Wednesday, May 6, 2015

6 May 15 – Day 6 (Myeongdong Cathedral, Changgyeonggung, Jongmyo Shrine, Cheonggyecheon Stream & area)

We left K-pop II slightly after 9am to go to the Myeongdong Cathedral. As it was early weekday morning so the cathedral was pretty quiet. The cathedral was unlike those I have seen in Europe, the structure was not as elaborated or grand but rather simple and clean. Walked pass the side of the building and saw a door with the sign “Confession”, guessed it was the confession room. An aunty walked pass us and told us something in Korean which neither SWT nor I understood.

There were some statues outside the cathedral so we went around taking photos before entering the cathedral through the side door. There were a few people inside and it was really quiet except for the music from the organ. I took some photos using my mobile phone because my NEX gave off a clicking sound when used. It was only when another small group of tourists came in that took photos using their cameras that gave off clicking sound and an aunty vacuuming the floor right in front of the hall that I was able to use my NEX. The stained glass windows were not as magnificent as those in Europe but nice enough. Sat down on one of the benches for a while to take in the sight and sound before going out. Saw the crypt and checked out a small underground mall nearyby.

Finally left around 10:30am and crossed over to the G25 convenient store to get a new T-money card. Asked for the normal one without the Citypass+ and was told all the cards came with it. So no choice but to pay W3,000 for the card and went to the Myeongdong subway station to top up with a value of W5,000. We took the subway to our next destination, the Changgyeonggung Palace. Unlike the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace was not as well maintained, which was a shame. As such, it was not as popular and hence not as crowded as the other two palaces. We took our time to walk around, looking at the different structures and items and then we came to a western-looking enclosed botanical garden built in the 1909. It was there that we spent a longer time looking at the various potted plants and admiring the designs.

After we emerged from the botanical garden, continued our walk around the palace and by the time we were back to the entrance, it was around 1:15pm. Saw some people wearing olden royal clothing walking near the entrance and approached one of them to ask what was going on. The man told us that there’s going to be a reenactment of a royal walk from the front gate to the main hall at 1:30pm so we thought perhaps we could find a good photo spot to take photos of it. Then the man approached us and said we can register at the booth near the front gate using our admission tickets. So went out and saw many young school kids crowding around two long tables accompanied with a couple of teachers trying to write their names on wooden plaques with writing brushes. Went to the booth, showed the staff our admission tickets and received a wooden plaque each. Apparently, we needed these in order to join the activity. Since we did not know how to write our names in Hangeul, we wrote in Chinese. SWT was able to write nicely using a brush but mine was pretty ugly.

According to a brochure we took, the activity was “King Youngjo and Changgyeonggung Palace”, a reenactment of the king’s daily walk in the palace. Some helpers dressed in olden clothing gathered the crowd in front of Myeongjeongmun Gate where a female staff in hanbok narrated the reenactment in Korean and the play started off with the sound of a gong which startled a couple of young kids and one of them cried. Royal guards lined up in front of the gate and a eunuch then came out to proclaim the arrival of the king. We were then told to go through the gate to gather in front of the Myeongjeong Hall, and while doing so, one young kid showed the fierce-looking royal guard her wooden plaque. It was so funny. We had to climb high stone steps to get to some halls and the young kids were having difficulties. Some helpful tourists carried the kids up the steps. Narration was done in Korean, SWT and I did not understand what exactly was taking place, except to follow the directions of the helpers to the next location. While at one of the many great halls, there was a cry of a baby and we guessed that it was the birth of a prince. Half way through the walk, we noticed that the young kids were gone. Maybe it was too much of a hassle to bring them up and down the stone steps and getting to the next location. Soon we find ourselves back to the Myeongjeongmun Gate where the King seemed to be making some announcements and then the play came to an end. The actors and actresses stood in their positions for a few minutes for people to take photos before returning back into the palace close to 2:30pm.

Went to the information booth to ask what other attractions there were nearby and was told we could visit the Jongmyo Shrine and the lady gave us directions. I was surprised that she did not say otherwise because my research indicated that visitors can only tour the shrine through guided tours which were all booked out when I went to register on the website. As it was fast approaching 3pm, I needed to look for lunch. Popped into a random eating house and ordered a mul naengmyeon. This was my first time eating mul naengmyeon and it was great. Continued our search for the shrine using the map and we seemed to be walking round in circles. I was tired and my lower back seemed to be acting up again so told SWT to ask the locals for help. We passed by the famous Kwang Jang Market and the security guard at the market could not help us and asked a young stall owner for help. The young man gave us directions and still we had problem. Finally went into a building that seemed to sell branded goods and seek help from the security guard. He said something in Korean which we think he was asking if we were looking for the Jongmyo Shrine and we answered yes. He stood up and started walking towards some counters and we thought maybe he was trying to get the younger staff to help us. It turned out that he was leading us to the sign that indicates the location of the shrine. We were so grateful to him for going out of his way to show us the location of the shrine.

Followed the walkway, passed through a park and found the entrance to the shrine. Paid for the ticket and waited for the English guided tour at 4pm. The shrine was dedicated to the perpetuation of memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. Therefore, unlike the palaces, it was much quieter and simpler in design. While waiting, we saw some visitors roaming around the shrine by themselves, and we recalled perhaps it was due to the Korean Royal Palace Culture Festival. There were signs placed in the middle of the stone pathway telling visitors not to walk on it because it was meant for the spirits. How very interesting. Soon it was 4pm and the guided tour began. We were shown a pond which was similar to those in the palaces but with differences such as the tree planted on the round island and that there are no flowers or fishes in the ponds. Continued to an area of three buildings and were told that the first one was where the king would arrive to change into another set of clothing, the slightly lower one was for the crown prince and the third one was for them to bathe and cleanse their minds.

Next we were shown the main hall with 19 chambers housing the tablets of 19 kings and 30 queens. We were not able to see the interior of the chambers but were told that they are simple in design with a table in front of the tablets for putting food during ceremony. We were also told that only males were allowed to participate in the ceremony. We saw metal rings on the stone ground in front of the hall and the guide told us that they were meant for the tents back in the days. There were elevated stone platforms and they were meant for food inspections before arranging them on the altars at the shrine. We then ended the tour at another hall with lesser number of chambers and were free to roam around on our own. Tried to remember what was said during the tour and I think the guide said that after death, west side is deemed more superior than the east side.

Left around 5pm and recalled we passed by the Cheonggyecheon Stream earlier on, so traced back our steps to get back to the stream since it was supposed to be the last place to visit for the day. The plan was to walk along the stream towards the Dongdaemun Market direction so that we would be nearer to Myeongdong and in my head I thought maybe we would be able to visit the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night to see the lighted LED flowers. Walked down the bridge to the stream level and started walking. Peeped at a sign which indicated the distance and thought it was great that it would only be a less than 2km walk. Took photos along the way and I walked really slowly because it was not like we were in a rush or something. We passed by the Jeongjobanchado, the painting of Royal Parade of King Jeongjo, and I realized that we were actually walking towards the Cheonggye Plaza direction, the one that I did back in 2012. Unlike back then, we managed to find the subway station nearby and took the subway back to Myeongdong. During the transfer from one line to another, I saw a Missha shop in the transit station and went to buy a pack of two tubs of aloe vera gel. Those in Myeongdong sell in pack of six tubs. Since it was early, suggested to SWT that we checked out the schedule of the airport limousine bus at the bus stop over at Sejong Hotel before heading back. Initially thought I would get the corndog on stick as dinner but in the end I bought a cup of purple sweet potato crisps as dinner because I still have a big box of strawberries to finish.

Got back to K-pop II slightly after 7pm, the earliest to end the day by far. Washed up, packed a little, did some recordings and stretching before sitting comfortably on my bed to watch tv while eating the crisps followed by strawberries as dinner. Little big sis whatsapped me a newspaper article on Gyeongdong Market, which is frequent by the locals to do their shopping. It says that the market sells stuff such as live seafood, fresh fruits and oriental herbs. After SWT settled down, showed her the article on my mobile phone and asked if she is interested to go visit. The market is a bit out of the way for tomorrow’s plan so suggested that we may have to forgo visiting the Kimchi Museum and the COEX Aquarium. She was not very keen after hearing that and said we should just stick to the plan. I was alright with her decision and then firmed up the programs for the next day. Few minutes later, she changed her mind and said perhaps we could make a short visit to the market and I started checking the ways to get there. After jotting down how to get to the market and from the market to the COEX Mall, we rest for the night. 

Thoughts: Changgyeonggung Palace would have been pretty grand if it was well maintained and I like the enclosed botanical garden in particular. The visit to Jongmyo Shrine was a bonus in this trip and was well worth it, especially since it was considered to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cheonggyecheon Stream by evening was a pretty sight, it was just unfortunate that I did not get to cover the other direction of the stream or get to visit the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night.

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