Monday, September 29, 2008

Tapgol Park, Changdeokgung and Insa-dong

On Saturday, I met up with my friend Steve at Exit #1 of Jongno-sam-ga Station; it was our intention to explore the artsy area called Insa-dong. The first place we came to was Tapgol Park, where I recognized the ten-tiered pagoda that is Korea's National Treasure #2.

My buddy Steve in front of 10-tiered pagoda which is Korea's National Treasure No. 2
A view of 10-tier pagoda more in keeping w/ its natural location
The park is small, and marks the site of a 15th century Buddhist temple. It is famous as the site of the March 1st Movement, or Sam-il (meaning 3 - 1), an important impetus for the Korean independence movement during the Japanese occupation. There is a series of bas relief sculptures around the park documenting moments during the independence movement.

bas-relief of Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in Tapgol Park
bas-relief of Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in Tapgol Park
It was also the terminus of the Great Peace March in 1986, which led to dictator Chun Doo-whan stepping down in favor of democratic elections for the first time in the country's history. Because of all this background, Tapgol Park remains a common gathering place for protests and marches (such as the beef protests earlier this year). We couldn't find out what was in the offing, but it looks as if the police were ready for something:

Police, riot gear and paddywagons ready for any fracas!
Next, we made our way to Changdeokgung Palace, rich in history as the second palace built by the royal family in 1405, during the Joseon dynasty. Few of the buildings from that time are extant, as the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt throughout South Korea's various occupations. First, a picture of Injeongjeon Hall, and its throne room, the site of the palace's formal functions such as weddings, receptions for foreign envoys and the like. It was built in 1405, and reconstructed after a fire in 1609. If you look at the 10,000 Won note, you can see the same image of five mountains that are painted on the panel behind the throne!

Throne room of Injeongjeon Hall
One of my favorite things about Seoul is the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. In this picture, you can see Injeongmun (Injeong Gate) to my right, and the modern city outside the palace walls on my left.

Juxtaposition of ancient and modern--what I dig most about Seoul!
Below are a few more photos of our Changdeokgung Palace tour. Hover your mouse over the photo for a description:

Brilliant colors and designs under the eaves of the King's office/private quarters
The marital bed in the room refered to as the 'baby-making' room
Dunno what this is, but Steve thought it was a good shot of me; what else can I want?
Jondeokjeong pond, whose first pavilion, pictured, was built in 1644, during the 22nd year of King Injo's reign
After the tour concluded, Steve and I were both thirsty, so we went looking for a hof before dinner. Amazingly, we walked several blocks before finding anything at all--apparently we had wandered into the one neighborhood in Seoul that was teetotal! Neither of us is fluent in Korean, so the snack we ordered in this tiny seafood restaurant (the cheapest thing on the menu) turned out to be fried eggs and carrots. With dried tiny sardines on the side.

So we quenched our thirst, and took the edge off our hunger, and wandered back toward the main area of Insa-dong, looking for a galbi restaurant. Turns out, Insa-dong is loaded with artsy coffee shops and panini bistros with names like Cafe du Coin and Ma Ma, but not much in the way of serious Korean food. Okay, we did pass up a Chinese noodle house and a samgyupsal place, as we were in the mood for beef. Finally, we found it! And it was worth the walking--besides we saw all of Insa-dong during our stroll. Now I know where the chicken art museum is located. I will so be back for that.

The galbi was outstanding--it always is--and the bill came to 53,000 W including beer, about $25 each. Which is what you'd pay at Ruby Tuesday's, and infinitely superior.

On the way home, we stopped briefly in Itaewon--about 4 stops away on line #6--as Steve needed a new phone card. We dropped in at Nashville, three doors down from Seoul Bar, and much mellower. A pleasant ending to a pleasant day!

No comments: