CHAPTER IX. The Corean house - Doors and windows - Blinds - Rooms - The "Kan" - Roasting alive - Furniture - Treasures - The kitchen - Dinner-set - Food - Intoxicants - Gluttony - Capacity for food - Sleep - Modes of illumination - Autographs - Streets.

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. The outside walls are of mud and stone, and the roof, when of tiles, is supported by a huge beam that runs from one end of the house to the other. The corners of the roof are usually curled up after the Chinese fashion. A stone slab runs along the whole length of the roof, and is turned up at the two ends, over the upper angle of the roof itself. The tiles are cemented at the two sides of this slab, and likewise at the lower borders of the roof. The windows, again, are rectangular and are placed directly under the roof, being in consequence well protected from the rain.

Corean houses are never more than one storey high. The houses of officials and rich people are enclosed by a wall of masonry, the gate of which is surmounted by a small pagoda-like roof. In the case of the houses of great swells, like generals and princes, it is customary to have two and even three gates, which have to be passed through in succession before the door of the house is reached. The outer wall surrounding the compound is seldom more than six or eight feet high, and, curiously enough, all along the top of the wall runs a narrow roof, the width of two tiles. This, besides being a sort of ornament, is of practical use in protecting it from the damp.

One cannot call the Coreans great gardeners, for they seem to take comparatively little interest in the native flora. The richer people do, as a rule, have small gardens, which are nicely laid out with one or two specimens of the flowers they esteem and care to cultivate; but really ornamental gardens are few in number in the Land of Cho-sen. Kitchen gardens naturally are frequently found, even near the houses of the poorer people.

One peculiarity, which characterises the majority of Corean houses of the better sort is that they are entered by the windows; these being provided with sliding latticed frames covered with tissue paper, and running on grooves to the sides, like the Shojis of Japan. The tissue paper is often dipped in oil previous to being used on the sliding doors and windows, as it is then supposed to keep out the cold better than when left in its natural state. As the doors and windows of Cho-sen, however, very seldom have the quality of fitting tight, a Corean house is therefore quite a rendezvous for draughts and currents of air.

In summer time the windows and doors are kept open, or even removed altogether during the day-time, and then, in order to preserve that privacy of which every Corean is so proud, recourse is had to a capital dodge. At the end of the projecting roof, and immediately in front of the window or entrance, at the distance of a couple of feet, is hung a shade in the shape of a fine mat, made of numberless long strings of split bamboo, tied together in a parallel position by several silk strings which vary in number with the size of the mat. The use of these curtain-like barriers has several advantages. They protect the house from those troublesome visitors the flies; they let in the air, though not the sun, and, while the people who are in the house can plainly see through them what goes on in the street, no one on the outside can distinguish either those inside, or what is doing in the house. Good mats are very expensive, and difficult to obtain; therefore, it is only the better classes that can use them. Poorer folk are satisfied with very rough mats of rushes. It is also the custom for good citizens of the provinces to send the king at the New Year presents of a certain number of these mats, which, like the Indian shawls of Her Britannic Majesty, are given out again by him to the royal princes and highest officials. I was fortunate enough to be presented with two of these blinds by a high official, who was closely related to the king. They are a marvel of patient and careful work, as accurately and delicately done as if some machine had been employed. They are nearly six feet high, by five wide, and are yellow in colour with black, red, and green stripes painted at the top and bottom. In the centre is a very pretty, simple frieze, on the inside of which are some Corean characters.

If a Corean house does not look very inviting when you look at it from the outside, still less does it when you are indoors. The smallness of the rooms and their lack of furniture, pictures, or ornaments are features not very pleasant to the eye. The rooms are like tiny boxes, between eight and ten feet long, less than this in width and about seven feet high. They are white all over with the exception of the floor, which is covered with thick, yellowish oil-paper. The poorest kind of Corean house consists of only a single room; the abode of the moderately well-off man, on the other hand, may have two or three, generally three rooms; though, of course, the houses of very high offices are found with a still larger number.

The Corean process of heating the houses is somewhat original. It is a process used in a great part of Eastern Asia - and, to my mind, it is the only thoroughly barbaric custom which the Corean natives have retained. The flooring of the rooms consists of slabs of stone, under which is a large oven of the same extent as the room overhead, which oven, during the winter, is filled with a burning wood-fire, which is kept up day and night. What happens is generally this: The coolie whose duty it is to look after this oven, to avoid trouble fills it with wood and dried leaves up to the very neck, and sets these on fire and then goes to sleep; by which means the stone slabs get heated to such an extent that, sometimes, notwithstanding the thick oil paper which covers them, one cannot stand on them with bare feet.

The Corean custom is to sleep on the ground in the padded clothes, using a wooden block as a pillow. The better classes, however, use also small, thin mattresses, covered with silk, which they spread out at night, and keep rolled up during the day-time. As the people sleep on the ground, it often happens that the floor gets so hot as to almost roast them, but the easy-going inhabitant of Cho-sen, does not seem to object to this roasting process - on the contrary, he seems almost to revel in it, and when well broiled on one side, he will turn over to the other, so as to level matters. While admiring the Coreans much for this proceeding, I found it extremely inconvenient to imitate them. I recollect well the first experience which I had of the use of a "Kan," which is the native name of the oven. On that occasion it was "made so hot" for me, that I began to think I had made a mistake, and that I had entered a crematory oven instead of a sleeping-room. Putting my fist through one of the paper windows to get a little air only made matters ten times worse, for half my body continued to undergo the roasting process, while the other half was getting unpleasantly frozen. To this day, it has always been a marvel to me, and an unexplainable fact that, those who use the "Kan" do not "wake up - dead" in the morning!

The furniture of a Corean house, as I have hinted above, is neither over plentiful nor too luxurious. In fact, at the first glance, one is almost inclined to say that there is, so to speak, no furniture at all there. Possibly, a tiger or a leopard-skin may be found spread on the ground in the reception room; there may even be a rough minuscule chest of drawers in a corner, and a small, low writing-table near it, upon which probably rests a little jar with a flower or two in it; but rarely will you find much more. The bedrooms usually contain chests, in which the clothing is kept, but there is also a custom by which these are hung on pegs in a recess in the wall. The chests are covered with white parchment studded all over with brass nails, and further adorned with a brass lock and two handles of the same metal. When voyaging, the Coreans use these as trunks. Besides the rooms I have mentioned, the richer Corean has a special room, generally kept locked up, in which the treasures of the family are jealously safeguarded. The latter are in the shape of ancient native pictures, rolled up like the Kakemonos of Japan, painted screens and vases of the Satsuma ware, the art of making which was taught to the Japanese by the Coreans, although now those who were formerly masters in the art cannot produce it. Some Coreans also possess valuable specimens of lacquer work, both of Chinese and Japanese origin, as well as a rougher kind of native production. None of these heirlooms are, however, ever brought to light, and it is only on rare and very grand occasions, such as marriages, deaths, or national rejoicings, that one or two articles are brought into the reception-room for the day, to be again carefully packed up and stored away at night. The idea, which prevails in Japan, is also current here, namely, that it is bad form to make a great show of what one possesses, and that the wealthier a man is, the less should he disclose the fact and the simpler should he live, that he may not so excite the envy of his fellow countrymen. Self-denial and self-inflicted discomforts are virtues much appreciated in the Land of Cho-sen, and when a nobleman sets a good example in this respect it is invariably thought highly of, and emulated by others. Indeed, the conversation of the whole town is often concentrated on some small act of benevolence done by such and such a prince, nobleman or magistrate.

But the kitchen must not be forgotten. Its most striking contents are the large earthenware vases, similar in shape and size to the orcis of Italy, in which the top-knotted native keeps his wine, water, barley and rice. Then there are numberless shining brass cups, saucers, and bowls of various sizes. The latter forms the Corean dinner-service. Every piece of this is made of brass. The largest bowls are used, one for soup, and the other for rice; the next in size, for wine and water respectively; while the smaller ones are for bits of vegetables and sauces - which latter are used by the natives in profusion. Curiously enough, in the Land of the Morning Calm they manufacture a sauce which is, so far as I could judge, identical in taste and colour with our well-known Worcester sauce.

The Coreans eat their food with chopsticks, but contrary to the habits of their neighbours, the Chinese and the Japanese, spoons also are used. The chopsticks are of very cheap wood, and fresh ones are used at nearly every meal. The diet also is much more varied than in either of the neighbouring countries, and game, venison, raw fish, beef, pork, fowls, eggs, and sea-weed are much appreciated. As for fruits, the Coreans get simply mad over them, the most favourite being the persimmons, of which they eat large quantities both fresh and dried. Apples, pears and plums are also plentifully used.

The Cho-sen people have three meals a day. The first is partaken of early in the morning, and is only a light one; then comes lunch in the middle of the day, a good square meal; and finally the Tai-sek, a great meal, in the evening, at which Corean voracity is exhibited to the best advantage. The climate being so much colder than that of Japan, it is only natural that the Cho-senese should use more animal food and fat than do the landsman of the Mikado. Pork and beef, barely roasted and copiously condimented with pepper and vinegar, are devoured in large quantities. The Coreans also have a dish much resembling the Italian maccaroni or vermicelli. Of this large bowls may be seen at all the eating-shops in Seoul, and it is as a food apparently more cherished by members of the lower than by those of the upper classes. Previous to being eaten, it is dipped in a very flavoury sauce, and, although they are not quite so graceful in the art of eating as are the Neapolitan Lazzaroni, still with the help of a spoon and as many fingers as are available, the Corean natives seem to manage to swallow large quantities of this in a very short time.

Among the lower classes in Corea tea is almost unknown as a beverage. In its stead they delight in drinking the whitish stuff produced by the rice when it has been boiled in water, or as an alternative, infusions of ginsang. They also brew at home two or three different kinds of liquor of different strengths and tastes, by fermenting barley, rice and millet. The beer of fermented rice is not at all disagreeable, and their light wine also is, so far as wines go, even palatable. However, I may as well state once for all that I am no judge of these matters, and, as my time is chiefly employed in the art of oil-painting, and not in that of drinking, I hope to be excused if I think myself better up in "oils" than in wines!!

Presuming that my reader has survived this pun, I will now go on to state that it is a common thing in Corea to begin a dinner with sweets, and that another curious custom is for all present to drink out of the same bowl of wine passed round and of course re-filled when empty. The dinner is served on tiny tables rising only a few inches above the ground, and similar to those of Japan. Fish, as is the case with most Easterners, are eaten raw; first, however, being dipped in the liquid which resembles Worcestershire sauce. To cook a fish is simply looked upon as a shameful way of, spoiling it, unless it has gone bad, when, of course, cooking becomes necessary. Fish are, however, most prized by the Coreans when just taken out of the water.

Hard-boiled eggs form another favourite dish in the land of Cho-sen, and turnips, potatoes, and a large radish similar to the daikon of Japan, are also partaken of at Corean dinners. The poorer classes seem to relish highly a dreadful-looking salad, of a small fish much resembling whitebait, highly flavoured with quantities of pepper, black sauce and vinegar, with bits of pork-meat frequently thrown in. The whole thing has an unpleasant brownish colour, and the smell of it reminded me much of a photographer's dark room when collodion is in use, except that the smell of the fish-salad is considerably stronger.

The Coreans excel and even surpass themselves in cooking rice. This is almost an art with them, and the laurels for high achievements in it belong to the women, for it is to them that work of this kind is entrusted. Sometimes the Cho-senese make a kind of pastry, but they have nothing at all resembling our bread. Rice takes the place of the last mentioned, and though, so far as I could see, the fair ladies of Cho-sen were somewhat casual in the exercise of the culinary art, they really took enormous trouble to boil the rice properly. It is first well washed in a large pail, and properly cleaned; then it undergoes a process of slow boiling in plenty of water in such a way that, while quite soft and delicious to the taste, each grain retains its shape and remains separate, instead of making the kind of paste produced by our method of boiling it. The whitish water left behind after the rice has been removed is, as we have seen, used as a cooling beverage. In some respects the Corean diet approaches the Chinese and the Indian, rather than the Japanese; for many a time have I seen men in Corea eat their rice mixed with meat and fish, well covered with strong sauce, in the shape of a curry; whereas in Japan the boiled rice is always in a bowl apart and eaten separately.

The Corean mind seems to lay great stress upon the quantity of food that the digestive organs will bear. Nothing gives more satisfaction to a Corean than to be able to pat his tightly-stretched stomach, and, with a deep sigh of relief, say: "Oh, how much I have eaten!" Life, according to them, would not be worth living if it were not for eating. Brought up under a regime of this kind, it is not astonishing that their capacity for food is really amazing. I have seen a Corean devour a luncheon of a size that would satisfy three average Europeans, and yet after that, when I was anxiously expecting to see him burst, fall upon a large dish of dried persimmons, the heaviest and most indigestible things in existence. "They look very good," said he, as he quickly swallowed one, and with his supple fingers undid the beautiful bow of his girdle and loosened it, thus apparently providing for more space inside. "I shall eat one or two," he murmured, as he was in the act of swallowing the second; and, in less than no time the whole of the fruit had passed from the dish into his digestive organs, and he was intently gathering up, with the tips of his licked fingers, the few grains of sugar left at the bottom of the dish.

"I was unwell and had no appetite to-day," he then innocently remarked, as he lifted up his head.

"Oh, I hope you will come again when you are quite well," said I, "but you must promise not to eat the table, because it does not belong to me."

A good deal of the native voracity is due, however, not to this insatiable appetite and gluttony alone, but also to Corean etiquette, according to which it shows a want of respect to the host and is a mark of great rudeness not to eat all that is placed before one. If all is not eaten they argue that you do not like it and consider it to be badly cooked or inferior to what you have at home. The notion of a normal capacity is strange to them, and never even enters their mind. They are trained from childhood to eat huge quantities of food, and to take heartily all that they can get. I have seen children with thin little bellies so extended after a meal, in the course of which they had been stuffed with rice and barley, that they could hardly walk or even breathe. I recollect on one occasion remarking to a mother, who was beamingly showing me her child in a similar condition: "Are you not afraid that his skin will give way?" "Oh no! Look!" Upon which she stuffed down his little throat three or four more spoonfuls of rice. I have been thankful ever since that I was not born a Corean child.

When the Coreans eat in their own houses, the men of the family take their meals first, being waited on by their wives and servants; after which the females have their repast in a separate room. The women seldom drink intoxicants, and have to be satisfied with water and rice-wash.

It is the duty of the wife to look after the welfare of her husband, and when she has fed him, and he has drowsily laid himself down on the ground, or on his little mattress, as the case may be, she retires, and after having had her food either goes to see her friends or to wash her master's clothes, or else goes to sleep.

The people of Cho-sen are fond of keeping late hours; and yet I believe there are no people in the world who are more fond of sleep. So far as my observations go, the richer people spend their lives entirely in eating and sleeping. Whenever I went to call on a Corean gentleman, I invariably found him either gorging or in the arms of Morpheus. Naturally a life of this sort makes the upper classes soft, and somewhat effeminate. They are much given to sensual pleasures, and many a man of Cho-sen is reduced to a perfect wreck when he ought to be in his prime. The habit of drinking more than is proper is really a national institution, and what with over feeding, drunkenness, and other vices it is not astounding that the upper ten do not show to great advantage. The Coreans are most irregular in their habits, for, slumbering as they do at all hours of the day, they often feel sleepless at night, and are compelled in consequence to sit up. On these occasions songs are roused, and dominoes (san-pi-yen), chess (chan-kin), or occasionally card games are started until another siesta is felt to be required. Cards, however, are seldom played by the upper classes; for they are considered a low amusement, only fit for coolies and soldiers. On grand occasions it is not unusual for the bon-vivant of Cho-sen to sit up all night, with his friends, feasting to such an extent that he and his guests are ill for months afterwards.

The Corean nobleman, as may well be imagined, suffers from chronic indigestion, and whenever one happens to inquire after his health the answer invariably is: "I have eaten something that has disagreed with me, I have a pain here." And the hand is placed on the chest, in a mournful but expressive enough attitude.

The modes of illumination adopted in the Corean household are few and simple. The most common illuminant consists of grease candles, supported on high candlesticks, of wood or brass, but sometimes oil cup-lamps are found, like those we use for night-lights. The latter, however, do not give out much light, and so candles, which are marvellously cheap, are preferred, although unfortunately they melt quickly, and smoke and smell in a dreadful fashion.

Besides the various articles of domestic furniture which I have mentioned, I don't think I saw any others worth noticing, except perhaps the "autograph" of some great man, to which the Coreans attach much importance. The paper, on which the "character" is written, is stretched on a wooden frame and hung in a prominent place, generally over the entrance, and whenever a new visitor enters the house, the first thing shown him is the "autograph," and it is his duty then to compliment his host on his good fortune of possessing it.

We have now examined all the various striking features characteristic of the Corean household. Let us, then, now go outside again. The streets of the town could not be more tortuous and irregular. With the exception of the main thoroughfares, most of the streets are hardly wide enough to let four people walk abreast. The drainage is carried away in uncovered channels alongside the house, in the street itself; and, the windows being directly over these drains, the good people of Cho-sen, when inside their homes, cannot breathe without inhaling the fumes exhaled from the fetid matter stagnant underneath. When rain falls, matters get somewhat better; for then the running water cleans these canals to a considerable extent. During the winter months, also, things are passable enough, for then everything is frozen; but, in the beginning of spring, when frozen nature undergoes the process of thawing, then it is that one wishes to be deprived of his nose. At the entrance of each house a stone slab is thrown across to the doorway so as to cover the ditch. Only the foundations of the town houses are made of solid stone, well cemented, but in the case of country dwellings these are extended upwards so as to make up one-half of the whole height, the upper part being of mud, stuck on to a rough matting of bamboos and split canes.