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White Cotton Blossoms All Around

Posted October. 15, 2004 01:03,   


The high autumn sky seems to be getting distant, and leaves start to dance along with the wind on the ground. This fall scenery suddenly makes my mind wander restlessly. If you want to make a trip before the fall ends, what about visiting a cotton village? You can pick white cotton that covers each corner of the town in full bloom and have hands-on experience making cotton goods and bringing them home. This trip to a cotton village will help you have warm memories of autumn.

The Cotton Village Looks Snow-Covered

Menagol, a cotton town located in Wonju, Gangwon province, has beautiful scenery. Under the blue autumn sky, cotton blooms cover the town like winter snow. It already feels chilly, but you would feel warm-hearted looking at the soft cotton blooms covering the whole town. “Mena” is a dialect word for “cotton” in the west region of the Taebaek Mountains. In other words, Menagol means, “cotton town.”

If you drive five minutes further from Moonmak Nadeulmok on Yeongdong Highway, you get to Geondeung 3-ri. Continue driving into the town and you will see small Menagol sitting in between a reservoir and Mt. Myeongbong (598 meters) that encircles the village. There is a 600 year-old zelkova tree at the center of the town, and people in the town get together around the tree as if it were a town hall spot. The highway is located very close by, but the village is as quiet and cozy as if it were in the backcountry.

The village reminds me of an old pop song called “Cotton Field” with the lyrics: “It was a cotton field where we first met. And, it was the cotton field where we first made love.” Humming the song walking along the cotton field, beautiful memories like those lyrics would come to me.

Cotton was first introduced to Korea in 1363 when King Gongmin of Goryeo reigned. Moon Ik-jeom, who traveled to Won (the ruling dynasty of China at the time), secretly carried cotton seeds in his brush cap when he returned, introducing cotton to Korea for the first time. With cotton production, a revolution occurred in peoples’ clothing and housing styles. The common people, who struggled to fight against winter’s cold with garb made of hemp cloth and arrowroot vines could survive with ease thanks to cotton quilted clothes and blankets. Also, cotton clothes helped people to live in better sanitary conditions.

Experience Menagol Cotton on October 22-

However, it is incredibly difficult to find cotton fields these days. Cotton is complicated kind of plant, which needs special care an attention unlike its easy and cozy texture. Cotton croppers should not use agricultural chemicals, and most of the work, from spreading seeds to picking blooms, needs manual labor.

However, Menagol, which has grown cotton for a long time, looks like a cotton park; cotton plants are everywhere, from the village entrance area to unused land. The total cotton field area reaches around 3,000 pyeong. In 2000, the village was selected as a traditional theme town for cotton, and visitors can enter the fields and observe cotton blooms in the full white splendor.

Seeding season for cotton begins in April, and they start to bloom in late July. The shape of cotton flowers is similar to the Korean national flower, mugungwha (the Rose of Sharon). In late September in cotton flower weather, cotton bolls called “Darea,” which are about the size of an apricot, begin to grow. When Darea is fully grown, the white cotton breaks the boll shell and blossoms.

Now is the peak time for cotton blooms. On October 22, the second hands-on experience event for visitors, which takes them through the cotton production process from picking to finished cotton products, will be held for the second time since it was first held this October 14. Participants can pick cotton blooms around the village and extract seeds using a traditional machine called “Ssiae.” And, they can fluff cotton and make their own cotton cushions and rough blankets.

When you pick cotton blooms, the size of a child’s palm, you should slightly pull one edge of the bloom to unravel the entangled cotton. It is easy to get it more tangled if you pull it out at once. As I stroll the cotton fields picking blooms, my mind feels lighter like the light cotton in my hands.

Cotton Cushion by Myself-

It is another fun thing to use the gin, a portable sewing machine-like machine, to remove seeds from cotton. After inserting freshly dried cotton between two wood bars, you revolve the handle of the gin and small and even cute finger nail-sized cotton seeds fall to the ground. Revolving the gin may strain your shoulder after a short while, but you probably won’t stop turning the handle because of how much fun the dropping seeds are.

It is amazing to see seedless cotton turn into a wad in a wadding machine. Your heart gets warm when you make a cushion with fresh hot cotton wads.

You can enjoy light hiking on hiking trails on Mt. Myongbong behind the village, where you can experience cotton processing by hand. Myongbong is a small mountain with nothing spectacular about it. The U-shaped pine hill branching from Mena Valley still hides incomparable beauty. It takes about two hours and 30 minutes to climb up to the top of the hill. In the front of the village there is Geondeung reservoir, which famous for big carp fishing. The cotton trip also may include fishing itineraries if travelers are so inclined. For more information, call 033-734-7935 Menagol neighborhood association.