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Published: August 15th 2018
Greetings from Andong, the second of my three quick stopovers in the depths of Korea, between Busan and Seoul. By quick, I mean two nights. I usually prefer to spend three nights in a place, unless it’s a place like Andong which only really seems to warrant two. Despite only spending two nights here, I have really enjoyed being here. It’s a lovely city, small and compact, friendly, and compared to Gyeongju, not really a touristy city at all, but seemingly a typical, everyday, working Korean city. This is the kind of place I like to be, to see a country as it really is. And Andong seems the perfect place for it. In addition to its comparative normality, there are also a fair few tourist attractions here, and mainly the amazing Hahoe Folk Village about 40 minutes out of town. Andong calls itself “the capital of the Korean spirit”, and I believe this is because it is home to a number of Confucian educational institutes. Confucianism I found out for my last blog is the main belief system of Korea, forming its ethical and political foundations and principles which continue to this day. It is also considered
to be very “Korean”, so much so that when our very own Queen visited South Korea in 1999, she asked to be taken to the most Korean of places in the country. They brought her to Andong, and even the very same Hahoe Folk Village mentioned earlier, on the occasion of her 73rd
birthday nonetheless. So although this is a seemingly ordinary, work-a-day type of Korean town, it also has its attractions, and as mentioned, I have really enjoyed my time here.
In my last blog I was preparing to leave Gyeongju, and yesterday morning I took a train, on my very first train journey in South Korea, from Gyeongju to Andong. I am trying very hard not to miss travelling in Japan while I’m here, and trying to enjoy South Korea. While I am indeed enjoying this country, I do very much miss travelling in Japan. The train journey just was not the same – the train arrived late, it was quite dirty, the platform was hot and dusty, and some of the people on the train were really unfriendly. I had just sat down in my seat, depositing my heavy bags, when the lady behind me tapped
Hahoe Folk Village, Andong
A local villager, contrasted with some visitors
me on my shoulder and quite aggressively told me to lift the seat up – I hadn’t even had time to lower the seat down myself, it was just like that when I arrived. I did as she requested, and waited for a subsequent thank you or something. This was not-forthcoming, she didn’t even look at me, so I waved both my hands at her and smiled very brightly for her – maybe that would cheer her bad mood up or something. This made her look a bit sheepish, and the gentleman she was travelling with, next to her, said thank you for her. I mean, honestly…! Shortly after, I decided to move carriages anyway, to the next one along, which was more modern and with better air-conditioning, and generally had a better vibe from my fellow passengers. After this, I settled into the journey, and enjoyed watching the Korean countryside go by, until my arrival in Andong two hours later.
Perhaps to compensate for the rude lady, a very friendly, perhaps overly friendly, gentleman started talking to me as we both got off at Andong station. He was very kind, and welcomed me to South Korea. He then
started to offer me lots of snacks from his bag – I accepted one, but on the second and the third, tried to politely refuse and insist that he keep them for himself, but he practically forced them onto me, so I couldn’t refuse. He met a friend who was waiting for him at the train station, and invited me to eat something with them. I very much appreciate friendliness in a country, but had to decline his kind invitation, and fortunately this was well-met. A five-minute walk brought me to my hotel, the “Goodstay Andong Park Hotel”, a fantastic, old-school hotel, which may just be my favourite accommodation so far on this trip. It has a very traditional feel to it, my guidebook calls it “Andong’s establishment choice”, and is very elegantly decorated throughout, though at the same time looking a bit dated and time worn. Perfect! This is actually my favourite type of hotel, I call it “faded grandeur”, a hotel that once was, but is feeling a little rusty around the edges now. It has character, my room is spacious, and the staff very polite and friendly. This has certainly contributed to my enjoyment of my stay
Train from Gyeongju to Andong
Pulling in at Gyeongju Station
Since I was a little early for check in, I deposited my bags, went to get some lunch at a nearby food court in a large department store, took a taxi to the out-of-town bus station to book my ticket for my next trip (Express bus to Gangneung tomorrow, from where I plan to take a local bus up into the mountains to Pyeongchang for two days), and returned by a very windy bus route that enabled me to pretty much take in the whole city. It was just time for check-in when I returned, and I had a well-earned lie down before my excursion for the day.
In doing my research (Google!) on places to visit in Andong, one place really stood out for me. The rather cheesily-named, and also rather cheesy itself, Confucian Land! Perfect! I recall that in writing my last blog, I was intrigued by the state religion of South Korea being Neo-Confucianism, and felt an interest to learn more about this belief system, more of a philosophy than a religion. I do not know too much about it. It just so happens that Andong, as mentioned, is the Confucian centre of
the country, and what better place to learn more about Confucianism than the amazing, newly-built, interactive and very modern “theme park” of Confucian Land! Yay! I was actually quite excited when I hopped in the taxi which whisked me away to an ultra-modern looking building east of town, gleaming all over, with cute, cartoon, robed Confucian scholar figures with black hats, welcoming me to their land. Paying my 7000 won (around £5) entry fee, I think I spent the craziest, quirkiest, rather confusing (Confucing!) two hours of my journey so far. It was an experience. Most of the exhibits and information were in Korean, but I was able to pick up bits and bobs with the few English texts scattered here and there, as well as a couple of very friendly locals who were able to translate a few things for me.
First up, the experience has you walking through a kind of time-tunnel, with videos playing all around of important events in South Korea going back to the late 19th
century, including the meeting of the North and South Korean presidents in 2000, the Korean War (1950 – 1953), and the arrival of the Japanese during World War
II. I think the purpose of this was to enable you to step back in time, to the pre-modern age, the Goryeo (918–1392, the name of which gives rise to the current name for the country, Korea) and Joseon (1392–1897) periods of Korean history. I believe the main theme of the exhibition beyond the time-tunnel was to give visitors the experience of learning more about Confucianism, in the time when it was taught and practised by various teachers and scholars, many of whom were known as “seonbi”, or “virtuous scholars”. The seonbi led lives of study and integrity, leading others in the right direction, and often also acting as virtuous guides for the government. Indeed, Confucianism is a philosophy which teaches how to live a good life ethically, but also how a country or nation should be governed, politically. I learnt on this visit that Confucianism is based on the five principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity. These are pretty much teachings of most world religions I believe, the only difference I can see is that religions have some form of divine origin and guidance of what is right and what is wrong, whereas Confucianism seems to find
these merely in the teachings of a Chinese sage called Confucian who lived between 551 and 479 BC, they don’t appear to be divinely inspired or directed. As such, I don’t believe it can be called a religion, rather a philosophy or perhaps even a belief system. I also learnt that its teachings focus on filial devotion of children to their parents, love for one’s friends, and duty to one’s country.
The exhibition was wacky and quirky, but really great fun. Highlights include being able to dress up as a Confucian scholar, numerous visual shows with special effects such as rocking boats and 3D images, a “Crystal Maze” type area in which if you solve a puzzle, a secret door opens and lets you inside to learn more about Confucianism, a finger-print reader which seems to be able to tell you your personality (though I’m not sure of my outcome, other than having a four-page printed document all in Korean – perhaps I should have it translated when I’m home!), having a go at what appeared to be a local festival tradition of using a rope to climb up a long plank of wood, and having my picture taken
Andong Park Hotel
A very plush and comfortable room indeed
with lots of Confucian characters at the end. Something else that really stood out, but really didn’t feel quite right, was the chance to take part in defending Jinjuseong Fortress from the invading Japanese army of 1592. After learning about the Japanese invasion, and the subsequent Korean heroics to overcome the invasion, you get to either ride a moving horse or wield a crossbow to shoot at and blow up invading Japanese soldiers. The teaching here was on the Confucian concept of duty towards and sacrifice for one’s country. Although it didn’t feel completely right to me, particularly considering my recently increased love for Japan and the Japanese, I did still have a go at the crossbow-shooting, and admit it was quite good fun…! (Incidentally, today is actually National Liberation Day, both in South and North Korea, celebrating the very same day of Victory over Japan Day, when allied victory in World War II also ended decades of Japanese occupation of Korea. Relations between Korea and Japan have indeed been strenuous over the years).
After a rather wacky two hours of such fun, I’m really not too sure how much more I learned about Confucianism, but I certainly had
Andong Park Hotel
View from my room
a great time! A lady behind the front desk called me a taxi, and I returned to central Andong to head for my second spa-experience in South Korea. I had wondered, but now it is confirmed, the Koreans are seemingly just as into spa baths and “onsen” as the Japanese, and I enjoyed a good hour’s soak in the Spa Land hot baths and saunas just round the corner from here. There was not a word in English, but fortunately I knew enough Korean greetings, body language, and the typical onsen etiquette, to get by ok there. Finally, I enjoyed a delicious pizza meal at a nearby eatery, before heading back to my hotel and curling up under my embroidered duvet and white sheets for a lovely night’s sleep in this lovely hotel.
And today I have had another great day in Andong. This morning I took a bus ride out of the city, heading westwards for around 40 minutes, to the amazing, spectacular and very serene Hahoe Folk Village. I believe I have mentioned in a previous blog, South Korea has a number of traditional villages for tourists to visit throughout the country, but this I believe is
the only one in which people still live. In fact, around 230 residents still live there, maintaining the old ways, with government support in preservation and restoration. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site, and was a real pleasure to visit. Today has been hot, about 35 degrees or so with full sun, no cloud (the BBC Weather app says “feels like 42”). I made the excellent decision upon arrival, to go with what most of the local Korean visitors were doing, which was hire one of the many mobility scooters available for rent there. I can’t imagine it would have been much fun walking around there for three hours, with almost no shade and certainly no rest spots which were air-conditioned. I thoroughly enjoyed my three hours going around on my scooter, which built up a nice breeze when going fast, and also carried its own shade. Whenever I wanted to stop, walk around, investigate and take a few photos, I did, and then carried on my way again. The time went so quickly, it was just so lovely to scoot around its old streets, with old traditional Korean houses everywhere, some with the typical Korean tiled, curved
roofs, others thatched. The houses were interspersed with small plots of land, growing rice and vegetables, and the whole village sits on a spectacular peninsula formed by a wide meander of the Nakdong River, overlooked by a highly photogenic rocky outcrop on the other side. Although you couldn’t really go into many of the houses, there were a few of them which were open as a display to the public. And although I only saw two local residents, one walking on the street, and another in her back garden, it was still a beautiful experience to imagine what rural life must have been like back in the Joseon period, and also what it is like here today. A really lovely visit.
Around three hours later, I hopped on a bus, enjoyed a pasta lunch at the same place I had a pizza at last night, and returned to my hotel where I will be holed up now for the rest of the day, writing up this blog entry and resting up.
I have really enjoyed Andong. It has given me some experiences and offered me some insights which are really quite unique, and through these I feel I
Confucian Land, Andong
Video footage of the first North and South Korean leaders meeting since the Korean War, in 2000. I hadn't realised it, but prior to this year, there has actually been two previous meetings of the two leaders, in 2000 and 2007.
have gained more of a first-hand experience into doing what I pretty much wanted to do before I came to Andong – that is, learn more about the history, culture, traditions and “religion” of this country. Thank you Andong, what a real experience this has been.
Tomorrow, I take an early bus at 9.20am, to take me three and a half hours to the north-east, to a coastal city called Gangneung. I don’t plan to stay there, but change to a local bus which should take me high up into the nearby mountains (perhaps a bit cooler?!) to the former Winter Olympics centre of Pyeongchang. When planning this trip earlier this year, the Winter Olympics were pretty much happening there in the background, so I just had to include a visit there on this journey! I don’t think there’ll be snow, but I’m certainly hoping for some cooler weather, that would be nice, and perhaps some beautiful mountain scenery! I stay there for two days, before moving on to my final destination for this trip, Seoul, on Saturday.
I plan to write my next either from Pyeongchang, or from Seoul, in a few days’ time.
for reading this one, and all the very best!
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