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Gyeongbokgung Palace Part 1: The Palace Museum

October 4, 2009

Hurray! I’m doing the super touristy things, finally! Actually, I visited this palace more than two weeks ago. The blogging life is rough, folks. You try having all this stuff happen in your life and write about it every day.

Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest palace in Korea and arguably the most impressive. I don’t know if I would argue this, as I have not bothered to go to the other palaces — but that notwithstanding, it is a very impressive palace. The Saturday that my group went there a flash flood drenched us the moment we came out of the subway so we ducked into the Palace Museum, standing on a hill facing the palace and a 30 second (wet) run from the subway.

The Palace Museum has many of the great relics of South Korea pertaining to the lives and possessions of the royal family that occupied the palaces. Much of it was obvious though still very interesting — artwork, devotional items, outfits, furniture and architectural pieces as well as scientific artifacts like a ancient sundial and constellation calendar that featured some fascinatingly different constellation patterns, more often than not geometrical patterns rather than mythological representations à la the Western zodiac (sorry, no pictures of that):

A room downstairs filled with traditional Korean instruments added a cultural touch that I found particularly fascinating, always having had an interest in instruments produced by different cultures. The ones with the suspended slabs of rock are the most foreign and interesting of the bunch:

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A water-clock designed by the venerated King Sejong (sort of like Korea’s Socrates and Augustus Caesar combined in one person, and the 16th century inventor of the Korean alphabet or Hangul) was a technology I had never seen before, a very elaborate giant bell/gong system for announcing the time in a public square on the hour using a running stream of water. Don’t ask me how it works, but a little figurine man with a stick hit a mini-gong on the hour, so it did work correctly. We waited for 20 minutes for the little bastard to hit the gong because we thought it was supposed to ring at quarter-to as well:

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But it certainly the personal touch that gave the museum its charm, the sort of charm that is prerequisite for any palace experience, be it European or Asian, to be interesting, engaging and unique rather than another hodge-potch collection of really lavish glitz, the ‘bling-bling’ of yore. The Palace Museum thus included the pricelessly eccentric placenta jar collection, the burial urns for — you guessed it — the placenta that incubated the most venerated leaders of the Korean nation. I couldn’t get an answer as to whether or not the placenta was still included in said urns, but regardless of whether they attained that same level of Russian preservative creepiness apropos of Lenin’s embalmed and displayed corpse, there was still something delightfully bizarre about seeing the placenta jar of the guy who invented the very Hangul letters written on the placard beneath the jar:

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King Sejong's Placenta Jar

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