Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 41, Tuesday, October 19, 2010



Korean folk village

I have been hearing for some time that Seoul is a wonderful city. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is situated on the eastern coast of Asia, between Japan and China. The whole of Korea is divided into two, the North and South, with extreme political and economic differences between them.

Since I have a deep interest in Asian culture and heritage, we planned to tour Seoul in September this year. Korea is a culturally advanced country and has been included by UNESCO in the international registry of world heritages. The beauty of modern Seoul especially its hilly areas, with Korea's simultaneous conservation of land and the maintenance of an eco-friendly ambience is truly a sight for sore eyes.

We arrived in Seoul in the early hours of September 11. When we started from the airport towards our hotel, we caught the first glimpses of the modern sparkling city surrounded by the Hang River and green hills. The long river flows through the heart of the city and countless bridges connect the two parts that the river has divided.

There are many exotic tourist attractions in the city but due to a shortage of time, we managed to visit only a few. The Seoul Tower, castles, museums, especially the war museum, and traditional craft streets are great attractions for tourists. The Gyeongbokgung Palace is great, both in its magnanimity and in terms of its historical lineage. The Korean government maintains a rich folk museum in the palace complex. Various parts of the castle still carry glorious symbols of the bygone Korean empire and the colourful wooden roof represents their gorgeous culture. I found a Japanese-style straight-line crisscross window design in the palace. Some doors are similar to the Kyomijo Temple of Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Inside the castle, a wonderful garden is also an attraction for the visitors.

There are many temples and palaces in Seoul. Chandeokgung is one of their five important palaces because of its inclusion in UNESCO's world heritage list. Changdeokgung Palace was originally built as a detached palace of Gyeongbokgung in the early Joseon Era. It was destroyed by a fire during the Japanese invasion in 1592, but rebuilt after the war. Later, it served as an official royal palace until the mid-19th century in place of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Even in the 20th century, it was used as the royal palace when Sunjong, the last emperor of the Korean Empire was on the throne. He died while living in this palace after the Japanese Annexation of Korea in 1910.

This year, the Koreans are celebrating their sixtieth anniversary of ceasefire, which tool place on July 27, 1953. Many foreign soldiers, who helped South Korea during the war against North Korea were invited for the commemoration. Therefore, the War Museum was a great stopover for tourists. The museum premises are very huge and decorated with many monuments. The long sculpture `Korean War Tower' and 'Statue of Korea's Defenders' are placed in front of entrance to pay tribute to the memories of those brave soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives for their land. Inside the museum, the style of display is very fascinating; each display unit is arranged such that they portray their historical war period chronologically. They also air live documentaries with digital displays and holographic projections.

The traditional craft street, in the center of Seoul, is another interesting place for tourists. There are many traditional craft shops with attractive green celadon ceramic potteries, natural fabrics, Korean fans and tea houses with wonderful handmade tea pots. In terms of food, people are spoilt for choice with friendly and welcoming Japanese and Indian restaurants scattered throughout the street.

We also visited a small city called Suwon, which is an hour's drive away from Seoul. At first we went to Ajou University to meet our friend Sumit, a medical student, who organised a trip to a Korean folk village.

The Korean Folk Village opened on 3rd October 1974 as an open-air folk museum and became an international tourist attraction for both Koreans and foreign visitors. The museum occupies approximately 243 acres of land and the area maintains a natural and traditional Korean landscape. Many of the traditional houses take inspiration from the Choson dynasty.

Even though Korea is culturally different from Bangladesh, there are some striking similarities between our rural lifestyles. The type of dwellings they build are determined by social, cultural considerations as well as natural surroundings. The Koreans have efficiently utilised the spaces in the interior and exterior of their houses to achieve their own self-sufficiency, which has a similarity with old villages from Bengal. Eminent sociologist Max Weber described the Bengal village as self-sufficient because, during that time, in the east, peoples' lives were based on hydraulic (water and irrigation) systems with each and every village well organised by their Panchayat.

The Koreans designed their houses at par with their social, economic, and cultural developments, and have evolved from simple shelters satisfying basic needs, such as sleeping and cooking, into complicated and diverse forms having differentiated areas for raising cattle and storing grains, the main wing, and an annex. The organisers restored many different types of traditional houses in the folk museums; manor houses, commoners’ houses, farmers' houses and so on, which are built differently based on social rank and locality.

While walking, we were amazed by their methods of preservation. While strolling past the houses one by one, one gets the feeling of walking through time in an ancient Korean village. The huge, brown clay potteries are kept for grain storage and long wooden logs, with mask motifs, represent their totems and taboos.

In rural Bangladesh, the uthan (courtyard) is a very common and essential part of our lives, as it is with Korean villages that have inner wings, outer wings, and storage wings. In the central part of the country, commoners’ houses possess these three wings like the shape of letter “o” with open corners. The wings in farmers’ houses are L-shaped. The museum planner fantastically restored the houses of people of many different professions, such as carpenters, weavers, artists, craftsmen and they even arranged a nice village market for the tourists. They exhibited their cane products, including beautiful cane baskets. Artists displayed their art and many different types of masks were also available. In addition, there was a display where farmers exhibited their dry crops and many tools previously used for cultivation. We were excited when we found a rice scraper or dheki as it is known in Bengal.

The structures of the houses are made of clay walls and thatched. Another interesting part was the folk restaurant and amusement events. Because it is so well organised, the museum provides a fun, educational experience for people of all ages. Many school children visit the place with their teachers. They also have rope tracking, horse riding, and insinuated marriage ceremonies which appeal to their visitors.

In the end, the trip proved to be enjoyable not only in terms of tourist attractions but also in terms of historical and cultural enhancement. Right from the era of the Silla Kingdom, the Koreans have kept their history intact, gaining them UNESCO recognition and making certain elements of their heritage global historical assets.

Interior Consultant
E-mail: journeyman.interiors@gmail.com
Photo Credit: Tamim Sujat


Icon express: Stars and their influences

Who are the icons of today's youth? Answering this question reveals a lot about the young generation and their choices and opinions, thoughts and ideologies. Star Lifestyle presents to you a list of the most influential youth icons of this generation, and elaborates on how they have shaped the mind frames of today's youth.

50 Cent, fueling the 'gangsta' culture
The black rapper Curtis James Jackson III, commonly known by his stage name, 50 Cent, sprang to enormous popularity and success across the globe with songs such as How To Rob, Candy Shop, Disco Inferno and How We Do. The young generation of our country too, along with the rest of the world, began to appreciate his music.

But the influence he had on the young generation is not positively taken by many. Although wearing long, over-sized and funky tee shirts is not a fashion trend pioneered by this hotshot rapper, he did give a huge boost to the overall dress sense of many teenagers. And not just the tee shirts, his heavy, long and flashy bling accesories caught on. Eminem and Snoop Dogg are also responsible for popularising the hip-hop style dress sense in our country.

But his influence goes beyond dress-up. Another thing 50 Cent has heavily influenced is the 'gangsta' culture. A gangsta is a member of a youth street gang. 50 Cent used to be a gangsta himself and when he became such an icon, his fans followed.

“One of the reasons why rappers and rock stars are involved in so many scandalous issues is because of their troubled pasts. It is who they are, and it shows,” says Wahed, an avid 50 Cent fan who used to be a 'gangsta' himself once. Indeed, it is true, and 50 Cent is no exception. He was brought up in a hostile environment. His mother, a drug dealer, was fifteen when she gave birth. Her son too, became a drug dealer at the early age of twelve and he even carried guns and drugs to school. A person's creations are products of his experiences and environment and because 50 Cent had terrible experiences, they are often reflected in his songs.

Marilyn Manson-The antichrist superstar
If you are thinking of a name that has had the worst influence on youngsters, this bizarre, gothic musician is your answer. Complete with uncanny make-up and controversial and offensive lyrics, he has had a severely detrimental effect on many a youngster.

Leonard, a university student who used to be a Goth and drug abuser during high school and college, entirely blames Marilyn Manson for his 'darker years'. “He convinced me to think that being Satanic was cool”, confronts Leonard.

Many negative feelings and thoughts come to mind when listening to his songs. Interestingly, music can easily promote violence, and it does. Lisa, a die-hard heavy metal fan shared her views. “Although I have respect for bands like Metallica and Guns N' Roses, I feel that when I listen to their songs, the extremely loud music and vocals generate emotions such as anger and destructiveness within me”.

Adam Lambert, by popular demand
The American Idol star who rose to fame with songs like Whatya Want from Me, Fever, and For Your Entertainment, is considered to be one of the sexiest men alive. Pretty face, dashing looks, out-of-the-ordinary hairdo and charming vocals - Adam Lambert has got it all to make girls go weak in their knees.

The flamboyant star also has a slightly unusual appearance with the all the mascara and nail polish, and he was a bit mixed up in drugs too, but he faced most hurdles and controversies when photographs of him kissing another man came into the spotlight. He is a homosexual and “bi-curious”.

Numerous musicians and other artists became very controversial because of being homosexual. Can there possibly be any link between art and sexual orientation and preference? No. But many people believe there is. Rashed, a student of psychology and a guitarist in a band, thinks so. “Artists lead unconventional lives. Their lifestyles are unconventional too. They are hundred percent open-minded and do not readily accept the common standards and values of society. They are keen to experiment. That's why they are more likely to lead bohemian lives and do all sorts of things general people would not do”.

Sanjay Dutt, a seriously troubled hero
If you frown upon this name being included in the list, think again. Although not a “hot favourite” in recent years, Sanjay Dutt used to be an extremely huge brand in himself and drew an enormous young crowd some years ago. Throughout his film career, he acted in many gangster movies and eventually portrayed the ideal image of a don. Especially with his movie Vaastav, where he played the role of an innocent man sucked into the Mumbai underworld and rose to becoming a gangster himself, he had a very strong effect on the young audience. With hair brushed back, huge, dreamy eyes, a stone face, his typically macho physique and a long red tika worn on the forehead and unforgettable dialogues, it's no wonder he developed such a cult following.

Youngsters got influenced by him and imitated his style. “I once joined a street gang after seeing this movie. He's the Al Pacino of Bollywood”, admitted Shujon with a shy grin.

Not only in reel life, the actor and politician got mixed up with the underworld in real life, which bogged down his potential to a large degree, and nevertheless reinforced the influence of his cult following. And he has a history of drug abuse too. All in all, he is the good-hearted man with many dark sides and a terrible past.

James, the ambassador of darkness
After juggling numerous names to pinpoint one that influenced the youth most, we narrowed it down to James. Although there have been a lot of inspiring works from the young generation, it is still James who has risen to the status of a true legend and appealed to a wider audience.

His surprisingly deep voice that has become his trademark, his long hair and the black Panjabi he wears helped develop a massive army of loyal fans. But again, like most musicians, he too got entrapped in the surreal world of drugs and consequently sucked many fans into it as well.

How can musicians lure their fans into drugs so easily? One obvious reason is their stardom that draws attention. Tushar, a die-hard music fan who is on the verge of starting his own band, Ausprissho, takes another dimension on the matter. “It starts simply enough. A youngster is passionate about music and has his own list of favourite musicians. Then, he attempts to sing like him, trying to capture the enigma in his voice, whilst expressing his love and respect by copying his hairstyle, attitude, etc. Eventually, the youngster gets obsessed with his idol's musical ability and tries to do everything to imitate that. And somewhere down the line, he also tries out drugs.”

On the other hand, many people associate a direct connection between drug abuse and art. “To be an artist, you need to be very creative. A dose of drugs can help you be that…it's all about chemical reactions and stuff like that”, says Natasha, an amateur singer and lyricist struggling to form a band of her own.

However, there is a huge group of people who do not take part in all this hype and craze. Jansher, a university student, is one of them. “I listen to music; love many musicians. When I switch on a song, I'm lost in the world the particular song belongs to. But that world exists only on my music player. When I switch it off, I'm back to reality again. That's it. Obsession for some flamboyant rock star that includes following his lifestyle is not something I would enjoy.”

Che, on a separate note
El Che Vive: the Che lives. And he lives unquestioned. All the flashy stars with their flamboyant lifestyles and publicity stunts fall short when competing with Che Guevara on the popularity front. Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionist from Argentina, the guerilla leader who rode to distant lands on motorbikes, the incredibly handsome physician who bit his own hands to refrain from screaming during his execution, remains a youth icon all over the world. The picture you see on T-shirts, caps, campus bags, etc is the man we are talking about, with the picture known as the most famous photograph ever to be taken. The photograph was taken in 1960 (of Che aged thirty one) at a memorial service.

Interestingly, when asked why they wear Che t-shirts and why they are so passionate about him, almost no one could come up with a proper answer! Most knew his name and the fact that he was some kind of a political leader, but nothing more than that. This only shows the extent of El Che's influence on the youth. He's embedded in popular culture so strongly that people have stopped questioning and have taken his presence for granted. Now that's real power!

Lady Gaga
Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga is an American recording artist, better known by her stage name. The New York Post described her early look as like "a refugee from Jersey Shore" with "big black hair, heavy eye makeup and tight, revealing clothes." She often refers to her fans as her 'little monsters' and got a tattoo with that inscription as a tribute. She has another six known tattoos, among them a peace symbol, which was inspired by John Lennon whom she stated was her hero.

Gaga attributes much of her early success as a mainstream artist to her gay fans and is considered to be a rising gay icon. Early in her career she had difficulty getting radio airplay, and stated, "The turning point for me was the gay community. I've got so many gay fans and they're so loyal to me and they really lifted me up. They'll always stand by me and I'll always stand by them. It's not an easy thing to create a fan base."

Lady Gaga chooses to be different. Not only in her music but also in her alternative lifestyle. From her flamboyant music and outlandish clothes, she has attracted the attention of thousands of young fans who want to be just like her. They may not opt to follow her outrageous sense of fashion, but they all crave to have her ‘in your face' attitude.

By M H Haider


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