A Trip to Hanulnari Village
Jennifer Anne Waring (ethinie)
Hanulnari Village has no cell-phone reception and a population of thirty-four. The villagers had probably never thought about, let alone seen, a foreigner before. So can you imagine their reaction when a busload turned up at once?
Let me set the scene. We travel up pleasantly windy roads to the village town hall. When we arrive we are greeted by the mayor and a chorus of clapping villagers. We are introduced to our hosts for the weekend and led off in small groups to the traditional Korean style houses where we will stay. Our group of four is taken back to our host’s house, which is literally buzzing with bees flying back and forth to their hives. The first thing we learn is that the village predominantly earns a living by harvesting honey.
After a banquet of the best food I have ever tasted in Korea (fresh mountain picked vegetables, tofu soup and homemade honey tea) our guide takes us to see the village’s oldest surviving tree. Around its trunk, the sacrifice of a dead fish has been tied. Our guide explains that the fish is part of a shamanic ritual. The villagers believe the tree’s spirit gives them protection. Nevertheless, although the tree is revered, I chuckle to see a set of loud speakers affixed to its highest branches.
The stop at the tree is brief and we are soon on our way down to the town hall. We are taught how to make beeswax candles and, whilst they cool, we sit around a campfire, share soju (Korean traditional liquor) and chat. The clear, twinkling skies and the silence of the village make it seem a million miles away from the pollution and clamor of Seoul.
The next morning, at a quarter past six, the villagers (and, by proxy, us) are woken rudely by the tannoy booming out from the branches of the tree. The announcement informs them of our schedule for the day. We eat another hearty meal for breakfast and meet up with the rest of our group to take a hike into the nearby mountains.
The hike isn’t at all strenuous and we are the only people for miles around. We have a chance to drink fresh water from a stream, pick fresh mountain herbs and watch the villagers plant rice.
Next, we are led to one of our host family’s yards to “harvest honey.” I decide that a healthy fear of bees is a good thing, and opt for watching the other crazy idiots march in there in flimsy masks and short sleeved t-shirts. Interesting though the harvesting is, the best part is definately in the eating! If you haven’t sucked honey fresh from a comb whilst bees whiz past your ears, you haven’t lived!
When we come back to the town hall we find the villagers have taken our fresh herbs and used them to make dduk (a kind of Korean rice cake). They serve us huge mounds of this delicious desert with yet more honey and a yummy honey and pine needle tea.
Feeling as full of honey as the honeycombs themselves and a little concerned that an almost certainly huge lunch was only an hour away, we go back to the town hall, this time to make Hanji (Korean traditional paper) notebooks. Be warned if you think this sounds like a relaxing type of activity. It involves putting sheets of paper in plastic sheeting and then jumping up and down on it for (what feels like) a very long time! Hanji is also surprisingly tough and requires drilling to make holes. Great if you like power tools, not great if you don’t like breaking out in a sweat!
Finally, after another huge lunch, we clamber back onto the coach, as full of honey as Pooh Bear himself. The villagers all gather outside the town hall and wave us off. I feel a pang of sadness to be leaving such wonderful people and such a calm, unspoilt place.
Hanulnari is one of the most beautiful, peaceful places you can visit in Korea. Gone are the flocks of Koreans, cameras in one hand, peace signs in the other. Gone are the meat-on-a-stick sellers and candy-floss stalls. The village is truly unblemished by the outside world. In fact, I almost hope that too many people don’t read this article, as they might all decide to go!