[personal profile] niori_1709
I will fully admit that I spent most of last month's travel guide gushing about how much I absolutely loved the Korean Mask Dance. The amount of detail I decided to include and describe really speaks for itself. While I was so busy going on and on about the dance, I barely even mentioned the area where this dance took place, which is famous all on it's own. I mentioned Hahoe Village a few times, but it was more of a passing thing. This month, I'm correcting that oversight by dedicating my travel guide to the village itself (and technically some small parts that aren't actually in the village proper but still count). So let's get this party started.

Hahoe Village is a folk village, this one a bit different than the others I've covered based on the architecture. There are well over a hundred buildings here, and most of them are straw roofed houses. While there are quite a number of traditional hanok buildings (mostly those that the upper classes would have lived in), most of what you see is a much more down-to-Earth looking homes. Down to Earth is the best way to describe these houses, because they actually look like something normal people would live in (fun fact, people do live in these places. It's a fully functioning village. People live here, and it's pretty surreal to see satellite dishes on top of straw roofs). They're just pretty simple looking stone buildings, big enough to have two or three rooms (many of which the owners rent out for the tourists who want to stay in the village. I stayed in one of these rooms, which is just a big open space with room for four and empty besides a closet and TV. There's no beds, and instead you sleep on the floor. This sounds uncomfortable, but it's actually really great. It can be a tad uncomfortable at first, but once the ondol heating (heat coming out of pipes in the floor) turns out, it seems to be a little slice of heaven). This isn't just a museum place for the tourists, but a living, breathing village where people spend their days and nights living and working. While I can hardly say it feels like you're back in time (again, satellite dishes), it does actually feel like you're in a real place, not just a fake one made for your enjoyment.

The reason that this village is so famous (besides the mask dance), is that it was the birth place of some pretty important Confucian scholars and politicians. Those important people came from the Ryu family. The Ryu family has lived in the village for 600 years (and there are still some descendants living there today) . The two famous ones were a Confucian scholar and a Prime Minister during the 1592 Japanese invasion. Like I mentioned last month, Confucianism has a long history here, and that's seen the best in the fact that there are two seowon academies (the name for Confucian schools). Neither are in the village proper, but out side it (one just across the river and up about ten minutes, the other about an hour walk/fifteen minute ride down the river). The smaller of the two academies is located across the Nakdong river, a fairly wide and surprisingly deep river that cuts the village off from the small Mt. Hwa. You need to take a ferry across, though the trip only takes under five minutes. If I had to guess, it's more about the current than anything else- it's rather strong for a river of that size. Once on the other side, you climb up a fairly easy path until you come to the Okyeon Pavilion. It's only a small area, a live-in get away that took over a decade to actually finish because of a lack of funds. It's a nice little area, filled with hanok buildings. There's also some pretty expensive video recording stuff set up into the area, which makes me believe that one of the Korean historical dramas was/is filmed there. In order to get to the seowon, you need to go through the back gate of the pavilion and continue walking up the hill. As I already said, Seowons are Confucian schools/academies, but they're not really what we think of when we hear 'school'. Instead of one big building full of many rooms, there are just a handful of hanok buildings. There are one or two small ones, but two main ones, and both of those function as school rooms. In these schools, potential scholars would sit on mats on the open floor. They would have little individual table/desks to do their work on. One room had four walls and a closing door. That had the aforementioned heating flooring. The other room wasn't really a room. It was basically a raised platform with a roof. This was for the warmer days. This place was pretty interesting, but admittedly it wasn't all that of a spectacular place. Interesting, but not a must see.

About a fifteen minute car (terrifying, since you're driving up narrow, twisty roads on the edge of a cliff. ride (or hour walk, if you're feeling like being either ambitious or healthy) is Byeongsan Seowon, a large Confucian academy, first built as a shrine to Ryu Seongryong, and named by the King. Where the last seowon was small, this one is huge. Instead of just a few buildings, there are half a dozen. The school rooms are probably a quarter bigger than the ones at the other school. It's not only bigger, but it's much more aesthetically please. There are beautiful gardens all around it, with a spectacular view of the mountains when looking out. There are brightly coloured flowers and ivy creepy up all the stonework walls. I was lucky enough to see this place over two years, and in two different ways. The first year it rained, though we had a break in the rain while looking around the area. It left everything glittering in its wetness. The flowers seemed to shine, and the ivy that crept up the walls seemed that much brighter. It left a fog clinging to the mountain tops in front of the school, and a slight mist around the school itself. It gave it a more mysterious feel, which was pretty interesting and almost worth being soaked. The second year it was bright and sunny, which made everything seem that much brighter. It wasn't mysterious anymore, but easier to imagine that this was, in fact, a school. Not one that we'd be used to, and certainly one far more serious, but it was much easier to imagine students going about their day while sitting under the warm sun. If you had to pick one seowon to see, I'd go with Byeongsan. And on a side note of 'things you'd never think you'd see', there is a tree just near the entrance to the school. It's a normal tree, albeit a pretty bushy one. Nothing special...except once you read the plaque at its base. This is a tree planted when President Bush (sr) and his wife Barbara when they visited. Again, a pretty 'wait, what?' moment, mostly because I find it kind of mind blowing that a former American president and First Lady picked this as a place to visit when they came to Korea this one time. Not that Byeongsan Seowon wasn't really cool, but it just doesn't land on the 'Must See Korea' list either.

While the academies are both very interesting and worth checking out, it's really the village proper that I suggest spending the most time. I've already talked about the straw roofed houses, and I really reccomend getting a closer look at them. Their construction looks really cool up close, especially when you have so many of them grouped together. These buildings are the most numerous, because that's where the most common people would have lived. There are always more common folk around than the upper class, for the all upper class has power over everything. None of the straw roofed buildings are designated as any sort of historical material/area on an individual level. The hanok buildings, which housed the aristocrats, are another story. While not all those buildings are considered historically important, quite a few of them are. Remember how I mentioned the Ryu family came from here? Surprising no one, most of the buildings considered historical treasures are the ones that belonged to that family. It's actually really interesting, these buildings. I've talked about a number of palaces and how different buildings around the complex basically function as their own rooms. It's a house that's not connected. I didn't, however, realize that they worked not only outside royal palaces, but apparently in villages as well. All of the hanok buildings are just pieces of the Ryu family home. They're different residences for the various family members. The biggest residence, Yangjin (made up of about five buildings), for example, is the great house set aside for the patriarch and his eldest son. The second largest residence, Chunghyo (about four buildings) was for the eldest sons. Granted, these designations may have changed over time, but they generally remained similar in type. One part of the family got one residence, which was then used like a normal hanok house (separate rooms for men and women, along with a common area where they could all mingle).

Besides the buildings, there is another thing to see in the village. That is a tree. I know, I know. Trees are not exactly a strange thing to come across. This tree, however, is unique for what it's supposed contain. In the middle of the village, there's a 600 year old tree. It's a wide tree, with multiple trunks coming out of one root system. They all lean outwards, leaving the centre open, almost like something stood there and pushed them outwards to make room for themselves. In regards to that last one, it might not be so odd. According to local legend, this zelkova tree is the home to the local goddess. The goddess Samsin, in charge of pregnancy, child-birth, and fostering, is said to inhabit the tree. You can tell that this is a lovingly taken care of tree, and one people appeal to for good fortune and probably a happy, healthy family. There's one last sight to see in the village, and it's sadly not one that I was able to see, on account of the weather. As I said, it poured like crazy my first year, when these fireworks were happening. That's right, the last thing was fireworks, but not in the way you're thinking. These fireworks look so much cooler. During the fall(ish) months, it was apparently a creative season for scholars and Yangban citizens alike. They would take a boat to the middle of the lake, have a few drinks, and come up with some poetry. There were ropes that went from the top of the cliff (which you can see an amazing view of the whole village from all there) down to the beach and tied in place. There was a whole lot of fire going around, giving it a lovely atmosphere while writing poetry for a competition. If one of them managed to compose their poem before their time was up, a shout went up. With the shout, the people on top of the cliff lit the ropes on fire. They were covered with dry pine needles, which caught fire instantly and burned brightly. Fire traveled down the rope, all the way to the end, and the pine needles came loose, making it look like it was literally raining fire. The pictures I've seen looked spectacular, and I really wish they'd been able to do it the years I was there.

So there you have it. The back drop to the Mask Dance Festival I love so much. Really though, there's more to the village than just the festival. Obviously, if you're planning to visit, I highly recommend scheduling it when Mask Dance Festival is happening. That said, if you're not able to do that, I still say you should check out the Hahoe Village. It's an interesting place all on it's own, and has some really cool architecture for you to check out while you're there. It's a folk village that feels a little more down-to-earth, and there's something quaint about that.

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