OK, so coming home from work Friday, I noticed they’d turned on the fountain for Gwanghwamun Square.
I guess that means it’s finally spring. The yellow dust in the air simply confirmed it.
To mark the arrival of this joyous season, I took the camera for an evening walk in Gwanghwamun, the heart of Seoul’s old downtown and a nice place to shoot photos at night.
Gwanghwamun Fountain and Yi Sun-sin Statue
The restoration was accompanied by controversy because, well, it’s simply impossible in Seoul to be a site of modern historical significance without somebody calling for it to be demolished or altered beyond recognition. In this case, the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism (!) and others called for the statue to be replaced, citing historical inaccuracies (like the armor looked Chinese and the sword Japanese). Defenders like the Korea Cultural Heritage Policy Research Institute, on the other hand, said the statue reflected the artistic style and standards of the 1960s and that claims regarding the armor and sword are unproven.
In the end, the preservationists won, and the original statue was put back on its base after repairs and a good cleaning.
The small pavilion and stone marker in front of the Kyobo Building, the Bigak, was built in 1902 to commemorate King Gojong’s 40th year on the throne. I just love how it contrasts with the traffic and tall buildings around it.
Now allow me a “Korean architecture history Rain Man” moment to point out that the Bigak was designed by Sim Ui-seok, a Daehan Empire-era woodcutter and architect who designed a number of late-era traditional buildings like the Wongudan Shrine behind the Westin Chosun Hotel and Palgakjeong Pavilion of Tapgol Park. He also learned Western-style architecture, largely through his interaction with American Methodist missionaries, and was involved in the construction of several landmarks in Jeong-dong, most notably Chung-dong First Methodist Church.
Ah, Haechi Madang, an underground gallery of all things haechi. No major metropolis would be complete without one.
As you look in this direction, you can see that Gwanghwamun Intersection is pretty much the heart of the Korean newspaper industry, with the offices of the Dong-A Ilbo and Seoul Sinmun on the left and Ye Olde Chosun to the right. I still remember coming out of Gwanghwamun Station on my first day of work at the Chosun Ilbo in 2004 — I’d just moved to Seoul from Gwangju — and being very impressed with it all.
King Sejong the Great Statue
Honestly, I really dislike this statue, which was completed in late 2009. Part of the rationale for putting a statue of King Sejong the Great in Gwanghwamun Square was that the name of boulevard where the square is located is Sejong-no (“Sejong Road”), yet the only statue was the one of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Fair enough. But IMHO, the resulting 20 ton statue of clay and bronze is kitsch, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t a) so damn big, and b) sitting right in the historical heart of the old capital. It’s a shame, too, because the space where it stands has as its backdrop Gwanghwamun Gate, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Mt. Bugaksan and the peaks of Bukhansan National Park. That’s a public space that really could have been utilized better. Of course, the same criticism could be leveled against Gwanghwamun Square itself, which some feel is little more than a sheet of concrete.
To be fair, though, it’s a lot better than what was there before, and will probably improve after the Museum of Korean Contemporary History is completed and the Gwanghwamun area becomes more of an integrated cultural space. I prefer to think of the square as a work in progress.
Yep, it’s Gwanghwamun Gate, the main entrance of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
We also get to see a real haechi, the mythical fire-eating beasts that protected the palaces from calamity and evil. Seoul likes them so much, they’ve made the haechi the official symbol of the city.
At Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, they were having a haechi exhibit last weekend (photo taken with my iPhone):
Oh, the humanity…
Ah, the waterway that helped make Lee Myung-bak president…
There’s a lot of negative things that could be said about the Cheonggyecheon: that it’s an artificial stream, that its “restoration” was rushed and destroyed much of historical and archaeological value, that the redevelopment led to many people losing their livelihoods, etc.
At the same time, it’s a major improvement over the elevated highway that was there before, and the stream has received a good deal of praise worldwide as an exemplary piece of urban planning. Not unimportantly, Seoul’s mayor at the time, Lee Myung-bak, also won serious political points for getting the project done when many considered it impossible.
At night, the stream is a wonderful place to walk about, especially in summer, when it provides a much-needed cooling effect and a very welcomed leisure space in the downtown area.
A note about the big snail shell otherwise known as “Spring.” The piece, created by American pop artists Coosje Van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg, apparently cost US$4 million to build, paid for in full by KT. It attracted a good deal of public criticism when it was first erected, too, although as Matt Van Volkenburg of the blog Gusts of Popular Feeling notes, it does look better at night.