Monday, January 25, 2010

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)

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