“Where are you from?” the woman inquired from her doorstep.
“New Zealand” I replied.
“Do you want to drink some tea?” she asked. I thought about this for a second. Was it wise to enter a random stranger’s home in a foreign country?
There was only one way to find out.
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighbourhood in Seoul. It’s famous for having hundreds of Korean houses called “hanoks”. These traditional buildings are constructed in harmony with the land and seasons.
Hanoks were once everywhere, but most were destroyed to make way for Korea’s ubiquitous high-rise apartment blocks. Today, they are valued historically and for their environmentally-friendly aspects. Constructed from natural materials like timber and rock, they also have natural heating and cooling systems to make Korea’s seasons bearable.
But most importantly, hanoks are beautiful. As walked through the entrance of this woman’s home, I felt I’d been transported to another world. The interior was stained wood and white paper walls. It was quiet and cool. I forgot there was a big city right outside.
The woman, whose name was Maria, took me on a tour. The hanok looked tiny from the road, but inside it was a sprawling maze. We went up and down different levels, through multiple rooms and sliding doors. I thought it would never end. There was even an inner courtyard with a manicured garden. The house was perfect. And I was wearing my most stained t-shirt.
We sat on the floor at the table and Maria made the tea. First, we had a tea reserved for the Japanese royal family. To drink it you had to sit perfectly upright, as only commoners bent over. After this we tried a tea from the Korean island Jeju. Both were delicious.
As we were about to leave, Maria’s husband returned from work. Maria had said earlier that he was the CEO of his own steel company, which explained this expensive home. I imagined a stern Korean tycoon, but he rocked up in a funky blue jacket and a big smile. We chatted and he mentioned that they were yet to name their home.
“Let’s call it ‘Daniel House!'”, Maria suggested. Everyone laughed, but maybe it wasn’t a joke. After all, the generosity of strangers is limitless.