After a week of relative freedom, I can get back to the real purpose of this blog, which is to share pics and stories with those who aren’t here with me. In the whirlwind of make-up classes and getting into the swing of things, today will be my only day off for two weeks. Our days are usually consumed by prepping, six hours of non-stop teaching (not even to sit down), and catching a midnight dinner with our coworkers. I’ll get to the job and what our housing is like in a later blog. Today was the one and only day I’ve been able to do anything remotely cultural. While I visited some reconstructed old palaces, J. spent the day going to the modern day palace: the shopping center.
First I went to Itaewon to try and met some bookie friends and find out where What the Book is. I was only half successful in meeting who I wanted to, met someone I didn’t expect to, and found what is going to be my haven.
Then I talked my sore feet into doing what I’ve been wanting to do since I got here: explore some old palaces. There are several old palaces in Seoul, little parks and quite spots in the middle of such a loud and busy city. I sent to the two smallest first, saving the big guns for a later weekend when I have more time.
I came on a cultural day apparently, there were folks in full dress marching and carrying flags, and a concert was being held inside. I tried to stay and watch, but honestly the music was a little too happy and cheesy for me (complete with a white girl in Korean dress as MC doing her best to speak in Korean).
I wasn’t clear on how old this palace is, but was built sometime in the late 1500s, I saw that it changed hands in 1608, and is now a great park right off the City Hall subway exit. The backdrop of all these buildings is one of the busiest intersections in Seoul, huge buildings, and a cool stone wall that surrounds the park.
Heungcheonsa Bell – 1510
Pieces from a Water Clock from 1536.
“Throne-room” of one of main palace
From my Seoul map, I saw there was another small temple just a short walk away. I asked the people at the gate which direction to walk, and they said not to go there, that it was too small; they didn’t recommend it. I decided to ignore them and go anyway. It was a great walk down a back street, half of which was along the wall of the park. The rest was a great collection of little shops, art galleries, and cafes. I enjoyed this palace even more than the first. It was a maze of buildings, and had a wonderful mountain backdrop and some trails where the trees almost drowned out the sound of the city. There were very few people there; it was the complete opposite of the rest of my experience here.
It is quite, free to enter, and although there are still several restored buildings here, it used have over 100, most of which were destroyed by the Japanese.
On the walk back to the subway, I popped in a little art gallery featuring some fantastic contemporary artists. Coming from the perspective of a country that is developed, and seen the downside of endless growth and greed, I’ve been concerned about Seoul’s seeming complete embrace of consumer and material culture. It was refreshing to go to this gallery, and see that at least on the art scene, there is a dialog about traditional vs. modern, the impact of pop-culture on society, and commentary on materialism. My favorite pieces were by an artist who was taking images of modern Seoul – huge skyrises, barges full with cargo, and juxtaposing them with cutaways of the underbelly of Seoul revealing dinosaur bones. I might be wrong on my interpretation, but to me they were saying that even with how fast it is all growing, there is so much more history and life here then what may be apparent on the surface.
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