The Kimchi-ite: The Korean Folk Village, A Perfect Escape From The City

Seoul and South Korea as a whole are undoubtably modern. But less than a century ago, much of what makes the country so modern today did not exist and people lived much more simply. Farming was by far the most common occupation and people lived in villages, not cities.

Having not left the city limits in months, it’s hard for me to comprehend a world without LTE service and Wi-Fi in the subway. I decided to escape from Seoul, with its omnipotent television screens beaming down on most intersections, to a more traditional location. The Yongin Korean Folk Village was the perfect choice for a quick escape from the city.

A period reenactor making “ppeong twigi,” puffed rice, a traditional Korean street food. “Ppeong” represents the sound of the contraption when making the snack; watch this video to hear for yourself.

Located in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, just an hour south of the city, it is very easily accessible from the center of Seoul. There are numerous folk villages all over Korea but this is one of the most popular and most fully realized.

A rock at the entrance of the village onto which people tie their messages and wishes, a common sight in ancient Korea.

The folk village is a fantastic look into historic Korea, with houses, food, scheduled musical performances and traditional ceremonies, all representing the different eras in Korean history.

A parade of dancing drummers commemorating the coming harvest. Further proof that Korean history has the best headgear.

The townsfolk staff walk around in period clothing and farm animals are on hand to show subsistence farming of the day. It’s a surprisingly large place; walking the perimeter of the village can take about an hour.

A Choga-jib, thatched roof house, representative of peasant houses in southern, warmer regions.

Being able to walk around the different styles of houses is immensely interesting. Different layouts and designs are used for different regions and classes of people. You can even play with some of the farm equipment used to make food such as rice cakes.

A traditionally themed 7-Eleven near the entrance of the Korean Folk Village acts as a suggestion not to take your trip inside too seriously.

It does have a bit of a tourist trap feel; the 7-11 with a traditional, Korean-tiled roof is one of the glaring examples – even though it is by far my favorite convenience store on the peninsula. In many ways a trip to the Korean Folk Village is a trip to a theme park trying to pass as a museum. But it’s a much better way to see Korean history than looking at miniatures and artists’ renditions, as you would do in a museum.

All smiles during a harvest ceremony in the Korean Folk Village.

The best way to get to the Yongin Korean Folk Village is to take Seoul Subway Line 1 to Suwon Station. Then, take exit 5 and once outside of the station you will find a tourist information office. There, you can get a ticket for a free shuttle bus that will take you directly to the Korean Folk Village. The staff is multi-lingual and can guide you to the bus stop in English, Korean, Chinese or Japanese.

Go back into “The Kimchi-ite” archives here for more on Korean culture, food and oddities.

[All photos by Jonathan Kramer]

Israel Restores Ancient City

Israel, Avdat
The government of Israel has just completed a $2 million restoration of the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat, The Jewish Press reports.

Avdat is in the Negev Desert and was one of the westernmost points on an extensive incense trade network the Nabateans built stretching as far as the southern Saudi peninsula that flourished from the 3rd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. Incense was important in rituals for many civilizations, especially for Roman funerals. The trade network began to wither when Romans converted to Christianity and stopped needing incense to cover up the stink of their cremations.

The extensive ruins include houses and an acropolis with a Nabatean temple. Avdat later became part of the Roman and then Byzantine Empire. Remains of a Roman military camp and a Byzantine church can be seen there. The church has a floor made up of marble tombstones with still legible epitaphs. Like in the more famous Nabatean city of Petra, a sophisticated irrigation system allowed for agriculture and even vineyards in the harsh desert region. The residents even had enough water to make themselves a bathhouse.

The city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 5th century and was rebuilt. Another earthquake in the 7th century finished it off.

The site, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suffered vandalism in 2009. The vandals pulled down columns, smashed stones and wrote graffiti over parts of the site. They were never caught. Now Avdat has been completely restored and the local archaeologists boast that it’s better than it was before.

Avdat hit the news last year when it was discussed in historian Tom Holland’s book “In the Shadow of the Sword,” in which he suggests that Muhammad was from Avdat and not Mecca. He also calls into question much of the Muslim tradition for its own origins. The book was criticized by scholars and Holland even received death threats, presumably not from scholars.

The site is in Avdat National Park, so a visit to the ruins can also include hiking and wildlife photography. Check out the gallery for some images of this amazing site. If it looks a familiar, that’s because it was the site for the filming of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

[Photo courtesy Urij]

%Gallery-177802%

Ancient ‘Toilet Paper’ Discovered In Fishbourne Roman Palace

Roman
An examination of some strange ceramic disks found at the Fishbourne Roman Palace is changing how we look at some of the most private aspects of Roman life.

Excavations at the palace in the past 50 years have uncovered dozens of pieces of broken pottery that had been deliberately shaped into flat disks. Archaeologists tentatively called them gaming pieces but were never convinced that was correct. Now a new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests they were used to wipe Roman ass crack.

Palace curator Dr. Rob Symmons said in a press release, “Obviously, we will have to think about re-classifying these objects on our catalogue and then we will look into a scientific analysis to identify any tell-tale residues that prove that these objects were used for anal cleaning. Which should be fun.”

Perhaps dip them in water and sniff?

It was already known that the Romans used sponges soaked in vinegar on the end of a stick to wash their rear ends. Ceramic disks wouldn’t have been as hygienic (or comfortable) but could have worked.

Fishbourne in West Sussex is the largest Roman villa in Britain. Built in the first century A.D., its floors were decorated with elaborate mosaics that are in a remarkable state of preservation. It’s unclear who lived there. Archaeologists have suggested either a Roman governor or a local British chieftain who threw in his lot with the conquerors. The palace burnt down around the year 270.

[Photo courtesy Fishbourne Roman Palace]

%Gallery-177595%

Ancient city of Mari in Syria under threat

Syria, MariLast month we reported that the Biblical city of Nineveh is falling apart due to the ongoing war in Iraq. Now it turns out another ancient Mesopotamian city is in danger of being lost.

Mari, in Syria, was one of the great cities of Mesopotamia. It was a trading center on the Euphrates River and was founded some 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists have discovered the giant palace of a Sumerian ruler, a temple to Ishtar, and a huge library with more than 25,000 clay tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform.

Now Popular Archaeology magazine reports that erosion and neglect are returning the city to the earth. The people of Mari built with fired mud brick, using clay that was cheap and plentiful along the banks of the Euphrates. Wind and rain have been picking away at the bricks for thousands of years, and it doesn’t help that more walls have been exposed by archaeologists. Dust to dust.

The Global Heritage Fund released a report on Syria’s endangered heritage sites that lists Mari as the one in most need of help.

I visited Mari in the 1990s and it was one of the biggest archaeological orgasms of my life. To walk through a Mesopotamian palace, to visit one of the ancient world’s biggest libraries, and to stand atop a ziggurat all in the same afternoon is something you can’t do anywhere else outside of Iraq. It’s one of many outstanding archaeological treasures in Syria that are in desperate need of protection and conservation. Crac de Chevaliers, one of the ten toughest castles in the world, is also in danger.

Sadly, with the Syrian government more interested in killing their own people, I don’t think protecting the world’s heritage is very high on their “to do” list.

[Photo courtesy peuplier via flickr]

Battle of Marathon to be fought again

Battle of MarathonWhile the U.S. is having lots of Civil War reenactments lately, it’s not the only country where avid hobbyists like to refight old battles. This year Greece is marking the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, an epic clash between the Greeks and Persians that saved Europe from invasion and allowed Greek culture to thrive. To commemorate the battle, there will be a reenactment on the actual battlefield.

The battle was a desperate attempt to stop the Persian Empire, the major superpower of the day, from invading Greece in 490 BC. The Greek city-states of Athens and Palataea blocked the passes leading out from the Persian beachhead on the Plain of Marathon. Even though the Greeks were outnumbered two-to-one, they attacked and routed the Persians, ending the invasion.

There’s a legend that an Athenian named Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens to announce the victory and died from exhaustion right after he gave the good news. The distance from Marathon to Athens is, of course, about 26 miles. This actually never happened, but it makes a good story.

From September 9 to 11, hundreds of reenactors from around the world will converge on the battlefield for a day of sham fighting and historical demonstrations. The Greek side will include many Greeks, while the Persian ranks will have many Iranians. Dozens of other countries will contribute people as well. Events will be centered on a reconstruction of the Greek military camp and there will be archery demonstrations, ancient music and dancing, and much more.

At least 200 warriors will duke it out on the original battlefield, but there won’t be any blood spilled. The Greeks will have dull spears and the Persians will be firing rubber-tipped arrows. I bet this poor fellow pictured here, a Greek casualty of the real battle, wished there were rubber arrows back in his day.

[Photo courtesy Keith Schengili-Roberts]