South Korea: Seoul's Gungs, Costumes & a Musical!

Seoul Travel Blog

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Seoul: Tapgol Park - Monument of Wongaksa

    Another day to see the sights of Seoul. This time, we wanted to see the palaces ("gung" in Hanggul) of Seoul. After a long walk the day before in search of the Coffee Prince Cafe, Karen and I planned out places we wanted to see - in a more organized fashion. We began with breakfast. This time, we were early enough to catch the meager, yet free breakfast the hostel offers. Ham, cheese, a tub of butter and jelly, bread, tea and coffee were laid out on a tile-design kitchen tabletop. A toaster was available for those who prefers their bread toasted. Not quite healthy offerings but fair enough. Free is free. I can't complain since I just love food! Also I'm not a breakfast person to begin with - that is, except when I am actually on vacation.

Seoul: Tapgol Park
Then, I eat all three meals and a lot o snacks in between. A lot of snackings!

    First off, was Tagpol Park. Why? It is located in walking distance to the hostel and we get to see the National Treasure No. 2 of Korea! Located in this park is a 12-story high Joseon-era stone pagoda built 1467. How special is this pagoda really? It is so special that to prevent its erosion and possible vandalism, it is displayed in glass! Mind you, this pagoda is in an outdoor park! The Octagonal Pavilion also located in Tapgol Park is originally built for musical performances for the royal family during the Great Korean Empire. It also represents the venue where the Declaration of Independence was first read in 1919 during the March First Independence Movement that later swept the country.

Seoul: Tapgol Park - Octagonal Building
There were a lot of old Korean males enjoying the park when we visited this park. It was weird. Karen and I looked at each other at how we hardly saw any Korean females in this park! But that was not the only time we notice this unusual trend. In the few days we visited more parks, there was ahuge crowd of old Korean males that hangs out in the park - where are all the females?

    We hopped on the train to get to next stop on our itinerary for the day - Gyeonghuigung. About 6 blocks west of the train station Gwanghwamun, Gyeonghuigung Palace was built in 1616. Also called the Western Palace. Some areas Gyeonghuigung Palace was still undergoing restorations after being either torn down or relocated during the beginning period of the forced occupation by the Japanese Empire.

Seoul:
But Karen and I were in luck. Upon visiting the palace, a musical performance were scheduled to play that night. It has been running for about a week and their last show was later that week. A lady came up to us to let us know about this musical performance. She said it was free and that we should return at around 3pm so we can pick up the tickets being distributed. Sure enough, Karen and I  thanked the lady and planned to return for the show. I love plays and musicals and freebies, of course!

    After leaving the Gyeonghuigung Palace, we walked down this long narrow street. It had pretty colorful lantern hanging from tree to tree that lined the street. Along this long narrow street is where, apparently, a couple well-known all girls school (grade school or high school?) is located.

Seoul: colorful lantern tree-lined street
Small shops and restaurants abound the street. When we reached the end, Karen and I were suprised to found ourselves at City Hall and the Deoksugung Palace entrance! Our very next stop on our long itinerary list. Scheduled at 1:30pm was the royal changing of the guards that would take place at the gate, so with a couple of hours to spare, Karen and I went into the palace to check it out. There was an small entrance fee that Karen and I didn't mind paying.

    Deoksugung Palace was used as a temporary palace after the original royal palace wherein Prince was burned down during the Japanese Invasion in 1592. It was called several names before it was finally called Deoksugung Palace - the Palace of Virture and Longevity, in honor of Empero Gojong, who re-established the place into a royal palace and where he stayed and died in 1919.

Seoul: colorful lantern tree-lined street
The palaces had wonderful ceilings, evident of the masterful designs and colors when you look up. The courtyard were made of stone brinks and in the middle are stone markers. At first I thought they were grave markers of the royal family but after reading the information text - they are actually station markers. These markers are positions and locations of high ranking military officials. The middle aisle is the royal path - only used by the royal family. During official functions, military officials line up based on their rank using the markers, from the highest to lowest rank- - the closer to the palaces means a higher rank. There is also a fountain with a sundial located in Deoksugung, where we saw people enjoying the palace grounds and the wonderful sunny, mild weather during their lunch break.
Seoul: Deoksugung
Which reminded us - it's lunch time!

So we looked for a restaurant close by. Two blocks down, we found a Vietnamese restaurant filled with people and affordable price. So we went in where were were seated at the table. I ordered a noodle soup with shredded chicken while Karen went for a spicy noodle with seafood. And boy, was it spicy! Nevertheless, we liked the food. At just the right time, we went back to Deoksugung Palace main gate to watch the changing of the guards. It was an entertaining ceremony with colorful costumes and band with a big drum as they marched in. At the end, we were allowed to get a photo op with the general and royal guards, and try out the costumes for free!

After the ceremony, Karen and I walked around City Hall and noticed stages being set up.

Seoul: Deoksugung
 Outdoor festivals and shows are always going on in Seoul. A few blocks southeast of City Hall, behind a well-known hotel and I cannot recall is where we found a pagoda and the stone drums. It was like a secret garden - except if you enter through the hotel main driveway. Otherwise, it can be be easily missed.

We headed back to Gyeonghuigung Palace to pick up the tickets and found a long line already in place. Neither Karen nor I understood Korean so we had to ask someone to translate what the staff were saying while we were waiting in line. With a couple of hours before the show begin, Karen and I decided to have a light dinner around the area - not really knowing how long the show was,  we didn't want to get hungry.

Seoul: Deoksugung
As the evening rolls in, we returned to Gyeonghuigung. The lights created a wonderful atmosphere and people were abuzzed with excitement. Seeing the palace as the backdrop of the show was dramatic. Since it was an open air show, blankets were available for free with a deposit (subject to return upon return of the blanket at the end of the show). Karen and I were too lazy so we didn't get one. We had warm comforatble clothes. We had great seats, only 4th row from the stage and 2nd (of 5) column of seats from the left.

Interestingly enough, the musical is a political and romantic story between a drag jester, Gongkil. and a king who fell in love with each other. Scandalous, ain't it? The queen, jealous of the relationship between the king and the jester, plotted to have jester look bad in the eyes of the king - but it backfired, resulting in civil unrest which eventually led to the public overthrowing the king.

Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
Another jester, who was politically active, was also in love with Gongkil. It was a love square that intertwined with political and social issues. Because there were a lot of sexual innuedos in the play, I was surprise to see children in the audience. And I thought Koreans were conservative. Or is it just one of the many contradictions in the Korean society?

The lead character, Gongkil, in costume, could defintiely pass off as a female! Karen and I didn't even know she, I mean, he was the drag jester, until 10 minutes into the play, when it became more obvious - we noticed his Adam's apple and the plot was more evident that he was a drag jester.He sure can be and is a pretty girl. Overall, the play was marvelous.

Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
The plot dramatic, touching and funny. The cast did a marvelous job in acting. Their voice and the musical pieces were fantastic. The entire play was in Korean with screens on either side of the play with English and Chinese subtitles. Since I was used to watching movies and shows with subtitles, it was easy for me to watch and I highly enjoyed the play. Definitely Broadway quality! 

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Seoul: Tapgol Park - Monument of W…
Seoul: Tapgol Park - Monument of …
Seoul: Tapgol Park
Seoul: Tapgol Park
Seoul: Tapgol Park - Octagonal Bui…
Seoul: Tapgol Park - Octagonal Bu…
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Seoul: colorful lantern tree-lined…
Seoul: colorful lantern tree-line…
Seoul: colorful lantern tree-lined…
Seoul: colorful lantern tree-line…
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung
Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
Seoul: Deoksugung - ceiling
Seoul: Deoksugung - fountain
Seoul: Deoksugung - fountain
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of th…
Seoul: Deoksugung - Changing of t…
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Seoul: Stone drums
Seoul: Stone drums
Seoul: 3-tier Pagoda
Seoul: 3-tier Pagoda
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - the ve…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - the v…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongki…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongk…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongki…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongk…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongki…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - Gongk…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - aGongk…
Seoul: Gyeonghuigung Site - aGong…
Seoul: eating a 35cm chicken bbq!
Seoul: eating a 35cm chicken bbq!
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh