A Jaunt to Jeonju

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

I'd been through Jeonju (전주) several times in transit, but had yet to stop and actually see Jeonju's biggest attraction. So this weekend a friend and I took a quick day trip down to Jeonju to visit the Hanok Village (전주한옥마을).

Hanok is a style of Korean house, and the Hanok village was a section of town that retained the style of traditional Korean architecture. Although the name translates as village, the area was well within the bounds of the city so it was just another section of Jeonju, mixing into the modern buildings along the edges. Just about any bus from the stop across the way from Jeonju station could take us there, which actually made deciding what bus to take harder, because I didn't have a comprehensive list. My friend just hopped on a bus and asked the driver for help. He kindly alerted us when we were at the closest stop in his route to the hanok area so we only had a to walk a couple of blocks south to get to the Pungnam-mun (풍남문) gate on the edge of the district.

With an open plaza across from the gate, it made a good focus point for the area. When we arrived, a stage was being setup and many young women and a few boys were walking around in hanbok (traditional Korean clothes). It turned out, we had arrived in Jeonju on "Hanbok Day". I'm still not entirely sure all that involved, but it meant there were plenty of people walking around Hanok village in hanbok, adding nicely to the atmosphere. We were offered the chance to rent hanbok, but declined as the ladies hanbok is very non-flattering for people with "western" body shapes. Basically you just end-up looking like a small mountain shuffling around. Also, the clothes looked too warm for the day.

In addition to Hanbok day, or maybe because of it, there was a large group of Korean Girl Scouts in the area. About half of them were in uniforms and the other half in hanbok. For some reason, they kept handing my friend and me cards that said "End violence against girls." There had been a recent abduction/attack on a seven year old girl in the province, so I assume that's what it was about. On the other hand, despite laws against it corporal punishment was still accepted in Korea, at least it was in the countryside where I lived. So I suppose it could also have been a campaign to end corporal punishment.

The weird thing about the cards was that they were all in English. I like to think they had a bunch of Korean language cards too, since the girl's attacker was Korean. Also it was a bit odd that they kept giving them to my friend and I since we don't look the least bit threatening. Perhaps they just had a bunch of English cards to get rid of and we were the only English-looking people in the area. We passed the extras out to our friends when we got home.

In addition to Hanbok Day improving the ambiance, the weather was perfect, so today was an fantastic time to visit the area. We spent most of our trip just strolling along the streets. Although the buildings were in the traditional style, almost all of them had been extensively renovated and turned into tea houses, restaurants, small museums and gift shops. It was less like strolling through the Korea of the past and more like an extremely pleasant walk through a very lovely area. I saw one building that had been gutted for renovation. They retained the roof and the structural beams, but everything else had been removed for replacement.

There was a lot of activity in Jeonju today. It was hard to stay out of everyone's way, and at one point, my friend accidentally did the awesomest video-bomb e-ver. There was a camera crew setup filming a guy in a hanbok talking about something. We were heading towards them so I changed my angle a bit to walk around. My friend, however, didn't notice, at least not at first. When she finally noticed, she froze and fell into a slight crouching position with her arms out wide, hands open. Then she quickly looked both directions before running out of the frame. It was perfect. It looked just like in a cartoon. It had to have made Korea's Funniest Home Videos. Maybe someday my Korean will be good enough for me to find the resulting clip on the internet.

I'm not sure if it was Hanbok Day related, but there were a few places setup throughout the neighborhood were you could play traditional Korean games. In addition to the arrow tossing and hoop with stick games I'd seen before, there was a Korean court game which looked basically like hacky sack (jegichagi), although it seemed like you were only allowed to bounce the "ball" with your instep.

There was also a game that resembled jacks, at least I think it resembled jacks as I haven't actually played jacks before. Basically, there were five small game pieces that you dropped onto the table. Next, you picked up one of the pieces and threw it in the air. While it was in the air, you then had to scoop up one of the other pieces and catch the first piece out of the air before it hit the ground. Round two was two pieces, then three, then four. For the final round, you put all of the pieces on the back of your hand then threw them up to catch them all out of the air. The young woman demonstrating made it look really easy, but I don't think I ever even managed to pick up one piece. They slipped me a set to take home, though, so I'll plenty of opportunity to practice.

Anyway, the day was uneventful, but it was a really pleasant, relaxing day. If I lived closer to Jeonju, I could see myself making the excursion on a semi-regular basis. Anytime the weather was nice, and I just wanted to take things slow and relax.

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