Have you visited a city that you know nothing about? My visit to Andong was an opportunity to freely feel and sense a new place without being biased by knowing too much about it—I had never heard of Andong despite having lived in Korea for eight years and there was very little information on it for English readers, to begin with.
From the first steps onto Andong, the initial word that came to mind was “neutral”, the color palette consisting of browns and greens.
This continued as I walked through Hahoe Village. Initially expecting much more, I was surprised by how plain it seemed given that it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place where Queen Elizabeth celebrated her birthday in 1999. While the large, blue-roofed houses for higher class citizens are beautiful and the traditional architecture fascinating, the colors were faded and pale, all blending together. Residents went about their business and cars were parked outside their houses, almost making me feel as if I was playing a game of “find the object that doesn’t belong”. I wondered what life must have been like there, and I realize it must have been just as it is now. I had heard that Hahoe Village was extremely well preserved, and I agreed—it reflected the simple, everyday life that the people of the Joseon Dynasty (15th-19th centuries CE) might have lived long ago.
Somewhere vaguely similar to the village was Byeongsan Seowon, a Confucian academy. Being nearby, there was a similar element of well preserved, historic structures, yet it felt very different. The structures were decorated subtly with engravings and paintings, and a well-crafted sign hung at the front, welcoming everyone who came to seek wisdom. Breathing in the air, I also noticed it was lush, full, and green. Looking around at the forests, blossoms, and mountains, I could see why. I imagined all the scholars that had pondered life there and could think of no better place to do so, so peaceful and so close to the earth.
In the city center, people were bustling, but no one was particularly busy or in a rush. While nothing was flashy as it often is in Seoul, I saw that the stores were all modern or uniquely decorated, filling the space with color and life. Despite Andong being famous for a select number of foods like Jjimdak (braised chicken) and Gan Godeungeu (salted mackerel), I ate the simple dishes that the people of Andong actually enjoyed. The food was flavorful and mild at the same time, not exaggerated or “too much”. I loved how everything was fresh and crisp, which I later learned was because most meat and vegetables are locally produced.
In the evening, there were colorful fairy lights strung about and fountains spayed from the Woryeonggyo Bridge that sat atop the Nakdong River. It is the longest wooden bridge in Korea and was graced by the footsteps of families, couples, and friends taking a stroll in the summer night.
From observing Andong night and day, village to the city center, my conclusion is as it was in the beginning. Andong is neutral. But not that it is boring or lacking in any way. Rather, it holds so much disguised in its seemingly plain walls and is rich in substance. It does not try to show off what it has to the world or loudly exclaim its legacy. It simply exists, embracing any and all that come to honor what it represents.
If you want to explore your own Andong, contact Daramji. We would accompany to the places and people that only Daramji can offer.