With a weekday off during the Chuseok long weekend, I decided to take some time for myself and do some touristy sightseeing of the city I now call home. I rode the subway to Gyeongbok Palace (the “Palace of Shining Happiness”) in the Jongno-Gu area of Seoul. The only palaces I'd been to before were those in Europe, usually involving the British Royal family. How would they compare to their older, Asian equivalents?
Just outside the Palace gates, I spotted some friends of mine who apparently had the same idea. We bought our tickets and some audio tour guides (a personal favourite) and headed inside. Unfortunately the audio tours weren’t as interesting or as informative as I had hoped. I often left it playing quietly, earphones dangling around my neck, while I chatted with my friends. Instead, we just walked around and I let my imagination roam.
According to my guidebooks, this palace was built in 1394 by King Taejo during the Joseon Dynasty, and it’s rumoured it contained about 500 buildings at that time. During the Japanese invasions, Gyeongbuk Palace was burnt down by palace slaves upset about their working conditions, instead of the Japanese army as one might have imagined. Heungseon Daewongun started rebuilding it in 1865 after resting in ruins for almost 300 years. Modern restoration didn’t begin until the 1990s, well after any Japanese invasions and slave uprisings. Even though restorations are still in progress, the remaining buildings hint at its past grandeur.
It was the colours that impressed me the most. There were bright reds, blues, greens, yellows, and oranges everywhere. Intricate patterns were produced on the undersides of the roofs. I hadn’t experienced any roofs like the ones I saw at the palace. Sure, I knew what a traditional Asian roof looked like, but there aren’t too many around the city anymore. Their tiled tops and colourful bottoms are truly beautiful.
The various palace buildings were amply isolated from each other with expansive stone walkways. There was a beautiful fish pond with a small pavilion in the middle, connected with a bridge that was closed to visitors.
The sun was hot, so we stopped into the National Folk Museum, which is connected to the palace, for a drink. I noticed some traditional hanbok costumes were available to play dress-up and take pictures in... How could I refuse? I convinced my friends to join me and we modelled the colourful attire in celebration of the national holidays. I, of course, wore the queen’s outfit. In their temples and their clothes, Koreans certainly were never (and still aren’t) afraid of colour.
The only appropriate thing to do after a very traditional day is to exit into the urban streets and enjoy a very modern evening under the city lights.