Archive for May, 2007

Korea: Part II

May 24, 2007

Back to Korea. I wanted to wrap this up in one post, but I haven’t had the time, so this will be part 2 of 3.

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After a day in Gyeongju, I moved on to Seoul, the current capital and Korea’s largest city (~10 million). This is the iconic Namdaemun, the “Great Southern Gate.”

Namdaemun

Under different names, Seoul was also the capital of the Baekje Kingdom from 18BC to 475, and the capital of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Unfortunately, like the rest of Korea, most relics of its long history have been destroyed by war, but at least conservation and reconstruction efforts have restored some old sites.

I spent three days in Seoul, wandering the streets, visiting museums, and checking out some of the old palaces. There are five Joseon Dynasty palaces in Seoul and I visited three of them. One of these was originally the prince’s residence, but it became the palace after all the others were leveled during the Japanese invasion of the 1590s. But that palace also saw its share of destruction and rebuilding, so I’m not sure what was built when.

Anyway, this is the main gate of one of the palaces, manned by ceremonial guards.

Seoul Palace Gate

The guards are more of a tourist attraction than anything, but at least their attire is accurate and they were suitably impassive.

The changing of the guard.

Seoul Guards

A throne room.

Seoul Throne

Joseon Dynasty thrones (after a certain date – maybe around 1600) were always accompanied by a folding screen depicting the sun, the moon, and five mountains. I’m not conversant with the symbolism, though.

A statue of King Sejong.

King Sejong

King Sejong and a group of scholars created Hangul, the native Korean writing system, in the 1440s. The educated elite of his day were opposed to the new script, insisting that Chinese characters are the only proper writing, and later kings even forbade the use of Hangul in official documents. However, Hangul is vastly easier to learn than Chinese characters, which moreover aren’t suited for writing Korean in the first place, and so today, Hangul reigns supreme in Korea. “Hangul” in Hangul: 한글

These unpainted buildings are living quarters.

Seoul Unpainted

The floors in these buildings were heated, which was standard for well-to-do houses. The technology has been in use in Korea for two thousand years or more, but I’m not sure when it became really widespread.

And for something non-palace-related, here’s a nightlife picture. Although I should say, most of Seoul wasn’t like this.

Seoul Neon

That’s all for now.

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Bad News

May 5, 2007

A short post to say that I’m alive and well.

This week was “Golden Week” here in Japan, which is a period with four public holidays. This year, that meant no school on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. I tried to make the best of my time off, although I quickly decided against traveling abroad when I found that airfare during Golden Week is double or even triple the usual price. Meanwhile, domestic transportation and destinations are pretty clogged, but that seems confined to the four-day weekend; the three-day one wasn’t too bad. On Monday I went to Ise, which was well worth the trip. I’ll talk about that some other time, though.

Yesterday there was a death in the family. At times like this, it’s hard being so far away from your loved ones, but aside from being able to be with my family, I suppose I’d feel just as helpless there as here. I guess all I can say is, Jenny, if you read this, know that my thoughts and love are with you.