Captured by an age-old spell, Lilliput – also known as Gaemi Maeul or Ant Village to locals – lies hidden in the hills near Bugaksan. Once I passed through the portal, like the one found in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was greeted by Magnetism, who drew me in further with his charming smile. In Gaemi Maeul you will find whiskered flowers, larger than life Lego men, and characters from Alice’s Adventures painted on the walls of houses. It’s a place of wonderment, where the roofs of some houses, that are perched along a steep street, only reach my shoulders. In this dimension I am tall. Ant Village is loved by keen-eyed observers, who run with anticipation as something intriguing catches their eye… pause… and continue on their way. Even the Gaemi Maeul village buses possess ant-like characteristics – they trudge up and down the hill on a regular basis like a worker ant delivering food to the ant hill and leaving in search of more.
The flower murals coaxed Spring out of her winter retreat; she emerged in an attempt to outdo them. Keep your eyes open and you might run into the Hookah-smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. In the tale he is three inches tall: “A very good height indeed,” he claims. And so he fits in perfectly. I felt as though I had eaten from his mushroom: I grew even taller as I ascended the hill. My heart warmed as I noticed a ‘half step’ staircase – a smaller step in the middle of a smaller-than-average step. With a monarchical air about me I settled on one of the steps. As I sipped on the Gatorade a friendly local gifted to me (usually I don’t drink the orange stuff, but the kind gesture was well-timed as I was thirsty); I observed the sun-drenched world. The houses were basking in the afternoon sun, while those ambling about below had shrunk to the size of Thumbelina and could fit between my forefinger and thumb. The bobbing dandelions seemed to cue the faeries, goblins and butterflies to peer out from behind their hiding places.
This whirlwind of psychedelic experiences was fueled by Mazzy Star and a combination of the rising heat and vivid colours. This Ant Village is a child’s dream-world playground as it’s filled with smiling clouds and origami animals in any direction you look. One mural on the main street is painted in colourful ddongs – the Korean ‘euphemism’ for your… you know, bowel movements. For some unknown reason Koreans are fascinated with this particular abject subject and ddong has entered into Korean popular culture. It is often the colourful subject of art. Children refer to it as D-D-O-N-G, for fear of saying the name in full. These particular colourful ddongs are disguised to look like paint samples. Yet another is painted in symmetrical shapes.
Some of the streets are an ideal place for a learning driver to master clutch control, or for an athlete to train for a full marathon. The further you descend down the hill the more modernised it becomes, until finally you return to reality.
How to get there: Ant Village is located in Hongje-dong, in Seodaemun District in northwestern Seoul. Get out at Hongje Station (subway line 3, exit 2). In front of you there is a bus stop, with KFC on your right hand side. From there take the village ‘Maeul’ bus number 7. It takes less than 15 minutes to get there and Gaemi Maul is the last stop at the top of the hill. You can also take a leisurely stroll downhill.