Gyeongbokgung Palace, Korea

In an exciting turn of events, this blog post is about two things!  First, my trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.  But also about the fact that I have a new camera.  Well, a new to me camera (I’m on a budget.)  There were a few issues, mostly with the fact that I don’t know how to process .RAW files.  But I am nothing if not a learner.  So here’s to hoping things smooth out.  I also tried photo editing a little bit, for pretty much the first time… (other than instagram) (You should follow me on instagram: Placestorunto) Now, onto the palace.  We planned on getting to the palace around 2:30, because there was a changing of the guard ceremony at 3pm.  I’m the only one that actually made it there by 3, but I am so so happy that I did.  The changing of the guard ceremony was really fun to watch, with explanations in Korean and English as to what was going on.  I mostly didn’t listen though- so I’m making this up as I go.  🙂 01.jpeg First, this guy banged the drum.  Because… well, because it’s his job.  I suppose he also needed to signal to the guards on duty that the new guards were approaching. 05.jpeg The new guard arrived to the gate complete with flowing banners and a band.  Because if you’re going to make an entrance- Make. An. Entrance.  I assume this type of ceremony would not have been effective if stealth were in anyway important. 06.jpeg Once the new guard was in place, it was time for the retiring guard members to be led away with the banners and band.  They marched back into the palace. After the guard ceremony, I was (finally) joined by my friends and we started to explore a bit of the palace.  Gyeongbokgung was the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and it is the largest palace from that time period.  It was damaged by the Japanese but has since been carefully restored back to it’s original beauty. After passing through the main gate, we came to the inner gate, which created a large courtyard in front of the throne room. 08.jpeg The throne room was really impressive.  What I found most impressive about it, was the detailing inside the room.  I’ve said it before about Korean traditional architecture, but the detail and painting are so intricate and beautiful.  Instantly recognizable as Korean, as well. 09.jpeg Near the throne hall, was the banquet hall.  It was used for throwing fabulous parties, and entertaining visiting dignitaries.  As such, it was spectacular as well. The name of the banquet hall is Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which means: the king is capable of handling national affairs only when he has the right people around him.  I really liked that. 10.jpeg After the pavilion, we traveled around to different places in the palace complex.  The palace is so large that it now houses several museums as well as a folk village.  One thing that I really liked was that while it had a lot of traditional Korean things: 02.jpeg It also had a “street to the past,” where things looked like they did in the mid 1900s.  They had a printing shop, and a comic book shop, barber shop… all the things you would really need.  My favorite, though, were the old movie posters they had up. 04.jpeg   (In the background is an original model Hyundai.) There were so many buildings and pavilions spread around, it was cool to see this Pagoda.  Sitting atop a high platform (with enough stairs for us to think staying on the ground was the best idea) it was easily the tallest building. 11.jpeg   And now I leave you, with possibly the least threatening totem poles I’ve ever seen.  How jolly. 🙂  All in all it was a really fun afternoon, even if it was super hot.  I’m not a fan of summer.  But I’m into my last few weeks/months of living in Korea, so I’ve got a lot of stuff planned coming up.  Really excited to make a last push to see the varied sites of Korea.  Any suggestions are always welcome!  🙂 03.jpeg

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Bongeunsa Temple, South Korea

A few weeks ago, the weekend of the World Cup Final, to be exact, I was feeling a bit nervous.  And by a bit nervous, I mean that I was nearly beside myself thinking about my favorite team (Germany) playing for the championship.  To help myself survive the weekend I decided to go to one of the most peaceful places I have been to in this country.

Bongeunsa Temple is one of my favorite places in Seoul. It is right in the middle of Gangnam (yes, like the song) which is one of the wealthiest and busiest districts in the city. But, unlike its surroundings, Bongeunsa is a peaceful and reflective oasis.

I’m not a particularly religious person.  And I would love to say that I went to the temple to meditate and clear my mind, but that’s not actually true.  I have not mastered the art of meditation.  I can sit with a clear mind for about 3 seconds, and then the thoughts start racing.  So my trip was just to enjoy walking around the temple complex, and relishing in the calmness that surrounds.
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Bongeunsa has a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha.  It is 23 meters tall, and the tallest such statues in Korea.  It’s really tall.  The space in front can be used by anyone that wishes, but they do also have dance performances here and other events.

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Surrounding the statue, in various nooks and crannies in the rocks and vegetation, you can find mini shrines set up by people.  Either small Buddha statues or stacks of wishing stones.

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The stacked stones can have many meanings.  From what I gather, they can be used for wishing something for yourself or for another person.  Three stacked stones can represent either a seated Buddha, or the Buddhist triad.  Some people also believe that they simply represent balance.  (Disclaimer: As I said above, I’m not religious, so this might be completely and utterly wrong.)

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The temple complex itself is large and has many buildings.  One of my favorite things to see is when a monk is ringing the giant bell by swinging a giant log into it.  It is such a loud low sound, and rings for such a long time… it’s very calming.  There is also a drum that is just as large as the bell.

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Inside the temple itself.  Sometimes its very quite, other times the chanting fills the room, and the entire complex.

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One last shot from the temple.  As I said, it’s located in the middle of Seoul.  It is directly across the stree from COEX (the building with the curved roof,) which is a giant convention center and shopping mall.  It has a huge movie theater, an aquarium, tons of shops, and the entire convention center as well.
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