Bukchon, a village that makes your heartbeat a tempo faster
What a beautiful sight! I sometimes scream when I look at Seoul’s crowding skyscrappers that hold my breath. It is an irony, as you might have guessed.They’ve been enwrapping the blue sky everywhere in Seoul since rapid Economic development in 1960’s. Then, I happened to take a walk in Bukchon. Amazing! I shouted. Of course, I meant it this time.
Bukchon is very famous for its Hanok villlage, meaning that it is a village that is composed of Korean traditional houses. Bukchon is a name meaning ‘Northern Village’. It was named because the village is located at relatively Northern direction compared to Jongro and many palaces, whch is center of Seoul. Unlike many areas in Seoul, which are crowding with skyscrappers and apartment buildings everywhere, Bukchon is full of Hanoks with low roofs. If you walk along Gahoedong Street and through those Hanoks in Bukchon, you’ll be surprised with the alien sight of buildings standing with quite a lot of intervals between them and sky that can be seen well above low buildings. Like I shouted “I’ve never known there’s a place like this in Seoul!” In the past, Bukchon was a village where aristocrats and wealthy people’s houses had been gathered. Since it was near governmental institutions and palaces, a number of bureaucrats especially lived there. That’s why Bukchon is well known for its traditionally original Hanoks and many cultural heritages concentrated there. However, it was 1930’s when Bukchon started to swarm with relatively small Hanoks. People started to push into the city, and houses quickly became lack of supply. Japanese government in Chosun started housing business, planning more and more livable houses in Bukchon. That resulted current appearance of Bukchon, a densely built-up area of Hanoks. I cannot agree on any of the ideas about how Bukchon is changed. Maybe, Bukchon in the past, where big and luxurious Hanoks were scattered, might have looked more grand and magnificent. However, Bukchon’s recent appearance has become a unique and special feature of it.
The most special things about Bukchon are its houses, of course. Hanoks, whch are rarely seen these days in ordinary space, are everywhere in Bukchon. Seoul local government has been trying to keep originality of Bukchon Hanoks in 2000’s, and it came up with some good results. Hanok’s beauty is almost inexplicable. Black tiles on the roofs and walls that brown and white wood make harmony emphasize Hanok’s moderate beauty. Moreover, its silhouette, which resembles a wind blowing up, catches every person’s eyes that are looking at it. Unlike western-style tall buildings that give a sense incongruity to people, relatively small Hanoks come to people’s mind in friendlier image. That is one of charms of Hanok. In Bukchon, it is unfortunate that those beautiful Hanoks are barely prevalent in Seoul these days because of its rather inconvenient system relative to today’s society. As a result, so-called ‘Reformed Hanok’ started to appear in Bukchon. They were made to make people live more conveniently in Hanoks. The windows are made of glass and modernized radiators were installed. Hanok evolved by adapting modernized house form and it also became common for many people to live. It is an accord of modern and tradition.
This accord is not only made in form of Hanoks. As it is well known, there are many cultural heritages in Bukchon Hanok Village. Chosun’s wealthy bureaucrats’ houses are preserved well in Bukchon Hanok Village. If you see them, you can feel Hanok’s original beauty different from Hanok that adapted practical parts. Luxuriousness from antique and elegagant Hanok shows Korea’s own artistic sense and architectural beauty. Furthermore, museums and workshops that introduce traditional knots, tea, kites and so on, boast Korea’s traditional culture in Bukchon proudly. You can also experience them by your own with relatively cheap entrance fees. Bukchon is a place where the past is preciously kept in a treasure box, so anyone at the present can find one’s own value from it. On the other hand, like I mentioned before, modernity is being absorbed naturally into Bukchon. It is shown in their changed usages. Modern galleries and cafes can often be seen in Bukchon these days. In harmony with unpresumptuous and serene mood of Bukchon, small galleries and cafes are keeping their existence in Hanoks, giving unique feelings to people who visit. They exploit Hanok’s beauty to attract people. Its antique and calm beauty comes to people in very artistic sense by being mixed with tradition. As a result, beside people who have residence in Bukchon, young people keep visiting Bukchon. Samcheong-dong, which is a part of Bukchon is famous for its street full of stylish shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. On weekends, it is jam-packed with young couples walking around with cameras on their hands. Museums, cultural centers, and guest houses are included, too. Especially, guest houses let foreigners experience Korean culture, especially Hanok culture. There are three guest houses made for foreigners to stay. It must be a very special experience for tourists to stay in Hanok, feeling other countries’ traditional culture. Moreover, unique museums such as owl museum, talisman museum, and Silk Road museums make people more interested of Bukchon. It shows Bukchon’s attempts to make more people love Bukchon and Korean traditional culture’s beauty that is begun to be noticed by people.
Alleys are one of the most impressive parts of Bukchon. As Seoul has started to develop and it tries to take off any sense of the old-fashioned and worn-down past, many campaigns that are aimed to put Seoul in order were practiced. Eventually, Seoul’s streets are being arranged with name of redevelopment. However, since Bukchon is a protected area, its curved alleys and uphill roads are still there. It is true that those slanted alleys make people hard to explore Bukchon well because of their complicatedness. Moreover, the uphill roads make people easily exhausted with sore legs and hurting feet. That’s why tramping fast on Bukchon alleys is not recommended. It must results in a failure if someone attempts to tour Bukchon in one day in order to look around every famous and beautiful spots. Bukchon’s streets look like they’re made for people to take a walk and take a breath. If you take a time and slowly walk through houses in a row and take a deep breath of Bukchon’s own feelings it must be the best to travel the alleys of Bukchon. If you run into a beautiful spot at some moments, it must be your luck. If you walk through narrow alleys of Bukchon, you can feel Bukchon people’s lives. Alleys must have been a part of Bukchon’s lifestyle. Out of the houses, people must have led more open life including alleys into their own space. It is rather sad that now all main gates of Bukchon houses are firmly closed. I can clearly imagine humanity that must have stayed in those alleys.
Mostly, I would have hated walking for 4 hours in this murky, cloudy, and overcast day at the end of November, almost close to winter. However, taking picture, I was overwhelmed by how beautiful this grey sky goes with Hanoks. Grey sky made mood of Bukchon more serene, opposite to when it augments barren feelings of grey buildings. There are a few tips I can give to you about traveling Bukchon. First, print map from internet and take a walk with it. Second, wear comfortable shoes. It is a ‘must’. Third, bring some money with you in order to pay some entrance fees to workshops and museum. It is also needed to take a sip of coffee in lovely cafes on the streets. Last, but not least, I want to recommend you to travel Bukchon for a few days. It is too hard for anyone to look around every precious spots of Bukchon in one day. Divide the map in few parts, and travel a part in a day. Every time I come to Bukchon, I feel like I am lack of time and I missed too many. If you want to fully enjoy Bukchon, one day is too short. When I left Bukchon, sunset was a long ago and moon was up already. With streetlights along, Bukchon’s night landscape was fantastic. I even thought that I wanted to live here, if I could. Then, I could almost hear my mom shouting in front of me. “Inconvenient transportation, rough roads, old fashioned-houses, what’s so good about it? How about your school?” Yes, I understand. However, I couldn’t stop my heart moving faster than my brain. That is Bukchon’s power. It moves people’s hearts. It makes people’s heart beat a bit faster than normal. That’s why I will keep visiting Bukchon.
Moon could be seen even in this cloudy weather.
Can you see the moon above the Hanok? It is a fantastic duo.
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