After a night of sleeping on the yo mattress on the heated floor of our room, we got up fairly early to head to the Yandong Village. Placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, it is described as reflecting “the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture and architectural style” of the early Joseon Dynasty. Still home to around 500 residents in the 160 tile and thatched-roof homes, I was looking forward to seeing a traditional village in action.
After a 35 minute bus ride, we reached the outer limits of the village. A walk-through of the visitor’s center gave us an idea about the layout of the village and some of the notable buildings contained within it.
Walking past the currently used elementary school whose architecture resembled the sloped tile roofs of the much older homes in the village, we had our first view of the village. The thatched-roof homes were found in the flat land below and on the lower layers of the hills, while the tiled homes of the VIPs were found on top. A few cars were interspersed in the scene, feeling rather incongruous with the old homes - of which 54 are over 200 years old.
Farmers and gardeners were out in the early morning, working up the ground. Others were doing spring chores around their homes. A cat sunned itself on the thatched roof, alternately licking itself and stretching. Another perched on top of one of many ceramic kimchi pots placed in front of a house. Spring birds happily chirped; roosters crowed; a few pheasants flapped their colorful wings, landing in some taller dried grass. A few men were already gathered outside the tiny local “supermarket,” already in a jovial mood as they enjoyed a few bottles of soju. The mud brick walls surrounding the thatched roof properties had matching thatched tops, braided and winding up the hill like the back of a dragon. Some gates were formed out of bamboo, arranged in a decorative pattern. The sweet scent of flowering trees caused me to linger and savor the moment. As we made our way up the narrow roads, the compact homes made out of mud walls and thatched roofs gave way to more spacious homes with tiled roofs. Signs revealed that these were the head family homes of the clans of the village, along with some wealthier members. Such homes were typically built on the higher portions of the hill, commanding a great view of the area. From here, the distant and uninspiring high-rise apartments were visible; I much preferred the traditional architecture.