Walking Along Hwaseong Fortress City Wall (and the Strangest Street Performance We’ve Ever Seen)

After weeks of hiking Seoul City Wall, we learned about Hwaseong Fortress, a completely walled city. Not being one to shy away from adventure, we decided we had to check it out. And let me tell you, the experience was one I won’t forget. No matter how extroverted I am, getting pulled into a random performance by a street performer is nerve-wracking. Perhaps it’s my perfectionism, but no matter how lighthearted a street performer acts, you know he expects a certain amount of competence from you. So what happens when you have no idea what they are even asking you to do? Language barriers, man.

Let me rewind a bit.

So Maybe Our Original Plan Backfired?

Two or so weeks ago we finally decided that I should go visit Danny in Yeongtong near Suwon. He always visits me, so I figured it was fair. We went to Yongin Folk Village one day, but we were also planning on hiking the local mountain nearby.

City map of Hwaseong Fortress and its walls
As a way of explanation, here is a map of the wall and the various locations you can find around and within. Ooooh, aaaah.

The day started with us trying to decide how to get there. But after getting on the wrong bus, traveling in the wrong direction for 15 minutes in a trip that was already supposed to take us 40 minutes, getting off, walking to another station, waiting 10 minutes for a bus to show up, and getting back on… Well, we decided something closer would fit our time schedule a bit better. The decision was actually made a stop after we passed the place, resulting in our having to walk back to the start point. Hey, sometimes you just gotta be impulsive.

Hiking the City Walls of Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon

We arrived in Hwaseong Fortress (which is at the center of Suwon) in the mid-afternoon. We climbed the first few steps up to the top of the wall and gazed out. This trek would offer us a beautiful view of the only completely walled city left in Korea.

Hwaseong has four gates along the wall and was originally intended as a defensive structure; usually, only a simple wall would have been constructed in this time period. The fortress would be secluded in a nearby mountain for the people to flee to in an attack. Yet, it was decided that this fortress would include elements of a town center with the main gates leading inside to the city. The king at this time actually had plans to move the capital of Korea to Suwon. Additionally, he gave anyone who moved here a 10-year lift on their taxes. Groovy!

Over the course of the wall, we saw many defenses such as gun towers, crossbow platforms, training areas, observation posts, and more. Furthermore, the wall climbs up Padalsan mountain. As we climbed, the view became better and better. Unfortunately, when we reached the top we found out we had to pay a small fee to continue walking along. Then, we tried ringing a bell next to the payment area, and we were told we had to pay more for that. We decided to continue walking.

Once we climbed down the mountain, the wall path takes you through a traditional market. Here, we found one of the strangest things we’ve seen or done in Korea.

Anyone Up for Historical Reenactment… with Boxes?

A group of actors were performing stretches with a huge mound of cardboard boxes nearby. Of course, we decided to stick around to see what they were up to. Eventually, they begin a show set to some interesting background music. The basis of the show was them pushing boxes across the ground, which they would eventually pick up and begin to stack. The man next to me told me it was supposed to be about these merchants who found a load of goods and eventually set up a city. Who knew?

They got crowd participation a few times to help build these box towers, and in a moment of I-can’t-believe-that-actually-happened, the box tower actually fell over the watching crowd. I know we both wished we understood Korean at that point.

Performers balancing cardboard boxes in a tower.
This seems like a bad idea.

Giving a Helping Hand

Anyways, at that moment, a man came up to Danny and I and held out his hand asking us for help. Oh lord. He began telling us that we needed to push boxes. But that we should first stack them. But not like that. Like this. And then push. But don’t push yet. Let me push. You take this box and put it on top. And now here’s another box. Okay, yes, just pass the boxes from person to person as we push the boxes. Perfect! 🙂

What were we doing? Why were we doing it? I still have no idea. Eventually, we were allowed to sit.

That only lasted about 10 minutes, though. Another performer ran up to us pleading for help yet again, but this time we had to build a wall to protect a city that had been built using these boxes. This operation seemed much more manageable, but I think we still ended up getting it wrong by making it too long. He told us we were done after two or three minutes of playing building blocks.

The Real Performance Begins

Honestly, if we thought the beginning was strange it only became more odd. The actors began pushing cars around the city, acting like pissed drivers by shouting at each other. Before we knew it, one of the actors had put a box over his head. He continued pushing his car. Moments later, another did the same. Yeah, this was happening. Soon, they all had boxes on and continued in this manner until a frightening wind was heard and they all “ran to safety.”

Performers "driving" box cars, acted out inside Hwaseong
This is all normal.

Suddenly, a box in the middle of the city started to move erratically, destroying everything. An actor had hidden in it and now proceeded to Godzilla-style the work they had done. Eventually, they realigned their boxes into rows, began painting words on them, taped them together, and with the help of the audience again, raised them up with ropes so they spelled some message to the crowd. What did it say? I have no clue. Let me ask a student really quickly…

A message written across boxes in the performance within Hwaseong Fortress
Apparently, it has something to do with the King Jeongjo who constructed Hwaseong. He brought all his engineers to Hwaseong and gave them a huge feast with lots of beer to drink. Then, he told them, “You will not leave here without being drunk.” Sound strange? He wanted this fortress to be a place where no one would go hungry or be without drink, a rather important sign of prosperity back in those times.

So yes! We saw a very strange performance. After they pulled these boxes up, they set off confetti and celebrated. We were just as confused as when it began, so we left to explore the rest of Hwaseong’s city wall.

"Welcome" to Suwon sign along the City Wall
This “Welcome” sign, spelled out in blooming flowers, was affixed atop the highway running through the fortress city.

We walked around the rest of the wall, gazing in and outside the city. A gigantic Presbyterian church loomed outside its limits. Additionally, a great “2016 Welcome” sign was grown atop the highway running through the city. This was a popular area. Lots of people flew kites or “sledded” down the earth hill nearby.

What Is There to Do Inside the Walls of Hwaseong Fortress?

After finishing the wall tour, we headed to check out the palace. Sadly, the light was fading fast, so we only saw a view of its front gate. A market in the square in front of the palace was closing down too. We headed back into the center of town after that because one street, in particular, was famous for selling chicken. We wanted to check it out before we left. At this time, we were standing around looking when a random grandmother quite noticeably nudged her grandson to say hello to us. He squeaked out, “Hi!” and then pointed to one of the restaurants to tell us that “Chicken!” was “Good!” It was adorable.

The gate of the palace within Hwaseong Fortress
These palaces and their aesthetic continue to move me, even as I see more of them.
A view of the nightlife in Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon
Chicken street!

Back at the Suwon station, we decided to end our night by taking a walk down the main drag to see what stores or food stands were available. Here’s a taste of South Korea at night with its stores blazing bright. All the neon lights just strike me as kind of beautiful. What do you think? It’s definitely different than what you see in America.

Night street nearby Suwon Station
This street nearby Suwon station was pretty busy with vendors that night.

What About You?

Have you gotten pulled into a strange performance before? What was the oddest thing to happen to you on one of your trips? What would you have done in our situation? Let me know below! I’d love to hear about your experiences!

0 thoughts on “Walking Along Hwaseong Fortress City Wall (and the Strangest Street Performance We’ve Ever Seen)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge