THE LOGO of Cittaslow, or “slow city” in Italian, is a snail carrying a small town on its back, symbolizing slowness. Snails choose slowness as their method of survival in the fierce ecosystem. They are also small and thoughtful creatures that would never eat a single violet; rather, they eat dead or wilting vegetables, conserving the environment. But perhaps the most representative feature of snails is that without their shell, which carries their major organs, they will die. The Cittaslow movement’s logo thus shows how people cannot live without their villages, just as a snail cannot live without its shell.
The Cittaslow movement promotes quality of life by creating and preserving a humane and sustainable environment. There are 11 slow cities in South Korea, which is the largest number of any nation in Asia. In fact, Korea has the fourth highest number of slow cities after Italy, Poland, and Germany. Now it is June, the best time for planning your summer vacation. Through this month’s Special Report you can learn about traveling to a slow city, which will undoubtedly be a unique experience.
Start of the slow city movement
As tourism has become accepted as a high value business, South Korean local governments are competitively developing visitor attractions. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, the average number of days of domestic and foreign travel spent per year among the population over 15 years old has increased from 9.1 days in 2010 to 10.5 days in 2014. Along with the rapid growth of the tourism industry, the needs and wants of travelers are becoming more diverse than ever. With the new well-being trend, ecotourism and “healing” are the types of tourism that are showing the most rapid increase in popularity among alternative tourism. This can be seen as a result of the shift in social values from pursuing fast and uniform travel experiences to enjoying adventure in a preserved natural environment while recharging the body and mind. As an alternative mode of travel to escape from uniformity and the pressures of a high-speed lifestyle, which desolates our lives, the tendency to promote healing and slowness has become greater.
The Cittaslow movement started in a small town in Italy named Orvieto. It is the place where the slow food movement was initiated, followed by the expansion of other slow movements; it later became the first slow city in 1999. Yoon Ji-young (Soph., UIC, Dept. of Quantitative Risk Management), who enjoys traveling every vacation, visited Orvieto last year. She said, “At first I did not even know it was a slow city; I just visited the village because it was a popular rural town in Italy. I did not want to visit just the famous urban cities, and rather wanted to travel around rural towns too. However, when I visited Orvieto, I was able to feel the slowness in the town. I could not find any fast food chains, and people seemed to feel very calm and happy.” She also said that Korean people nowadays seem to be molded by unified tourism, visiting the same places and taking pictures in front of only the well-known paintings or monuments. Another student, Kim Su-jin (Jr., UIC, Dept. of Sustainable Development & Coop.) said, “College students’ purpose of traveling tends to be focused only on taking pictures to show off on SNS. And they usually go to only the famous sites and are not willing to take risks of traveling to new places.”
The Cittaslow movement, or the slow city movement, has gained popularity with its unique and genuine values and seeks true development of local communities. It also promotes economic development while protecting nature and the traditional cultures of regional communities, making them more humane and their residents happier. According to the Cittaslow Manifesto, the Cittaslow movement seeks to create “towns where men are still curious of the old times, towns rich of theaters, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and charming craftsmen, where people are still able to recognize the slow course of the seasons and their genuine products respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs….” Moreover, every slow city needs to be reevaluated every five years to keep its status as a slow city.
Slow cities in South Korea
In Korea, there are 11 slow cities; each of them has its own value and validity as a slow city, which makes all of them worth visiting.
Joan-myeon in Namyangju mingles the cultural values of Dasan Jung Yak-yong with traits as a slow city and slow food experiences. As the entire area of Joan-myeon is designated as a water conservation zone, Joan-myeon meets the conditions that a slow city requires, which is harmony between humans and nature. Cultivated by organic farming, organic ssamchae - vegetables eaten as a wrap with other foods - and strawberries are the representative local specialties. In fact, one should definitely try making organic strawberry jam and strawberry enzyme. Moreover, zipul (straw and plant) handcraft, lotus root and lotus processed goods are also famous in this area.
In the village of Daeheung in Yesan, there is Yedang Lake - a rich ecological repository of insects and aquatic plants, and also a beloved natural fishing site - and Yedang Eco Park. Residents of the village of Daeheung strongly value their families, neighbors and the community they are part of. They still continue to hold “Don-je,” an old village rite which takes place under a zelkova tree at the entrance of the village during which they pray to the guardian spirits for their safety and good harvest. Steamed crucian carp and freshwater eo-juk (fish soup) are popular dishes in the area.
Jeonju-si is famous for Jeonju Hanok Village; the rooflines of the Korean traditional houses are unbelievably graceful. Jeonju bi-bim-bap, a traditional South Korean dish that is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with seasoned vegetables and chili pepper paste, is also very famous; along with Jeonju Hanok Village, it is one of the main reasons why the village was chosen to be a slow city. As Jeonju has become increasingly well-known and much too commercialized, however, with many franchise chains and shops unrelated to preserving local traditions, it is unclear whether it will keep its title as a slow city in the next evaluation process.
In Changpyeong of Damyang, bamboo salt is used in making fermented sauces such as soy sauce, soybean paste and red pepper paste, as bamboo trees are abundant in the area. Moreover, Changpyeong yeot (glutinous rice jelly) and Changpyeong han-gwa (Korean traditional cookie) are popular local products. Also in Changpyeong, where Korean traditional houses surround a village named Samjicheon, visitors can enjoy a walk around old stone walls.
Shinan is famous for its tidal salt fields. Tourists can visit the salt museum housed in a renovated building that was previously used to store salt. In the Taepyeong salt farm, the sun, wind, and the sea produce sun-dried salt, known for being rich in minerals. Moreover, visitors can visit Ujeon Beach, a beautiful white sand beach 4 kilometers long and 100 meters wide. The seawater is clean and a thick forest of pines surrounding the beach adds to its beauty.
In the Cheongsan Island of Wando-gun, walkways alongside stone walls, a blue sea, and the smiling faces of elderly farmers who speak a distinct dialect are some of the distinguished characteristics. Of the three slow cities in the southwestern part of the peninsula, Wando encompasses the most beautiful and untouched, pure blue sea. Wando is famous for its fresh abalone and produces 80% of the abalones in Korea.
Cittaslow Hadong is the site of Korea’s first wild green tea plantation, where green tea trees are grown naturally without using any artificial fertilizers. In Hadong, the town of Akyang is known for the setting of Toji (The Land), a monumental epic novel written by Park Gyeong-ri. Akyang is also famous for its Daebong persimmons, which were once a rare delicacy presented to kings in the early Joseon Dynasty period.
Cheongsong, which means “green pine tree,” closely resembles its own name. The agricultural town is located at an altitude of 200~300 meters in a mountainous area and preserves an untouched, wondrous natural environment. Cheongsong apples, the specialty of the region, make up the bulk of the apples that are produced in South Korea.
In Sangju, agriculture remains an important sector of its economy; 42% of the city’s households are engaged in farming. Moreover, Sangju is often called Sam Baek, or three whites, referring to its three most celebrated agricultural products: rice, silkworm cocoons, and dried persimmons or got-gam .
Kim-Satgat-myeon of Yeongwol-gun was the first village in Gangwon-do to be selected as a slow city. This place preserves its pure environment and is getting attention as an “uncontaminated” travel destination. According to Park Soon-yong, the president of Kim Satgat Slow City Association, Yeongwol is like a museum without a roof, with many things to enjoy and experience. Moreover, eight museums are there for travelers to stop by and enjoy a glimpse of the life of the great wandering poet, Kim Satgat.
Village of water and mountain, Susan-myeon
Susan-myeon of Jecheon-si, Chungcheongbuk-do is one of the 11 slow cities in Korea, and I picked this village for a visit because it is one of the most recently selected slow cities and also relatively close to the capital area. Just as the name su-san indicates, which means “water and mountain,” water from the Cheongpung Lake and mountains of Mt. Geumsu and Oksun Peak together make a grand landscape.
During the 1980s, due to the construction of the Chungju Dam, Cheongpung Lake was formed as the previous Cheongpung riverside descended and became a lake ground. However, the newly formed lake and the mountains surrounding it made a new grand view. Though the people in the village had to move their houses to the mountains, as many places in the village were flooded, they found their way of coping with the new environment. People in the village made sot-dae (a pole signifying prayer for a good harvest) and prayed for the town’s wellbeing.
When traveling in the village, I encountered some difficulty, as the car of my fellow traveler got stuck in an unpaved road. We did not know what to do, as the wheel kept spinning without taking us any further. Then, a man who seemed to be farming in the village, was passing by and came to help us; soon another man joined, and finally our car was back on the road. On our way, our car took the wrong road and got stuck again in someone’s backyard. However, the owner of the house came out and helped us put the car back on the road and kindly told us the way to our next destination. Talking to the villagers and receiving a lot of help from them, I was able to feel their warmth. People in this slow city were not indifferent to strangers’ difficulties and offered a helping hand without hesitation.
The following is a recommended course that I made and followed myself while visiting the village. If any of you readers are planning to visit Susan-myeon, you may take this course into consideration.
1. Susan-myeon office
At the office, you can obtain maps of the village. Wall paintings of snails surrounding the building will greet you, representing the Cittaslow movement.
2. Cheongpung Lake Observatory
It will be quite a walk up to the observatory. However, your journey to the top will not be boring if you enjoy the view of the mountains surrounding the path on the way. At the top, you will be overwhelmed by the view of the Mt. Geumsu, Oksun Peak, and Oksun Bridge.
3. Oksun Peak Observatory
After crossing the Oksun Bridge, which you saw at the top of the Cheongpung Observatory, go up the Oksun Peak Observatory and you will be able to see Oksun Peak much clearer through a telescope.
4. Neunggang Sot-dae Arts Museum
After much sightseeing, the next destination is the Neunggang Sot-dae Arts Museum. This museum is the sole place encompassing the cultural heritage of sot-dae. Outside the museum, you can walk around the beautiful garden decorated with various kinds of sot-dae. Moreover, if you get a chance, you can also experience making sot-dae yourself.
5. Garam restaurant
After all the walking, you will definitely get hungry at this point in your travels. As the restaurant selected by Yakcherak, which is Jecheon’s official food brand that uses healthy ingredients, Garam is the place where you can satisfy your appetite with herb based foods. I would recommend the “deodeok and mulberry leaves stone pot meal,” which costs \20,000 per person; considering other menus, this meal seems to have the most reasonable price for students.
Up until now, and even today, we Koreans have been busy trying to achieve economic development. Going slow does not mean going backwards, however. As Korea is now quite developed compared to the past, I think it is about time to take the beauty of slowness into consideration. This summer, why not experience slowness in your life by traveling to one of the 11 slow cities in Korea?
Box 1: Seven big categories of consideration in evaluating a slow city
1. Energy and Environmental Policies
2. Infrastructure Policies
3. Quality of Urban Life Policies
4. Agricultural, Touristic and Artisan Policies
5. Policies for Hospitality, Awareness and Training
6. Social Cohesion