September 29 Seoul, South Korea

October 1st is the start of “Golden Week” in China. Everyone gets the day off on October 1st to celebrate the founding of the modern state of China. China’s National Day is celebrated with lots of speeches and military parades by the Communist Party, but everyone else looks forward to it as the start of a vacation week. This is one of the two major holidays in China; the other one is Lunar New Year in the winter. This means that people in China are traveling everywhere in large numbers. If you can, it is a good time to leave China and go somewhere else! So Jeff and I decided to go to South Korea for five days, as he had five days off.

We have wanted to see South Korea for a long time. We would regularly fly through Incheon International airport on our way to and from Yantai when Jeff was working there. Incheon is a very nice airport, but I always wanted to be able to leave it and see South Korea. I finally got a chance to do that! We had a tough start to our trip when we arrived in South Korea and our DCU cash card and Visa would not work, even though I had called in advance and told them that we would be using the cards in South Korea. Fortunately, we travel with multiple Visa and cash cards, and the Bank of China cash card and the Bankamericard Visa worked just fine. Still, there was a moment of stress at midnight at the hotel when we arrived before we figured it out!

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Jeff is standing in front of a sign inside the parking garage at Incheon Airport. This is the “cute” photo of September 28, the day we arrived in South Korea.

When I think of South Korea, “cute” is one of the first things that comes into my mind. South Korean pop stars are cute, South Korean cartoons are cute, and it did seem to be part of their image. I wondered if the whole country was that way, or if it was just how they appeared to people outside of the country? As we toured around South Korea, I got my answer.South Korean “cuteness” was everywhere. So I am going to feature a “cute” photo of the day in all of my blog entries on South Korea.

Here is the September 29 “cute” photo of the day. This is a statue of Buddha outside of the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple in Seoul. This is probably the cutest representation of Buddha that I have ever seen! Buddha usually looks peaceful, solemn, and serene. This Buddha looks cute and friendly.

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Statue of Buddha oide of Jogyesa Temple in Seoul

Jogyesa Buddhist Temple is the only Buddhist temple of the inside the city of Seoul. The temple was first established in 1395, at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty. The modern temple was founded in 1910,  and initially called Hwanggaksa. The name was changed to Taegosa during the period of Japanese rule, and then to the present name in 1954.

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Jogyesa Buddhist Temple in Seoul

Confucianism was practiced by most people in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and Christianity also grew in popularity during that time. So Korea does not have as many Buddhist temples as many other areas of Asia. Natural monument number nine, an ancient white pine tree, is also located within the temple grounds. It is a very old looking tree, with a mother and baby elephant (sculpted with ivy plants) underneath it. Cute, but the Buddha statue wins!

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Natural monument number 9, ancient white pine tree, with baby and mother elephant in Jogyesa Temple in Seoul

Korean Folk Culture Museum is located within the grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, and uses replicas of historical objects to illustrate the history of traditional life of the Korean people.The museum was established on by the U.S. Government (!) and opened in April 1946 at the City Administration Memorial Hall. In 1993 it opened in its present site on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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Ann is standing outside of Korean Folk Culture Museum. I am wearing a jacket because it was cool and rainy!

The museum has three main exhibition halls, but we only had enough time on our tour to see one of the halls. Our guide took us to the Life Cycle of the Koreans Hall, which depicts the deep roots of Confucianism in Korean culture. It explains how this ideology gave rise to most of the Korean culture’s customs.

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Replica of a traditional Korean home at the Korean Folk Culture Museum

This is an interesting modification of a chair carrier.

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Jeff is standing in front of an unicycle/chair for carrying nobles around in Korea

This is a replica of a funeral brier, used instead of a coffin for transporting the body to the burial site in Korea. It must have been used for wealthy noble families, as it is very elaborate.

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Korean funeral brier in the Korean Folk Cultural Museum

Our tour stopped at a Ginseng Showroom. Red ginseng is a major export of South Korea. South Korea is one of the only places where the ginseng plant can grow to be six years old. This is supposedly when it gains it’s maximum medicinal strength. All I have is a photo of the outside of the building, because they wouldn’t let us take photos inside. I learned a lot about ginseng, but did not buy any, as I do believe that it has medicinal properties. I want to avoid any interactions with the other medicines that I take.

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Korean Ginseng Showroom in Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace was constructed in 1395 at the start of the Joseon Dynasty. With Mount Bugaksan as a backdrop and the Street of Six Ministries outside the main entrance to the palace, Gyeongbokgung was situated in the center of the Korean capital city.

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Gyeongbokgung Palace with Mount Bugaksan as a backdrop

It was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty in Seoul.

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Entrance gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace

It was steadily expanded before being burned down during the Japanese invasion of 1592.

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Jeff standing next to a guard at the entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace

It was then abandoned for almost three centuries, and partially reconstructed in 1867.

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An inner courtyard in Gyeongbokgung Palace

In the early 20th century, much of the palace was destroyed again by Japan. More recently, the walled palace complex has been gradually restored back to its original form. About 40% of the original number of palace buildings still stand or have been reconstructed.

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I think that this is supposed to be a phoenix, but it looks like a chicken to me. These carved birds were everywhere in the palace.

Gyeongbokgung has 330 buildings, so it is a very large palace, similar in scale to the Forbidden City Palace in Beijing. Within the palace walls were the Outer Court, offices for the king and state officials, and the Inner Court, which included living quarters for the royal family as well as gardens for leisure. It also included other palaces, such as the Crown prince’s residence.

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This building is where the king conducted business

The double dragons on the ceiling indicate that this was the Korean king’s audience hall.

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Double dragons on the ceiling of the King’s audience hall in Gyeongbokgung Palace

This is where the king sat inside the audience hall.

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Inside the audience hall in Gyeongbokgung Palace

This building was for formal banquets when the king entertained foreign dignitaries. It is the only two story building inside the palace. The dining area was on the second level.

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The building for entertaining foreign dignitaries in Gyeongbokgung Palace

We ate lunch at a Korean Restaurant. And it was called Korean Restaurant (not very imaginative!) We ate a lot of Korean food on this trip at almost every meal. Even breakfast at the hotels featured mostly Korean food. I ended up eating mostly the non spicy items, as I am not ready for kimchi at breakfast time! But I did like the other Korean favorite-mushroom soup. This they had at all of our breakfasts, and many of our lunches and dinners.

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Korean Restaurant in Seoul

After lunch, we went to tour Changdeokgung  Palace. Changdeokgung  Palace in Seoul was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. Changdeokgung is set within a large garden park. It is one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. As it is located east of the Main Palace, Changdeokgung, is also referred to as the East Palace.

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Ann and Jeff are standing in front of the entrance to Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung was the favorite palace of many Joseon princes. It retained many things from earlier historical periods that were not incorporated in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung  Palace. One example of this throw back to earlier principles is how the buildings of Changdeokgung blend with the natural ecology of the site, according to Feng Shui principles.

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Looking across the park setting at some of the buildings of Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung was the second palace constructed after Gyeongbokgung. Construction of Changdeok Palace was completed in 1412. This palace was also burned down during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609. Changdeokgung was the site of the royal court and the seat of government until 1868, when the neighboring Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt.

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The stone bridge at the entrance to Changdeokgung Palace. This is the oldest stone bridge in Korea.

,Changdeokgung  Palace, like the other Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, was heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation of Korea  from 1910-1945. Currently, only about 30% of the original palace structures survive.

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Buildings in Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul

Today there are 13 buildings remaining on the palace grounds and 28 pavilions in the gardens, which covers 110 acres. The garden is a separate one and a half hour tour that we did not have time to take.

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More buildings in Changdeokgung Palace, in the NakseonJae section of the palace

Buildings of note include NakseonJae, which was the last residence of Korean imperial family, including Princess Bangja. When she died in 2006, there were no remaining members left of the Joseon Dynasty.

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King’s audience hall in Changdeokgung Palace

Can you see the difference between this audience hall and the one at Gyeongbokgung Palace? Look closely, and you will see that there are electric light fixtures on the wall, and hanging from the ceiling. As the last palace used by the Joseon family, some modern amenities like electricity were added.

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King’s audience hall in Changdeokgung Palace

Another major export of South Korea is amethyst. Most of the world’s supply of amethyst comes from here, and all of the highest quality stones are from South Korea. I love amethysts, so I was thrilled when our tour visited the Amethyst Showroom, and I got to see all the beautiful amethyst jewelry!

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Ann is standing inside the Amethyst Showroom

 I was impressed by everything we saw in our first day of touring South Korea. The palaces were wonderful, the food was delicious, the shopping was great, and I learned a lot about Korea!

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