▲ A way of life: At Hallim Park Folk Village visitors can view traditional thatched houses as well as everyday tools and implements used by Jeju’s folk ancestors. Photo by Cat Lever
When you leave behind the sea of new construction in Jeju City and head out to the countryside, you are likely to see traditional Jeju houses dotting the hills. These are called choga, or straw-roofed houses. The design of these houses is similar to the traditional Korean houses of the mainland, but feature several specific adaptations for Jeju's wet, windy climate. The most intriguing of these adaptations are the oval, thatched roofs which give the houses their distinctive domed silhouette, mirroring the shapes of the oreums they are so often near.
Traditional Jeju houses are usually comprised of two or three separate small buildings, each containing a kitchen, store room, and common room. These buildings are constructed with walls made from stone to keep out the wind, rain, and high temperatures. The stone outer-walls are called chukdam. There are often low stone wallssurrounding the houses themselves; made with carefully chosen rocks stacked together without mortar. This means that the fierce Jeju winds can pass through them rather than blowing against them and knocking them down.
For the house walls, volcanic stones are mortared with a mixture of clay and barley stalks. Both types of walls are kept low to avoid the high winds. These rustic and practical walls can be seen only in Jeju, adding to the distinctive charm of Jeju houses.
The traditional thatched roof completes the weather resistant home. Roofs are constructed by spreading straw evenly across the top of the house and lashing it down. Instead of bundling the straw and tying it at the top, which would create a pointed roof as is common on the mainland; the straw is dispersed evenly and then lashed down in a checkered pattern with hand-twisted ropes. This rope pattern resembles the pattern used for fishing nets as it catches the straw and holds it down.
▲ Simplicity is best: Traditional Jeju houses are made with flat roofs, unlike their contemporaries on the mainland, to combat the fierce Jeju winds. Photo by Cat Lever
The straw used for the thatch comes from wild weeds in Jeju, while on the mainland they primarily used rice straw. The wild weed straw has proven a successful barrier, making the Jeju roof instrumental in keeping out the rain and wind.
There are several places in Jeju where you can examine a traditional Jeju house and learn about their architecture and functionality. The Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum is a great place to explore Jeju's history. There you can find many relics of traditional life on display as well as a thatched-roof house. It is a short walk East from the KAL Hotel in Gu Jeju. If you are visiting Jeju, there are several guest houses where you can stay in a traditional thatched-roof house, while enjoying the comfort and style of modern amenities in the interior.
The next time you are exploring the villages of Jeju, stop and take a minute to examine the thatched roofs on the traditional houses. As modern buildings replace older ones, the sight will become less and less common. Take a moment to appreciate the ingenuity of Jeju traditional construction techniques while they still stand.
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