That's me in the money shot, so to speak, at Cheong Wa Dae, Office of the President of Korea. Literally, it translates to 'Blue roof-tile big house' and is the Korean equivalent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I'm wearing an English audio tour headset.
The tour was scheduled to begin at 1400, and I was to meet Mr Lee, who had arranged the tour, an hour earlier at Gyeongbokgung Station. That's one stop north of Anguk, so I stopped by at the Korean Comfort Women's Protest. There were only two of the halmoni in attendance, as compared to the five last time I went.
I had to leave before the event ended, but met Mr Lee with a half hour to spare before the Cheong Wa Dae tour was to begin. So we visited the National Palace Museum, right next to the subway exit--admission is free for 2009.
It's a fairly big place, so I'll have to go back to see the whole thing, but below are a few photos of interest. Clockwise from top left: a globe and astrolabe; the world's first rain gauge (I don't know how they know); me in front of a slab of slate with a chart of the constellations carved in it; a pair of dragons fighting; a dragon carving; royal garb. Mr Lee told me the Chinese emperor wore yellow, and no one else could; similarly, the Joseon kings wore red, and no one else could. But this was only because the Chinese emperor said they couldn't wear yellow. "The Chinese emperors were very arrogant," Mr Lee pointed out.
After this whirlwind look at one floor of the three-story museum, it was time to catch the bus from the corner of the Gyeongbokgung complex. It was a short ride, then we went through a security check and watched a five-minute video before the actual tour began. We went past a large field, where helicopters land, and I took this picture of a lucky turtle before being told I wasn't supposed to take pictures. Except during certain parts of the tour.
The first legit photo op was this field, once a garden personally-tended by the Joseon kings; the so-called Scholar Tree is in the foreground--studying under it will make you smarter.
Next photo op is drectly in front of the main building. I managed to snap the extremely camera-shy Mr Lee:
Usually, tours get to go inside the official guest residence at Cheong Wa Dae, but it was actually in use today, so we couldn't go. From the outside, it is a very impressive building; the four front pillars are each one solid piece of granite quarried in Korea--they poke through the balcony and support the roof. They are 3 m. in circumference and twenty-odd meters tall.
There was one stop left on the tour, a minor shrine separate from both Cheong Wa Dae and Gyeongbokgung, little known even to Koreans, said Mr Lee. Chilgung (meaning seven palaces) contains the shrines of seven royal concubines whose sons went on to become Joseon kings. Each shrine contains the woman's spirit tablet.
The bus collected us across the street from this fountain and public square, which Mr Lee says is devoted to the Spirit of Democracy or somesuch:
Each person on the tour was given a nice embossed card to commemorate the event, and some, including myself, received a nice coffee mug imprinted with the Cheong Wa Dae emblem. The tour was free, but required booking well in advance, with passport info, and required bringing my passport for admittance.