Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jonmyo Kings’ Memorial in Jongno-gu (1 May)

Each year there is a memorial service for the Kings of Korea.  Our friend M has told us about the service this year and we’re meeting her and another friend of hers today at the subway station closest to Jonmyo in Jongno neighbourhood, Seoul.  As we enter the impressive gates of the site, M tells us that we are not allowed to walk on the brick path before us as it is reserved for the kings: the row on the right is for the kings, the middle row is for the ancestors and the row on the left is for the kings’ sons.  To walk on the path in the middle is to bring bad luck (to whom, I’m not sure) and we’re not eligible to walk on the kings’ path.  We make our way around the path, stopping to pose for a few photos along the way, and eventually find the location where the first of the ceremonies is underway.

There are so many people present that it’s rather difficult to get decent photos of the ceremony.  M briefly explains all of the proceedings before us: The square of ‘guards’ to our right are patiently awaiting their turn while the group to our left are performing their ceremonial movements.  In this courtyard, there are 16 rooms – one for every king – and each king must be honoured individually with a feast and certain rites.  The traditional hanbok and uniforms of everyone participating in the festival are beautiful and it’s a truly special sight to behold.  The traditional Korean music that fills the air is also spectacular, and I’m amazed to learn that traditional Korean music such as this consists of only five notes.

When the ceremony ends in the courtyard, crowds scurry to get prime locations beyond the courtyard’s walls for the procession that’s about to take place.  Since we’re unaware that this is what is happening until most of the people have already left, we don’t get good positions for photos.  Fortunately, many of the people involved in the parade are only too willing to pause for photos when they see us.  We have the same experience outside the main entrance of Jonmyo where a much larger procession enters and we’re amused to see even a few foreigners dressed in traditional Korean outfits and participating in the parade.

Seoul Antics

From here, we move to Gwangwamun, which is in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace.  We’re planning to go to a Karsh photo exhibition at the Sejong Centre of Performing Arts so we move directly there.  Since we’re early, we stop at a restaurant called “Good Restaurant” for the most delicious kimchi jigae (kimchi stew) that I’ve yet had in Korea.  After lunch, we still have time to kill so we look around the statues of King Sejong (probably the most famous – at least among the foreigners – of the Korean kings as he is the one who created Hangeul, the current Korean writing system).  We find a booth filled with traditional Korean outfits that we can try on and pose for photos with and Catfish and I are soon dancing around as usual in our red and yellow garb. 

Karsh Exhibition

After playing in the water fountains in front of the centre, we finally head into the Arts Centre for the exhibition.  Karsh is a famous (Turkish?) photographer who photographer hundreds of celebrities in his career.  The photos are amazing and we only wish that we could understand the short descriptions that accompany each photo.  After a long day, Catfish and I again say goodbye to M and her friend and head back to Euljiro-sam-ga station to retrieve our bags from lockers.  Unfortunately, we get very turned around in the station and it takes us much longer than anticipated to find the lockers in which we’ve stowed our bags.  Even more frustrating is that we can’t figure out how to open these particular lockers since the instructions are entirely in Korean.  Fortunately, Catfish has only to bat her blue eyes in the direction of a young Korean guy who happily helps us and we’re soon on our way to the express bus terminal and then on to Gunsan.

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