Having been living in Korea for over a decade, I am; therefore, no stranger to the ever-changing prosperity of the country’s capital. Nonetheless, what fascinates me is an abundance of olden vibe boasting shops that Seoul has retained and kept within its dense concrete jungle, in which many of them are bestowed with the title ‘Oraegage’ to appreciate their cultural and historical value. The term can be perceived as the store that is old and has been being run for generations; as of today, there are over a hundred businesses in Seoul that have been designated as Oraegage.
Over the past weekend, I was given such incredible opportunities to visit three of these hidden gems located in Jongno district and to have authentic Korean art and culture experience. The course was, again, sponsored by Trazy; an English friendly tour service provider, and organized by K Story Tour. I cannot thank you enough for this loving invitation.
The tour is managed under the service name of ‘[OraeGage] Bukchon Hanok Village Traditional Art Craft Class’ which includes voucher passes and a walking tour with a local guide. However, since I wanted to schedule my own time of arrival at each Oraegage and rearrange an order of destination, a simple notice was made to Trazy and the tour was conveniently customized. If you would love to have a tour guide to lead you through each activity, you can just stick to the original walking tour plan.
1. Donglim Knot Workshop Store (동림매듭공방)
I opted to have Donglim Knot Workshop Store as my first stop of the day. It is located in the heart of Seoul’s renowned landmark Bukchon Hanok Village and an early visit would allow me to capture a quiet atmosphere of a huddle of Korean traditional houses.
At the museum-like Donglim knot making store, numerous pieces of art made out of strings are put on display either for sale or as a showcase. They all are fabricated using traditional mae-deup (매듭, Korean knot) technique that has been handed down in the family of Shim Young-Mi, the gallery’s current owner and a mae-deup technician, for four generations.
Besides the beautiful Korean style knot embellished products, the shop also provides visitors with onsite mae-deup making workshops; this is what I was very much looking forward to that morning. While the tour covers a one-time bracelet making lesson, if you have months to spend in Seoul and are interested in developing Korean knot making skills, they also have many more advanced courses to fit your needs.
The bracelet making class I participated in at Donglim Knot Workshop was very pleasing. Even though I didn’t get to meet the lady in the banner; Shim Young-Mi, the handicraft master assigned for my visit, was a delight. She gave an explicit explanation and was very patient with my zero talent in crafting, and I was finally able to make my very first self-made Korean bracelet and keep it as a memorable souvenir.
2. Myeongsindang Pilbang (명신당필방)
The second Oraegage I visited was Myeongsindang Pilbang, a calligraphy shop located right in the center of the culture street of Insadong, which has been selling necessaries for Korean traditional handwriting since 1987. The shop is also famous for making dojang (도장, a stamp seal) that is commonly required in document authentication in Korea.
As I was learning about the attributes of each stop I was about to make my way to for the day, a visit at Myeongsindang Pilbang did render me with an anticipation in seeing how to create a dojang by the hands of a professional. But it had never come to my mind that I’d get to have one with my own name carved on it. Hence, I am extremely grateful for this offering from Trazy & K Story Tour.
The dojang making process starts after a stone stamper is picked out and you hand on your words of interest to the sculptor. As there were samples of stamps in English and Arabic characters in sight, presumably any language is possible to get carved onto the stamp showing how skillful the artists are. However, it was a tad late for me to realize about the wild option I had. The Korean version of my name already appeared beautifully on the bare face of the stone as I was thinking it might be a good idea to have them try carving thai alphabets. But in the end when I saw a postcard marked by my name embossed stamp, I was certain that dojang does look best in Korean.
3. Jidaebang Chatjib (전통찻집 지대방)
Jidaebang Chatjib was the third and the last stop of the course I booked for the day. It is a nostalgic tea house that has served assorted teas and Korean traditional snacks since 1982: on the second floor of the building whose facade fronts onto the Myeongsindang Pilbang I had just swung by, is where you can find Jidaebang Chatjib.
Stepping past the cafe’s threshold, the warm atmosphere fusing with the tantalizing aroma of roasted tea leaf really soothed my cold hands and feet. It was a bleak Saturday and the icy wind was blowing non-stop all day long. I was more than pleased to have the tea house in the destination mix.
My companion and I, we ordered two sets of tea and a plate of grilled green tea flavored garae-tteok (가래떡, cylindrical shaped rice cake). The chrysanthemum and green tea we asked for; somehow, seemed to have an extra special scent when we learned that Mr. Lee, the house owner, has grown the tea ingredients himself. They were harvested from the field in Hadong in South Gyeongsang Province, the third largest tea producing area in Korea. Mr. Lee’s strong passions in delivering the best tea and in preserving Korean tea drinking etiquette are undoubtedly the core to Jidaebang Chatjib’s prolonged success which contributed to ‘Oraegage’ entitlement.
In conclusion, my day was splendidly filled with engaging events and I’d recommend this exclusive program to anyone who wishes to learn or wants to be a part of an authentic Korean traditional culture experience. If the cultural areas of Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong are already on your bucket list, this tour is a special boarding pass that would bring you further and deeper beyond those doors of Korean traditional houses you have probably seen a lot already!
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