Monday, January 25, 2010

Gwanghwamun Plaza - A Fun Place (Part 3)

The area of Gwanghwamun is surrounded by landmarks, both ancient and modern. To the north is Gyeongbok Palace of which Gwanghwamun is the main gate; to the east are other palaces, the American Embassy, my favorite bookstore Kyobo, the Gwanghwamun post office; to the south is City Hall, the stream Cheongyecheon flowing horizontally and Deoksu Palace; to the west is the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, the oldest arts complex in central Seoul, named after the Great King Sejong.
The art center is quite beautiful at night.
As part of the renovation last year, shallow waterways leading to the dancing fountain were placed along the length of the plaza, with a chronicle of the history of Seoul. There are "bridges" of sturdy plexiglass placed strategically for smooth navigation so you don't have to worry about getting your feet wet.

This part of the plaza currently hosts the ice rink, but in the warmer seasons was home for greenery and sculptures. The large screen in the far background is Gwanghwamun itself, covered under a mosaic print wrap while under renovation.

The bronze reliefs on the pillars tell the story of King Sejong and his many great deeds.
There only used to be the Admiral Yi Sun Shin in the plaza. Planners for the city obviously thought he was lonely; they placed a new statue of King Sejong behind the Admiral just last year. The Admiral stands towering and tall, protecting the benevolent King sitting behind him.
They were building a temporary stage for an event when I took this pic.

Underneath the statue lies an exhibition hall called 'The Story of King Sejong'. The area is basically the whole underground of the plaza and links to the Sejong Art Center. There is no entry fee, by the way.
The entry at the bottom of the stairs. There is an elevator for the elderly and physically challenged as well. The ceiling is rather low, so mirrors add the illusion of space.

Video presentation with marble seats for the weary-enough-to-just-sit-for-a-single-playback-of-the-video. Those things are (deliberately, in my opinion) rock hard.
Where there is a mirror, I will take a selca. (Konglish abbreviation for 'self camera', i.e. photo self portrait.) This time with friend Rosa. We both look goofily demented. In a good way.

There was a camera and screen set up near the entry as well, but I couldn't quite understand the purpose of it, besides having people like me taking additional goofy smile pics.
There was a mini recital going on. The lady is playing a geomungo, the gentleman is playing the janggu as accompaniment. Short clip:

The space is far larger than what you'd expect from the tiny entrance. There are a lot of interactive digital media spots, where you can learn all about the space and King Sejong. I forgot to take a photo of a cozy computer corner set up like a mini terraced theatre.

More goofing around. The lettering in front is Hangul, the Korean alphabet. The most important achievement of King Sejong is the creation of Hangul in the 15th century. Before Hangul, Koreans were using Chinese characters to read and write, although our spoken language was completely different. (Like western nations using the same Roman alphabet for different languages.)

Literacy was only for the educated, the scholars; nobility. Chinese characters are difficult to learn; there are so many and much time has to be spent learning them. Commoners, of whom most were farmers, didn't have the luxury to learn.

King Sejong thought this was ridiculous. Okay, ridiculous may not be the accurate term. In all certainty, however, he didn't think it right that most of the nation was illiterate. So he decided to gather a bunch of the nation's most talented scholars and set them up with the task of creating an alphabet that was easy to learn.
(On a tangent: Boy, I wouldn't want to have been a scholar then. Can you imagine? I get stressed enough when preparing a marketing presentation, but a whole alphabet? One day the head honcho shows up and says casually, "Okay, create an alphabet for this country and its people. Has to be perfect, understood?" Are you frickin' kidding me? I would've said,"Kill me now" and gotten banished or something. I'd never have made a good scholar in the King's court. Gah. Just thinking about it makes me marvel at those scholars. Yeah, I know the King is great, but I say those scholars were really the incredible ones.)

There was a diorama set showing the events leading up to the creation of Hangul.

Yongbi Eochonga (Songs of Flying Dragons), the first ever book to be written in Korean.

I have been asked by several foreigners why Koreans make such a fuss over the creation of Hangul, why we seem to be overly proud of it, citing that no other nation or people talk about the origin of their alphabet in such a manner.

My answer is usually the same. Not only does the pride come from a deep sense of accomplishment of creating something uniquely our own, but it also stems from the sense of pride in our determination of protecting it and preserving it during the long years of Japanese colonial rule, when not only Hangul and but also the use of Korean names and speech were banned. How many countries in this world that have been colonized managed to keep their language and still use it today? Not that many. (To be frank, I find the overuse of English words in our everyday life quite contradictory to this attitude and also baffling. I need explanation for this myself.)

Hangul is very very easy to learn. It's a completely phonetic alphabet with very rare exceptions, so once you learn it, you'd know how to read and write quite quickly even if you don't know what the words mean. Most of my foreign friends usually manage to read and write in two hours. It's the speech part that's the killer.

Back to main topic. If you're in the Gwanghwamun area, pay King Sejong a visit, if only to take a selca of yourself smiling goofily at the ceiling mirror.

Info on The Story of King Sejong
Click on the King icon at bottom of page, new page will pop up
(Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish)

Gwanghwamun Plaza - A Fun Place (Part 2)

There are moments when the fountain waters in front of the Honorable Admiral cease to sing but the sounds of the city endlessly fill in the void; Seoul is never silent.

Behind the Admiral lies a sloping walkway (here under holiday lights) that enters the underground to Haechi Madang, a tidy exhibition hall where you can meet the mythical symbol of Seoul, the Haechi.

So what's a haechi, anyway? Ask a Korean and I can't really say that most will accurately know. It's just so innate in our culture that you never quite question the essence of its existence - it's like asking what a dragon is.

The haechi is a creature of justice, a guardian that protects against disaster and evil. It has a single horn like a unicorn, breathes fire and lives in the water. Haechi sculptures were traditionally placed in all the palaces; large ones in gardens and in front of gates, small ones on the eaves of tiled rooftops. Smaller figurines and paintings were kept in homes as guardians. (There are a couple at my parents' place, as in the picture of a previous post.) The haechi was also embroidered on the garments of judiciaries.

What's interesting is that I'm much more familiar with calling it haetae. I honestly hadn't heard the expression haechi until last year, when the symbol was officially launched as the city's symbol. Apparently it's the proper traditional 'old' word to explain the creature and as Seoul is trying to emphasize the bond between tradition and modernity as they undergo renovations in the city, the word was chosen over the more commonly used haetae.

There were haechi topiaries in the plaza during the summer. The American Embassy building is in the background, which explains the Star Spangled Banner.

Haechi Madang. Madang literally means yard, but has a much more intimate connotation to it than the English word. The exhibition hall tries to convey that feeling in its space.

Photos were taken last year, when the Seoul Design Olympiad was taking place.
Other design variations of the haechi that were displayed elsewhere.

There is a map of Seoul describing where you can see old sculptures of traditional haechi.
There is a souvenir shop for the cute Haechi character as well. (We Koreans need a cute character for everything - I'll write about the character for the police in a future post. Yes, the police. Because the police can be cute. Really.)

I didn't care much for the merchandise but the mascot was frickin' adorable! I just HADDA take a pic, much to the amusement of my best friend (who has known me since middle school and is used to me by now but still can't get over how geeky gaga I get over these things). Obligatory 'V' sign is a must!

I took a pic of the mascot from the back, because its derriere was cute *cough cough*. See?

Official Seoul Haechi Site (Korean only, music autoplays so be prepared)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gwanghwamun Plaza - A Fun Place (Part 1)

Gwanghwamun in 2007

The locals simply call it Gwanghwamun. The word itself is the name of the main gate to Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), the largest palace built in the Chosun Dynasty. The gate faces one of the largest main streets in central Seoul with the prominent statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin staring solemnly upon the millions of cars that rush by.

The statue and a handful of trees were the only barrier between the 12 or 14 lane street until the city decided to greenify and beautify Seoul's downtown. Major renovations were carried out. Last year a long vertical plaza showed up smack in the middle of that big street and workaholic Seoulites in the area suddenly had a place to hang out during lunch break.

Streams of water dance in front of the honorable Admiral. In the summer, kids run merrily through the water shoots to stave off the heat while parents try fruitlessly to discourage them.

This winter the city opened a skating rink (which had been set up at the City Hall Plaza in prevoius years); one for skating and the other for traditional ice sledding. Korean ice sleds are made from flat wood boards with the rider using two icepicks to maneuver the sled around. As the rink here was catering for children, there were very few kids moving themselves about. Their poor parents were doing a lot of pulling.
It was good to see that safety measures were being strictly followed, both kids and parents were wearing helmets.

Rink cleaning time! Before the zamboni appeared.

The kids were having a blast. I wanted to take a longer video clip but didn't want the parents to freak out at having a stranger film their kids so just took a short one.

Information about the Ice Rink (Korean, English, Japanese)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Beer (Ad) Wars

I'm not that much of a beer drinker. My alcohol of choice is either soju or wine, and the only times I find myself craving the hops drink is during hot and humid summer nights or when I'm eating German wurst dishes.
(It's probably the fizz and not the taste that doesn't make me a fan. I'm not that fond of champagne for that same reason. I prefer my drinks without bubbles that tickle my nose.)

Since I don't drink it much I can't say a have a strict preference for one brand over another; I like to stick to standards like Guiness, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Corona depending on the mood I'm in.
As for Korean brands, there's only two worth mentioning. Like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the two leading brands for Korean beer are Hite and Cass. And again like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, these two go full-on attack mode for their marketing campaigns, reeling in customers with big name stars to hawk their product.
Hite has been featuring boyband Big Bang (minus underage member Seungri) since last year.

Hite's rival Cass had engaged actor Lee Minho of Boys over Flowers fame with Sandara Park of girlgroup 2NE1 for their previous campaign. They have now launched a new one featuring a love triangle with singer/actress Yoon Eunhye and two members of boyband 2PM, Nickhun and Taecyeon.

(What in tarnation is Nickhun wearing? O_O)

Although I drink more Hite than I do Cass - it has a 'clearer' taste in my opinion - I think Cass has won the ad wars this time around. I keep wondering what the next TV spot will be like.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's c-c-c-cold

Earth is throwing a tantrum. What with the devastating earthquake in Haiti, killer heat in the southern hemisphere and the ice age invoking cold that has hit the north, it seems like Earth's energy is bursting in directions which we meager humans can't understand.
We really messed up this planet, haven't we? It's all our fault. 'Global warming' doesn't sound urgent enough; we should start calling it 'unnecessary Earth-killing heat created by idiotic humans' or something. Who are the politicians and law makers and world leaders that can't see the importance of this issue? What planet are they living on? Are they living in some climate controlled bubble? Why isn't this issue like top priority in every advanced country?

Above rant was caused by the extreme cold we've been having and my grumpiness about it. I'm not good with cold. Thermal underwear, two layers of sweaters, hat, scarf, mittens and hooded long parka are my basics but these days I have had to put on an additional sweater and cardigan to not freeze and prevent hypothermia.

Despite my whining and bitching about the cold and the ugly snow in the city, I do admire how beautiful the snow is in nature. There are very few people rambling about in this weather so the calm and serenity is quite soothing, letting you forget the hustle and bustle of the huge metropolis looming in the background. I enjoy those moments of solitude.
Winter used to be my favorite season as a kid, and if my adult body hadn't been so circulation-challenged, it probably would still be.

The snow makes an excellent backdrop for my Napzzak Project as well. I was getting a bit bored with it, to be honest, but the photo opportunity made me draw again.

Also took pictures of Blythe (first time in months!) with her tiny footprints and a very bewildered looking lion that I got at Design Festa.

On another note, I had started this blog as an outlet for my art and designs. However, notice how it has turned into an 'omg all she does is eat and drink' blog? Well, I need to get back on track. If I manage to find it underneath all this snow, that is.