U.S.-born educator Robert Fouser is on a mission to preserve hanok or traditional Korean houses. He is focusing his efforts on the Seochon area of Seoul west of Gyeongbok Palace.
Fouser says the hanok there appears more "lived in" than those located in Bukchon or north of Gyeongbok Palace, which have been cleaned up and polished for tourists.
Fouser teaches Korean language education at Seoul National University and has teamed up with an organization called Body-City Forum, which researches hanok, to put on a four-day event starting Oct. 10 called "Flowing Alleys." The purpose is to preserve the warren of streets grouping Hyoja-dong, Nuha-dong, Tongin-dong and Chaebu-dong.
"The hanok and alleys of Seochon have a lived-in feel that apartments and paved roads lack," Fouser told reporters Monday. He said the purpose of the event was to let more people know about hanok "not as cultural assets, but as living spaces."
Since he came to Korea in 1987, Fouser taught English at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Korea University. In 2008, he became the first foreign professor at a domestic university teaching Korean-language teaching.
He encountered his first hanok in 1988 when he was looking for an affordable place to stay. He ended up falling in love with the traditional houses. "Back then, hanok was not considered cultural assets that needed to be preserved," Fouser said. "It was merely one of the different types of homes that were available on the market, like apartments and villas."
He says he decided to live in a hanok because he liked the smell of trees and warm sunlight shining into the central courtyard.
The "Flowing Alleys" project consists of a tour that compares hanoks in Seochon and Bukchon. "Most people think all hanoks are the same," Fouser said. "But a closer look shows that the hanoks in Bukchon have been preserved as cultural assets, while those in Seochon were built for people to live in.”
Early this year, Fouser moved out of Bukchon, where he has lived for the last three years, and moved to a hanok in Seochon. He says his new home is small but comfortable.
Both Koreans and foreigners can take part in the tours, and foreign diplomats and other expats are taking part in the campaign.