My exploration of the history of Korea continued today with a visit to Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Jongmyo. It was exhausting but informative and insightful. While it is no surprise to see the Koreans are even more Confucian than we are in China, it is still surprising to see how strictly they follow the rules of authority and filial piety as vividly demonstrated in the setup and construction of Jongmyo, literally meaning the ancestral shrine of the royal family. It was certainly an eye-opener because I have never seen any imperial ancestral shrine in China, although I have read so many times about it.
In the palaces, it was equally informative to know that what had happened in the individual halls, such as the birth and death of kings and queens, the coronation of kings, the meetings with foreign envoys and the hosting of civil service examinations. Although it might seem no different from what we have in China, the feeling that you're seeing something similar in a yet so unfamiliar domain of culture is awesome.
On my way back to the hostel, I came across Ms Park Yeon-ok at the entrance of Jongmyo where I tried to obtain a copy of the information leaflet about the UNESCO World Heritage site - I visited Changgyeonggung first and went to Jongmyo by a footbridge, which meant no tourist information was available except a map guide at the end of the footbridge.
Having learned Chinese in Tianjin, Ms Park spoke perfect Mandarin and, surprisingly, she seemed very interested in me, knowing that I have learnt about the history of Korea before I came to visit her country to the extent that I could tell who the good and bad kings were. We had a good chat of 15 minutes about history of Korea, about her Chinese learning in Tianjin and the development of China before we bid farewell. Actually I came across another information officer at Changgyeonggung who took an initiative to brief me on the route to visit the surviving halls of the palace. But in terms of eloquency of Mandarin, she was no match of Ms Park.
Between my visits to the palaces, I had a great lunch in traditional Korean style with Hwa-joo, who just returned from a business trip to Manchester. She looked more mature than we first met in late March 2004, when she was wearing short hair. I was pleased to know that she was engaged and will be getting married next April. She told me about something in the morning that drove her to the brink of tears. But I managed to tell her a joke and try to distract her attention from what has upset her so badly. And it was interesting to know that she is a fan of Jeon Gwang-yeol! How funny!
In the evening, I went to Insadong again for a delicious dinner of "soigogi sundubu", a hotpot of beef and bean curd with steamed rice in a stone pot, plus many side dishes. It was a little bit spicy, but it tasted really good.