July 8, 2013
by Lauren White and Kayla Foster
We made it safely to Korea and after a nice weekend of rest we started our first tour of Seoul on Monday. The theme for the day was “Old Seoul.” Therefore our first stop was Gyeongbok Palace.
As an avid Korean drama watcher, I felt as if I had just walked on the set to one of my favorite historical dramas. I was amazed by the beautiful detail, as well as the amount of space. I was imagining a smaller version since it was located off of a busy street in what seemed like the middle of the city. We were guided to several rooms that were in the palace that gave us a general feel of how life was in the Joseon Dynasty, but it was the ingenious architecture of hanok, traditional Korean homes, that truly stood out to me. I was surprised by the advanced technology, as well as the way nature was intertwined with architecture. There are three gates that one must pass through to go into the palace acting as a thick layer of security. The first layer of security includes a large open space that is ideal for holding large gatherings, as well as making public announcements.
The second gate is where the officials to the king would congregate. There are small stone-like statues there to mark their presence. Once inside the king’s quarters, I could begin to see how life was back in Joseon. The doors were low, and there was a large piece of wood at the bottom of the door frame, forcing those who entered to step over and bow their heads in remembrance of humility, an influence of Buddhism.
Inside of a traditional Korean home there are no big furniture structures and the room is divided by doors that can be folded up into the ceiling. Inside the bedroom, there was a desk, along with a few small tables.
There were pillows where chairs would normally be in America. Most of the activity was kept close to the floor because during the cold winters a system called ondol was used to heat the room. Ondol is a system that places tiles under the floor that are connected to a fire, therefore heating up the floor and, as heat rises, heating the room. Since people interacted near the floor, shoes were removed before coming inside in order to prevent dirt and dust accumulation.
We did a lot of walking to get to the Bukchon area that we wanted to see, but as we were walking we could see a change in the city. Seoul became more Korean. Things were no longer written in English. Tall sky scrappers became residential hanok or small one floor businesses. We had drinks at the Hello Kitty Cafe on our way up to get a view of Bukchon, which was situated on a large hill.
Once we reached the top, the view was breathtaking. Although we were a little tired from the trek up, it was refreshing to not be in the buzz of the busy city. Bukchon is a good place for an escape of the “ppali ppali” (“hurry hurry” in Korean) city life of Seoul. After a brief rest at Bukchon, we headed to Insadong, our next destination.
We passed by dozens of stores in Insadong selling traditional souvenir-like items, as well as many restaurants. We enjoyed the shopping so much that we came back later that evening to do more. But before the shopping, Professor Lee and our TA Lucy treated us to a refreshing dip in the stream in Cheonggyecheon.
After cooling off, as I mentioned before, a few of us went shopping in Insadong again. Before we started we decided to try the street food that we had not only heard about, but had seen in countless dramas. We tried our favorites: fish cakes, spicy rice cakes and kimbap. Finding a seat outside we sat down together while enjoying the warm evening air. After shopping, we ended our explorations and headed back to our dorm. Monday was a very eventful day, and the best way to start off our series of adventures in Seoul, South Korea.