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Week 2 - Palaces and Art

Did you know that there was a Korean Empire in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries?

I remembered (vaguely) reading about it when I was first preparing to move to Korea, but hadn't thought about it until this past weekend. I learned about it while walking through the National Museum's exhibition on the time period.

Gwanghwamun Plaza
Like all capitals, Seoul is filled with a myriad of museums, important buildings, famous statues and streets. This past weekend in Seoul was also filled with the energy which comes from watching justice stand firm. While I didn't go downtown to celebrate on Friday or Saturday, I was in the area on Sunday, and there was still a feeling of elation as I walked along the path where thousands had marched and protested week after week until finally watching their president leave office.

There's no better place to see the long and short history of this country. The Republic of Korea, or South Korea as we mostly refer to it, is very young. Established in the Forties, it's one of the youngest nations in the world. The peninsula, and region of Korea, on the other hand is quite old. People have lived here since the dawn of humanity. Thriving kingdoms rose and fell during the time of the Romans, Persians and Byzantines. The last kingdom (that which also spawned the empire) was Joeson, and it began in the Fourteenth Century.

In the photo above, I was walking towards Gyeongbokgung, the primary palace in Korean history. Yes, those are mountains in the back, and yes, they are in the middle of the city. Behind me, however, were the skyscrapers, traffic and people that make cities what they are. It was an interesting and striking contrast.

Queen's Garden and Chimneys
Within the palace, the noise outside dissipates. It's still noisy, though now it's from the myriad of people talking. Should you happen to come to Gtwoyeongbokgung be prepared for several things. First, the size of the grounds. After visiting Versailles, this place had a similar feel, though not as park-like. Versailles felt like it was the Sunday afternoon park where families freely wandered about. This palace was more of a museum.

Second, there is and isn't a lot to see. Being that it's early spring, many of the places may have been closed for winter. During the summer, they might provide more chances to look inside the buildings, but there wasn't much.

Third, there are friendly high schoolers willing to give you a tour. Most of them speak English. It's part of a volunteer program, and the students are knowledgeable on their history and culture. There are several, so you are often given the opportunity to have a personal tour guide.


I don't know about you, but I didn't know much about Korean art until I arrived here. I know some about Asian art in general, but it was primarily focused on Japan where there is a larger weaving and fiber related art history.

I missed Art Street in Gwangju where I could wander. I missed being able to find art supplies at the local stores. In truth, I missed just being in a city surrounded by art.

To that end, I wanted to visit a street in Seoul called Insadong. It's known as the art street, but I found it to be more tourist street than art. There were plenty of artists and artisan gifts, but it was decidedly more tourist-centered than art centered.

Still, it was a nice street to wander down in search of food. I managed to find a coffee shop on the second floor of a building where I could sit and enjoy the hustle and bustle below me.

For those who are interested in learning more about Korean handicrafts, I recommend reading Korean Handicrafts: Art in Everyday Life. It's published by the Korea Foundation, and is part of their Korea Essentials Series. It gives a good overview of the various artisan crafts Korea is known for. The photo above provides a link to Amazon.

On a side note, I have internet again (yeah!) so I'll be able to post more regularly, but due to the fact there's only so much time on the weekend, I'll post the Korea updates every other week.


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