Seoul 2022: Part 4 - Changgyeonggung Palace
We did eventually find the ticket office, and after a call with Yoomin (who let me know she was feeling ill and likely wouldn’t see me that night), Kelly and I entered Changgyeonggung Palace. We saw the people who had been in traditional dress before had joined a larger group who were about to head inside too. Inside were the large dusty courtyards and grand palace complexes, the same as they had been in 2017, except this time it was not under a large layer of snow, and I wasn’t freezing to death. The weather made investigating the site much nicer, as well as give it a new background.
What I really enjoy about the architecture is how its so clearly a different model, not just a style. From my limited knowledge it’s because of the ‘silver ratio’ which influenced architecture more than the ‘golden ratio’ of Europe, which is why the buildings are multi-tiered instead of equal levels. They’re also made of wood, or at least the ones Kelly and I visited all were. No palaces in the UK are still made of wood. It would explain why they kept getting burnt down by the Japanese every hundred or so years.
25th. Still here talking about what happened last Tuesday. Ironically, the furthest I’ve ever been behind is when I have nothing stopping me from catching up. But I have all day today, so let’s blast this out.
The fact that it’s all wood means they can be painted too, unlike the grand marble constructions back home. Lots of green and floral patterns, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by the scene painted behind one of the thrones. It seemed a little underwhelming to me, considering other palaces have much more, but again why bother when the Japanese will destroy it again in 40 years?
The size of the complex meant that it felt like there were very few people around. A few standout groups included of course the traditional dress troupe, and a few loud students. That was about it. I did feel like I let down a nice man who trusted me to take his photo, since he came back several times to check my shots and finally thanked me and moved on. I can’t help but feel he was dissatisfied.
We wandered independently to the end of the main palace area, and joined up again to visit the secret garden; an area you needed to be escorted through by a guide. When we discovered the precondition, we insisted opted for the cheaper, unguided part of the garden. Couldn’t have been that secret if there was a sign for it, anyway. This part of the grounds compounded my love of seeing Autumn again. Colourful trees all around, leaves on the floor, birdsong! I felt like I haven’t heard birdsong in ages, and now it was a nice accompaniment. Kelly and I talked more as we walked around, first one half of a large pond, then up into a greenhouse modelled after Crystal Palace in London, surprisingly. Kelly and I weren’t inspired by any plant in particular, but it was a nice diversion altogether.
On the other side of the the greenhouse, we saw a cat. I tried to coax it over with the orange, but it meowed and walked off. This was not the first time that day I’d been rejected by a cat, but when it then happened a third time, I decided that stray cats in Korea just aren’t as engaged as they are in Greece and Turkey. Even so, they must have been friendlier than whatever snakes there were around. Why there were so many snakes that there needed to be a sign to warn us about them, I have no idea.
A heron appeared to be walking on water as we walked back alongside the pond. The park carried on for a while, all the way back to the entrance/exit on the other side. There was a beautiful tree with leaves so deep red it could have been smashed raspberries. It was starting to get colder the longer the day drew, so we decided to leave. At last, we were on our way home. Just on the other side of the road from where we exited was an “English” bakery. As we approached, I wondered if it was fetishising the idea of England or was a place that did English goods specifically well. It looked tasty either way.
One last planned visit on the way to the station was the food market, which I was convinced was the same one I visited with Yoomin five years previously. However, it had much less food and far more clothes than I remembered. Then again, it had been five years. Perhaps it had changed. NO trying out spicy squid tentacles this time; instead, we had Korean pancakes that seemed to be made of something with onions in it, and kimchi dumplings that were pretty alright. It was disappointing to see that all of the food stalls sold the same food combinations too. There was no unique stall selling only one kind of food, like Camden Market. Honestly, a little underwhelming. But the food did give our energy levels a much-needed bump that helped us do one last stretch to the underground station.
We walked along a stream that runs just outside the southside of the market, another place I remember from five years ago. The stream was remarkably clean, and even had fish swimming around. There’s nowhere like that in Hong Kong that I’ve seen, it’s all been dirty seawater or small waterfalls in the hills. This was when we started to notice the cold. Out of the sun, in the shade, it was just cold enough to be uncomfortable.
Lastly, above the underground station (or below the DDP depending on your preference), was the DDP. Not the best sentence I’ve ever written, admittedly. The DDP, or Dongdaemun Design Plaza, looks impressive from the outside, and very smooth. This area of Seoul has especially artistic buildings in my opinion. The other side of the road had a building with a wide triangular design for the front. Further down, another building had a loose tessellation of rectangles. Compared to DDP’s more organic, malleable feel, and the palace complex from earlier, it really emphasised how varied the architecture could be in Seoul.
We had a brief wander around the perimeter, spotting a class of (I want to say) upper year high-schoolers all dressed, without exception, in monochrome. I noticed veer little colour in people’s clothing that day, actually. Must be the weather. Carrying on, there was evidence of old walls, stone foundations on the other side of the plaza. Following the pattern previously established, the site had also been destroyed by the Japanese. Kelly laughed in disbelief that this was the only reason that any buildings seemed to ever be destroyed in Seoul. Skirting these old walls led us to what appeared to be a work-in-progress inside the building. Plastic sheets covered the floor and people set up displays, and we had to step around wires and ladders since we were clearly in a place we shouldn’t really have been.
Out on the other side, and back to the courtyard we’d looked down upon when we first arrived. Kelly wanted one last photo from the top of the high staircase before we left, and so she did.
Finally, we went back to the hostel. I tried to write more in my journal, but I couldn’t help being an extrovert and talking to people instead. One of the people was Hanna, a German inline skater who had sprained her ankle when she missed a step going down a staircase. She was laid up in the hostel for now and wouldn’t be heading out for any late nights for now. Apparently, Korea also has the best inline skating culture in the world, which is why she came over to train., Now it was a long way to come to rest your feet on a chair. Because she was house-bound, we raised the idea of ordering in food and watching a movie instead. Hanna was adamant that we watch ‘Train to Busan’, her absolute favourite film of all time, and everyone agreed on fried chicken for food. A few of us nipped around the corner to get it from an overly generous chicken shop. They gave us so much chicken (cheese, original, soy sauce, and sticky (gochujang?) seasoned) that we couldn't finish it all, even between four people. It was all amazing. ‘Train to Busan’ was a lot of fun, although Hanna made fun of my attempts to analyse the zombies and what they could stand for. So ended one long day.