Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gyeongbokgung: The Lost Korea

Part three in a five part series about my trip to Seoul.

My last full day in Seoul, I went with my travel mates to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was a strange walk to the subway stations. Many of the businesses near the hostel that we had come to rely on to get a coffee or use the ATM were shut up because of the holiday. The subway was much less busy than it had been in the previous days we had traveled.

When we arrived at our destination, I found that the station and the path up to the surface were the nicest I'd scene in Korea. The walls were carved granite, and instead of the the steep stairs found at most stations, the walk was a long gradual incline. When we emerged from below ground, we found a carnival atmosphere. There were people selling balloons, ice cream, and a guy walking around selling film and batteries. The grounds were full of people.

The main sight to see at the palace was the changing of the guard. I found out that the reason for the crowds was that the entire complex was offering free admission because of the Chusok holiday. I found a good position and got close enough to the guards to see that their beards were completely fake. I had to laugh. For those of you not in the "beard" club, us bearded people take a special interest in facial hair--and the facial hair of these "soldiers" was applied with glue.

The ceremony was neat. It reminded me a bit of the dancing and drums I had seen a couple days previous at the Folk Museum. When the changing of the guard was finished, we wandered our way through the palace grounds. The palace sits on a little over 100 acres. We had to go through gate after gate in order to get to inner parts of the grounds. Along the way, Cheryl, one of my traveling companions paid to get her picture taken in some tradition Korean garb.

The there were two museums on the grounds. The large one was very busy because of the free admission. It showed Korean history, told about the role that the palaces played in the Korean country before the Japanese occupation in 1910. One of my favorite parts was the Gimchi part of the museum. Gimchi is pickled, fermented vegetables--primarily Chinese cabbage. It is served with just about every meal, and is an acquired taste. Well, at least it was for me. Now, I find myself looking forward to my Gimchi.

Below, Korean women prepare the Chinese cabbage for Gimchi.

Here is a picture showing some of the over 200 different varieties of Gimchi.

As a student of history, and a certified history teacher, I began to think about what Korean culture was like before 1910--the year they came under the harsh rule of the Japanese. Before, they had fought off Japanese invasions for centuries, but could not stand up against the war machine that also defeated Russia and invaded a large chunk of China in the same time period.

The Koreans were under Japanese rule through the end of World War II, when it was occupied by the Allied forces. The Soviet Union took the northern part, and the US to the southern part of the peninsula--very similar to East and West Germany. So, under the occupation, Korean society was transformed very much by their occupiers. South Korea became very western--now to the point where they are more technologically advanced in some areas than even America. North Korea became more withdrawn as it was ruled by the communist totalitarian ideology of its Soviet and Chinese allies.

While some aspects have remained--Confucianism, Gimchi, the language--most of
pre-1910 Korean life now only exists in museums and the tourist folk villages.

"Kimchi: Korea's Food" an official Korean site about the annual Gimchi festival. Looks fun.
The gallery of my corrupted pictures of Seoul.


  1. awesome posts. i am learning a lot from you...keep it coming. and have as much as you can while you are there. one year is not that long.

  2. Nice posts.

    There was news about an earthquake in japan that they though it was another bomb test by the n-k? But turned out it was not. And there was a plane crash into a building in NY apartment building piloted by a ballplayer today. Was wondering any of this making it to the papers or TV news there in Korea?



  3. See comment within for a link to this page. Found your site via Google. Cheers, Peter (The Netherlands)


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