Farmstays offer a taste of rural Korean lifestyle
Although he could not speak a word of English, communication was no problem for the village leader who was excited to see so many foreigners visiting his home at one time.
“Jumok! (Attention!),” he cried, throwing his head back into the air.
The voice of Lee Su-in, the head of Gyodong village, Pocheon, Gyeonggi province, was so loud it startled even several Koreans accompanying a large group of foreign visitors on a two-day farm stay in the town where only 32 families live, farming rice and mushrooms.
Mr. Lee’s shout got the attention he wanted. Seeing the wide-eyed visitors staring at him, he grinned and gave an exaggerated laugh before greeting the visitors with a softer, more traditional welcome: “Bangapseumnida (Nice to meet you),” he said in a jolly voice.
The group of 28 foreign visitors seemed to relax now and listened as a translator interpreted Mr. Lee’s introduction to rural Korea.
The town was originally named as a habitat for salamanders, Mr. Lee explained through the translator, although its name has changed several times since. The town, near the Hantan River, is famous for its A-grade water quality and known as a nice place to enjoy rafting and camping, he added.
Most of the visitors listened intently, occasionally nodding, although some were more interested in taking photographs of ducks paddling lazily across a pond behind Mr. Lee.
“The event has been planned to give foreigners the chance to experience the life down on Korean farms,” said Lee Gang-gil, organizer of the event for the Korea Tourism Organization.
The experience started with a “farm-style lunch” ― plenty of vegetables, red pepper paste in which to dip them and a round of makgulli, or rice wine.
“It tastes similar to kwas,” said Iirina Pundaleva, a Russian, sipping from an earthen bowl filled with the milky fluid. She said the taste was similar to a Russian drink made from wheat.
Ms. Pundaleva said she applied for the farmstay program with her husband and two of her colleagues at Samsung Electronics.
“We are very excited to be here,” she said.
“I didn’t know Koreans ate the same things that the Chinese do,” said Shi Zhenguo from Shanxi, China, scooping a spoonful of soup into his mouth. Mr. Shi is currently a student of tourism at Hansei University in Gyeonggi province.
“I am really interested in Korean tourism, and I thought this farmstay program would give me a broader idea of how a rural part of the country could also make money,” he said.
Mr. Lee (the village head, not the KTO organizer) seemed disappointed that not many foreigners were sampling the gochujang, or chili pepper paste. He whispered something to the translator and organizers, who started urging: “Try the red pepper paste. It goes really well with the mushrooms.”
“It also brings you good luck,” the translator added.
Mr. Lee seemed satisfied and smiled as a few foreign visitors reluctantly dipped their chopsticks into the fiery red paste.
“It was our mushrooms you just had for lunch,” a woman with a red head scarf told the onlookers.
The visitors took turns going inside the dark mushroom house, a cool, dry place where agaric mushrooms were growing by the thousands. Each had the chance to pick a mushroom, although the somewhat nervous farmer hovered close by.
“Remember that once you touch them, you must pick them,” he said, explaining that the growing mushrooms should never be disturbed.
But he seemed relieved as his visitors did a competent job for their first try by grabbing only one mushroom at a time.
Anna Brown from Australia, an exchange student at Kukmin University, said she was amazed at the size of Korean farms.
“In Australia, a town with a thousand people is considered small,” she said. Hearing that Gyodong village had only about 100 residents, she opened her eyes wide.
“That is so small!” she said.
“A lot of farmers are attracted to the idea of changing their hometown into a leisure and recreational facility because that’s what makes money these days,” Mr. Lee responded. “But I still believe [Gyodong] should maintain its character as a farming area.”
“So, as a counter plan, we applied to become part of the farmstay program,” he continued.
Gyodong village was the first of more than 40 farmstay programs nationwide to be sponsored by the Agriculture Ministry.
To achieve that, the village built new restrooms and accommodations for visitors and developed farm classes for specific age groups. For younger visitors, they teach how to braid straw ropes to use for jump rope or a tug-of-war, while the older visitors learn to make jipsin, or straw sandals. At night, the guests enjoy an outdoor bulgogi barbeque with music from a traditional Korean percussion band.
“I never got to see the provincial part of Korea,” said Ravi Sarkar, 44, from India.
Mr. Sarkar said he had been in Korea for a year but had never traveled outside of Seoul, where he works for Citygroup. “I am going to tell my [foreign] colleagues to come down here next time if they want to experience a different world from Seoul.”
Holding up his camera, he trotted back to take pictures of a group of Korean children playing hopscotch, and housewives chasing ducks out of their yards.
by Lee Min-a
The next Korean farmstay program will be held from May 13 to 14 in the village of Hapcheon in Seocheon, South Chungcheong province. The village is known for its mudflats and fresh seafood.
From May 20 to 21, another farmstay is being offered at Sansok Hosu (Mountain Lake) village in Hwacheon, Gangwon province. The town is known for its beautiful scenic views. Visitors will have the chance to make rice cakes and Korean noodles. Each farmstay can cater to 30 guests.
The farmstays cost 20,000 won ($21) per person, including transportation from Seoul, accommodation and food.
Each group is accompanied by an English-speaking tour guide.
To apply to join a farmstay, email email@example.com.
For more information, contact: 02-729-9497.