Gyeonghoeru Pavilion was used by the Joseon kings to entertain foreign guests but there are no references to this pond being used for skating by the early Westerners. Photo by Robert Neff

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion was used by the Joseon kings to entertain foreign guests but there are no references to this pond being used for skating by the early Westerners. Photo by Robert Neff

Typically Jeju has one or two outdoor ice rinks set up during the winter. Jeju World Wide will put the times and locations in our events calendar as they are announced later this month. — Ed.

For many people, the bitter cold and snow of Korea’s winter is a welcomed event because it signifies the beginning of a season of snowmen, skiing, sledding and snowball fights. It is also the beginning of outdoor ice skating.

Ice skating was first introduced to Korea in 1884 by Philipp V. Lansdale, an American naval officer. He was part of a detachment of marines sent to Seoul to help protect the American legation (embassy) during the unrest following a coup attempt in early December 1884. Whenever Lansdale went out skating on one of the city’s ponds, large crowds would gather to watch the strange phenomenon of the man gliding across the ice. Of course, there may have been another reason for the crowd. As Lansdale skated, he liked to throw handfuls of Korean coins into the air and watch children (and probably adults) scramble for the money.

The following year, another American naval officer, George C. Foulk, also began skating on the ponds around Seoul. At first, according to him, he was nearly mobbed by a violent crowd of astonished Koreans who were convinced he was a demon of some sort. However after he explained what ice skates were, he soon found himself mobbed by Koreans who wanted a similar pair. So popular was the spectacle of his skating that on one day some 2,000 people gathered to watch and, when he complained that the ice was too rough, they took large wooden planks and carpenter tools and smoothed the bumps from the ice.

Other members of the small Western community — including Dr. Horace N. Allen — also began to ice skate. Some Korean entrepreneurs even staked out spots at the ponds where these foreigners skated and charged people admission. Others opened up small stalls and sold warm food to the cold spectators.

By 1887, ice skating had become such a popular spectator event that King Gojong and Queen Min invited some of the American missionaries to skate at Gyeongbok palace — probably at Hyangwonjeong Pavilion. Skating at the palace soon became a fairly regular event with warm refreshments served in the pavilion.

But the skating itself was not the only cause for entertainment — so, too, were the skaters. Korean men, unless they were unmarried, always wore their hair in a topknot (sangtu 상투). Noblemen went even further — they always covered their sangtu with a hat — even indoors — and to be seen without one was viewed as disgraceful. They must have thought it scandalously amusing to see Allen’s hat knocked off by the wind or when he fell and his “balding dome and red hair” exposed to all.

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion and in the background is Geoncheonggung – Queen Min’s residence and where she was brutally murdered in October 1895. Did you know that the bridge leading to the pavilion is on the wrong side? It used to be on the opposite side. Photo by Robert Neff

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion and in the background is Geoncheonggung – Queen Min’s residence and where she was brutally murdered in October 1895. Did you know that the bridge leading to the pavilion is on the wrong side? It used to be on the opposite side. Photo by Robert Neff

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