Monday, May 16, 2011

Catching up

The night my mom finally landed in Korea there was an insane thunderstorm that basically boomed right over my apartment building. It started raining early that night and was still going when we woke up on Saturday morning. But I stuck to our plan for the day anyway because it was just the right amount of things to do for a Saturday. We headed out about mid-morning for Jongno, an area of Seoul packed with lots of history and culture. Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, a spot I hadn't visited yet and was itching to see.
Gyeongbokgung, also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace, is a royal palace located in northern Seoul, South Korea. First constructed in 1394 and reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The name of the palace, Gyeongbokgung, translates in English as "Palace of Shining Happiness."Nearly destroyed by the Japanese government in the early 20th century, the palace complex is slowly being restored to its original form prior the destruction. As of 2009, roughly 40 percent of the original number of palace buildings still stand or are being reconstructed.
We lucked out because the rain actually stopped long enough for us to get to the subway and tour the palace.
From a distance we thought these guys were fake, then we saw this dude lift his arm to scratch his nose. They were rocking some funny fake beards though. And I love the uniforms.

Some crazy ceiling action going on. I tried zooming in for a better shot but to no avail. Yet another reason to spring for a new camera...
Zodiac statues. 
After wandering around the palace we went to the National Folk Museum of Korea, which is located inside the palace grounds.
 I like to think that this is a hat Dumbledore would wear.
Best hat box I have ever seen.
The museum wasn't huge but had some interesting things to see. We also caught a musical performance that mostly consisted of a flute, drums, and a gayageum, which Grandma Wiki helpfully explains is a "traditional Korean zither-like string instrument, with 12 strings". Some of the songs were really pretty but between my mom having just traveled for a few days and me getting no sleep because of the thunderstorm, there was some serious dozing going on in our seats. We decided that it was a compliment to the musicians, however, that their music was so soothing it could lull the audience to sleep. Yep, let's just go with that.

When we left the museum the rain was coming down again which ended up putting a real damper on what I had planned for the next part of the day. Gyeongbokgung is right around the corner from Insadong, which is basically this main street with lots of little alleys branching off it. The draw of Insadong though is that it offers a lot of traditional Korean culture. It's definitely popular for tourists but I think for good reason. There are art galleries, tea shops, antique stores, funky stores with handcrafted items, porcelain shops, etc. Sure there are also stores where you can buy typical souvenirs like magnets or pens or whatnot shaped like hanboks or fans but it's a nice mix.

It was a crappy day for Insadong though. On a sunny, blue afternoon? Yes. On a rainy, miserable one? Not so much. We only popped into a few stores and I didn't take any pictures because of the weather but here are some shots from my first trip there so you can get an idea.

After Insadong we went to Itaewon for dinner since mom opted for western food and that was close by. We went to Gecko's which is mostly a bar but serves up some really good food; I love their meatball subs. So we had dinner and a few drinks there then headed back to hang out and get some rest before getting up early again on Sunday. 

And when my computer starts behaving again and letting me upload more pictures here there will be more to come from her trip!

Trivia of the Day: Yi Sun-sin (April 28, 1545 – December 16, 1598, Korean: 이순신) was a Korean naval commander noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty. His title of Samdo Sugun Tongjesa (Hangul : 삼도수군통제사), literally meaning "Naval Commander of the Three Provinces" was to remain as the title of the commander of the operating arm of the Korean navy until 1896. Yi is also known for his innovative use of the turtle ship. He is reputed to be one of the few admirals to have been victorious in every naval battle (of at least 23) which he commanded. Yi was killed by a single bullet in the Battle of Noryang on December 16, 1598. And while he died, he said "Do not let my death be known" (lest the friendly forces lose morale/the enemy gain morale). The royal court eventually bestowed various honors upon him, including a posthumous title of Chungmugong (충무공, Duke of Loyalty and Warfare), an enrollment as a Seonmu Ildeung Gongsin (선무일등공신, First-class military order of merit during the reign of Seonjo), and two posthumous offices, Yeonguijeong (영의정, Prime Minister), and the Deokpung Buwongun (덕풍부원군, The Prince of the Court from Deokpung). Yi remains a venerated hero among Koreans today.

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