Friday, April 17, 2015

South Korea Day 2

South Korea Day 2

            Now normally you should have some idea of just what the heck you are doing when you travel to the country, or at least some idea of what the sights are.  Um….. Yeah…. That didn't happen.  If you asked me if I knew anything about Korea beforehand I would have said Kimchi, barbecue, K-pop (not that I've ever heard it), K-drama (not that I've ever seen it) Manhwa (Korean comic books), Korean War, and Japan occupying it sometime before WW2.  So I pretty much had no idea what I was getting into, but the Hangeul (Korean Alphabet) exhibit, and Korean art exhibit at the Inchon airport was cool.

            Anyway my neighbors Mark, and Kathleen really saved my bacon pointing out Viator which is kind of like Orbitz only it arranges tours.  Four tours, and 230$ later I was ready to go explore Seoul in all of its glory.  My first tour was the Soul of Seoul small group walking tour of the City Hall- Jongo- Dongdaemun area of the city.  So listed below are the highlights of the tour and it looks good on face value, but it ended up being a little underwhelming.  Not that it was bad it just wasn't as good as I expected it to be.  I would give the tour a 3 out of 5.

            Now to begin we ended up starting 30 minutes late, because another group of tourists never bothered to show up and I wasn't going to be a jerk and demand we start on time.  The side benefit was that I ended up being the only person on the tour. 

            40th Anniversary Monument to the enthronement of Gojong.  Gojong of Korea was the last King of the Josen dynasty, and the first emperor of the short lived Korean empire.  He is considered by the Koreans to be the last true ruler of Korea before the Japanese occupation as his successor was little more than a puppet of the Japanese.

Warning Korean History content

            Now it took a little digging as the Seoul history museum, the National Museum of Korea, and my various tour guides weren't quite clear, but I managed to gleam an idea of what happens between Korea opening up to the west and the Japanese occupation.  (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, as I am not a history major or historian)  Now the basic gist of it is, is that Korea was pretty much closed off from the rest of world, very similar to Japan before Admiral Perry and the black ships.  Well in the 1880s a number of different countries (Japan, France, America, to name a few) caused Korea to open up its borders.  This led to a flood of foreign ideas and influence entering the country.  A period of relatively rapid change enthused and the Josen Dynasty became the Korean Empire.

            The Ruso-Japanese war of 1904-1905 was fought around Korea.  The cause of the war was Russian encroachment on Japans influence in the region.  To make a long story short Russia lost, and Japan basically annexed Korea, while complete control came later.  Korea still initially existed for a while until the now Emperor Gojong died.  The Koreans state that he along with his wife was assassinated by the Japanese.  A new puppet ruler was put in place and Japan continued to usurp power until full colonization came some time later.

Korean History content over

            The next stop on the tour was several more monuments, to various Korean leaders with outstanding accomplishments.  The first one was the statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin and his turtle ships.

            The admiral was instrumental in turning back and defeating several Japanese invasions of Korea in the late 1500s.  Interesting that while in Japan, they mention invading Korea at this time and then coming home.  They conveniently leave out the part about getting their but’s kicked.  He was able to do this through the expert use of Korean turtle ships.

            Now to me the ship resembles a floating tank and the first written record of these ships date from 1413 – 1415.  Admiral Yi just updated them, with smoke projectors and cannons, using them for close range assault vessels to destroy the enemy commander’s ship.

            Continuing onward down Gwanghwamun square leads you to the statue of Sejong the great (4th king of the Josen dynasty) in the 1440s.  Incidentally Korean is one of the few languages that knows the start date, and creator of its written language, at least according to the guide.

            Now what you can’t see around this photo is a large gathering for a memorial/ protest over the Sewol ferry disaster that took place last April.  The guide didn't say anything about it, but after seeing the pictures placed about and some other things it wasn't hard to figure out.  Sorry guys no pictures because one that would be in bad taste, and two I’m pretty sure they might have beaten the crap out of me.

            At this point I was getting close to the first major stop of the tour the Gyeonghuigung Palace.  Sadly all I got to do was look at the entry gate from across the street.  Don’t worry I got a full on guided tour later on in the trip.  So moving on the next attraction was the Seoul history museum.  The museum is obviously focused on the history of Seoul from its founding in 1392 as the capital of the Josen dynasty to the present day.  The museum itself is pretty darn cool, sadly I was pushed through the place way to fast because of the previously mentioned late start.  I had a chance to go through the museum again, at a much slower pace later on in the week, so you will just have to wait to get the full run through.

            On the outside we have these cute little guys who are often placed at the entrance way of important buildings and temples.

            The placement of these mythological guard animals at the entrance way of buildings is nothing new as I have seen them in other Asian countries.




            The rest of the museum will come later, mainly because I got a better walk through later in the week and I’m trying to prevent this from becoming a real monster of a post. 

            After leaving the post I was taken by the Gyeonghuigung palace (1 of the 5 in Seoul), or what was left of the palace.

            Originally the palace was a summer home or secondary residence during a crisis.  It was turned into a school during the Japanese occupation which destroyed much of the place.  After the war it continued to be used as a school until 1985 when a partial restoration began.

            This next section is for you dad, and Mr. Lewis.  As I bring you churches, yes churches, Christians make up the single largest group of religions in South Korea.  Now I figured that the spread of Christianity began after WW2 and the Korean War with the influx of Americans.  However it began in the 1880s after Korean opened its borders to the west.  At the time Confucianism was the state religion in Korean.

Warning Asian Culture Content

            Second warning I am not a religious scholar so again if I screw this up please let me know.  Confucius or K'ung Fu-tzu (552BC – 479BC) was a Chinese scholar who had a deep love of history who set out to teach the world how to behave properly.

1- Always be considerate to others.
2- Respect your ancestors.
3- Try for harmony and balance in all things.
4- Avoid extremes in behavior and emotion.
5- If you live in peace and harmony, then you will be in contact with the spiritual forces of the universe, including nature.

            Now this is where it starts getting weird, Confucius didn't set out to make a new religion, but things just kind of happened that way.  Overtime the moral codes set down by Confucius morphed into a religion.  Ok, getting to the point Confucianism is big on filial piety, listening to the government and society having a certain structure to it.  Well the Christian sects, not so much.  Thus the Koreans liked the new ideas being brought in by the missionaries, and Christianity began to spread.  Not that it was all sunshine and roses, there were a number of martyrs along the way.

Asian Culture Content over

            The oldest Methodist church in South Korea, and they started the first women’s school which later became the largest women’s college of South Korea (It’s their seven sisters, without all the sisters)

            Time for Palace number two Deoksugung Palace.  I can forgive the fact that the rain canceled the changing of the guards, but seriously all I get to do is walk by it… Again...  Argh…..  I went back later and got a free English tour of the place.

            The next stop on the tour was a stroll down the Cheonggyecheon stream.  Despite what it might look like it really is or was a stream.  The Japanese covered it up during the occupation, until the Koreans later decided to restore it, but they made a tiny mistake.  Water doesn't flow naturally into the stream anymore, so it has to be pumped in.

            FYI- the Koreans love that piece of modern art in the background.  Personally I think it looks like a giant soft serve ice cream cone.

            It even comes with a nice little running/ biking path.

            Gotta love Asian countries, and the lack of OSHA, because there is no way that this would pass for an official creek crossing in the United States.

            An old map of Seoul, and you will find this thing everywhere.

            Make a wish (Ha like I would tell you guys, but if you know me you can probably figure it out)

            Here’s me

            For when you really don’t like your relatives.  One of the Korean rulers really didn’t like his mother in law and after she died turned her grave stones into a bridge.

            Due to the canceled changing of the guard ceremony there was some extra time, so the guide took me to the Jogysea Temple.  A fairly important Buddhist temple in the heart of the city and one of the two religious sites that I had the pleasure of seeing.

            If you think that it looks like they are setting up for some kind of celebration you would be right, since it was three days until Buddha’s birthday (April 8th).

            Hu… I thought I was in South Korea not Thailand.

            Cool artwork though

            The final stop of the tour, was the Bosingak Belfry.  The bell was rung in the morning (28 times) and the evening (33 times) to signal the opening and closing of the city gates.

            You are supposed to touch the bell and make a wish as the bell is rung.  (No I am not telling, but it was the same one as last time)

            Well that is the end of the tour, but not the end of my day as I really wanted to go back to the Deoksugung Palace.  Sadly it was still drizzling a bit so the second changing of the guards ceremony was canceled, but I did get a free English tour of the palace once I paid the entry fee.  This particular palace is the smallest of the five palaces found in Seoul and was built in the late 1500s.  King Gojong moved here in 1897 because it would be easier to defend in the case of attack and palace was modernized.

            Yes, there are a lot of bats in the architecture, as it is a symbol of health and longevity if I got it right.

            The Throne

            I saved this bit for last because it was I think the most interesting design feature of the palace and apparently is very common in Korean architecture.  This is how Koreans would heat the floor.  The structure is built on a stone platform with channels built into the stone to transfer the heat to the floor, keeping your feet nice and toasty in the winter.

            You know of all the things the Mongolians borrowed and or adapted from other Asian cultures why couldn't they have gotten this one.  Do you have any idea just how freaking cold it gets in the winter here in Mongolia, especially when you wake up in the morning?  I thought there were a few times my feet were going to freeze off.

            FYI- You think I would have learned during my trip to Japan it’s a bad idea to ask pressing questions about a countries monarchy.  The guide told us that the last royal princess remained in the palace for a time after her parents died before being shipped back to Japan as a kind of political hostage of sorts.  She also said the princess was institutionalized several times over her life.  Being the curious former medical student and current science teacher that I am I asked the 64,000$ question.

            Me- So what was the princesses condition
            Guide- I don’t understand
            Me- What was her particular mental illness
            Guide- Um….
            Me- You said she was institutionalized for a time.  I am curious if the doctors knew her particular condition.
            Guide- Yes, the doctors knew what was wrong with her.
            Me- So what was it
            Guide- The doctors knew what was wrong with her
            Me- Yes so what did they say her condition was.  You said the first time it happened was when she was 17 and had relapses during her life.  The most logical choice is some form of bipolar disorder.
            Guide- Um…….. This next building…….

            We continued on at this point and several other members of the tour were looking at me like I was crazy.

            The Seoul city hall was an interesting stop, as it was built during the Japanese occupation, and many people wanted to destroy it after the war.  However by this point it was an integral part of the city, so the Koreans just built a new one and kept the old one as a library and museum.  It offered some interesting insights into the history of the city, and it is worth a brief stopover, even if it’s just for a snack (But they didn't have any cookies… argh)  Oh and there is a free English I just missed it on the day I was there.  Here is the view from the top.

            If you are still with me by this point thanks for reading and there is only one more stop to go on this monster day of touring.  Tapgol park was built sometime in the 1890s but only opened to the public in 1913.  It was the starting point for several protests to the Japanese occupation over the years.

            Don’t ask me what that thing inside the building is, because I have no idea and with that my first day in Korea is now over.  Yes it was a bit of a monster to see everything I did, and then again to write about it.


            I don’t exactly know what my dinner was but it was salty tasty goodness.  Rice, meat, veggies, and seaweed.