At this point in our visit to Seoul we really had to prioritize our time. There were only a few days left and there was still so much to see. We were also pretty tired from all of the walking. One high priority was to visit a Palace. There are 5 palaces in Seoul, so we felt like we should see at least one. Near the palace was a shrine that Steve wanted to see, so we thought we would do that first.
The shrine was named Jongmyo Shrine. It is a Buddhist Shrine that houses the spirits of the royalty of the past. In the picture above you can see the stone path. It defines where the spirits travel. People are not supposed to use this path. There are exacting rituals which are enacted annually to honor the spirits of the past emperors. We watched a short movie which showed part of the ceremony and it just left me wondering how something like that begins. There must have been some time when someone made up the dances and the chanting and the order of things. Who thought of those costumes and especially the hats!? (notice that mortarboard hat with fringe that the king is wearing!)
Then we went back to the Gyeongbok Palace. It was interesting to see lots of people around the palace wearing traditional Korean clothing, but they acted like normal visitors, not enactors. It turns out that there is free admittance to the palace if wearing Korean traditional clothes. One of the things that many people talk about is the changing of the guard, but we did not arrive at the right time to see it. After looking at the palace a bit went on a tour of the Secret Garden behind the Palace. The secret garden is called that because it is a peaceful place in the back of the palaces where royalty could enjoy nature and get away from the bustle of life. There were paths among trees and ponds and every now and then you would see a small building. Our guide explained the history of these buildings and how they were used.
Since this is not my area of expertise I always have a hard time remembering all of the things that I learned on a tour. I decided this time to just try to really understand one main thing. The thing that I took from this tour is that the Dynasty lasted 500 years! That is a long time. During that time Chinese was the language used by the educated classes.
Above the gates of the Palace buildings were all in Chinese. Chinese characters (Kanji) are difficult to learn to read and write, so in 1910 the Emperor created the Korean writing. It is amazing to me what a short time ago the Korean way of writing was started.
At the end of the Dynasty the Japanese took over. Korea was ruled from 1910 to the second world war by Japan. At the time there was one Korea. During World War II United States and China divided up Korea into two parts North and South. Our Korean friends said it was entirely arbitrary where the line was and that Korea had no say in it. More about that later when I write about the Demilitarized Zone.
Seeing this reminds me that there are SO many things which seem TOO expensive and TOO difficult, but once they are done you cannot imagine things any differently. I think this applies to figuring out rapid transit for Austin right now. There is NO good and inexpensive way.