Monday, October 5, 2009

Rewind, part 1: Gyeongbokgung Palace

In a city such as Seoul where each day brings new adventures, it's hard to look back and write about the past. I do need to summarize the busyness that was yesterday, however, so for the record, here are the highlights.

My Korean hosts and I met at Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was built in 1395, three years into the Joseon Dynasty (90% of the buildings were torn down during the Japanese occupation, however restoration of the palace has been ongoing since 1990). We made it on time to witness the changing of the guard, an impressive reenactment of a ceremony first established in 1479 under King Yejong's rule. The guards' uniforms, weapons, and accessories are all based on extensive historical research. Here are some snapshots:

Mr. Wonderful and Me

Afterward, we began our extensive tour of the palace grounds which cover a vast amount of space.



There was a lot to see, including another reenactment -this time of the royal family strolling:


Because of Chuseok, several kids were dressed up in traditional attire; these before-and-after shots are my favorites:

I, too, got to dress up, though didn't pull it off nearly as elegantly as the locals:


On the palace grounds is a Korean Folk Museum, chronicling several thousand years of history. As expected, I kind of glossed over the first couple millenniums, tuning in for the last 60 years. My Korean friend explained that the scene below depicts the Korean man's Bamboo Wife. He's supposed to cuddle up to this bamboo apparatus in the hot summer months, while his wife sleeps on the floor; she also mentioned that the son was forbidden to touch the bamboo wife. I don't think she was pulling my leg, but for peace of mind, I may need to investigate this custom's history and see if it's still being followed.

This next room, seen in the two shots below, displays a typical living area from the 1960s. In fact, my friend said her house looked nearly identical. And yes, she had a favorite Beatle. Ringo.


During our tour, we got to watch a lively music and dance number traditionally performed by famers after a successful harvest; wish I'd have shot a video instead of taking pictures:


Like I said, this place was enormous, and there are parts we didn't even visit. Before we left, however, we did stop by a fun, interactive exhibit that recreates a village from the 1950s. It had a mini-restaurant, comic store, barber shop, saloon, and even James Dean:



  1. The bamboo "wife", was also called a 'Dutch wife'
    really existed. In the summer heat, the open bamboo structure is cooler to the touch than fabric pillows or sheets. The Dutch wife is embraced by the user, as one would a sleeping companion—this position exposes the maximum amount of the body to cooling breezes. This and other devices, such as pillows of a similar shape, may also alleviate lower back pain when placed between the legs during sleep periods.

    Bamboo wife and their variants in other countries have their origin and use in East Asia and Southeast Asia, tropical countries with hot, humid seasons.

    They are now less popular to the point of extinction, possibly due to the prevalence of air conditioning. As replacement for Dutch wife made from bamboo, Dutch wife can also be made of cotton or other synthetic fiber. Dutch wife made of cotton or other synthetic fiber is still widely used in Indonesia until nowadays.


  2. thanks for the terrific research! i appreciate your checking into it...