29 - Sep - 2019
[Prism] Andong as a cultural center (3) – a glance at deep roots
Born in the States as Korean-American, Frances Pak has been traveling the globe since the age of 14. Being familiar yet unaccustomed to Korea, she visited Andong with Daramji. Frances wrote about the senses (Sensing Andong), people (the four unlikely people) and culture of the historical city with her uniquely fresh view.

 

What does it mean for Andong to be recognized as the cultural center of Korea? And what even is considered the core of Korean culture? If you look back to Korea’s history as well as the way it is today, you might see that Confucianism is often at the center of it all. 

A typical Andong scenery looking down on the river with Hanok (traditional houses).

Confucianism comes from the teachings of a Chinese philosopher named Confucius (500s BCE). Known as a philosophy, moral framework, or even a way of life, it has had a big role in influencing Korean culture. Even if you aren’t familiar with what Confucianism is, you’ve likely seen and experienced some of it if you’ve ever been to Korea. I saw glimpses of it through watching Jesa (an ancestral memorial tradition), where my aunts and uncles in Korea would bring various foods to our grandparents’ tombs, even though at the time, I didn’t know why.

Memorial rituals for the veneration of the deceased (Photo credit: KATI)

I experienced it firsthand when I initially moved to Korea and learned—through trial-and-error—about how important it is to be extremely respectful to people that are older than me. I hear about its remnants through my friends’ experiences working in Korea, where higher-ups have so much authority and people below them are expected to listen, not speak up. It is also found in things like Korean gender roles and the deep pursuit of education that dominates families today. 


A book on display at the Confucian Culture Museum in Andong. This book has pictures in addition to writing in order for it to be easily read and understood by common people.

Andong’s significance in this is that it was the home to many of Korea’s greatest scholars, one of which was Yi-Hwang. He and others established Seowons—Confucian academies—to be hubs for the pursuit of learning and knowledge. Dosan Seowon, one of the major Seowons in Andong, was known to be one of the leading academies of the entire nation. 

The beautifully painted roofs at Dosan Seowon. Contrary to Byeongsan Seowon, which is plain and natural, Dosan Seowon is painted colorfully and has elaborate detailing on its structures.

I had always thought of Confucianism as something that didn’t belong in society today because of its strict rules on how to interact with others and the limited role for women in society. However, from exploring its history through the Seowons, museums, and people in Andong, I see that it is less about the particular “rules,” but more about the mindset of preserving healthy relationships in society. It is about mutual respect and living a fruitful life in conscience, mind, and spirit. 

Traditional totems to protect the village from evils smile friendly.

While most of Korea has evolved with time and moved on from tradition and philosophy, Andong has continued to live out and keep the traditions up to this day. Whether through the museums, where they hold the documents and writings of Confucian scholars to commemorate their contributions to society or the annual Mask Dance Festival, Andong holds onto the virtues that have established Korea as it is now. Seeing this, I wonder if we should not all look back and strive to carry on the attitudes of those that came before us.

One of the doors at Dosan Seowon with a signboard saying ‘carry on the way’.

Modern touches in Oldtown

While the well-kept spirit of Confucianism and traditional Hanoks are conspicuous, Andong also has something new to offer: one can enjoy Andong soju in a trendy pub tailored to modern tastes.

A community mural in a village called Yeggi, where the trendy pubs are hidden.
Tasting various kinds of soju at Menge Craft Distillery, where they produce their own soju from wheat and buckwheat are grown on their farm. Andong soju is much stronger than it typically is elsewhere — the alcohol content can go all the way to 45%.
The corner of a trendy pub in Andong is decorated with its traditional masks, an interesting mix of old and new.

If you want to explore your own Andong, contact Daramji. We would connect you with unlikely local people and hidden gems.

All photo credit: Frances Pak (unless otherwise stated)

Andong is the capital city of Gyeongsangbuk-do (province) located on the southeastern side of the Korean peninsula. For more travel information, please check Wikivoyage!
+ Featured places
Dosan Seowon | 154, Dosanseowon-gil, Dosan-myeon, Andong
Menge Craft Distillery | 32, Seonseongjungang-gil, Dosan-myeon, Andong
Okjeong | 87, Eumsigui-gil, Andong