The eccentric individual, the local born-and-raised, and the one that offered a helping hand. From my time in Andong, I found that it was these people that made the experience memorable. While the sights and food have been experienced and documented by everyone, the unplanned, spontaneous relationships were like a special secret that only I know.
I met a peculiar woman who ran Cafe Life, and she looked as if she was a character from a children’s book. She wore blue overalls and had large, round glasses, with eyes to match. When she spoke, she was careful and thoughtful and shared that she hoped to be able to give people energy, whether it was through the environment she created or the menu choices she made. Taking a look around the cafe, it seemed like space was an extension of herself. The windows were lined with plants and greenery, and the menu consisted of unique, healthy flavors that you could not find anywhere else. Diligently and quietly, she served all of the visitors that came to her to find strength and life.
A man dressed in traditional clothes guided my companions and me through the Confucian Culture Museum, which told of the history of Confucianism and how Andong was home to many of Korea’s greatest Confucian scholars. The man, as if a gatekeeper to the world of Confucianism, painted a picture of the lives of the Korean people long ago. I was amazed at his knowledge and great respect for the ideals as he excitedly explained the history and wonders of the various artifacts we passed by. As he was finishing up his explanations, he sent us off with the hope that, despite clashes between Confucian and modern society’s values, we would take away the core of what it represents—to cherish ourselves and our relationships with others.
My attention was brought to a man at the mention of Kalguksu (Korean noodle dish) when we were at Byeongsan Seowon, one of the Korean Neo-Confucian Academies recently added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hungry as we were, we asked the man if we could join him and his guest, and he happily told us to tag along. I found out later that he is the manager of Byeongsan Seowon. His face was dark and wrinkled, resembling the wooden masks that Andong is known for. He mentioned that he is a descendant of Hahoe, which is the famous traditional village in Andong that is preserved to this day. We ate together as he explained the history of Hahoe Village, the stories behind the different wooden masks, and various slang that they used in that area. As a hospitable host, he even took us all the way to our next destination.
At our visit to Hahoe Village, we met the owner of the village cafe, where we had cold drinks after walking at the hottest time of the day. I saw that the walls were covered in calligraphy and he mentioned that he is also a Saju—Korean horoscope—fortune teller. As we chatted with him about life, I noticed he took his brush and started to write something in Chinese characters on paper. At the end of our conversation, he handed it to me and explained it had the six secrets to living a happy life written on it. It was a gift, and he wished me a good and successful life as I continue my travels around the world, telling me to come back to thank him when I make it big.
It was through these people that I experienced Andong. With their distinct philosophy and heart of hospitality, they showed me both what Andong was and who Andong was; that Andong was not just a product of its past, but also the result of the people living there today. They create spaces to bring life, they have a deep reverence for their principles, they are loyal to their roots, and they wish well to all. For me, it was an example of how I should strive to live my life—being true to my values and showing care for others.
If you want to discover your own pockets of wisdom in Andong, come with an open mind and heart along with Daramji and see what unique people you find your way to. We would accompany to the places and people that only Daramji can offer.