This morning, we awoke at 4:00 am. It's getting better! By tomorrow morning, we hope to sleep until at least 6:00. From 4:00 until 9:00 we had a leisurely morning until our tour guide Ms Hana and driver picked us up for the Essential Seoul Tour. There were three of us on the tour, Russ, me, and a Polish-Now New Zealand woman, Ewa.
Our first stop was the largest Buddhist Temple in Seoul, Jogye Temple, The buildings and grounds were beautiful and well kept.
The Golden Buddhas presided over a temple filled with women (one man) sitting silently on mats reading prayers or contemplations.
After seeing this temple and many others from around Southeast Asia, we decided if we were going to be monks, it would be from this well organized temple. In many of the other countries, monks are required to beg for food and faithful donate to them either by leaving offerings in the temple or handouts as the monks pass through town. This temple looked very well stocked.
Our guide told us that 50% of Korean population is Catholic, Christian, or Buddhists. The other 50% are not religious. South Korea's population is approximately 50,000,000 million people. Ten million people live in Seoul, but on any given day, there are usually 25,000,000 million people (working commuters, tourists, dignitaries) in Seoul. Land is a premium, apartments are small and expensive, and they are packed with people.
Main Palace - Changing of the Guard
As we approached the main palace, we inquired about the men and women wearing traditional Korean clothing walking about amongst others in contemporary clothing. Hana told us that there are many shops in Korea that rent the traditional clothing for the day. If tourists wear the costumes, they get free admission to the Palaces. The cost of the costume exceeds Palace admissions, but everyone loves to have themselves photographed in the palaces wearing the traditional clothing. Everyone wearing traditional dress whether Korean, Japanese, Europeans, young, old, all looked like they were having loads of fun preening in front of cameras.
As we passed through Gwanghwamun Gate and back in time with a tour of Gyeongbok Palace, former residence of Joseon Dynasty royalty, a group of girls wearing traditional dress were posing for photos.
I stood beside the official photographer and snapped a few photos at the end of the session when the kids were growing weary. The girl with her hands up to her cheeks came up to me and indicated that she wanted to see the photo I took. I showed her. She put her hands and arms over her head to form a heart, and said in English "I love you".
Russ and I posed for a photo as well after the changing of the guards.
We spent most of the morning wandering the palace grounds, peeking into buildings and trying to imagine life in this palace.
Hana told us about the Korean written language.
It was in this building, that the King assembled language experts to develop a new written language called Hangul. It would not be complicated like the Chinese system nor pictographs. It would be a phonetic based writing. There are 24 letters in Hangul, 14 consonants and 10 vowels (unlike English where one vowel may have 2-3 sounds), each of the vowels in Hangul has one unique sound.
After our palace visit, we waited for our driver to pick us up outside one of the side gates. There was this funny little sculpture on which children love to climb. We got a kick out of it, although it is questionable that the symbolism of this sculpture is really meant for children. See what you think. I can think of a couple of cheeky political captions.
Our guide took us to a nice little restaurant in a back alley for lunch.
Our individual plates had some meat, fried egg, carrots , and greens. We were to dump in sticky rice, mix it all together, and eat it with different garnishes and sauces. It was very tasty.
Following lunch, we had an opportunity to try on Korean traditional clothing. Russ wears a hat that is designated for a King.
After posing and dancing around in our costumes, we were driven to the top of one of the highest points in Seoul, Bugak Skyway atop Bugak Mountain for panoramic views of the city. It was a hazy day, so visibility was not terrific, but it gave us a sense of how densely populated Seoul is.
The last historical visit of the day was in a section of town where 600 year old restored and privately owned homes were built, Bukchon Hanok Village, well-preserved traditional Korean buildings.
|Ying, Yang Architecture|
The last stop of the day was in the largest shopping area in Korea. It was filled with stores and consumers. Consumerism for cars, cosmetics, designer clothes, and just about everything else has to be off the charts here. There were dozens of blocks of high end stores.
Tomorrow, we start our 8 Day Tour around the Korean Peninsula.