Asian Adventures, Spring 2015: Korea, Part 1

June 15th, 2015
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As I’ve spent a few weeks spending some time in Japan, Korea, and China, over the next few posts, I’ll be outlining my itinerary with explanations of what exactly I experienced and thought of the cultural exposure in each of these countries. You can read what I’ve posted already by clicking on the link below:

Korea

After spending two weeks in Japan, I headed over to Korea via the JR Ferry.  The ferry ride from Fukuoka, Japan to Busan, Korea is 2.5 hours via JR Ferry which runs a hydrofoil, fast ferry between Japan and Korea.  Other ferry options through one other company were much longer (about 12 hours) and would have had me on the ferry either all day or all night.  After arriving in Busan’s ferry dock, I had to take a shuttle bus to the train station in order to buy a ticket for a three hour train ride to Seoul.

I had considered staying the night in Busan just to spend an afternoon in the city but after researching what there was to do, it wasn’t worth me staying the night. There wasn’t a whole lot of things to do to justify staying in town.

I finally arrived in Seoul’s train station which was somewhat in the downtown area and I transferred to the city’s subway to get myself to the hotel, located in the suburbs about an hour out of downtown. I did find it easier to communicate in Korea overall as more people spoke decent English to help me out. Like Japan, the subway was a bit confusing at first to try find my way around and to try use the bus to get to the hotel.

Traditional Dance Show

Traditional Dance Show

Here’s what I did while in Seoul:

As my aunt was in town for a conference, I was invited along on a day tour which included Samsung’s technology museum and an evening cultural show.

    • Samsung’s museum was really interesting as it had all the old technology for cell phones and other home technologies on display. We also say the Olympic torches. The tour guide gave us a brief history of Samsung and a walk through the museum explaining some of the items on display.
    • The show was about an hour of traditional dances in Korean traditional clothing. It was the typical touristy cultural show but still it was interesting to watch.

I used the hop on hop off bus on my second day in Seoul and found that it may have been easier to just use the subway system to get around town as traffic was pretty bad or roads were blocked.  I found it took too long to get to certain sites or some stops were completely missed so that the bus could get back on track.  The entire loop was supposed to take 1 hour and 40 minutes according to the brochure.  Once I got on the first bus to go around, it took 1 ½ hours to get to about five stops before the end of the loop.

Seoul

Seoul

There were a couple things that I couldn’t get to due to timing of the bus that were near one of the palaces (which is where I got lost trying to find my back to where I entered the palace grounds).  So if I ever returned to Seoul, this is what I missed: The National Folk Museum of Korea and the folk village – both of these are near the Gyongbokgung Palace.

Palaces

There’s five palaces in Seoul from the Chosun Dynasty of which I managed to see three.  The palaces are similar in that there’s a number of buildings with a throne hall and royal council hall at the centre.  All the palaces also have a garden for the king and the family to use and take a break from their duties.

Typical Roof Art Work

Typical Roof Art Work at the Palaces

The five palaces are: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Gyeonghui Palace, and Deoksugung Palace.  Here are the palaces that I saw:

Changgyeonggung Palace

I arrived in time to join an English walking tour of this palace at 11 am. I had read that in general walking tours at the palaces (particularly in English) happened on certain days and mostly around 2 or 3 p.m. so I wasn’t expected to do any walking tour.

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Changgyeonggung Palace

This palace was built in 1483 and the palace name means flourishing gladness.

It was great to get a good introduction to one of the smaller palaces and use this information as I saw the others. I learned that the little statutes that were along the top of the lower portion of the roof symbolized how important a building was.  The importance is determined by the number of statues. Some of the buildings at this particular palace, at most, had five or six statutes.

Changgyeonggung Palace Gardens

Changgyeonggung Palace Gardens

I also learned that the buildings used frequently by the king and his family had circular pillars to hold up the structure whereas the other buildings used mostly by those in the king’s court had square pillars. The tour guide told us that the circular pillars were representation the heavens where the square pillars were earthly. I guess this meant that the royal family were from heaven and the regular people were earthly.

Changgyeonggung Palace

Changgyeonggung Palace

As we walked through the palace, we stopped are various points so that the tour guide could explain which spots were used in a certain Korean drama or some scientific/mathematical invention was created. We stopped at a sun dial that was invented by the royal family where the tour guide showed us how to calculate what time it was.  The sun dial was originally made to calculate Korean time prior to the use of standard time zones.  With the standardized time and time zones, there were additional steps to calculate modern Korean time.

Sun Dial at Changgyeonggung Palace

Sun Dial at Changgyeonggung Palace

The walking tour stopped at the gardens behind the palace buildings which I found very beautiful and serene.

Changdeokgung Palace

This palace was the second Chosun Dynastly palace built in 1405 and its name means prospering virtue.  I read later that this palace replaced the Gyeongbuk Palace during political struggle over the throne.  As the palace was burnt by the Jaapance invasion, it was rebuilt in 1609 to be used as a state palace. Although the gardens aren’t generally open to the public and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was open to the public during my visit for an additional cost.  I chose not to see it as I wanted to see other sites in Seoul.

Changdeokgung Palace Gardens

Changdeokgung Palace Gardens

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The palace grounds were huge! I spent majority of my time here and thought I’d be able to my way back to the where I entered the grounds but I ended up getting a little lost and chose to exit out the opposite end.  I managed to catch the changing of the guards as well.

So as I was exploring this palace, I found myself counting the little statutes along the top of the majority of the buildings.  The most I found was 11 statutes which made that particular building the most important among all the palaces in Seoul.  The tour guide at the first palace I visited had said that although the Changgyeonggung Palace was important, it wasn’t that important because there was a building that had 11 statutes at the first palace built in Seoul.

Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guards

As the Chosun dynasty was established in 1392 and Seoul was designated as the capital, Gyeongbokgung Palace was built and its name means felicitous blessing. The whole palace grounds were beautiful and interesting.  It was great to do the smaller ones first before coming to this palace.

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