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Queen Marks Birthday In Korea

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 73rd birthday Wednesday in an ancient village where she was offered, but did not eat, a traditional Korean feast.

The queen normally celebrates her birthday privately at Windsor Castle. But on her four-day state visit to South Korea, she wanted to share a little part of the celebration with residents.

After two days of hectic formal appearances in Seoul, the queen spent her birthday rather leisurely, visiting Hahoe, a serene walled village rich in Korean tradition 175 miles south of Seoul.

The village of 235 residents is known for its traditional wooden mask dance. It was the birthplace of many famous Confucian scholars, once mandarins to Korea's royal rulers.

Several thousand people from Hahoe and nearby villages in the region welcomed the queen, waving paper British and South Korean flags.

After learning how to make "kimchi," Korea's spicy cabbage, at an old house with a gracefully curved, blue-tiled roof, the queen watched a 10-minute mask dance performed by nine villagers.

Afterwards, she shook hands with the dancers and asked the organizer, Doh Young-shim, if the dance really dated back 800 years.

Villagers then laid out on a wooden table a 47-dish birthday feast, the type of ceremonial meal eaten by Korea's ancient kings.

"Does the birthday person eat all these?" she asked, according to one guide. "I don't know what all this is, but this is wonderful."

The queen, however, did not try the food. Aides offered no explanation.

The queen was introduced to five villagers who shared her birthday. One of them, Kim Jong-heung, 44, wished "a very happy birthday" to the queen, who replied, "You, too."

A man who shared the queen's birthday offered her a bronze cup of traditional Korean rice wine, chongju, and toasted her. The queen took a sip.

Before flying back to Seoul to attend a birthday concert, the queen visited an ancient Buddhist temple near the village and saw monks perform their daily rituals.

The queen's husband, Prince Philip, meanwhile, visited the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. He was guided by U.S. Gen. John Tilleli, commander of United Nations forces in South Korea.

The prince and his party wended their way to a checkpoint overlooking the "Bridge of No Return," where Korean War prisoners of war were exchanged in 1953.

Britain fought on South Korea's side in the 1950-53 Korean War as part of a U.N. force. A total of 793 British soldiers were killed and 2,878 others wounded or declared missing.