folk (adjective \fok\) –
1. originating or traditional with the common people of a country or region and typically reflecting their lifestyle
2. of or relating to the common people or to the study of the common people
This week has held without a doubt the most traditional Korean experiences of my visit all thanks to Jen who insisted on diving headfirst into Asian life and become the adopted child of the culture. She dragged me along, kicking and screaming (after almost 11 months, I’m ready for baseball, hot dogs, and flipping the bird to passing drivers who cut me off down the highway).
Sunday began our journey to the town of Andong, located north (about an hour) from Daegu. Just outside the main town is the tiny, traditional Korean folk village called Hahoe. The village population of 125 people live in modest and very rural accommodations and while they’ve adapted to certain modern day conveniences (air conditioning, HD satellite television, and automobiles), they live much like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago (working in fields, straw thatched roofs, and far from the hustle and bustle of Korean metropolises).
If you plan to visit Korea or any Asian countries, I highly recommend paying a short visit to any traditional folk villages as they provide a rare glimpse into the past, culture, and traditions of this very honorable and respectful people. Hahoe is no different. One thing I’d be remiss to mention however, is that if you’re looking at the map the visitors desk hands out, don’t try to walk the entire thing as it’s NOT DRAWN TO SCALE!!! Repeat… the map is NOT drawn to scale!
Between 10am and 3pm, we probably walked and hiked between six and eight kilometers – up a mountain and then around it the long way, traipsing down the highways in the May afternoon heat. Needless to say, sunburn was a given. Also, Koreans aren’t familiar with the American sign of sticking your thumb out for a ride. Apparently, “Please For the Love of God and All Things Holy, Pick Us Up and Give Us A Ride!!!” doesn’t translate.
The village was founded by the Pungsan Ryu family and many, if not all, of the current residents are members of the same family. Made famous worldwide by Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1999 (she asked to be taken to the ‘most Korean’ place in the country), the quaint town is typically very serene and void of the awful smells that engulf most Korean cities. It’s a very relaxing and stress free place to visit (if you avoid the hiking).
Personally, I couldn’t imagine living in a tourist attraction. Every time the residents of Hahoe left their homes, they were subjected to visitors who poked, prodded, and photographed the homes, cars, roads, trees, and people themselves. I was reminded of Celebration, Florida – the town owned by Disney. I did my best to keep out of their private property, but it was difficult since their homes were actually part of the attraction.
You may remember one of my other articles that mentioned the annual maskdance festival. Andong and Hahoe are where this celebration takes place. The centerpiece of the festival is the hahoe mask – which the town was named after. Since the Goryeo Dynasty (circa 950 AD), the people in this region have used the masks in dances and dramas. Additional uses for the three major Korean masks (the other two are called sandae and talchum) include wars, burials, exorcisms, and in other arts.
One of the most interesting things about Hahoe is the 600 year old zelkova tree, called Samsindang, in the center of the village said to house the ancient spirit of the goddess Samsin who’s the goddess of birth and fertility. Fertility is a nice segue into the next section of our traditional folk experiences (I teach my students how to segue in both their speaking and their writing).
A few days later, we hunted through Daegu for a special restaurant. Well, the restaurant wasn’t anything special as it was filled with the standard gawking old men who act like they’ve never seen a white person before. However, what they served was quite unique. Jen, who’s a vegetarian 364 days out of the year, and I ate a stew made from a special type of meat.
Gaejangguk (or Boshintang, a name that translates to ‘invigorating’) is a soup filled with green leafy vegetables, onions, spicy peppers, rice, and… dog meat. Yes. I ate dog. And honestly, it was just okay; nothing special. Because of the way it’s cooked in the broth, the meat is very tender and stringy – like shredded chicken or pulled pork. It soaked in the flavors of the vegetables and if nobody told me I was eating dog, I’d have never known the difference.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… Lassie! Scooby! Benji! Snoopy! Marmaduke! No! Seriously though, folks, the dogs are a special breed raised for consumption just like any old cow, pig, or chicken. I didn’t eat any little girl’s puppy. Promise! At least I hope not…
Koreans in general are a superstitious people (they think falling asleep with a fan on will bring death) and one of their superstitions is that eating dog meat will increase your virility and give you more energy. I doubt that’s true, but eating soup on a hot day will help regulate your body temperature and cool you down (regardless of what meat is in it).
Asian and African cultures have been eating dog meat as far back as antiquity. A wall painting unearthed in a cave in the Hwagghae province depicts the ancient people eating dogs. Recently, the practice of eating dog meat has come under scrutiny and controversy. A growing number of Koreans has vocally opposed the horrific practices associated with the way the animals are raised and slaughtered.
Most people under the age of 30 would never consider eating dog even if they had tried it once or twice in the past. There is a developing perspective in Korea that dogs are pets and not food, hence a decrease in the food’s popularity. Many people feel it should continue to be available as a personal choice, not to be forced on anyone but maintained as part of their history and heritage. Truth be told, it’s not worth the debate. Dog doesn’t taste good enough to argue over. I’d have just as eagerly eaten beef, pork, or chicken soup.
Until Next Time…