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[Well-curated] Traditional New Year festivities, clean cup of espresso and writing in solitude

Feb. 9, 2024 - 09:01 By Hwang Dong-hee By Choi Si-young By Hong Yoo
Visitors attend last year’s New Year’s festival at Namsangol Hanok Village. (Namsangol Hanok Village)

New Year's festival at Namsangol Hanok Village

Step into the heart of Korean culture at the Namsangol Hanok Village’s New Year’s festival, a vibrant celebration that takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Sunday.

Throughout the weekend, visitors can engage in a variety of traditional Korean games. Start with a fortune-telling session using yut, a traditional board game played, offering a glimpse into the fortunes for the year. Visitor can write their wishes on the wish tree. All the wish notes will be collected and released into the sky on Daeboreum, the day of the first full moon on the lunar calendar, which falls on Feb. 24 this year.

On Saturday, the cultural experiences continue with a lecture on the Korean memorial rite called “charye,” at noon at the Cheonugak stage, and an actual communal ceremony for ancestors afterward. At 1 p.m., the stage comes alive with traditional performances, including pungmul (a Korean folk music tradition), lion dance and traditional circus show. At 2 p.m., a pansori show unfolds with some highlights from well-known folktales.

For those seeking hands-on experiences, Saturday and Sunday offer an array of activities from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. across the village. How about kite-making? Or engage in the art of bow making, calligraphy, traditional snacks, hanji (Korean paper) art and straw craft. Don’t miss the chance to participate in the rice cake-pounding activity. Crafting activity prices range from 7,000 won to 20,000 won.

All programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis, without the need for reservations.

Japanese coffee chain %Arabica at Starfield Coex Mall in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. (Choi Si-young/The Korea Herald)

Espresso, anyone?

At Starfield Coex Mall in Samseong-dong, one of Seoul’s cafe-saturated neighborhoods, a specialty coffee chain brims with visitors despite the competition -- and not just Koreans but tourists from all over the world.

“It helps (me) get through the day. This is my first coffee and I’m like, I’m alive now,” said Noi, a 40-something American, sipping an espresso the barista just handed him at %Arabica.

The Kyoto-based coffee shop was one of the first stops of his Korea trip, Noi added.

“Just to look around and feel the ambiance,” Noi said of the shop, known for quality coffee made with custom-made espresso machines and minimalist designs that define the brand’s identity -- simple and white.

But the American tourist had reservations.

“This is straight-up modern. This is really sterile and too bright,” Noi said, noting he would rather go for something “classical and darker,” for a shop of his own one day.

Regardless, coffee aficionados are united when they come across quality coffee served by baristas dedicated to consistent grinding and extraction, which make a whole difference in the texture and flavor of coffee.

“It’s good,” Noi said, finishing his espresso.

The Writing Room in Jung-gu, Seoul. (Hong Yoo/ The Korea Herald)

Room for writing

Peaceful quiet welcomes visitors at The Writing Room, a place where one can write and read without any disturbance, away from loud chatters and digital appliances.

The Writing Room is divided into three sections -- a showroom filled with writing paraphernalia, seats for writing and seats for reading.

The showroom offers pens, pencils, stamps, stickers and notes for free to help visitors start writing.

It also showcases diaries for sale and also sample diaries of the shop owner to give people an idea of what to write about.

Dim lighting creates a cozy mood for the visitors to settle in comfortably and write their thoughts onto the pages to clear their minds, or to read to push away distracting thoughts.

Visitors are offered a cup of hot chocolate or tea which makes the quiet writing and reading experience even more satisfying.

People at the writing and reading seats are not allowed to use laptops, smartphones or any type of electronic device that could distract them from concentrating on writing down what’s on their mind.

Before leaving the shop, visitors can drop their writings in a mailbox close to the exit door if they want to share them with others or if they want to leave behind whatever is on their minds that they’ve written about.

Reservation is needed to spend an hour at the writing and reading seats for 10,000 won ($7.54).