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Heartwarming Scenes from the Past

Posted December. 02, 2004 22:54,   


This time of year, at the threshold of winter, the farming villages of old were full of bustle and charm as each household lay down new straw for the roof of their thatched dwellings. Straw roofs, with their low thermal conductivity, made the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. On top of this simple roof, large, round gourds would ripen slowly like waxing full moons, and chili peppers would burn redder with the deepening sun. It was a familiar and heartwarming scene.

If you visit the Korean Folk Village around this time of year, you can relive the days when straw-roofed houses used to line the streets: a seasonal event that lets you experience the old custom of replacing straw roofs for the winter is bringing the old ways to life once more. At the Korean Folk Village, you can try your hand at such novel tasks as thatching straw, turning roof ridges, and catching maggots in the old roof after it has been stripped off.

Winter Preparations at the Korean Folk Village—

“Hey there! If you’re not busy tomorrow evening, come over to my house and thatch some straw!”

“Are you starting on that already?”

“Have an early dinner before you come. I’ll have a snack ready for us.”

Decades ago, such a conversation took place frequently in early winter. After the fall harvest, the residents of agricultural villages would embark on their preparations for the long winter. They would thatch straw for a new roof, and paste new paper on the doors. A thatch, or “i-eong” in Korean, was a bundle of straw woven together to cover the entire roof. Depending on the region, it was also known as “yeong-ae” or “nalgae.”

Papering the doors is quick work, but thatching the roof is a tricky job. So all the men in the village would come together to bind the straw. While they worked away in the front yard, the family of the house for which the roof was being woven would bring out noodle soup or rice wine and hot broth for them. When the winter preparations were over, the thatched cottage with its golden roof would be warm and comfortable enough to withstand any winter storm.

Thatching Straw and Making Scarecrows—

The Korean Folk Village has over 270 straw-roofed houses among its wealth of traditional dwellings, including various working-class and upper-class homes, government offices, a school, an apothecary’s shop, and a shrine. The thatching of new roofs, which began in mid-November, will continue into late December, and is open to anyone who wants to participate.

Once you step into the village, you see straw spread out on the ground in every yard, and old men busily plying their hands. This is where the ongoing special event is taking place.

Visitors sit close together on the sheaves of straw, trying to imitate the actions of the elderly demonstrator as he grips and weaves the straw. Although the chilly weather has them blowing warm breath on their hands, the demonstrator’s seasoned storytelling is enough to make them oblivious to the cold. The event is especially popular among young mothers, who bring their children along for a chance to see and touch thatched roofs and straw for the first time in their lives. To the side of the roof weavers, some even gather to make scarecrows with the straw.

When you’re thatching a roof, it’s important to spread the straw out evenly. If the thatch is uneven in thickness, the shape of the roof won’t be smooth and the thin parts will eventually rot. One layer of thatching is about 5cm thick. In order to cover an average-sized roof, you need to set down about 70 overlapping layers.

When the entire roof has been covered, the middle section of the rooftop is finished off with a row of ridges, known as “yongmareum.” The ridges, formed by binding the straw in a triangular shape, allow rainwater to run off easily. In one of the thatched cottages in the Korean Folk Village, you can take part in catching maggots off an old roof that has been removed. The maggots, which are the larvae of cicadas, wriggle and squirm among the rotted sheaves of the discarded roof. Their translucent white bodies are a little repulsive at first, but the children peer at them in fascination. Maggot catching is popular even among the adults, as the little creatures are supposed to be good for health. You can take home as many as you can catch.

After you’ve been working at thatching and maggot hunting for a while, a healthy hunger starts to set in. The marketplace, which offers hot rice and soup, noodles, and traditional pancakes, is as cheery as any real rural market. It’s also fun to see the wanted posters, featuring the portrait of a savage-looking, spotty-faced man sought for the heavy crime of harassing and robbing women, pasted on the clay wall by the marketplace.

There are things to see in every corner of the Korean Folk Village. One of the attractions is a brassware shop run by twin brothers for the past 50 years. The brothers come from Anseong, a region famous for its excellent brassware. It’s amazing to look on as their skilled hands turn a finger-sized lump of brass into a gleaming spoon and chopsticks.

A Family Park Out of a Brightly-Colored Fairytale—

At the historical drama theater, you can watch scenes from famous historical dramas that were filmed at the Folk Village and see the costumes and props that were used at the time. You can also experience what it was like to be in an abandoned house or a prison. At the village square, you can play traditional games like “neoldduigi” (hopping seesaw-fashion on a long plank) and “julneomggi” (skipping rope). Tightrope walking demonstrations, old-fashioned magic shows, and a sculpture park exhibiting 15 pieces by artists from nine different countries are also must-sees.

One final and completely unexpected treat at the Korean Folk Village is the Family Park. The park, which stands on some 30,000 pyongs of land, recalls a landscape from some childhood fairytale. The beautiful buildings are adorned with bright primary colors. An adorable fountain spouts wide streams of water like something out of a painting. There’s even a splendid flower garden. It’s a charming place where time flies as you saunter along the paths.

The Korean Folk Village. 031-288-0000