London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

2013 Travel Diary #24: Yin, Yang and Ginseng

Dae Jang Geum (L) with Heo Jun outside the Theme Hall
Dae Jang Geum (L) with Heo Jun outside the Traditional Medicine Experience Pavilion

Donguibogam Village, Sancheong-gun, Wednesday 11 September, 5:30pm. Refreshed by our nap on the fragrant pillow, we move on from the Traditional Medicine Experience Pavilion to the Theme Hall, outside which stand the statues of the two best known figures in Korean Traditional Medicine, who have now made it into popular culture courtesy of TV dramas: Heo Jun and Dae Jang Geum.

A film introduces the concepts of balance, of hot and cold, yin and yang, in traditional medicine and its relevance for today. It takes you a journey inside the human body, much like the 1960s sci-fi film The Fantastic Voyage. After the video, there is an exhibition which tells the story of developments in traditional Korean medicine over the years, and comparing it with traditional Chinese medicine, and examines the concept of sikchi – the practice of preventing and curing disease through food – the sort of practices embodied in surasang, the royal cuisine featured in the TV drama Dae Jang Geum.

This theme was echoed in the Medicinal Cultural Pavilion at the top of the Expo precincts, near the Gi Experience Village. In this pavilion the focus is on eating the right food for the right time of year; and on foods which promote health more generally. Broccoli was featured, and of course kimchi. But I was particularly pleased to see that my own preventive medicine of choice was featured:

“Regular intake of red wine has excellent effects on anti-aging, degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, and hematogenesis which helps anemia”.

The health benefits of red wine
The health benefits of red wine

After all the theory, it was time to practice a bit of healthy eating: a dinner which featured wild ginseng wherever you looked. Wild ginseng samgyetang, wild ginseng makgeolli and wild ginseng kimchi.

Ginseng-flavoured makgeolli
Ginseng-flavoured makgeolli

It fortified me for the long walk back up the hill to my chalet. It was approaching closing time for the Expo, and the precincts were empty. I was in no hurry to get back, and was enjoying my solitude and the slightly cooler air of the evening.

There were still areas of the Expo I had yet to visit, so I took a detour through the floodlit Medicinal Herb Hall: a giant greenhouse planted with medicinal herbs.

The floorplan of the Medicinal Herb Hall
The floorplan of the Medicinal Herb Hall is based on a diagram in the Donguibogam

Inside, the pathway is laid out in the shape of the human body, its viscera and the sipjangsaeng (the ten traditional symbols of longevity). The herbs were carefully planted together according to the part of the body that they treated. Even if you were not following the thoughtful themed layout, you could appreciate the harmonious planning.

Continuing up the hill, I passed the rather incongruous windmill, garishly lit up. No-one throughout my stay had been able to explain its significance. It was just there, another attraction to be visited by the inquisitive tourists.

No-one could explain what this windmill was doing at the Expo
No-one could explain what this windmill was doing at the Expo

The Gi Experience Village was empty, and beautifully lit, making me wish not for the first time that I had brought a decent camera and a tripod with me. Propping my pocket camera against the gateway I do my best to capture some of the atmosphere.

The evening is over. I finish my pleasant but steep walk back to the chalet, and after spending a little more time on my editing project I turn in.

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