There is more to experience while living in Korea besides the night life, parties, and Korean BBQ; it’s important to learn about some of the history while teaching in Korea. Changdeokgung (‘gung’ meaning palace) is one of the most unique historical sites in Korea. Changdeokgung was built as a secondary palace to Gyeongbokgung, but later became the main palace after the Japanese invasion (1592-1598) left most of the palaces in ruins. Some say that there was no need for a second palace, but King Taejong was reluctant to live in Gyeongbokgung, the place where he seized the throne after assassinating his half brothers. Entry to the palace is regulated and more strict than the other palaces probably since it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. Neil and I went here on a beautiful sunny day and took many pictures of pavilions other historic architecture. You can observe that many of the roof tops have a similar curve at the end, like a wing spreading towards the sky. This is a sign of the highest nobility in the social heirarchy of Korea.
What makes this palace so special is Biwon, the “Secret Garden” where the kings once used as a relaxing recreational area. The best time to go here is when the flowers are in full bloom in late June or early July. It contains small hills and natural forests, and beautiful ponds like Buyongji, Aeryeonji, and Gwallamji. There was an aura of decay and abandonment as we looked around and imagined how this place was once full of life and a place where the royal family would fish and boat, and sometimes shoot fireworks. They would use this Secret Garden to contemplate hard decisions, compose poetry, and entertain guests as a venue for glorious banquets. Now, no one is allowed to enter any of the buildings and pond waters are completely still. We spent the most time here because we went in a tour. Entrance into Biwon is only permitted through a guided tour which lasts about 80 minutes. We would have much rather had the freedom to explore and Neil take his time in getting the right pictures, but we were even rushed by one of the many security guards to stay with the group when we fell behind. We still enjoyed walking around and learned a lot of interesting things. For instance, there is a brook called Ongnyucheon that flows through a part of the Secret Garden where in 1636, during the reign of King Injo, a U-shaped groove was carved on a rock and filled with water. Here, the kings and his officials played a little game where the would send a win cup afloat on the waters, and the recipient had to drink the wine then compose an impromptu poem and recite it! Then, if the person could not think of a poem, the punishment was that he had to drink three more cups of wine. They should have called this game ‘Kings’!
We had a good time, in spite of the limitations, and I would love to go see it when all the flowers are in bloom and full of colors. Maybe then it won’t have such a decayed feeling. The opening hours are usually earliest from 9am to 5pm, but in some months the palace stays open for longer and it is closed on Mondays. Admission to the palace was 3,000won and to the Secret Garden it was 5,000won. The best way to get there is by taking the orange line 3 to Anguk Station, and it’s a close walk from there.
Yuna Lee is a current instructor at Chung Dahm Learning. Yuna was born and raised in the D.C. metropolitan area and graduated from the University of Mary Washington. She has traveled to many different places including Honduras, Ecuador, and Nepal. However with her father being Korean, she wanted to learn more about her heritage, so she set off to Seoul, Korea to do some soul-searching. Now, she is loving the freedom and independence of her post-college life. Teaching at Chung Dahm has been such a rewarding experience. Follow her blog to read up on the interesting things she has to share!