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)


Puffin Watch said...

Susan! What's been doing these days?

Karl... mindme

seoulsuzy said...

Hi, things have been okay.
How's life for you?

Anonymous said...

You have a beautiful city, way ahead of us in so many ways.

I'm lucky to have a good window here. sigh. May have to post.