Suitcase and World: A Hanok Home Away From Home.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Hanok Home Away From Home.

Hanok houses located in an area west of Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul.
(Photo by by Sakaori. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
It was my cousin, Yim, who told me about hanoks. She visited Korea last year with my aunt. She knows how I like to travel and suggested that I look into staying at a hanok in the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul.  I Googled the village and the images that I saw immediately captivated me.  I was going to rent an Airbnb apartment but how much cooler would it be to stay in a hanok?

Hanok is the commonly used term to describe Korean traditional home.

The hanok shares characteristics with its Chinese and Japanese counterparts but has developed very distinct characteristics due to climatic and cultural circumstances of Korea.

In premodern Korea, every type of building, regardless of its purpose - residential, official, or religious - was built with basically the same techniques and materials. The materials used in the construction of a hanok are all very environmentally friendly and sustainable.  Earth and stone were used for the foundation; a mixture of earth and straw for the walls; tiles or straw for the roof and wood for pillars, rafters, doors, windows and flooring.  Korean paper was used throughout the house - glued to the frame of the sliding doors and the cross ribs of the windows.  Both the wooden floors and the paper walls were polished with bean oil which not only imparted a sheen to the look of the wood and paper but it also made them waterproof.

The exterior layout of a hanok differed according to region. In the cold northern regions of Korea, houses were built in a closed square form or box shape like the Korean letter "ㅁ" so that it would be able to block the wind flow and to retain heat better. In the central regions, houses are 'L' shaped or Korean letter - "ㄱ" . Houses located in the warmer, southernmost regions of Korea were built in an open 'I' form.  Hanoks can also be classified according to class and social status.

Hanoks were built according to a principle is called *Baesanimsu* which applies the concept of geomancy - the art of placing or arranging buildings or other sites auspiciously.  Hanoks were positioned after considering the distance and direction in line with mountains and fields as well as the location of water.  Not only was the position an auspicious one, it also had practical implications.  For example, building the house with a mountain in the background and facing south limited the effects of wind off the mountain and exposure to the sun.

The study inside a hanok.
(Photo by Robert Helvie. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Inside, a traditional hanok consists of a series of *bang* which are rooms papered on all sides.  There is a *daechong* - a main hall with a wooden floor and visible beams above and the *bueok* -  the kitchen whose fireplace feeds the heating system for the whole house. 

This heating system is called *ondol* and it is a floor based heating system.  The ondol heating concept is pretty simple, practical and quite ingenious.  Heat, from the kitchen's fireplace, warms the layer of stone beneath the kitchen floor and since the kitchen is connected to all the other rooms, this heat basically spreads from the stone in one room to the stone in another.  As the warm air at the floor level rises, the room warms up and stays comfortably warm so long as the fireplace is lit in the kitchen.  Korean daily life utilizes the house's floor surfaces which is used for both sleeping and dining so keeping the floors immaculately clean and warm during the cold season are vital.

Hanok houses in Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul.
(Photo by Penmerahpenbiru.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Hanoks were designed to have fewer walls and more doors to promote air circulation - important during warm summer months.

The architecture and design principles of hanok houses is so practical that even modern day Korean buildings are often built along these traditional lines. 

I found a nice introductory article on hanok architecture on the Korea Exposé website.

It's definitely a very unique opportunity to stay in a hanok so I ran the idea by George, asking him if he was comfortable sleeping on the floor.  He replied that he was but he needed a cover and a pillow....same things I need for a good night's sleep.  We may need to bring along inflatable pillows though I am fine using my backpack but otherwise, it's a done deal.  I'm off to find a hanok!  I'm finding that the official Korean Tourism Organization website is extremely useful when it comes to finding local accommodation - it no only lists all the hanoks that accept visitors but you can also search for the *usual* forms of accommodation.  I have a feeling I'm going to be using this site a lot!