Monday, June 25, 2012

Postcard from Seoul (Part 3)

(Parts 1 and 2 are here and here, respectively.)

There is an urban revitalization story behind the stream shown below. It's situated near the City Hall. Cheonggyecheon is now a tourist attraction and a nice place for an after-dinner stroll, or sit by the stream and drink beer and chat as most of the people pictured below seem to be doing. But it used to be a smelly stream covered by concrete.

If you zoom in on the picture, you can just about make out a backlit waterfall that marks the emergence of the stream above ground.

As you can see from the close-up below, the stream has been completely remodeled in some sections.

Those guys pictured are not trash collectors. They're collecting the coins from the wishing well.

It's also a recommended running route. Because it sits below the roads, you can run uninterrupted by street crossings. After discovering it at night, the next morning I went for a run. Coincidentally, I happened upon a procession (perhaps a daily event, recreating some change of guard between palaces?):

At the waterfall end of the stream, the plaza connects to a wide avenue.

There are two statues. The principal one is of King Sejong, the guy responsible from switching the written language to Hangul from Chinese characters.

There is a small (free) museum depicting his life underneath the statue. The wide avenue terminates at the gate known as Gwanghwamun:

Behind Gwanghwamun is the main palace called Gyeongbokgung. Here is what Gwanghwamun looks like in daytime.

Changing of the guard ceremony at the entrance:

I'm not so enthusiastic about pictures of the palaces. Here is one below.

The reason is they're all mostly fake, i.e. modern reconstructions from the ground up. It's not the Koreans' fault. Gyeongbokgung was razed to the ground by the Japanese, when they subjugated the Korean peninsula during the 1st half of the 20th century.

Behind Gyeongbokgung lies the real seat of power, the Blue House. This was as close as I got:

I was amazed to see police on rollerblades in front of the Blue House:

There also seems to be a bicycle police troupe:

I did visit another palace, called Changdeokgung. (The first picture from part 1 (here) of this series is from Changdeokgung.) It's a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, but it's still mostly fake:

These stone markers are used to indicate the rank of the rows of officials, here 9th, leading up to Chong-jon hall:

There are actually stone markers on both sides. Military officials on the left and civil officials on the right. Inside Chong-jon hall:

The palaces are done in classic Chinese style. However there is one interesting detail. Contrast the floor above with the one below:

Because winters are cold in Seoul, and these are living quarters, the floor is finished using paper. Why? Because underneath there is a heating system. People slept on the floor not in beds.

Lest you think I dutifully researched all this information, it all came from this lady, the official English-language palace guide. You're only allowed to tour Changdeokgung in the company of a guide. But I saw people wandering off by themselves.

Part 4 is here.

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