July 12, 2014
By Shalea Klepner, Nick Yamamoto, Lee Sooah, Jang Seonwoo, and Choi Young Hyo
For the second half of our second Old Seoul Tour, we visited King Sejong’s summer palace, Changgyeonggung Palace (창경궁). Built in the 13th century by King Sejong the Great for his father, the palace stands today as a historical symbol that is accurately renovated to provide a peek into life at that time.
It was recorded that King Sejong’s father killed all political enemies to ensure his son’s ascension to the throne. Thus the palace’s history could be said to begin in political conflict. One of King Sejong the Great’s most noteworthy contributions to Korea was the creation of Hangul, the modern-day Korean writing system. Hangul was created to be so simple and easy to learn that even peasants could pick it up easily.
As with any country’s landmarks, thinking about the conflicts and scandals that reportedly occurred within the palace’s walls inspired great intrigue and interest.
The inside of the main palace building was beautifully painted, similar to the interior of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The colors have faded more than those of the other palace.
The king’s servants would carry the king up a set of stairs to the main building. Only the king could be carried over this area, and even now the stairs are blocked off to visitors.
Next we walked over to the king and queen’s rooms. The architecture of these buildings was especially noteworthy because of the absence of the dragon beam, Yong Ma Roo (용마루), an example of which is featured on the top of the building pictured below. It is believed that these buildings lacked the beam for two reasons: 1) it was easier for workers to differentiate these buildings, 2) the king and queen’s rooms didn’t need the dragon beam because the dragon was the king and queen themselves.
We learned about the story of King Sukjong (숙종) and his two duelling queens. One of the king’s consorts, Jang Heebin (장희빈) forced the first queen, Inhyeon (인현왕후), out of the palace. When the king decided to take the first queen back in, Jang Heebin’s queen status was demoted. Angry about this, she vowed to curse the first queen. Jang Heebin hired a shaman, placed a skull under Inhyeon’s bedroom, and used a voodoo doll. When the king discovered her actions, Jang Heebin was poisoned and killed.
Next we learned the story of the conflict between 14th and 15th kings. The 14th king ordered the murder of his son because he was a perceived threat due to differing political ideologies. The crown prince was kept isolated in a rice chest with no food or water for 8 days before passing away on May 21, 1762.
Further down from the main buildings, we walked atop a hill full of luscious, green scenery. We discovered a large stone monument that would hold the placenta of the crown prince. Here, the family would pray for the success and prosperity of the new king. With each new crown prince, they would build the monument even bigger.
Just a walk further down, we visited the old rice patty pond, which is now a part of a beautiful garden area.
At the end of our visit, we discovered a beautiful greenhouse hidden behind the old rice patty pond. The greenhouse was full of various trees and foliage. It was truly gorgeous and tranquil.
We continued our tour to Dong Dae Mun Design Plaza (DDP) in the Dong Dae Mun (동대문) shopping district. DDP, opened in early 2014, was designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. The building is distinct in its fluid, edgeless design. Jay Jay, our tour guide, mentioned that the point of the design is to not use columns. The building stands out in Dong Dae Mun because of its modern, UFO-esque contemporary design.
With many designer shops and lavish restaurants, DDP is an example of Korean shoppers’ interest in buying more luxury items.
After some exploration of DDP, we discovered a featured exhibit for the trendy SBS Korea drama, My Love From Another Star (별에서 온 그대). The exhibit featured costumes, props, and walk-through sets from the drama.
Across the street from DDP is the extensive Dong Dae Mun shopping district, home to several multilevel shopping centers.
We shopped at Migliore (밀리오레), a multilevel shopping mecca that sells women’s, men’s, and youth clothing, as well as shoes, hats, and accessories. It was fun to haggle with the vendors to try to score a good deal. The menswear salesmen were especially charming and adept at selling.
We capped off the night with an aqua-themed bing-soo (빙수), a delicious Korean dessert. This particular bing-soo was topped with sherbet, lychee, syrup, and giant blue shark gummies. 맛있었어요!
A few days later we crossed the Han Gang River (한강) to tour New Seoul. We began our tour at Olympic Park, which was used for the Asian Games in 1986 and the Olympic Games in 1988. The park itself is very similar to New York’s Central Park.
We were first welcomed by the Peace Gate. The gate itself is very impressive as a structure and symbolizes the coming-together of nations. If there was anything that brought the world together, it would be the Olympics, a time when each nation sends its best competitors to partake in the largest sporting event in the world. While the Olympics is a competitive event between nations, the Peace Gate itself is a symbol for the hope that nations can come together in a friendly competition and work towards better relations.
We dispersed and walked around the art gardens, making sure to visit the most iconic art pieces in the park.
Some of us rented multi-seat peddle bikes and carts, and rode around the park. The park was quite empty that day, so we had lots of free space in which to ride around and feel the breeze on this hot, humid day.
We took a lunch break at a traditional, multi-course Korean restaurant. We feasted on banchan (반찬), side dishes of vegetables, kimchi, meat, and fish.
Next we visited Bong Eun Sa (봉은사), a Buddhist temple near Kangnam. This temple is one of two well-known temples in Seoul and is located close to a subway exit. Jay Jay noted that today was a particularly special day because the temple was in a rare mourning period, probably for someone who recently passed away. The writing on the lanterns translates to, “I will go to paradise for eternal life by the force of Buddha.”
Before entering the main temple, people bow and place candles in front of the pagoda. The pagoda is representative of the Buddha himself.
Devout Buddhists will perform 3,000 bows in front of the Buddha to show their devotion. We found many people meditating in front of the three gold Buddhas in the main temple building.
Outside, there was a massive towering Buddha. We were particularly impressed by its enormous size and fascinating beauty.
Next we visited Co-Ex Mall, where we took a rest stop to enjoy fruit drinks and snapback browsing. The mall was a comfortable, air-conditioned rest and shopping stop in this hot, activity-filled afternoon.
Our final destination was Hangang Park (한강 공원).
The park had gorgeous views, a children’s playground, bikes and swan boats to rent, and benches for eating with friends and family. We ordered chicken and beer, aka ChiMaek (치맥), a growing culinary phenomenon in Korea. We enjoyed our lunch out of the sun, sharing the small space of a Cho-ga Jeong Ja (초가정자).
Reflecting our trips to Old and New Seoul, we concluded that Seoul is a city that is constantly reinventing its image, establishing contemporary-styled massive complexes alongside traditional Korean buildings. Seoul is an unique city that balances an active engagement in its economic future with its vibrant, intriguing past.