When I first read about the hanok, traditional Korean houses, I expected something out of a Kung Fu or Kill Bill movie–I know, wrong Asian countries–where the stories flashback to women tiptoeing around in slippers and men wearing robes and thin mustaches parted in the middle. If I stayed there, I figured, I’d experience something like that (despite my inabilities to grow facial hair). But staying in a hanok village would not match my expectations.
Staying in a Hanok Village
When I entered into the courtyard of my hanok in Jeonju’s Hanok Village, I found myself in a small peaceful yard, however, there was a large pile of Crocs and Hello Kitty slippers below the deck and a mangy looking cat traipsing across the property. I walked over to my room, which had all of the requisite elements of a hanok: ancient and decorative furniture, hanji paper covering the walls, and, of course, the bed, which I pulled from the closet and laid on the floor. Besides having tea service–this didn’t happen–I don’t know what could have been done to heighten the experience. But the stay in a hanok fell a bit flat. Maybe it was all the anachronisms, like the modern convenience of an outdated boxy refrigerator placed in my traditional room. Or maybe it was the fuzzy keychain character affixed to my lock.
In fact, all of Jeonju, the city with this most famous hanok village, wasn’t at all what I had expected. I had heard village and conjured up ancient homes surrounded by rice paddies. But instead I found myself surrounded by dueling selfie sticks all fighting for the same photograph, couples wearing matching fitness outfits from head to toe, crowds at the bi bim bap joints, find-Jesus petitioners, and a modern city standing tall above the tiled roofs.
However, there was one respite, offering beautiful bird’s-eye-views of the village. From the boardwalk, accessible at the top of Tae Jo Road, I looked down at the flowing black roofs, trying to picture what this village looked like before a city had sprung up behind it and technology made tourists really, really annoying. And, for a moment, when I squinted just right, I caught a mosquito in my eyelash.