Monday, January 15, 2007

The Village

On the morning of our third day we walked to the nearby 'Gyeongju Folk Art-Craft Village', a sprawling series of traditionally-styled buildings selling a variety of arts and crafts, although with the local region being famous for its pottery, this was particularly featured. While nobody appeared to actually live in the village, a few houses appeared to be private so I wasn't certain. In any case, it was more in line with what I'd expected Wolseong Yangdong Village to be, but had turned out not to.

While a couple of the shopkeepers were very polite, being extremely keen to sell something on a quiet winter day with not many visitors, a couple seemed to cross the line in their eagerness - one advising us that we shouldn't waste our time walking round the rest of the shops only to have to come back to hers at the end. Well thanks, but we'll make that decision ourselves.

We stumbled upon a large building with little to give away its purpose save for a small sign outside proclaiming that pottery was being made inside and to please come in. So we did, and watched as one of two potters performed their craft. Shortly after walking in, a Korean woman descended on us - presumably a curator of some kind - and launched into an English dialogue that made me feel like Tom Hanks in Volunteers when he meets the female sidekick of the local warlord. That's as much as I'll say about that - you'll either get the reference or you won't. While a little bit of effort is appreciated on my part, I don't think my wife appreciates being ignored as if she were Chinese or Japanese.

I asked if it was OK to take pictures - I was a bit paranoid after our experiences the day before - but I forgot myself when we were guided into another building nearby housing old pottery, and just as I was about take a photograph, our guide let out an alarmed 'No no no, no photo', and we were right back where we were at Bulguksa. I just can't figure it out to be honest - is it that they don't want photos of their history taken as it dilutes the experience for people who make the journey in person, or is it that they're afraid that flash photography will possibly harm in some small way what's on display? If it's the former then I'm sorry for them, and if it's the latter then just tell people not to use flash photography (it's not as if it's needed with most modern digital cameras anyway and mine's no exception). Oddly enough, later in the day we'd be at a proper museum with much older exhibits and they had signs up everywhere saying 'no flash photography', but people were otherwise taking photos without incident. While they make some efforts, often the tourist experience in Korea seems a little jarring.

I was getting to the point of being a little tired with pushy shopkeepers and photo-fatwas so we ate lunch and left - I never did get back to buy any traditional Korean craftwork.


babbielonianexile said...

hi, i just graduated and i'm about to take a job in korea, possibly in or near Busan.

is it dangerous? depressing? is there any reason i should not go? i'm going to teach with the longbridge pacific school for english. have you heard of them?

any advice would be nice.
i don't know what i'm getting myself into really.

Mike said...

Hello Babbie,

I wouldn't say it's dangerous - there are far worse places in the world. I think it's a lot safer than my home country, even for a foreigner. But you have to keep your wits about you and not take the kind of risks you wouldn't back home, just like anywhere.

I haven't found it depressing but everyone reacts differently to the environment they find themselves in when living in an unfamiliar country. Busan certainly isn't a dull place, so there's plenty to see and do, and it's probably easier than living in a small town.

I'm afraid I haven't heard of Longbridge - but from their website it seems they are mainly recruitment agents for some of the thousands of independent English-language 'Hagwons' that exist in Busan alone. I don't teach English here but I gather the Hagwons are a bit of a mixed bag - some are OK, some aren't.

On my blog homepage there's a link to the Koreabridge Discussion Forums. This is an excellent resource and well worth reading if you haven't already encountered it.

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