Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Welcomed during the Winter

These hexagonal chimneys, built in 1865 behind the Queen's quarters in the Gyeonbokgung Palace, were designed to draw smoke from the fires that heated the interior floors. Although my apartment doesn't have such beautiful brick chimneys containing ornamental designs such as the phoenix, crane, bamboo, and pine, it shares in the underfloor heating system known as Ondol. Such heating on the footsies was welcomed by royalty as well as modern cold-footed people such as myself. In a country where taking off one's shoes before entering a home is common practice, along with sleeping on a mattress on the floor, such heat is particularly appreciated in the cold months. While the old system caused a constant threat of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning for the palace buildings & residents, the modern electrical system in my apartment is very safe. Ondol heating, according to this article, is catching on worldwide. It states that 50% of European buildings have ondol installed. This ancient technology is also being utilized in some airports and roads to melt snow and reduce noise.   

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Under the Snow

This stone guardian figure on the steps leading up to the brick building Jibokjae at the Gyeongbokgung  Palace kept a smug grin on its face, despite being nearly buried by a large snowfall. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Winter at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Arriving shortly after the palace opened for the day, the freshly fallen snow blanketed the entire grounds. A single shoveled path led early visitors to the different buildings and areas. The rooftops were especially beautiful, their ripples accentuated by the snow. Farther away from the main areas, the inner courtyard between buildings remained untouched. The sun struggled to peek through the grove of  pine trees, the early morning light casting long shadows from the heavy-laden branches. So very peaceful.

The pavilion was a magnet for photographers. Older Koreans, all decked out from head to toe in name-brand outdoor gear, sported pricey SLRs hanging from their necks or mounted on tripods. Some were dangerously close to the edges of the thinly-iced pond, eager to get the best view. Younger generations happily snapped photos with their cell phones, alternating shots with messaging. Despite the number of people, this area still retained its tranquility. 
I felt so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the palace in its winter glory. God seemed to be blessing the day, keeping the temperatures very doable and even opening up some blue skies at times. What a great way to spend a snow day. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Winter Wonderland in Seoul

Having lived in India for four years, it's been a while that I've really have had to deal with "the white stuff" on a larger scale. Last Monday, teachers and students at Seoul Foreign School were handed a present - school cancellation due to snow. Yipee! Seeing the beautiful snowfall covering the ground, trees, and buildings, I was compelled to get out and take some photos. My destination: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Fairly confident that I would be able to reach the palace if I could get to the subway line, I laced up my winter boots and headed out the door.
And what a winter wonderland I had before my eyes.

Snowy scene at Seoul Foreign School

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Throne Hall interior, Changgyeonggung

It was inside the smaller hall of Myeongjeongjeon where important events such as royal coronations and weddings, as well as banquets were held. Although the actual throne was similar in design to those at Gyeongbukgung and Changdeokgung, it lacked the spaciousness and ornamentation.  Here we can easily see the folded screen known as Irworobongdo. Comprised of five mountain peaks and a sun and moon representing the king and queen, this highly stylized landscape symbolized the Joseon Dynasty.    

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ddeok, Ddeok, Gook!

Although it sounds like name of the children's game, Ddeok Gook is a traditional Korean rice cake soup, served at the Lunar New Year. Two teachers and I had this soup at the apartment of a sweet Korean lady who expressed her honor at having us as guests. To the typical recipe, she added ready-made Mandu dumplings. The kim thin sheets of seaweed (seen top-middle) were crumpled and stirred into the soup, providing just a bit of extra flavor and saltiness. Kimchi, rice with beans, and some greens including one made from parts of a fern were also served as part of our New Year's meal.
If you're interested in making this milky-colored soup, here is one recipe that was similar to how she made it, although I don't recall seeing any anchovies in the soup. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Myeongjeongjeon, Changgyeonggung Palace

On passing through the Myeongjeonmun Gate, visitors would walk through a courtyard containing the typical pathway (with the elevated middle aisle for the king) to reach the main hall. Originally built in 1484 as a living quarters for the dowager queens, it is smaller than the main halls at Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung. Rebuilt in 1616 after the Japanese burned it during the invasion, it is now the oldest main hall of all Seoul's palaces.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Honghwamun Gate, Changgyeonggung Palace

The main gate of the Changgyeonggung Palace, Honghwamun was originally built in 1484 and subsequently rebuilt (after the Japanese burned it) in 1616. Like the central part of the palace, it faces east - a very unusual feature (other palaces typically had the main gates facing south and other buildings oriented to a north-south axis). It is from this gate that the king received and made contact with citizens of the kingdom.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Changgyeonggung Palace - an Intro

As you might have guessed from the number of posts I did on the palaces of Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung, I found these treasures of Seoul to be beautiful and worth visiting - really spending the time to enjoy them. Located next to Changdeokgung is another palace - Changgyeonggung. It was never designed to be a primary palace for the royalty, and its dramatic alteration by the Japanese further diminishes its status when compared to these other two palaces. Built in 1418 as an overflow palace to Changdeokgung for three dowager queens (construction finished in 1484), it originally was named the Suganggung Palace. When Gyeongbokgung was destroyed by the Japanese in 1592, Changgyeonggung temporarily took over as being the main palace.

It also was destroyed by the Japanese during the invasion, but was rebuilt in 1616. Sadly, the Japanese once again destroyed the look and integrity of Changgyeonggung starting in 1907, not with fire, but with the systematic removal of most of the palace buildings, putting a zoo and glass greenhouse in their place. As a further physical and symbolic cutting of the Joseon Dynasty, the Japanese built a road between the main section of the palace and the important Jyongmyo Shrine (now a UNESCO site). Restoration of the Changgyeonggung Palace continues to take place, with the zoo being removed in 1983 and many of the buildings being rebuilt. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Photos on Getty Images

On invitation from Getty, I have upload some of the photos of Seoul that they requested to be placed on the Getty Images site. Not all have appeared here yet, but it's an initial foray into the world of royalty free photographic images, in which contributors receive payment for images purchased. Visit my Getty Images page. I don't expect to make many (if any) sales, but if Getty thinks they're worth it, I'll give it a try.
Below are two of the images selected.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Hyangnamu Tree, Changdeokgung Palace

Located in a recently restored section of Changdeokgung Palace is the oldest item in the palace - a Hyangnamu tree. Meaning "aromatic tree" in Korean, it is around 700 years old. A rather gnarly tree, it stands around 12 m high and is about 6 m in width around the roots. Designated as a National Natural Monument, visitors were forbidden to climb or go near the tree.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Floating Wine Cups and Thatched Roofs

 Nestled in the northern section of the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace is the area known as Ongnyucheon, named after the brook running through it. Inspired by ancient Chinese scholars who composed and then recited poetry when wine glasses floated to them, the practice was sometimes taken up here by a rock known as Soyoam. I wonder if they also followed the Chinese scholars' punishment for not being able to recite a poem - the drinking of three cups of wine...

A stone's throw away along the path of the brook is Cheonguijeong, the only remaining pavilion at the palace with a thatched roof. On my second visit to the area, the rather tall grassy plants had been cut down as if it had been harvested.