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Late last week, on a much needed break from the studio, my friend Kate and I visited Changgyeonggung. It’s a palace I previously visited and nicknamed the Feminist Playboy Mansion, as the first female royal physician was there, as were a lot of concubines. It was very soothing to see the palace so green, since my last visit was in winter. In the middle of our visit, Kate pointed out a family of ducks who were about to jump into a pond.

For a few minutes, we watched as the little ducklings practiced swimming.

DSC06789 DSC06792

So, so cute! And quite fast, too!

Ok, now back to work.

(Seoul)—Changgyeonggung, the palace to the east of yet another royal abode with a similar-sounding name (Changdeokgung), seems to be the least popular one among all the Korean palaces I’ve seen. On this cold winter’s day, the few people I encountered were mostly locals. However, this is one of my favorite palaces because of all the fascinating stories it harbors behind its silent walls.

Changgyeonggung

Changgyeonggung

The First Female Royal Physician

Hwangyeongjeon may look like most of the pavilions I’ve seen, but its story of being a “feminist pavilion” deserves to be told. Dae Jang Geum was the only female royal physician to attend to the king, delivering Queen Janggyeong’s baby and curing Queen Dowager’s Jasun of her illness. Her skills won the confidence of the king, who appointed her the top royal physician, a move that traditional Confucian ministers objected to. Dae Janggeum was the most trusted physician of the king, and attended to him until his death. Her story is the subject of an eponymous Korean historical TV series.

Hwangyeongjeon

Hwangyeongjeon

The Puppet Curse

At the site of Tongmyeongjeon, the queen’s bed chamber, is a scandal that trumps all tabloid stories. King Sukjong had an affair with a maid named Jang Ok-jeong, who gave birth to their son, Prince Gyun. While trying to make Gyun as the crown prince, King Sukjong removed those who opposed this move and deposed Queen Inhyeon, installing Jang as the queen. Followers of Queen Inhyeon restored her to power, demoting Jang as consort. Jang cursed Queen Inhyeon by burying a puppet of the queen together with dead animals near Tongmyeongjeon. Upon discovery, Jang was forced to commit suicide at 43 years old by ingesting poison. Nearby is a garden with a round well and a square pond.

Surprise, surprise, this year her story will make it as a TV serieswhich itself is based on a chick-lit novel.

Tongmyeongjeon

Tongmyeongjeon

The Playboy Mansion

Yeongchunheon and Jipbokheon are believed to be residences for concubines. Seeing that these buildings are now empty and seems to be a place where these old guys hang out to gossip made me laugh.

I’m positive there are Korean TV series on something like this.

The playboy mansion

The playboy mansion

The playboy mansion

The playboy mansion

The King’s Placenta

This is the site of King Seongjong’s taesil and taesilbi (placenta chamber monument). According to the Korean age system, a baby is one year old at the moment of birth because life is considered to begin at conception. The placenta is stored in a porcelain jar a few days after being born. The jaris sealed several times and enshired in a stone chamber after a few months. I’ve seen other placenta jars in the National Palace Museum of Korea.

King Seongjong's placenta chamber monument

King Seongjong’s placenta chamber monument

The Glass House

A year before Japan formally annexed Korea, Changgyeonggung was turned into a botanical garden and a zoo, demoting a palace into a public park. Daeonsil, the glass house, was built as Korea’s first Victorian-style greenhouse. The zoo was removed in 1983, but the glass house exists and contains a many indigenous plants.

Daeonsil, the glass house

Daeonsil, the glass house

Lessons learned: Beware the quiet ones, for they hold the juiciest stories. And the more scandalous or noteworthy it is, the better the chances of making it big on TV posthumously, centuries later.

Sources
(1) Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2011). Changgyeonggung. Pamphlet.
(2) Discovering Korea blog

(Seoul)—In Gwanghwamun Square today, I came across a snow bear in front of the statue of King Sejong, under whose reign science and technology flourished in Korea. In his rule, Hangul was also introduced to the country.

A snow bear in front of Sejong the Great

A snow bear in front of Sejong the Great

Up close, the bear is decorated with flowers for ears, cookies for eyes, a glove for his neck and a traffic cone for a hat.

Yes, the hat is a traffic cone

Yes, the hat is a traffic cone

Flowers for its nose and ears, cookies for its eyes, and a glove for its neck

Flowers for its nose and ears, cookies for its eyes, and a glove for its neck

Behind King Sejong is Gwanghwamun, one of the gates that leads to Gyeongbokgung, the main palace of the Jeoson dynasty. The mountain behind it is Bukhansan.

Gwanghwamun by night

Gwanghwamun by night

It’s such a pretty sight in the evening, isn’t it?

Gyeongokbokgung (Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven) was built in 1395 and served as the main palace for more than 500 years. It was burned by the Japanese in 1592. Since 1990, efforts have been taken to restore it to its former glory.

Gyeongbokung

Outside one of Gyeongbokung’s gates

It’s such a beautiful palace. A bout of déjà vu came upon me, taking me back when I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing almost 11 years ago. They felt similar mainly because of scale—it seemed to take forever to cover all of it.

One of my favorite parts is the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, where the king gave formal banquets for foreign envoys—it’s like the royal party club. In the winter, the water around it freezes and gives the impression that it’s floating on ice.

A pavilion on ice!

A pavilion on ice!

Another lovely spot is Hyangwonjeong, a small pavilion that stands out because of its smallness in contrast to its neighboring Goliath structures. Behind it is another palace, Geoncheonggung, where Queen Myeongseong was killed in an assassination plot by the Japanese.

Hyangwonjeong pavilion. Isn't she lovely?

Hyangwonjeong pavilion. Isn’t she lovely?

During my exploration, I came across a total of four magpies. The magpie is South Korea’s official bird. I am so in love with this city. May good fortune befall all of us!