So yesterday I went a-palacing with my friends Arliss and Erin and their friend YoungMi. I have been rather hell-bent on seeing Changdeokgung Palace because there is a Secret Garden on the palace grounds. I don’t know about you, but anything that has the word “Secret” in it is somewhere I want to go. My whole life I have searched my parents’ house for secret passageways, secret jewels, secret underground kingdoms and have always come up dry. For this reason, I have placed a good deal of expectation in Changdeokgung to deliver the goods.
Going to Changdeokgung takes some doing as you can only visit by guided tour and the English tours run only three times a day. We had each already been to this palace on other days, only to be realize we’d just missed the last English tour. There have been several near misses, several aborted attempts to see the Secret Garden and with the rain at 9am it looked likely to be another Day In Which I Did Not See Something Secret. But by late morning, the rain had stopped and meeting spots were being discussed.
I learned something yesterday. When you have seen one palace in Korea, you have pretty much seen them all. Now I realize this is generalizing and there is a lot more history buried in the soil of one Korean palace than in my entire New England hometown. Do not misunderstand me. I was very much in squealing, fast-clapping-hands awe of Gyeongbukgung the first time I saw it. It was the first defining “I am in Asia” moment I experienced here. I have spent entire days wandering around Gyeongbuk and Deoksugung, getting lost in their labyrinth pathways. They are immense and breathtaking and the types of places that are impossible to fully capture in photographs.
But I have also visited them a lot. Five and two times respectively, to be exact. So it is not surprising that I felt an overwhelming urge to say Palace Schmalace. And say it a lot. I mean, sure, it could have been that I wore high heeled boots because I am tired of looking like a tourist everytime I go out exploring. Let’s face it. I am never going to not look like a tourist. I have it on good authority that no one will ever think I am from Korea. But it is a fierce battle of high-heeled fashion out there on the mean streets of Seoul and it is a battle I have spent my whole life losing. Some days you just want to be a winner.
So, yeah, ok. My feet were killing me. OK, so my bag was as impractical as my footwear and for the very same reasons. And perhaps I was dehydrated and could not be bothered to hydrate because I did not want to hold the bottle. My shoulder hurt because my bag was heavy because living in Seoul means being a pack-mule if one wants to photograph AND have something to read on the train AND write in her diary if she happens upon a romantical coffeeshop AND carry her trash because there are no public trash cans anywhere. And yes I may have been a little overtired because Korea and the agony of time zones has turned me into a vampire.
But the Secret Garden was secretly boring.
Alright, the garden was really pretty. But it was hard to appreciate when what I really needed was not secret at all: I needed a nap. I did have a brief magical moment in which I lollygagged behind the group messing with camera exposures and discovered an open window in one of the buildings that I had to stick my head into.
Inside was nothing palatial or ancient, but what seemed to be a turn-of-the-century kitchen that reminded me of the one at The Crane Estate in Massachusetts. I stuck my head in there and snapped my two best shots of the day. So that was sort of Secret.
My experience at Changdeokgung should in no way reflect upon my company, as they were the highlight of the Secret Garden and even better, they resorted immediately to cold beers to rehydrate as soon as we returned to civilization. We finished the day with The Best Tofu Restaurant In The History Of Time and a touch of soju and I was happily in my well-lit apartment by 10:30.