Korea

It will now be proper, I think, since I have given you a rough sketch of the man of Cho-sen and his clothes, to describe in a general way to you the weaker sex - not an easy task - and what they wear - a much more difficult task still, - for I have not the good fortune to be conversant with the intricacies of feminine habiliments, and therefore hope to be excused if, in dealing with this part of my subject, I do not always use the proper terms applicable to the different parts that compose it.

The physiognomy of the Coreans is an interesting study, for, with the exception of the Chinese, I know of few nations who can control the movements of their features so well as do the Coreans. They are trained from their infancy to show neither pain, nor pleasure, grief nor excitement; so that a wonderful placidity is always depicted on their faces. None the less, however, though slightly, different expressions can be remarked.

One great feature of Cho-sen life are the children. One might almost say that in Cho-sen you very seldom see a boy, for boyhood is done away with, and from childhood you spring at once to the sedate existence of a married man. Astonishing as this may sound, it is nevertheless true. The free life of a child comes to an end generally when he is about eight or nine years of age. At ten he is a married man, but only, as we shall see later, nominally. For the present, however, we shall limit ourselves to a consideration of his bachelor days.

The ground in and around Seoul is very hilly. The wall that surrounds the capital uncoils itself, like a gigantic snake, up and down the slopes of high bluffs, and seems a very marvellous work of patient masonry when it is borne in mind that some of the peaks up which it winds its way are so steep that even climbing on foot is not an easy task. The height is not uniform, but where it is highest it reaches to over thirty feet. The North Gate, for instance, is at a much higher level than the town down below, and it is necessary to go up a steep road to reach it.

In Cho-sen, as in other countries, we find not only pleasanter sights, but also those that are disagreeable or even revolting. That which I am about to describe is one which, I have little doubt, will make your blood curdle, but which is none the less as interesting as some of the others I have feebly attempted in this work to describe; I mean an execution as carried out in the Land of the Morning Calm. The penal form of death adopted is beheading, which is not, I believe, so pleasant a sensation as, for instance, that of being hanged - that is, when other persons are the sufferers.

The official life of the King of Corea is secluded. He rarely goes out of the royal palace, although rumours occasionally fly about that His Majesty has visited such and such a place in disguise. When he does go out officially, the whole town of Seoul gets into a state of the greatest agitation and excitement. Not more than once or twice a year does such a thing happen; and when it does, the thatched shanties erected on the wide royal street are pulled down, causing a good deal of trouble and expense to the small merchants, etc.

I was one evening at a dinner-party, at one of the Consulates, when, in the course of the frugal repast, one of the servants came in with the news that a large conflagration had broken out in the road of the Big-bell, and that many houses had already been burnt down. The "big-bell" itself was said to be in great danger of being destroyed.

Giving way to my usual curiosity, and thinking that it would be interesting to see how houses burn in Cho-sen, I begged of my host to excuse me, left all the good things on the table, and ran off to the scene of the fire.

One of the most interesting excursions in the neighbourhood of Seoul, is that to the Poo-kan fortress. The pleasantest way of making it is to start from the West Gate of Seoul and proceed thence either on horseback or on foot, along the Pekin Pass road, past the artificial cut in the rocks, until a smaller road, a mere path, is reached, which branches off the main road and leads directly to the West Gate of the Poo-kan fortress. This path goes over hilly ground, and the approaches to the West Gate of the fortress are exceedingly picturesque.

During the time that I was in Seoul - and I was there several months - most of my time was spent out of doors, for I mixed as much as possible with the natives, that I might see and study their manners and customs. I was very fortunate in my quarters: for I first stayed at the house of a Russian gentleman, and after that in that of the German Consul, and to these kind friends I felt, and shall always feel, greatly indebted for the hospitality they showed me during the first few weeks that I was in the capital; but, above all, do I owe it to the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs in Corea, Mr.

Let us now see what a Corean household is like. But, first, as to the matter of house architecture. Here there is little difference to be observed between the house of the noble and that of the peasant, except that the former is generally cleaner-looking. The houses in Corea may be divided into two classes - those with thatched roofs of barley-straw, and those with roofs of tiles, stone and plaster. The latter are the best, and are inhabited by the well-to-do classes.

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