29 September 2008

Seoul: More collegiate stuff + palace

Today, I continued the collegiate theme of yesterday, by visiting Daehangno (University Road) just northeast of downtown. There are a few other sights nearby.

Daehangno has a tiny park, named Marronnier Park after a species of trees growing here. This plot of land used to be occupied by some of the buildings of Seoul National University, the nation's most prestigious, and became a park when the university moved to the southern edge of the city in 1975. Seoul National University still maintains its hospital and medical school across Daehangno, however. A number of other universities continue to surround the park.

It's possible to get one's portrait drawn here at the park.

There is a rather tall flagpole, with the national flag. Right now, the citizens are constantly being reminded to display the national flag at home, between October 1st and October 9th, to mark three memorial days clustered together. They are as follows:
  • Armed Forces Day, October 1st, which marks the founding of South Korea's military in 1948.
  • National Foundation Day, October 3rd, which is the date when, according to Korean mythology, Dangun Wanggeom founded the very first Korean nation-state, Ancient Joseon, in the vicinity of Pyongyang, in 2333 BCE. This one is a legal holiday.
  • Alphabet Day, October 9th, the anniversary of the official royal proclamation of a new Korean writing system in 1446. To this day, Korean is the only natural language in the world that is written in an artificial script.

Next to the flagpole: the lyrics of the national anthem. Just like its American counterpart the Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem has four verses, though each verse is followed by an identical refrain (the bottom two lines). There are two possible authors, one of them being California-based Dosan Ahn Chang-ho, though no conclusion has been made. The national anthem was originally sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, but in 1935, a Korean composer named Ahn Eak-tae, active in the US and in Europe, composed a new melody, which was adopted by the South Korean government in 1948.

Go ahead. Sing it. See Wikipedia for the romanized version and the English translation.

Also in the park: the statue of a pro-independence activist during the Japanese occupation. This man detonated a bomb at the police station on Seoul's main street, killing many Japanese policemen. He was later killed by the police during another scuffle between pro-independence activists and the police.

Most of the activities around Marronnier Park do not take place on Daehangno itself, but rather on the alleyways around it. And that's par for the course in any South Korean city.

In South Korea, until recently, these alleyways did not have names; only thoroughfares were named streets. Urban addresses put the name of the province first (if applicable), then the city, the ward, the district, then block and house numbers, in that order - great for postal carriers and government bureaucrats, but useless for the average person. (Rural addresses work similarly, though they used county, township, and village names instead.) Now, every alleyway has a name, and every address has an alternative address using that alleyway/street name, but everyone seems to still use the old bureaucratic addresses. The average residents navigate/give directions by using nearby landmarks and simplified neighborhood maps (often on the back of a business card). Subway stations and major convenience store/restaurant chains make great local landmarks.

These plastic displays showcase the menu of a restaurant inside. This restaurant specializes in "omurice" - Japanese shorthand for rice omelette, and a popular dish in South Korea.

A political banner in front of a restaurant. It criticizes the current government policies, which include massive tax cuts for the richest 1%, massive budget cuts for programs for the masses, and the "spirit of sharing" embodied in those policies. It further hopes that the "spirit of sharing" will not extend to Dokdo, the remote islets in the middle of the Sea of Japan, known internationally as Liancourt Rocks and claimed by Japan as Takeshima. (Connotation: the government may be willing to share Dokdo with Japan.)

The banner also asks that the New Right Foundation, the reactionary group that is the architect of much of the policies of the current conservative government, be kicked out of politics. The New Right Foundation preaches a revisionist history, where Japan is seen as a benevolent developer of the primitive Korean infrastructure, economy, and mentality during the colonial rule. Never mind that the Japanese had to develop Korea's transportation infrastructure only to facilitate links to the riches of Manchuria and China, and the industries only to feed Japan's war machine. The New Right Foundation enjoys strong support of the right-wing political parties (including the ruling majority Grand Nationals), the Christians, and the Korean-Americans, but is strongly despised by the vast majority of people.

There are many small-scale live theaters around Marronnier Park. This sign shows the directions, and the distances, to a number of them. Modern live theater is 100 years old in South Korea as of this year, the banners at some theaters told me.

Also nearby: a robot museum. I didn't go in, however.

A fleet of Hyundai Starex vans. The Starex is about the same size as the VW EuroVan, the Ford Transit, the Mercedes van (sold as Dodge Sprinter in the US), and other European heavy-duty vans, which compete with the Starex in the European market. In Europe, the Starex is known as the Hyundai H200, and is available only as a cargo van; I remember seeing tons of them around Amsterdam in 1999.

Here in South Korea, the Starex has the market all to itself. As evidenced here, there is also a passenger version of Starex. The boxy middle one is the new, current version, while the others are the older original versions.

Hyundai also sells the Grace, which is a mid-engined light-duty van based on the Mitsubishi van. It's all but replaced the Mitsubishi van over in Europe, where it's known as the H100.

Wealthy South Koreans looking for conversion vans tend to get the American-built Chevrolet Express, however. The Starex and the Grace are strictly for commercial use.

A garage, Seoul style. Once the driver parks his/her car on the turntable, it turns, so that the car can slip into the gate to the left. Once in the gate, a mechanism will carry the car away into a storage area, to be retrieved by the same mechanism later. This can save a lot of space. This particular garage is able to handle only passenger cars.

I got this glimpse of the original Mini Cooper as I returned to Daehangno. It's been a while since I saw one of these, even back in the US. Here in South Korea, the original Mini Cooper was never officially sold, so this is a very rare sight. The new, BMW-built Mini Coopers are very popular, however.

Back on Daehangno. Two familiar sights: a McDonald's and a TGI Friday's, both of which are easily found in any trendy South Korean city neighborhood.

Typical South Korean urban traffic signaling, at an intersection of a thoroughfare and an alley. Left turns and U-turns are allowed only on red (when opposing traffic is stopped). In South Korea, U-turns can only be made at designated spots, and left turns are not allowed unless specifically allowed by signals or signs.

For the cars exiting the alleyway, there is no signal. They must wait for the thoroughfare signal to turn red, then proceed carefully, yielding to pedestrian and other traffic.

An upscale boutique on Daehangno, showcasing looks popular among Seoul fashionistas. Compared to Sinchon (last post), this areas has fewer boutiques and more restaurants.

Another alleyway, full of PC rooms, karaoke bars, and beer bars as well as restaurants.

This bar is named Kennedy Rose. Love the Marilyn Monroe statue in front.

This bar, like many bars in the area, calls itself a "hof" - a German word. A South Korean hof is where people gather for social drinking. One never goes to a hof alone.

Another German word commonly used here is "Arbeit" (아르바이트) - in Korean, it refers to part-time work, as it does in Japanese as well. A more modern colloquial usage is to shorten "Arbeit" even further into "Arba" (알바).

Sungkyunkwan University's main entrance. As mentioned before, this institution is named after the Confucian royal academy of Seonggyungwan (just a different romanization of the same name). This school still has a Confucian curriculum, and has led the unsuccessful campaigns against liberalization of social, family, and moral laws here in South Korea. Just twenty years ago, married women couldn't even own property, fathers were given automatic and exclusive custody of children upon divorce, and women and unmarrieds had few rights; those were the very primitive Confucian values that this school tried so hard to defend.

As mentioned before, an affiliate of the Samsung neoliberal empire currently owns this school.

Near Sungkyunkwan, I could see Friends Cafe. Yes, it's named after the 1994-2004 NBC sitcom, which also proved popular on South Korean cable TV. And for me, any reminder of Jennifer Aniston is a good thing. Jennifer Aniston remains a popular fashion icon among South Korean women.

I walked away from Sungkyunkwan, not along Daehangno, but along another thoroughfare, which brought me to Seoul National Science Museum after a few minutes. It's closed today; even if it were open, I wouldn't have gone in, as science museums are not on my agenda for this trip. If I did want a science museum badly, there is a much better one in Daejeon, anyway, just over 100 miles away and just 45 minutes by the bullet train.

It's next to Changgyeonggung, the easternmost royal palace in Seoul. On days when both facilities are open (Wednesday through Sunday), combination tickets are available for 1,500 won (USD $1.50). Otherwise, it costs 1,000 won (USD $1) each.

Changgyeonggung has a small parking area, available for a fee.

Here are two familiar South Korean cars. On the left: the original Kia Sephia, Kia's first in-house car, and the first Kia-branded car to be sold in the US. On the right: the Hyundai Tuscani, appreciated more overseas than here. The Tuscani is known as the second-generation Tiburon in the US (though some US-based enthusiasts do put Tuscani decals and the car's unique "T" logo on their Tiburons).

Changgyeonggung's main gate. A Korean palace is supposed to face south, but this palace breaks many rules of palace-building, and faces east. The king often greeted everyday people at this gate.

The paintwork is very faded here. Christy Cole of Christy's Art Blog is in love with traditional Korean color schemes, and she will be disappointed here.

A gate leads into a courtyard and the main hall of the palace. The blonde woman on the right (barely visible behind the umbrella) is a nice contrast.

These stones mark places where the advisors are supposed to stand when having ceremonies with the king. The Chinese inscriptions show each advisor's rank.

The stairway to the main hall has this interesting, delicate stone relief. It's nowhere near as grand as the huge dragon motif at Beijing's Forbidden City, but still interesting nevertheless.

A pavilion often used for meetings between the king and his advisors. It's open on all sides.

Changgyeonggung was built by King Sejong, the fourth of 27 kings of Joseon (and the inventor of the Korean alphabet), in 1405, as a minor palace to house his father. It borders Changdeokgung, which I had visited last week, to the west, as well as Jongmyo, the Confucian royal shrine to the south. Changdeokgung's beautiful Huwon (the Rear Garden) was actually shared with this palace.

A six-story stone pagoda on the palace grounds.

It's more difficult to get any more Korean than this. Exposed boulder, marble stairs, beautifully painted palace buildings, and the garden to the rear.

Changgyeonggung feels more like a garden than a palace, thanks to most of the palace being destroyed by fires and by the Japanese colonizers. In fact, the Japanese did downgrade this place to a garden, and renamed it Changgyeongwon ("won" means garden), in 1911, as they put in a zoo, a botanical garden, and a museum here. The small botanical garden still exists, though the zoo has moved to the suburbs. Since 1986, this place is a palace again.

A traditional sundial. It keeps true solar time, which is behind the standard Korean time of today, GMT +9, by 20-40 minutes (depending on the season). GMT +9 is most accurate in western Japan. There were a few attempts to create a separate time zone for Korea, at GMT +8.5, but it never lasted long.

This monument housed the placenta and the umbilical cords of newborn royal babies. Monuments like these once stood at auspicious sites all over Korea, as indicated by feng shui. The Japanese moved almost all of them to the city of Goyang, just northwest of Seoul, in the 1920s. They moved this one, the best preserved example, to this palace, for research purposes.

This forest, in the northern part of the palace, once had buildings to house the female residents. Many were destroyed by the fire of 1830, and the rest were torn down by the Japanese when they downgraded the palace to a garden.

A pond in the northern section. Koi fish are swimming in the murky water.

This pond was originally much smaller, but several nearby smaller ponds were incorporated into this big pond. The center island is a 1984 addition.

A nice telephone booth, with a coin phone, which isn't exactly an easy find these days.

Natural plants growing in the ditch, through which the Jade Stream flows.

This is another forest, in the southern portion of the palace. Historically, the stables were located in this portion. The Japanese put in a zoo here in 1909, and eventually added Japanese buildings and fauna here too. It was an old-fashioned zoo with crowded cages, but this was the only place to see exotic foreign animals in Japanese Keijo - or even industrial era Seoul for that matter. Even I have faint memories of that zoo. The zoo moved to the suburbs in 1983, allowing the restoration of the palace to begin.

In this forest, I was rudely interrupted by two Christian missionaries. The last place I want to deal with a lunatic Christian missionary is in a historical palace like this. I believe all "soliciting" activities are illegal at historical sites anyway, though I am pretty sure the new Christian Lee Myung-bak government looks the other way.

This is an observatory platform, where astronomical equipment were brought in for stargazing.

A nice floral sculpture, as I leave the palace and head for Jongno to take the subway.

The Japanese left another insult here, in the form of this boulevard, separating Jongmyo (left) from Changgyeonggung (right). There are no plans to put this boulevard underground and re-connect the two.

Notice that there is a "dog found" poster on the light pole on the right.

An old-fashioned neighborhood mart near Jongmyo, with tables for drinking the cold beverages or hot coffee bought at the store. These were very common here in the 1960s through the 1980s, but are fast disappearing, being replaced by modern convenience store chains. Most convenience stores are local chains, but 7-Eleven also has good presence here.

I have reached Jongno. This sign shows another place-naming convention in South Korea. This intersection is called Jongno Sa(4)-ga (鐘路四街), and it would roughly translate into "the fourth intersection on Jongno." The word "ga" corresponds to the Japanese word "chome" which is used in the same way. Intersections on Jongno are sequentially numbered from Jongno Il(1)-ga at the bell pavilion in the west to Jongno O(5)-ga a block to the east of here. A block to the south, the east-west creek of Cheonggyecheon has similarly named intersections. Another block to the south is another east-west thoroughfare named Ulchiro, served by Line 2 of the subway system, with the same naming convention. Yet another block away, another east-west artery, Chungmuro, uses the same convention.

The same north-south avenue connects the same-numbered intersections; for example, one avenue runs from Jongno 4-ga to Cheonggyecheon 4-ga to Ulchiro 4-ga to Chungmuro 4-ga. If this were an American city, that avenue would be called Fourth Avenue. But here in Seoul, no numbered avenues/streets exist; that thoroughfare's name, in fact, is Changgyeonggung Road.

The "ga" nomenclature is also used by Korean-Americans to describe the numerical streets and avenues of American cities. For example, a Korean-speaking New Yorker would say that "Times Square is located on Broadway 42-ga."

There is no subway station at Jongno 4-ga, so I am walking west to Jongno 3-ga, where there is subway service. I am passing through the entrance of Jongmyo, where I am witnessing a right-wing rally attended by elderly men. The left banner says: "Let's defend the free Republic of Korea." Its display of the US flag stands for the Korean right-wingers' Confucian reverence of the US (rather, its Republicans) as the Christian modernizers of Korean society and the benevolent defenders of South Korea during the war. The right-wingers, and the Korean-Americans, unequivocally feel that the previous leftist Roh Moo-hyun government has badly damaged US relations, though in reality, W's unilaterial foreign policy bears much of the blame, and Roh did take lots of heat from within South Korea for accepting some US demands, including deploying South Korean troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

From my perspective, a Democratic administration in the US will really help out South Korea in two aspects: these right-wingers will shut up (as they prefer the Republicans in power), and anti-American protests on the left will stop too.

I have only two things to say to these right wingers. First, unlike your Chinese imperial masters of the past, we Americans don't get Confucianism, so don't even try to show us your Confucian deference. Second, if you really love us, apply for statehood with us, so that you can vote in our elections and keep the Republicans in power forever, as you wish. Do it while we ask nicely, because otherwise, we will have to bomb you and this fine city. After all, you destroyed our democracy more than the Iraqis ever did, and we bombed Iraq anyway. Thanks to your destruction of our democracy, bombs are all we have left anyway.