Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unhyeon Palace Romance 2

Last week I had the opportunity to see a Korean musical called "Unhyeon Palace Romance 2" at the Guro Arts Valley Theater, thanks to the K-Performance Supporters and KTO. I was also able to bring along some friends from the AFSC Music group for the adventure - field trip!

"Unhyeon Palace Romance 2" centers around the story of a famous pansori singer, Jin Chae-sun, who sang at the palace and then disappeared into obscurity. The cast members retell her tale, postulate on what happened to her after she left the palace, and then contemplate their own life and career path based upon Chae-sun's tale.

The set and costumes were minimalist, but beautiful. The costumes consisted of modern clothes with an over layer or jacket that evoked the imagine of traditional hanbok - very creative and effective for the story telling (with multiple changes between past and present).  I wish I could share some pictures from the show, but no photos were allowed during the performance.

This was a musical with MUCH speaking and singing - in both modern musical and traditional pansori styles. It was all in Korean, but they did provide translations on the walls on either side of the stage. This was both good and bad, as it was sometimes hard to enjoy the great performance by the actors while trying to quickly read the text to understand what was going on. Pansori is a unique style, and not everyone's "cup of tea", but my companions and I really enjoyed it.

Our group had a great time - thanks, KTO!

You may have noticed the artwork on the wall behind us - to me, it looked like a sculpture of organ pipes and the attached tubes made me wonder if it was a functioning artwork - how cool would that be?  After further inspection of the posted signs (all in Korean) and inquiry from multiple sources, I found out it does indeed play. The pipe-like pieces are fashioned after the piri (which I've mentioned before), a traditional Korean double-reed instrument, usually made from bamboo. I can only imagine what the sound is like when this plays - I am guessing loud!

After the show, we ventured out and stumbled across a festival in the park nearby.

Families were having a lot of fun building these bird shaped planes, which used a rubber band to make the wings flap as they flew.

The Guro Arts Valley Theater is accessible from Subway line 2, Daerim station.  

It was a 10-15 minutes walk from the station, so leave yourself time if you visit!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon

Well, it took awhile to get this post going, since I had soooo many pictures to go through from the day, but here it finally is for your reading pleasure. We took a family trip south on a beautiful, sunny Sunday to Suwon for a hike around the Hwaseong Fortress.  It was an easy ride on Subway Line 1 from our local stop and then we boarded a nearby bus at Suwon Station, headed toward the Paldalmun gate.

As we hopped off, we already knew this was going to be a great day, as the first of the four main gates - Paldalmun - was beautiful.

We turned down the street to the right of the gate, walked through a bustling market space, and found our starting point.

A little background from the site's brochure:
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, Historic Sites No. 3, was built over two years and nine months, from January 1794 to September 1796, by King Jeongjo, the 22nd king of the Joseon Dynasty, to move the tomb of his father, Crown Prince Jangjeon, also known as Crown Prince Sado, because of his filial duty to his father. (While searching online, it seems CP Sado was killed by his own father.  Sado was accused of killing and abusing people at the palace, so it is said his father locked him in a rice trunk, where he then died.) 

The wall is approximately 5.7 kilometers long and was designed by Silhak scholars. It is known as a unique structure in the history of architecture because of its use of stones and bricks together in a modern fortress structure to deflect arrows, spears, swords, guns, and cannons. Restoratation and repair of the fortress began in 1975 and it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Yes, we hiked the entire perimeter, from #1 to #43!

The first section, called Namsumun, crosses over the stream which flows through the center of the fortress. We explored the nooks and crannies along the wall, imagining what they might have been used for (other than hid an seek with a 4 year old).

At the top of the first climb was a structure named Dongnamgangnu.  I managed to snap a picture of most of the accompanying signs for the wall sections, so I will let you read those for more detail along this virtual journey (remember to click on the picture if you want to see a larger version of it).

There were flags all along the fortress - this first section (East side) had red ones.

Some areas had structures and others were simply open spaces.

I love the colors used in the decorative areas on all of the Korean palaces and similar sites.  It is known as Dancheong and there are five basic colors; blue-green (east), white (west), red (south), black (north), and yellow (center).

There was a play area for Michael to take a walking break, so we ha our first "rest stop".

The Beacon Tower was built in 1796 as an integral part of the architecture, not as an independent tower on top of a mountain, as is typically seen in Korean fortresses.

As we moved along, the flag color changed from red to blue, and we came across our first open door.

Onward we went, along the wall, taking in all of the neighboring homes, churches, and recreational areas.

We reached the second main gate - Changnyongmun - and carefully navigated our way through the middle and away form the steep stairs.

The section was a rounded corner, with decorative areas and a field nearby for events and archery.

This led us to Dongjangdae, one of two command posts on the wall.  It was used for martial arts training and overseeing the interior of the fortress form the East

I could not resist snapping this next I must have missed the memo about hiking a 5K fortress wall in heels.  Silly me, with my sensible sneakers!

This area had an information center, snack shop, archery opportunity, and traditional Korean bow and arrow exhibit.

At this point, we had thought we would grab a ticket for the Dragon Trolley and enjoy a leisurely ride along the northern end of the wall (and give Michael a walking break), but the tickets were sold out until 3 hours later, so we had a quick lunch and pressed on.

The biggest reason we had hoped for the trolley was that this next section is all uphill towards the highest point. This began the true "hike" but was beautiful.

We stopped for a quick selfie, with our new selfie stick, by the DongbukGaknu pavilion and garden.

Next up was the Buksumun flood gate, the stream, and giant lanterns along its route.

And we pressed onward...

...towards the 3rd main gate, Janganmun.

But first, we had a small detour for bingsu (ice cream) and water at Pasiya - a quick stop just down the hill from the main path.

We found a pretty cool canon at the next turret.

And Rob had a moment of pretend...

We walked along the outer wall of Janganmun, which had an interesting view.

Photo-op: Michael now says, "Kim-cheese!"  :)

The last main gate - Hwaseomun - on the northwest corner of the fortress wall.

This gate had a nicer view outside its border.

Then the real climb began.  We got mixed in with a group of hikers in orange, who were supporting a charity or cause.

The last part of the climb was steep. I didn't get a picture, as I was way behind him at that point, but Rob was a super Dad - he carried the backpack AND Michael (who finally had enough) up the last set of steps.

The view was totally worth it.

The traditional buildings in the bottom of this next picture are the Hwaseong Haenggung - the palace inside the fortress.  We did not even make it to this on our visit, so we will have to come back again.

At the summit of Paldal Mountain, we found SeoJangdae - the second command post of the fortress.

This area also had a great opportunity to ring an enormous bell for 1,000-2,000 won.  We took full advantage and Michael loved it!

There were also two modern monuments on the top of the mountain, dedicated to aspects of Korean Independence.

Our final structure, before we began the great descent, was SeonamAmmun - one of the secret gates which was designed for war supply storage and could be easily filled in with rocks for protection.

Then we began the trek downward.

It was a lot of steps down.  :)

We made it! We ended back at the first gate (Paldalmun), hailed a taxi, headed to Suwon Station (after a little translation help from my phone for "train station"), and splurged on comfy, direct trip tickets on the Korail train.

For those living in or visiting Korean - this is a great day trip - we highly recommend you go!

Ticket information