By Lee Min-young
The Korean Folk Village is an outdoor folk museum, recreated as a typical village from the Joseon Dynasty that has hundreds of well-preserved old houses.
Also famous for being the filming location of many Korean historical dramas, this place is always bustling with people who come to experience traditional Korean culture and lifestyle.
As part of the many special events that this village arranges periodically, a falconry performance was given by one from the two only remaining licensed falconers in Korea.
Falconry is known to have originated in Asia. Its history in Korea dates back to, presumably, the Goguryeo period and was a popular sport among noblemen in the Joseon Dynasty.
In 2010, falconry was listed as a UNESCO intangible heritage ― registered jointly by 11 countries including Korea.
Falconry involves a laborious process of capturing and domesticating a falcon ― known for being unruly. Some can take several years to be tamed.
The trained falcon is used for hunting birds. Sharp claws, strong beak and swiftness make them extremely skilled hunters.
On a first-come-first-served basis, visitors were given a chance to learn how to train these wild birds. I also signed up for the training session for a first-hand experience. The protective glove is made of thick, heavy leather, but I could immediately sense that the bird had a very strong grip when it landed on my hand.
After entertaining visitors to get a feel of what it's like training hunting birds, the falconer himself showed people how the real training goes. The master falconer, Park Yong-soon, who started falconry as a boy, was named an intangible cultural asset of Daejeon in 2000. All eyes were on the falcon as it followed directions and snatched pieces of meat from Park's hand.
[PARK Yong-soon, Master falconer]
"It requires a lot of effort and perseverance to tame a wild falcon … We falconers don't say we capture birds for falconry, we rather believe the right bird is sent to us by the mountain god. When this god-sent-falcon comes to us, we live with the animal day and night so that we can build trust and feel connected to each other."
[BANG Dong-gil, Icheon-si, Gyeonggi Province]
"Yes, it's my first time watching falconry. It's a very rare experience . . . Most people would think of Mongolia or China when it comes to falconry. I think (foreign) visitors would be surprised to watch it here in the Korean Folk Village."
[LEE Chi-hyun, Hwaseong-si, Gyeonggi Province]
"I was nervous when I was waiting for the falcon to land on my hand, but after that I was not scared. It was fun actually. I would like to try it again if I get the chance to do so."
Many other hunt training events were held for visitors to get a hands-on experience of how our ancestors went hunting to survive the winter. One event was making "sichimi," a small bell with an identification tag that is attached to the bird's tail to identify the bird's owner.
This is where the Korean phrase "sichimi-reul-tteda (pulling off the tag from someone else's bird)" came from, which is now used when referring to an act of feigning innocence after doing something wrong.
In other events, people also tried ice fishing, ice sledding and chopping firewood.
The winter program runs every day from Jan. 5 to Mar. 24, but falconry demonstrations are only open on the weekend and holidays.