Friday, April 27, 2012

French Stamps at Petite France

Mr. Han had a dream: to offer his fellow Koreans a taste of what inspired his love for France. This dream became the  Petite France project: an hour’s drive from Seoul, an urban area home to some 25 million residents, Mr. Han found a quiet location on the shore of Lake Gapyeong. Here he built something between a town and a museum: each house reflects French culture. Visitors can take a few days’ break here, staying in French-style houses furnished in the French manner with furniture imported directly from France. The distinctive architecture of Petite France has even proved a magnet for the film crew of Beethoven Virus, a hugely popular TV series in Korea.

Here, the Little Prince is the guest of honour. Mr. Han takes a keen interest in French literature and enjoys the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in particular  The Little Prince. His favourite passage? The meeting with the fox, of course! In a country where over 350 different editions of  The Little Prince are to be found, not to mention the comic strip versions, those who are familiar with the Little Prince or even those who have only heard of him are delighted when they come to “Petite France” to find statues and wall paintings evoking the world of this magical character at every turn.

With the support of the Saint-Exupéry estate, Mr. Han was keen to combine French lifestyle with the message of a tale that is also a lesson for life. In Korea, Saint-Exupéry is seen as a kind of legend, a knight of the skies and also a philosophical and humanist touchstone.  Mr. Han is delighted to share his admiration with those he welcomes to his village. Visitors queue up to have their photos taken standing next to the statue of the Little Prince or his friend the fox. A permanent exhibition introduces them to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the origins of “The Little Prince”, and a theatre show has been specially created for the youngest visitors. More than just a tourist attraction hoping to attract some 500,000 visitors annually, Petite France is a special place, offering not only the pleasure of living life French-style but also a chance to reflect on life in the company of a fairytale character.