony, there is an introduction in English about its tour packages ― a rare sign in a city that hasn’t always been particularly welcoming to outsiders.
Signs of openness to foreigners here are being viewed by Koreans as a noteworthy phenomenon, for Andong is one of the few cities in Korea where age-old customs dating to the Joseon era have been retained across many aspects of locals’ lives, including food, housing and dress.
Long regarded as the center of Korean Confucian culture and tradition, Andong is home to nearly a third of the country’s cultural architectural assets. But among foreign tourists, at least, a growing trend involves signing up for a jonggajip stay, a travel package in which visitors get to stay overnight at a traditional house run by descendants of local aristocrats in the area. Like the increasingly popular temple stays or farm stays, jonggajip stays offer a taste of the traditional Korean lifestyle through hands-on activities.
At Suaedang, one of the accommodations in Andong to offer this program, guests can chop wood to make their own fire in a traditional stove, then top off the experience by roasting some sweet potatoes between the flames.
Children can try traditional games in the backyard, like jumping on a standing seesaw in the backyard. During the summer, guests can enjoy a campfire on the grounds, rekindling a nostalgic aura of times gone by. And most evenings at 8, the female hostess leads classes in papermaking.
Small things at Suaedang make the place appealing, from pillow covers dyed in natural pigments of persimmon to homemade side dishes for dinner, such as peanuts boiled in soy sauce, marinated sesame leaves and grilled mackerel, an Andong specialty.
The former residence of Yu Jin-geol, a renowned politician from the North, Suaedang was recently designated a cultural asset by provincial authorities. In 2001, Yu’s grandson, Hyo-jin, turned the old hanok into a themed accommodation with 11 rooms, charging 30,000 won ($26) to 80,000 won per night. Nowadays, an average of 4,000 guests stay overnight at Suaedang each year.
Nong-am Jongtaek, a house that once belonged to the literary scholar Lee Hyeon-bo, or Nong-am (1467-1555), who settled in Andong to turn his back on power and wealth, is another destination popular among people in search of a bit of history to go with their lodging.
A distinctive feature of hanok in Andong is that they mesh with their surroundings. Open a sliding door from a bedroom, and chances are good you will find a pleasant view of a brook.
Nongam Jongtaek fits this description to a T. Nongam consists of four large rooms, which can accommodate up to eight people. Additionally, there are three smaller rooms, while two of the farmhouses nearby are available to take up the guest overflow.
One of the houses here was moved from a nearby neighborhood and recently restored. Geungudang, a one-room structure built in the late 14th century, boasts an impressive view of a mountain and river from its porch. If there’s a drawback here, it’s the ondol floor, which has a less-than-luxurious vinyl covering. But the merits far outweigh the demerits at Nongam.
Depending on the size, rooms here cost anywhere from 40,000 won to 100,000 won. The house, now run by Lee Hyeon-bo’s 17th-generation descendant, Lee Seong-won, presents the breathtaking scene of a hanok surrounded by forested mountains and the Nakdong River. This place is particularly known for providing guests with some experiences that money cannot buy: Mr. Lee entertains visitors with interesting stories on ancient Korean literature and Confucian etiquette.
The place opened to the public last May. In little over a year, about 3,000 guests have passed through its doors.
“I felt guilty at first about opening up the residence of my ancestor,” Mr. Lee said. “But I am also proud that I can promote Korean traditions this way.”
One of the first jonggajip houses in Andong to open to non-residents is Chirye Artist’s Colony. At first glance, this hanok is reminiscent of a Buddhist temple.
The area is truly quiet, surrounded by pine trees and bamboo groves. Belying the building’s stained surfaces, the beautiful backyard garden makes it rather obvious that this must have once been the province of an aristocrat.
Chirye boasts an especially scenic vista, thanks to its proximity to Imha lake. Visitors to Chirye often spend the day relaxing at the lake, fishing and taking long naps under a tree. Lying in bed at night, you can hear all manner of insects creating an orchestra of exotic sounds. Chirye, opened by Kim Won-gil, a former professor, and his wife in 1988, began as a quiet vacation spot for artists and writers.
Mr. Kim recalls that early on, residents of the neighborhood were unhappy with his plans. This was attributed to the long-held taboo against too many outsiders frequenting the village. So instead of opening his hanok to the general public as tourist lodging, Mr. Kim decided to let his rooms out as studies, mostly for writers.
A friend and writer in the United States supported Mr. Kim’s idea, he said, by noting that similar lodgings, such as dairy farms turned into artists’ villages, had sprouted up across the American countryside.
In the beginning, Chirye catered mostly to writers, as originally intended. Literary celebrities like Lee Mun-yeol, Gu Sang and Han Su-san visited his home, staying on for five days to two weeks to finish books.
But as news of the setup spread by word of mouth, the home evolved into a cultural mecca for the general public. His house served only 200 guests a year when it opened in 1988, but last year the number of lodgers mushroomed to 3,300. A standard room costs 80,000 won (plus 5,000 won for each additional person) and can accommodate up to four. But rooms are frequently full, and it’s difficult to get one without booking in advance.


The fine print....

Getting to Suaedang without a car isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Take a train to Andong from Cheongnyangni Station. At Andong Station, walk about five minutes (or take a taxi) to the city bus terminal, where you should board a bus for Yeongdeok, in the direction of Juwangsan. Get off at Im-dong, and walk about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). You can also take a bus from the East Seoul Bus Terminal.
More information on Suaedang can be obtained by calling (054) 822-6661.
Chirye Artist’s Colony (054-822-2590) allows online booking at www. chirye.com. Traditional Korean meals are served at the adjoining restaurant for 5,000 won to 25,000 won. Korean classical music and dance performances are offered from time to time; check with organizers for more information. There is no public transportation from downtown Andong to Chirye; a taxi can be hired for the hourlong drive for 20,000 to 30,000 won.
It’s about 40 minutes from downtown Andong to Nongam Jongtaek (054-843-1202). Try coming early in the day if you are not using public transit. Navigating the roads in the area can get tricky after dark.
Also in Andong, don’t forget to sample the renowned jjimdak, a large platter of marinated chicken pieces with noodles and vegetables, broiled in soy sauce. There are about 20 eateries specializing in jjimdak in the city. Jongson Andong Jjimdak (054-855-9457) is recommended, with a platter for four at 18,000 won.


by Park Soo-mee, Hong Gwon-sam
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