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Mike's Adventures in Korea 1994

Part 5: Seoul

When Jim and I couldn't fly out, we went to the local tour office.  We wanted to sign up for the DMZ trip, but it was booked.  So, being pessimistic, we signed up for the trip that would go up a few weeks later.  Meanwhile, the only trip left was a trip to Seoul to see Changdokkung Palace and the Haengju Mountain Fortress.

As we were getting ready to go, I packed my camera in my waist pack.  Jim made fun of me, as he said I looked like a tourist.  I questioned whether a blonde-haired kid who spoke no Korean could actually pass for a local.  We didn't exactly blend in...

Suwon apartments
A lot of apartments.  This is actually Suwon, a large city located next to Seoul - think New York and Jersey City...

Seoul apartments
More apartments along the Han River in Seoul.  There's a lot of people in Seoul...

The first place we went was to Haengju Mountain Fortress.  In 1595, the Japanese had captured and conquered Seoul.  General Kwon Yul, governor of a nearby province, led his 2,300 strong army to this location in a bid to take back Seoul.  Although outnumbered by the 30,000 strong Japanese army, General Kwon Yul was able to stop the Japanese.  The fortress was built on top of one of the mountains that overlooks Seoul.  This is one of the most sacred places in Korea.

Haengju Shrine
The shrine that houses General Kwon's portrait.

General Kwon portrait
General Kwon's portrait with the burning incense tribute.

Mike imitating General Kwon
Mike at the monument to General Kwon, imitating the Korean hero.

The fortress is named after the Korean words for "Apron Fortress."  This is because there were so few men available to fight that women helped out, including many who hauled large stones in their aprons that were eventually thrown down upon the Japanese invaders below.

Haengju Monument
The monument to all the brave combatants at the fortress atop the mountain.

The original monument to the battle and fortress was destroyed during the Korean War.  This newest one was built in the 1960s.

Mike demonstrating the "kimshee squat"
Mike demonstrates a Korean style of sitting that is nicknamed "the kinshee squat."  The building behind me is the new museum built atop the mountain.

Mike at the Han River
The Han River is the major waterway of Seoul.  This was the view from atop the mountain.

Cool Cafe atop hill
Among other things, this building also houses a great cafeteria with cool refreshments (including a beverage called "Pocari Sweat")!

Then, we drove down past the Han River.  Along the way, we could see the new capital building.

Seoul Statehouse
The new statehouse along the Han River.

New Statehouse
Another view of the new statehouse.

The old capital building was built by the Japanese when Korea had been one of its colonies in the 1930s.  It would be dismantled during my later trip to Korea.

Old Colonial Capital
The old colonial capital.  It housed a museum.

Another site we passed was the East Gate.  Seoul used to be a walled city, but only the East Gate still stands.

Seoul City Gate
The East Gate.  Note the national symbol in the facade.

National Symbol
A close-up of the national symbol.  This image is everywhere!

We also passed the Seoul Tower.  A landmark similar to the Space Needle, it was built for the Olympics and relays television signals from atop Mt. Namsam.

Seoul Tower
Seoul Tower.  This was the closest we got to it.

Then, it was off to the Changdokkung Palace.  The palace (as I will henceforth call it) was home to a long dynasty of Korean kings.  All of them had built their own palaces, and as you will see, many of them built their palaces according to what was in vogue at the time.  (Note:  We took a tour that was in Chinese, and Ms. Kim translated for us into English, so I am unsure of a lot of the intricate facts of people/places/dates.)

Changdokkung Palace Guide
The guide and layout of the palace.  I had to take this picture to remember what the name of the place was.

Changdokkung Palace Model
A model showing what the palace looked like when it had the walls in place and before the modern city encroached upon it.  (You can see the East Gate in the top center of the picture.)

Like so many other things in Korea, this is not the original palace.  The original palaces were destroyed in one of the many wars fought over the years, and in this case, the original was burned down.

Changdokkung Large Palace
The big palace.

When we arrived, I lucked out.  Apparently, because I was under 24, I got the children's rate.  Our guide, Ms. Kim, said that they compute ages differently there, but since I was under 24, I got the child's rate.  She called me the Korean word for "baby" all day.

We started off at the big palace.  This was where the first emperors lived in a luxurious palace.

Mike in front of the Changdokkung Large Palace
Mike in front of the big palace.

Mike at the Changdokkung Palace Secret Garden
Here I am in the secret garden.  Don't tell anyone!

Mike in the Changdokkung Palace Garden
Another picture of the secret gardens.

One of the subsequent emperors decided that he didn't want a grandiose building for his palace, so he built his palace in a similar style to wealthy merchants' homes, and he built them around a meditation pond.

Changdokkung Palace Pond
The second palace near the pond.

Changdokkung Merchant Palace
Another view of the merchant palace and pond.

Mike at Changdokkung Pagoda
One of the buildings in the second complex.  I love all the intricate painting in bright colors.

After this, we went to the third palace complex.  This emperor envied the scholars of the time, so instead of building a palace that flaunted his wealth, he built a small simple building similar to what the leading Buddhist scholars of the time lived in, hoping that the minimalist living would impart great wisdom.

Changdokkung Scholar Palace
The scholar palace.  Notice the intricate woodwork and bright colors are gone, replaced by words of wisdom written everywhere.

Mike in a Kung Fu stance
Mike demonstrating his kung fu stance in the scholar palace.  Doesn't it look like a set of a kung fu movie?

Mike doing Kung Fu at the Scholar Palace
Another view of the scholar palace.  The men were on one side, and the women were on the other, and the wall down the middle separated the two sides.  The king lived in the center on the men's side and the queen lived in the center on the women's side.  Alas, the king had a sliding door through which he could sneak into the women's side...

While at the palace, I discovered a small leaflet.  It was written in Korean, but on the small slip it had a picture of a sickly looking white man with a short haircut and "USA" written on his chest and small drops of water dripping from him that said "AIDS."  Ms. Kim took the slip and translated it.  Apparently it was a piece of North Korean propaganda that said that American soldiers bring the AIDS virus to infect Koreans.  It alleged that there were no cases of AIDS before the Americans brought it, and that if the Americans left the peninsula, so would the threat of AIDS.

Ms. Kim tore up the propaganda and threw it away.  I wanted to bring it back as a souvenir, but it is a major crime to possess such propaganda, so she threw it out to protect me from the authorities.

I felt weird, though, as I suddenly realized that I faced an enemy who really truly hated Americans.  I wondered how many Koreans also found these same leaflets, but actually believed them.

Soon enough, I would be face-to-face with the enemy...

Continue on to Part 6: DMZ