Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Peeling of History

The Peeling of History, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.
A watercolor I just finished of the wooden beams under the roof of a building at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea.

Drumming and Twirling

Drumming and Twirling, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.
My latest artwork - a watercolor of a Korean folk musician.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

He is Risen!

A blessed Easter to all. On this day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection is proof that God accepted Jesus' payment for our sins and that one day we too will be with God. 
This angel fresco is found at Mileševa in Serbia. This Monastery was founded around 1234 AD.

Hallelujah! He is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sipping Coffee at Jeonggwanheon

Definitely my favorite building in the incongruous motley of structures within Deoksugung Palace, Jeonggwanheon is a combination of both Korean and Western features. Literally meaning "place from which to watch the garden silently," Jeonggwanheon is situated on a hill of the rear garden - the counterpart to the pavilions found in the rear gardens of the other palaces. Enveloping three sides of the building is a veranda, which is decorated with carvings in traditional Korean motifs such as dragons, bats, and flower vases. It is from here that Emperor Gojong enjoyed sipping coffee as well as holding banquets for foreign enjoys. Ironically, this favored brew of Gojong was used in a failed assassination attempt of both Gojong and crown prince Sunjong. Although Gojong did sip the coffee, he did not swallow it. Unfortunately Sunjong did drink and suffered from effects of the poison. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gyeongju, South Korea

Stone Arch and Stairways.jpgTile roof with white blossoms.jpgFigure holding the dragon.jpgDragon above Jahamun gate.jpgJahamun dragon profile.jpgJahamun corner with embellishments.jpg
hanging fish near Jahamun.jpgDragons above Daeungjeon Hall.jpgDaeungjeon Hall front.jpgDokkaebi above gate.jpgDragon with pearly whites.jpgLooking out by Jahamun Gate_.jpg
Dragon with snake neck.jpgDokkaebi knocker.jpgDabotap with lion.jpgBuddha riding elehorse.jpgRiding the crane.jpgProtruding dragon.jpg
Stone wall and white Magnolias.jpgSteps to gate with budding cherry tree.jpgSarira Pagoda.jpgToltops on wall.jpgLotsa toltops.jpgHall with turquoise shutters.jpg
Gyeongju, South Korea, a set on Flickr.
This spring break I traveled to the city of Gyeongju in South Korea, home to ancient temples, burial mounds, and buildings from the Silla Dynasty.

A Tale of Two Train Stations

This spring break, I decided to stay in Korea to explore one of its historic cities, Gyeongju. To get there, we took the KTX, Korea's high speed train. What would have taken around 5 hours by regular speed train (with stops) would be reached in about 2 1/2 hours. The golden glow of the rising sun reflected off the beautiful semi-circle windows of the old station’s dome. Some passengers were arriving by taxi, while others were ascending the escalators from the subway below. The shiny light-colored floors of the brightly lit train station reflected the shapes of the empty silver-colored seats. Samsung LCD TVs played local stations, giving some entertainment to those who weren’t already glued to their cell phone TV reception. Electronic signs posting the departure and arrival information in rotating languages were prominently displayed in convenient locations. True to other Korean public places, the station had plenty of coffee and eatery places, as well as opportunities to shop. 
As I waited for my friend to arrive, I thought about my previous experience waiting for a train - in Chennai, India. What a scene of contrasts. After disembarking a auto rickshaw, I jostled my into the first main waiting hall of the train station. Every seat was occupied, with others plopping themselves wherever they could find a spot to rest. Most had at least two bags - one containing a tiffin of still-hot rice, sambar, idlies, and other South Indian food. The scene was noisy, with family members and friends excitedly talking to each other, while others spoke loudly over cell phones. A single set of signs posted the many trains information, with a large number likely being delayed by quite some time. If you wanted some filter coffee, or something to eat, you went to one of the few small cafés for a cheap eat, or you got something from the kiosks near the platforms. In addition to passengers, trains were being loaded with packages of various sizes. Porters deftly balanced large suitcases on their heads, sometimes also carrying other bags in their hands. Announcements were being made over the PA, but it was difficult to discern anything over the noise.

Entering the equally spotless platform area of the Seoul train station, we easily located the platform and walked down the stairs, free of porters and hordes of people. We looked at our computer-generated ticket and entered the new-looking car - complete with glass on the windows. No pushing needed, no competing for space. The briefcases or small backpacks that most carried easily fit above the seats. Precisely on time, the train took off, with its quiet passengers scattered throughout the non-full car. We could hear each other talking very easily, not having the rumbles and creaks of an old Indian train and rail with which to compete. Trolleys of food were pushed through the aisle, but I kind of missed the loud announcement of “chai! chai!” repeated over and over by the chaiwallahs in India. Instead of mere pennies for a cup of hot drink, these Korean beverages would likely be in the $5 range. 

As expected, we arrived at our destination right on time. From the equally clean train station, we easily located a bus that would take us into town. True, the KTX was a lot more expensive than the cheap transport of India, but it was very easy and efficient - albeit without the character and chaotic-ness that makes India India.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fountains and Artillery Shells

Located at the intersection of the neoclassical Seokjojeon, National Museum of Art, and Jeukjodang, this bronze fountain feels as out of place in the palace as Seokjojeon itself. Unlike Korean gardens which are traditionally located at the rear of buildings, this more Western style is located in front. Water was a typical feature of Korean gardens, but in a manmade waterfall - not a fountain. The fountain was completed in 1937, but parts of it were torn down and used to make artillery shells during WWII. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

British Eyesore in the Palace

Yes, I'm still in the Deoksugung Palace. What is this neoclassical building doing here, you might ask? In a culture that so prided itself with conformity and harmony, this building (in a Korean palace) looks more like an eyesore to me. Designed by a British architect during the time of the Great Han Empire, much of the construction was actually done by a Japanese civil engineering company that was notorious for smuggling out thousands of cultural treasures to Japan. It was built as part of the Empire's push to modernize. Unlike other palace buildings that each had a unique, singular purpose, Seokjojeon was intended to have multiple functions. Its lower floor was a waiting area for servants, the second floor as a reception area, and the third floor was to be the residence for Emperor Gojong. In actuality, the building was rarely used. Following the death of Emperor Gojong, the Japanese expanded the west wing of Seokjojeon to become the Yiwangga Art Museum. After the Korean War, it was changed into National Museum and then the Royal Museum. Currently the museum is undergoing restoration.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Under House Arrest at Seogeodang

The only building at Deoksugung with two tiers, Seogeodang, with its unpainted exterior, resembles a typical Joseon Dynasty private residence. It was here that Queen Dowager Inmok, wife of King Seonjo, was confined under house arrest for ten years. This act was carried out by her stepson. Later, this action was used by the faction opposing Gwanghaegun as a pretext for his dethronement. In 1623, Prince Neungyang was crowned at this house after obtaining approval from Queen Dowager Inmok.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The house where Kings ascended the Throne

Jeukjodang, literally meaning "the house where kings ascended the throne" was so named after two kings did just that in this building. In 1592, King Seonjo adopted Jeukjodang as his temporary residence. It also served as the main throne hall for a few years while Junghwajeon was being rebuilt. In 1904, Jeukjodang, along with much of the palace buildings was destroyed in a fire.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ancient Fire Hydrant

Far more beautiful than the ubiquitous modern red fire extinguishers dotting all of the palaces, both were designed for the same purpose - to put out fires. Between the Japanese invaders and more "natural" causes, the wood structures were at constant threat of fire. Even in the best-case scenario, I wonder how successful these pots were for fire-fighting.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Junghwajeon, Main Throne Hall

Serving as the main throne hall of the palace, Junghwajeon was the place for various ceremonial events such as coronations and the receiving of foreign envoys. Originally Junghwajeon had a two-tiered roof, but that structure burned in 1904, with a less costly one being rebuilt two years later. Inside, one can find the throne and a folding screen depicting the sun, moon, and five mountains  - a symbolic wish for the nation's prosperity.
This dragon stone, symbolic of the Great Han Dynasty emperor, is located in the middle of the stairs leading up the two-tiered terrace. Only the royal carriage of the king was permitted to travel over this stone.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Flag Bearers Amidst the Skyscrapers

With the flag procession and row of spectators nearly spilling onto the street of modern downtown Seoul, one might think that this is part of a parade. Instead, this is part of a daily scene that takes place in front of the main gate of the Deoksugung Palace. This incongruous mixture of modern and traditional is but an echo of what is revealed inside the gate. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daehanmun Gate

Meaning "Seoul (originally Hanyang) will prosper," Daehanmun was established as the main gate following the establishment of the palace as the new center for the capital. Following expansion of the street, the gate became isolated in the middle of the busy road in 1968. Three years later, it was moved to its present location. In 2005 Daehanmun Gate was dismantled and rebuilt to its present form. Today visitors enjoy daily colorful guard/flag ceremonies.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Deoksugung Palace - a short history

Located a short distance from Gyenbokgung Palace is Deoksugung. Originally (1593) a residence for Prince Wolsan, Deoksugung served as the main palace for the short-lived Great Han Empire (1897-1910) after the Japanese burned the palaces in the capital. Named Gyeongungung by the then-king Gwanghaegun, it then became a secondary palace after the king moved to Changdeokgung Palace in 1615. During its peak when serving as a main palace, it comprised of a space nearly three times the present size. This included the Hwangudan Altar, where rites to heaven were performed. When the Great Han Emperor Gojong relinquished his throne in 1907, Gyeongungung was downgraded to a residence. It was at this time that the name was changed to Deoksugung, meaning "palace of longevity," by then king Sunjong, in hopes that his father Gojong would live there in peace for a long time.

After the administrative complex and Hwangudan Altar were later removed, the palace lost its status as an important center. In 1904, four years after electricity was installed in the palace, most of the buildings were destroyed by fire. (Although not proven, it highly suspected that this fire was the result of arson at the hands of the Japanese, who wanted Emperor Gojong to move to another palace).  In 1933, the Japanese destroyed most of the remaining palace buildings, sold the lots in public bidding, and developed a public park.
In spite of all of this, Deoksugung is still viewed as a symbolic seat of modern Korea, as it saw the country through several national crises, most notably the Japanese invasion (1592) and the tumultuous final years of the Great Han Empire.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snowfall and Painted Rainbows

My latest color pencil drawing, of a building at Gyeonbokgung Palace, Seoul after a beautiful snowfall

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Not in My Palace! A Zoo and a Green House

This Victorian-style greenhouse looks pretty in and of itself, but it placement was designed to be anything but. Built just one year (1909) before Korea was formally annexed by Imperial Japan, it was part of a larger Japanese plan to degrade Changgyeonggung from its royal palace status. Many palace buildings were cleared to make way for a zoo and botanical garden - a grave insult to the reverent Koreans. During this planned destruction phase, a road was laid between the palace and Jongmyo Shrine (housing the memorial tablets of royalty) in order to sever their symbolic link between the two places. In 1983 the zoo was removed. Reconstruction of Changgyeonggung continues to this day.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Picnic by the Pond

Located in the rear section of Changgyeonggung Palace is the picturesque pond area known as Chundangji. Originally the site for eleven rice paddies that were planted and labored on by the king, it was converted in 1909 by the Japanese to a pond for public recreational boating. Today is is a favorite site to go for a picnic and feed the fish. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Placenta Chamber in the Garden

Walking through the park-like section of Changgyeonggung Palace, I came across this octagonal stone fence with a mushroom-like stone sculpture in the center. I was quite surprised to find out what it was - the placenta chamber for King Seongjong. According to Korean tradition, the placenta of a baby was to be stored in a porcelain jar on the seventh day after birth. A few months later, the jar would be sealed multiple times and then placed into a stone chamber. According to the palace's guidebook, this placenta chamber is located here because the Japanese during Korean occupation moved it there in order to display it at the Yiwangga Museum. When looking up where this museum was located, it sounds like Yiwangga was at the nearby Deoksugung Palace. Not sure why it wasn't moved there right away...

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Bed Chamber and Coffin Hall

Located in a quiet part of the inner court area of the Changgyeonggung Palace is the building known as Tongmyeongjeon. Originally it was the bed chamber for the queen. The structure is elevated to show its important status. Here we see a pond with a stone wall, spanned by a stone bridge. Later, the building was used as a coffin hall for the wives of King Jungjeong and King Myeongjong. 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Ready for a Paint Job

In direct contrast to the rather blah skyscrapers of modern Seoul are the brightly painted palace buildings. Known as Dancheong (which literally means cinnabar and blue-green in Korean), this style of painting is not only decorative, but also functional. Dancheong helps protect the wood from weathering and from insects. In addition, Dancheong hides surface scratches, shows dignity, and reminds people to have a religious/worshipping attitude (particularly in temples). Five basic colors are used, representing the Five Elements: blue for wood and East; red for fire and South; yellow for earth and center, yellow for metal and West; black for water and North. Various patterns and colors denoted rank and social status. Whereas most of the buildings within the Gyeonbokgung and  Changdeokgung palaces were painted in the colorful style of Dancheong, each had a few buildings that were kept in a more austere, natural look.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Happy Samil Day, Korea!

March 1 is an important day for Koreans. Known as Samil Day, literally meaning "Three-One-Movement" commemorating the date in March, it marks the anniversary of one of the earliest Korean protests of Japanese imperial rule in 1919. Inspired by US President Woodrow Wilson's speech nicknamed "Fourteen Points" which outlined a country's right to self determination, Korean students wrote up a statement seeking the same for their country.

The declaration was read at several places around the country that day. Needless to say, it wasn't welcomed by the Japanese, who issued a crackdown and arrested, tortured, and imprisoned many protesters at ensuing demonstrations. In one instance, village inhabitants were rounded up and locked up in a church, which was burned to the ground, with the Japanese shooting through the windows to make sure no one survived.

Eventually some points of the declaration were addressed and limited rights and freedoms granted. It wasn't until 1948, however, that autonomy was truly gained.