I decided to post a couple blog entries today to make up for the days I’ll be away on tour. As you can probably tell from my recent blog entries, my family and I have traveled further a field to see more of this beautiful country. Korea is a nice, livable place. The weather has also been relatively nice. We haven’t been through the dreaded dead of winter or the monsoon season yet, but so far we are very happy with our assignment choice.
We went to downtown Seoul today to visit Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), the primary royal palace in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung was the seat of power during the Joseon (조선) Dynasty (1392-1910). The palace is very picturesque. We took dozens of photos at the palace, some of which made their way into a photo album on this blog. Some visitors who have also visited the Forbidden City in Beijing commented that Gyeongbokgung is not as impressive as the Forbidden City, home to China’s emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Where the Forbidden City is grand and immense, Gyeongbokgung is understated and intimate. I much prefer the latter myself. While both seem to share about the same amount of acreage, Gyeongbokgung blends in much better with its surroundings than does the Forbidden City. Also, the mountains to the north of Gyeongbokgung provide a gorgeous relief. I had previously visited the palace with my colleague from Guangzhou, China (see April’s archive), but the day we visited was a public holiday and the palace was closed. Today, it was open and teeming with people from around the world. We really enjoyed our visit, and we explored the entire palace grounds save the National Folklore Museum. (Our son is definitely an explorer—he kept us busy wandering throughout the palace grounds.) Along the way, we ran into the wife of my friend from the University of Washington MBA program who dined in our home earlier this month (see May’s archive). She is a palace tour guide, and her uniform is a hanbok (한복), traditional Korean dress. We were very surprised to see her there, because we had no idea that she worked at the palace. We talked briefly and promised to get together again soon.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find Gyeongbokgung relatively uncommercialized. A few years ago, Starbucks opened a coffee shop in the Forbidden City, and many Chinese were disgruntled that an American icon would be allowed to operate inside China’s imperial palace. The brouhaha eventually settled down, and Starbucks is still there serving coffee. A Pizza Hut faces the pyramids at Giza, Egypt. You can buy a McDonald’s Big Mac or bucket of KFC chicken next to the Great Wall in Badaling, China. Despite being situated in the center of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung has no such trappings. The palace has one discreet Korean snack shop/gift shop located toward the palace gardens. Fortunately, my wife and I managed to find an adequate Korean souvenir to buy at the small shop. We have an unusual collection—we buy miniature monuments from around the world. We try to find a miniature that depicts the symbol of each place we visit. For example, we bought a miniature Eiffel Tower in Paris and a miniature Statue of Liberty in New York City. Individually, the monuments range from kitschy to elegant. Together, they form a miniature view of the world when you arrange them together. It’s much easier to find monuments in major cities. However, Tokyo and Seoul are two places where it’s especially difficult to find good miniatures. Three and a half months after arriving in Korea, we finally found a hand-sized miniature that symbolizes Korea, and just added it to our collection. It’s a miniature of the main building at Gyeongbokgung. It looks great. I posted a photo of the collection. Enjoy!