Changgyeonggung Palace, Korean Sushi and Gimbap at Hyehwa
16th June 2013.
I will remember Seoul as the city of palaces. Just in case you have not had enough of Korean palace impressions, I will be telling you about about our fourth palace trip. And it is a trip for the mind.
The architecture and vastness of royal sites is something to marvel at. If you are not a fan of existing monarchy, nor royal family soap opera you might still like to appreciate their homes.
Anyhow. The day started with breakfast! Not a surprise but morning tofu in yellow and purple was quite a change – a find at Lotte’s Department Store food basement.
And off we go!
Changgyeonggung Palace (how do Koreans remember those long names?).
Build by the 9thMonrach of the Joseon Dynasty, King Seongjong in 1483, the site was simply an extension to Changdeokgung palace which had become crowded with royalty. In 1592… (you can probably fill in the gaps, if you have been reading my Seoul posts)… the Japanese burned the palace down and history repeated itself in 1907 when the Japanese invaded again, this time turning the palace into a zoo and botanical garden.
What really got my attention was this placenta monument!
A few days after King Seongjong was born, the placenta and umbilical cord were stored in a porcelain jar and enshrined in this stone chamber. Fascinating, right?!
Then get this: According to the Korean system of counting age, a baby is one year old at the moment of birth because life is considered to begin at conception!
The sign read: ‘Taesilbi is a stone monument inscribed with a story about the placenta’. What story would that be?
The story of love.
This palace site is peaceful with a lot of greenery.
The king had rice paddies and engaged in farming (the king was plowing himself with an oxen they say) and the queen was raising silkworms. The royals were a symbol of the agrarian nature of the Joseon society.
However, the Japanese turned the king’s paddies into a huge pond, opened the area for the public, so they could enjoy boating in 1909. The Japanese still love to boat (Tokyo offers ample boating opportunities). Truthfully, it would have been a great idea and money spinner to leave the boating idea even if it was the Japanese who came up with it. I mean, they did leave the pond, too.
We spotted a bird. And I took a bit of an effort to compensate the lack of zooming of our photographic equipment.
I was relaxing under a tree and getting mosquito bites.
Standing water is the worst. Even if it is a nice looking pond.
Oh look, a multi-storey stone pagoda!
We did take it slow.
The palace brochure which tourists get at the entrance does not mention the beautiful glass house, nor labyrinth – at all. Which is why I figured it was created by the Japanese. It was. In 1909. An admittedly pleasant sight. Maybe the Japanese idea to build it on Korean palace grounds wasn’t optimal at the time of occupation but it definitely is a gem at the palace.
Walking through that glass house was like travelling back in time, to the architectural opulence and bourgeois lavishness of pre war times.
Build in Crystal Palace design.
Back to Korean royals. This was their picnic spot.
The vastness of the palace.
The arched bridge with depictions of goblins, a symbol to ward off evil spirits.
The traditional roof of the palace’s main gate.
The throne hall. King Seongjong became king at the tender age of 13.
Running through the courtyard is a three level walkway, whose center path was for the king’s use only.
The architecture of the palaces is rather simple and modest.
Curved one to two storey roofs, wooden walls and shutters, supported by wooden pillars, standing on elevated stone terraces (the bigger, the more important the chamber) with an integrated floor heating system. Spacious courtyards and maze like walkways, square complexes separated by stone walls and wooden gates, leading to adjacent complexes, providing more royal chambers. Matters were attended to on the floor and the furniture we saw at museums was small, low and functional rather than decorative.
Another throne hall? I sometimes do wish for leading museum directors to walk through their exhibitions and honestly report what they have gathered. Signs, pictures and user friendly explanations would be a start to improve information-based sightseeing. The micro-script brochure failed me.
A sign explained these structures: sleeping chambers of the wife of the deceased king, sleeping quarters for the current king and his wife, delivery room and sleeping quarters of wives of the deceased king, says the palace sign. That is a lot of wives. And I have not even mentioned the separate building complex for the king’s concubines.
Trivia. King Sukjong fell in love with a maid and they had a child. He deposed his queen to install his love, however the rightful queen was restored to power by her followers, after which the maid cast a curse on the queen by burying a queens puppet with dead animals. Her act was discovered and she was forced to take her own life by drinking poison. And it all looks so peaceful here.
If you like to look more closely at the empty chambers, you have to take off your shoes. I like that custom when implemented at home. Japanese and Korean homes have a special tiny forecourt installed at home, to take off shoes before entering the living room.
The palace has been under a restoration project since 1983. Most of the roofed, corridor like structures or surrounding palace halls have not been restored yet.
Looking at three eras of architecture. Prehistoric stone, Joseon wood and modern concrete-steel-glass structures.
These buildings were build in 1834 and used as the queen’s bed chamber, coffin halls for the wives of the king or as a council hall, in various time periods.
Bad timing. But we tried. I think four times. No, five.
Look, another pagoda!
What a sight!
We were the last ones leaving the palace. It truly is the most peaceful public place in Seoul.
Throw in a coin if you can afford a flight ticket to return.
After the tranquillity we went straight for the antidote. Around Hyehwa station.
The sight of sushi gets us excited, so we went in to experience Korean sushi.
It was very different from Japanese sushi with a lot of colourful sauces, hardly any fish and… with meat!
The pictures above the conveyor do not in any way represent what was served.
A lot of room was given to deserts.
I mistakenly took the left sushi, thought it to be topped with tuna or salmon but was… bacon!
We then tried Gimbap (or Kimbob as spelled on the glass front) at this eatery, as it indicated that they had fish. They even had a handwritten page with an English translation of the menu, so it was easy to order a rice roll of tuna.
Well, as it turns out, if you choose tuna, you do get a bit of tuna but also a bit of pig. This is Korea. The land of meat.
The convenience stores save the thirsty. Tomek always picks some weird Korean ginseng root drink in tiny bottles with mixtures of plants and roots and energy boosters, tasting like gone bad fizzy drinks. The bottle to the right is a popular vitamin drink, non fizzy but I am not under the illusion that the artificially coloured and sweetened choice is in any way healthier. But bigger!
Nevermind. Let’s have a relaxing bath. At home!
Have a relaxing day and more Korean palaces!