The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Seoul Day 3: Hwaseong Palace and Dongdaemun Market

On our third and final full day in Seoul, we headed on an hour-long journey on the subway to Suwon to check out Hwaseong Fortress. The fortress was where we wanted to go, but the palace was where we'd ended up at. Zak had fallen asleep in his stroller en route to Suwon Station, and because he hadn't slept very well during the trip, we wanted to avoid waking him up prematurely. Which meant not taking a taxi from the station to the fortress as it would have involved taking him out of the stroller. Somehow while deciding on what to do and how to get to our desired destination, we ended up on the bus to the Hwaseong Haenggung, a temporary palace "detached" from the main palace in Seoul. We didn't realise our mistake until we'd been in the area for a couple of hours, when it became quite clear that we weren't exploring the fortress, but the grounds of a palace. Actually, the palace is part of the fortress, in its centre, so technically we didn't make a mistake, but we should have just caught a taxi anyway because Zak woke up as soon as we sat down in the bus.

The vast open expanse in front of Hwaseong Haenggung castle - Rob and Zak in the stroller are a tiny speck towards the centre of the shot, and notice the floor art; this is what was sitting on top of the highest point of the hill in the first shot - I was testing out the 14x zoom capability of the newly purchased point-and-shoot:

A closer up view of the art on one part of the floor; and the Taekwondo performance in action:

In spite of all that, we had a pretty good time - a delicious Korean meal at a restaurant opposite the palace where we had the best kalbi (beef rib) stew (and this is coming from a non-red meat person like me), and we got to enjoy a couple of performances put on by the Suwon City Hall including a choreographed Taekwondo act, and an extravagant Jang Yong Yeong Royal Security Guards Ceremony involving many actors and lavish costumes. I believe this extravagant ceremony takes place every Sunday between April and October, and we would have missed it if we had actually made it to our original destination!

Rob and Zak with one of the Royal Guards actor during the Jang Yong Yeong ceremony; and guards lining up either sides of the path towards the palace's entrance, at the beginning of the ceremony:

It was an extravagant ceremony to greet the king (or the actor playing the king), with a large entourage preceding the king character who approached on foot. The queen mother character was carried in seated in a comfortable portable throne:

Regarding the palace structures, there were many buildings on the palace grounds, and after seeing the first two or three buildings of similar style, it blurred into a if-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all kind of situation. Each building had certain significance (such as the banquet hall where the king held a birthday feast for his queen mother), but I won't bore you with the details since there are 21 buildings on the compound. A little googling about the palace just now revealed that Hwaseong Haenggung castle is the biggest (and nicest?) of the temporary palaces, used not only as a place of respite during long journeys, but also where King Jeongjo held feasts and parties. The palace was recently restored, so all the buildings looked new, perhaps too new for a historical site. Apparently, some scenes from the popular Korean drama series Dae Jang Geum were shot in this location, which we had watched more than 5 years ago, so we could appreciate the setting a bit better (I recommend the show for the gorgeous traditional Korean food presented, but be warned the plot is addictive!).

Some extras chilling out on the palace grounds behind the scenes during the ceremony; and one of the many halls within the palace compound:

More of the palace compound:

Stairs leading up to a path that we assumed led to the fortress - we decided that we couldn't really be bothered negotiating the stairs and hilly pathway with the baby stroller; and posing with the cardboard cut-outs of the two main characters of the Korean drama Dae Jang Geum:

On our way back to the hotel in Myeongdong, we decided that the day was still young enough to make a quick stop by Dongdaemun, the "Great East Gate" in central Seoul. Like at Namdaemun (touted to be the nicest of the main gates of Seoul before the 2008 arson), there was a sizeable market at Dongdaemun but we didn't really explore it in much depth because we were tired from the day's journey to Suwon. I heard that the Dongdaemun market is more interesting than Nandaemun market, so it would have been nice to spend more time there.

The big gate of Dongdaemun; and playtime with part of the market in the background:

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