The Republic of South Korea

Tour 1: Seoul

I actually visited Korea a lot of times since I could fly over for free courtesy the United States military, but most of my pictures stem from my first trip in the summer of 1991. Sadly, I had the misfortune to travel during a typhoon, so many pictures look washed out.

I enjoyed Korea immensely though it became too expensive immediately prior to my departure. Personally, I never ventured much out of the Seoul area, but I certainly would suggest travellers to do so since the culture varies somewhat between areas.

The Republic of
South Korea

Korea, like Japan, mostly sits amidst mountains. These mountains make for a certain natural division into different Koreas. Korea, though, borders China, a much stronger and bigger power and sits an easy boat ride from Japan. As a result, typically culture filtered down from China and then, onward to Japan. Japan, as the least cultured country of the three, only altered this chain of cultural contact through military invasion.

In a way, geography more favors Korea than Japan as it could easily learn from China, and yet, its terrain offered certain natural defenses from its mentor. Its plains, also, while close enough together for small states to share a culture, don't stand so far apart as to encourage the divisive feudalism that so often hindered Japan. If Japan alternated between either feudal anarchy or over-centralized rule, Korea alternated between one country and several smaller ones, more on the line of Vietnam.

During early Korean history, China, whose people, incidentally speak an unrelated language, ruled part of the country. After their ouster, Korea divided into the four Kingodoms of Kaya, Shilla, Paechke, and Kogoryo. During this period, the Korean native shamanism, remained the religion of the people, but Buddhism entered the area.

The power of the four kingdoms, roughly situated in four quadrants of Korea, shifted towards the best-ruled and strongest. In the north, however, Koguryo, typically the strongest, also needed to fend off periodic incursions of Chinese emperors as well, and the Japanese occasionally attempted to help the states of the south. Eventually the Chinese aided in the triumph of Shilla. This dynasty, though, fell apart back into (again) three of the original kingdoms all superceded by Koryo.

Under Koryo (918-1392), Korea became a united country. This unity endured a temporary Mongol occupation which forced a combined invasion of Japan documented in Japan Tour 2: Yokohama and Kamakura. With Koryo, Buddhism enjoyed its greatest flowering.

The final, Choson Dynasty survived an enormous amount of time (1392-1910). The Choson (or "Yi") embraced the Chinese philosophy of Neo-Confucianism and de-emphasized Buddhism. Neo-Confucianism, an interesting experiment, attempted to use the books of Confucius as a literal guide to government. In China, as well as Korea, this resulted in a freezing of society in the beliefs of 1500th Century B.C. China or at least the scholar's best interpretation of them. With Chinese support, the Yi survived the first Japanese invasion under Hideyoshi Toyotomi shown in Japan Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama. Because the Chinese shunned contact with the world, and Korea sits in China's shadow, Westernerns called Korea the "hermit" kingdom.

The return of the Japanese rushed Korea into the 20th Century. The Japanse gained permission to enter Japan after defeating first China and then Russia. The Japanese conquest differed from even Chinese invasion since the Japanese sought to simply make the Koreans into Japanese, the same policy they used sucessfully on the Okinawans as shown in Japan Tour 6: Okinawa.

They pursued this policy in several ways. They forced a Korean Yi to marry a surplus Japanese princess, made the Koreans learn Japanese in the schools, and had the Koreans adopt Japanese surnames. While the Japanese certainly made enemies of the Koreans, they did introduce universal schooling and modern factories to the country. It makes for a certain irony that the Koreans, who so resent the Japanese, until recently consciously attempted to follow their example in order to become a "little dragon" of Asia.

More recent Korean history probably needs no introduction. The above paragraphs should show, though, that "Korea" is not simply the first word of the phrase "Korean War," and that a divided Korea should come as that much of a surprise.

Let me finish, though, by saying that Koreans call their country: "the Land of the Morning Calm." Those who have visited usually wag, "that's because that's the only time the place is calm." Koreans have a reputation for showing more emotion than other, Chinese influenced, Buddhist cultures. Personally, I find this somewhat refreshing after visiting other places in Asia where restraint sometimes becomes positively annoying.

The South Korean National Anthem

Aegug-ga (Patriotic Hymn)

Latin Transliteration:

Tonghai Moolkwa Paiktusani
Marugo Taltorok
Hananimi Pohohasa Uri nara Mansei

Moogungwha Sanchulri Hwaryu Kangsan
Taehan Saram Taehan euro Kiri Pochun Hasae

Namsan Uye Chusonamu
Chulkapeul Turultut
Paramisul Pulbyunhamum Uri kisang Ilsae


Tong Hai Sea and Pakdoo Mountain,
so long as they endure,
May God bless Korea
our land for endless ages to come!

North to south bedecked with flowers,
land of beauty rare,
May God keep our country united
and preserve our land.

Eternally Naamsaan's pine trees
stand like an armour sure,
Through whatever tempest or danger,
as our symbol of strength.

South Korea

Seoul and environs

A cat guard's the statue of Kyobukkung Palace.

Hyeongweon-jeon Pavillion resembles the Japanese Golden Temple on Japan Tour 1: Nara and Kyoto though more often the Koreans influenced the Japanese

The same scene looks better in the Korean snow.

The fall view shows Korea's generally mountainous terrain.

The Palace Complex should look familiar to anyone who
ever saw pictures of China's Forbidden City.

This shows another view.

It really does snow this much-unlike Japan.

The ten-story pagoda of Kyongchosa
stands out even in this monsoon.

A better view of the same.

This dates from the Koryo Era (for which Korea gets its name) during the 14th-16th Century when Buddhist monks held as much or more power than they did in contemporary Japan.

Another lantern.

Originally eight city gates surrounded
Seoul. Most fell to redevelopment.

Another city gate survivers. Others fell during Hideyoshi Toyotomi's invasion documented in Japan Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama which destroy many cultural relics.

This audience hall served the Yi's the last, and neo-Confucian dynasty. During this Yi reign court life became so structured that everyone in the audience chamber stood in a particular marked place, according to his/her Confucian rank.

This celebrates a famous teacher, but college students specifically denied it depicted Confucius.

The Gyeonghoe-ru in Gyeonbog Palace, Seoul.

The Aeyongyong adorns the Secret Garden.

Junghwa-mun Gate guards Deogsu Palace.

This audience hall serves during warmer weather.

The King's Audience Chamber front's the Musuem, also referred to below as Japanese government headquarters.

The audience chamber yet again.

They almost closed the Palace as the typhoon neared.

The so called "Hidden Palace" (Deogsu Palace) housed the emperors after the first invasion documented in Japan Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama.

This traditional house and many modern Korean homes use "ondal" heating with charcoals burning under the floor. While fires occasionally occur, typically Korean hardwoods can resist.

These girls wear traditional Korean dress.

The Japanese killed Queen Min here who
opposed their takeover of the country.

The Koreans call this "Independence Gate" because
Korean students rioted here against the Japanese.

This served as Japanese occupation headquarters,
but it now houses the Korean National Museum.

Downtown Seoul looks pretty Western.

Okay, I probably had insufficient lighting for this shot.

A aerial view of Seoul shows monolithic apartment blocks.

More of the same.

The third tallest tower in the world, the Seoul Tower
starts with an advantage in standing on a mountain.

A drive in the country shows more mountains.

A typical small city outside of Seoul.

These boats carry cargo up the Han River to Seoul.

This shows the Han River from a cruise I took.

These ladies had a complimentary glass of wine and
started singing and dancing to Korean folk songs.

When I asked the meaning of the song, I got drawn into the dance. I'll give 20 won to anyone who can accurately decipher the expression of the pretty, young Korean girl standing in back staring at me. As for me, I have to sing to the end of this tour.

Addendum 2011

I visited Seoul in 2011 while on the way out to Taiwan. This time there was not a violent storm, so I snapped some better pictures of the sites you see in 2011.

The Kyonnbukking yet again

Me with some funk guards.

This is downtown Seoul from the palace.

Here's another view of main entrance.

Standing outside the pavillion of wisdom.

The changing of the guard.

Here's the corner gate.

This is one of those passageways between pavillions.

This is just about my favorite spot on earth, and in this case,
itís actually my own picture, not a canned shot.

Here's another view.

Here's me at the pavillion.

Here's the summer pavillion.

Another view

A different other view

Here's the cultural pavillion.

Another view

This is a replica of the funky guys that live on Cheju Island

This is the sole surviving pavillion and entranceway.

Related South Korean Tours:
Back to Tour 3: Taegu
On to Tour 2: Busan

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