Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Moonlight Tour of Changdeokgung

I had an interesting evening adventure this past week, thanks to the KTO. They offered up a K-Pop experience and a moonlit tour of a palace just for foreigners, so I jumped at the chance! They were two VERY different experiences, so I've decided there will need to be two separate blog posts - here's part two:

A Moonlight Tour of Changdeokgung Palace

After the SMTown experience, the other attendees and I rushed off to the subway and made our way from Gangnam to one of the palaces located in northern Seoul, close to Insadong. Our family had visited Changdeokgung before, but I was looking forward to the night time, guided experience and hoping for a bit of the Secret Garden (which we had not gotten to see). Just the initial view as I walked closer to the Donhwamun gate was wonderful.

To refresh your memory, here's a quick history of Changdeokgung Palace:

There was one lone guard keeping watch, armed with a seashell trumpet, with which he called forth the rest of the palace guards:

While we waited, I checked in, received my packet - a pamphlet, listening device, and a hand warmer (it had grown chilly and this was a very welcome little piece of swag) - and then took a few more photos.

The guards marched into place and we were divided into groups led by guides speaking in English, Japanese, or Chinese.

We were also given lanterns to use during the tour - which was good for finding our footing, but hampered my picture taking just a bit.

Our tour guide was wonderful and had a very good sense of humor.

Our view approaching the next gate, Injeongmun:

And the main palace building - Injeongjeon:

The path to the building is lined with these stone markers, which are marked with the names of the court officials - military to the west and civilian officers to the east.

The inside was lit up very well, so you could see the throne and folding screen to full effect.

Our guide made sure we turned around as we left, to get what she called the "best picture of the night".

It's officially Spring in Korea when the cherry and maewha (plum) trees bloom - this is one of the latter:

This next area, called Nakseonjae, is a lovely, undecorated hanok by day, that was used by the king for resting and reading:

I did not fully appreciate the unique feature of these buildings until darkness fell, however. Each window screen is a different, ornate pattern! The windows really were beautiful to see all lit up - here are a few of my favorites:

Next, we climbed this set of lit stairs and found a gazebo on the hill above 
with more beautiful windows.

We then climbed through a circular gate (I felt like I was going through a bit of a hobbit hole) and happened upon another blossoming tree - this one was bright pink.

At this point, we crossed over into the Biwon or "Secret Garden" area - one that you only get to see if you make a reservation for a guided tour when you visit the palace.  We wound our way down a lantern lit path and this was our view at the bottom of the hill:

The building (Uyongjoeong) overlooks a pond (Buyongji) and was used by the king as a meeting place with his advisors. You can see his entrance in front was larger than that of his officials on either side.

Directly across from the larger building is a lotus shaped pavilion - just lovely.

We took some time for lots of pictures and enjoyed being serenaded by a musician playing the gayageum, a type of stringed instrument similar to a zither. 

Then it was time to pass through this special gate, which was carved from one single stone, and is said to bring long life to those who pass through it (here's to hoping!).

We were greeted at the next building with gifts of traditional Korean snacks (rice cakes, rice cookies, and candied tangerines), as well as hot plum tea (so good!).

I was delighted to find that this last building was set up as a stage area and we were going to be treated to a live performance! I managed to snap a few photos and videos, so here is your mini-concert experience. First came the traditional court dance, jeongjae:

Next was an excerpt of Pansori. This was the first time I had seen a pansori involving more than one singer and performed as a theatrical piece. I believe they are singing Sarang-ga, a love song, which is part of the Pansori "Chunhyang-ga".

Next to perform was an emeritus professor of music, who played a soulful piece on the daegeum, a wooden flute:

And last, but not least, on the program, was a full ensemble that performed an arrangement of Arirang. It was a beautiful rendition, with a simple beginning and a hopeful, joyous end section. I just sat and enjoyed the moment. So, unfortunately, I did not get it on video.

But someone else did! (ah, the magic of Youtube...)

They also played an encore, which I managed to catch...try not to smile:   :)

And so ended my evening in Seoul with the KTO.  Hope you enjoyed the time, as well!

Want to take the moonlight tour? Visit this site for reservation information.

In case you missed it, here was Part One - a visit to SMTown

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