A guest with plans for setting up her own design hostel asked DARAMJI for an insight into the Korean retro style. Now, that’s not an easy mode to pin down – after all, what exactly is retro? In a country that’s over 5,000 years old, just how far back in time should we go?
After a great deal of research and much longer discussion with our guest than usual, we decided to take her down to Suncheon, a city of 280,000 on the south coast. Suncheon is known for its rich historical heritage as well as the beautiful Suncehonman Bay wetland reserve – a perfect place to search for Korean retro and get some of that fresh, salty breeze from the sea.
First, we decided to overshoot a little with our journey back into time and visited Nakan Eupseong village – an old town castle settlement dating back to the 14th century. As our guest wanted to explore the very notion of retro with inspirations from all ages of the past, we thought it a nice place to start us off.
Houses with traditional thatched roofs are extremely well-maintained across the town. Around 100 families still live here, preserving not only the historic architecture of the city, but also some of the elements of time-honoured lifestyle. Over a warming cup of traditional tea, we discussed what it all means to preserve and reinterpret traditions.
Scattered around Suncheon are a good number of old, Japanese-style houses and buildings from the early part of the last century. They are the remains of the Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) during which the Japanese culture, from housing to living, had a pervasive presence over Korea. When their emperor surrendered in the summer of 1945, the Japanese colonialists hurried back to their home country, leaving behind streets strewn with Japanese-style buildings, widely called “Jeoksan-gaok” (enemy property-houses) to this day.
Looking around those streets of Suncheon stirred up mixed feelings about Korea’s past. Perhaps no trip down memory lane goes without bringing out old wounds and long-forgotten pains. But for Koreans, with the memories of the colonial rule and the subsequent (and some would say consequent) Korean war still so vivid to so many, retrospective can be a particularly emotional journey. Of course, that’s what adds to the inexplicable, heart-stirring beauty of it all.
Once we had our fill of Korean retro, we headed to Suncheonman bay – the biggest colony of reeds in Korea. The beautiful wetland is also home to a wide range of rare birds and plants. Looking over the bay at sunset will literally leave you speechless – we urge you to time your journey so you can be there in time to witness the drama of nature for yourself. Nearby Suncheonman National Garden is also worth a visit.
This was a great trip not just for our guests but for our curators at DARAMJI as well because it was a journey after a question. As we travelled through time from early Chosun dynasty through the Japanese colonial period to the eternal sunset, our discussion of Korean retro became ever deeper and richer. As to whether an answer will be found, we’ll keep you posted!
EXPLORE with DARAMJI – Do you have a question you would like to pursue during your time in Korea? Go with DARAMJI and you’ll get a personal itinerary tailored to your interests and professional DARAMJI guide service with the option to arrange transport and other activities en-route. Prices start from USD 300 per person/8-hour day.