The big tourist attraction in Suwon is the Hawseong Fortress (화성). Which is redundant, by the way, since "seong" means fortress in Korean. But I digress, especially considering that the above image is not, in fact, an image of the fortress. Rather, it is a fairly nice-looking wall painting I found nearby. And below this paragraph, you may find a random rock cairn I found somewhere around the outer rim of the fortress, off the beaten trail.
When I first saw this rock cairn, I found myself wondering lots of questions. Who put it there? Why? And having asked around about it, I don't know. I'm not sure anyone knows. There's no marker, and it's not exactly a tourist monument. Weirdly enough, I find that immensely interesting. To me, a big part of traveling is more about discovering mysteries than discovering solutions. Solutions are too easy, never quite that satisfying.
Take, for example, these dioramas. The Hwaseong Museum (화성박물관) is full of these things. I know exactly why they exist- to provide illustration of how people today think elaborate court scenes must have existed in the past. Which incidentally, we can only ever really know from illustrated documents produced back then which themselves might have been more educated guesses than actual documentarian form. The staging, consequentially, is overly logical.
Not that that's a bad thing obviously. I love a good diorama as much as anyone and the staging for these is really quite good. Observe how the mannequins in the left picture are in front of old-style artwork depicting processions, and how it's all so very colorful. The diorama is also (I presume) about as accurate a picture as we can get of a 낙성연 performance. It was just something people used to do to commemorate the completion of new buildings. I think those are just supposed to be tiger costumes rather than actual tigers.
Fans of "Dae Jang Geum" will probably recognize this as actual clothing from the drama. Well, maybe. Honestly, it seems to me like they could just claim any old clothes were worn by Lee Young-ae and how would we know the difference...uh, anyway, one of the big attractions at Hwaseong Palace (화성 행궁) is quite literally just that product placement. Apparently a lot of "Dae Jang Geum" was filmed there, and all these years later that's still a draw.
Initially that might seem a bit sad, that an old drama is such a big draw to a historical site, although really, what's wrong with that anyway? The signs at Hwaseong Palace are some of the best in Suwon, with translations in Japanese, Chinese, and English. And besides, they don't really milk it all that much aside from the costume display. The focus is on dioramas writ large, after all. Why, you could even call them life size.
And I do mean large, after all. I always prefer views like the one on the left, from atop a high resting pagoda. These to me are more representative of how people in olden times used to view palaces- at a distance, because when you're actually inside the palace, the main emphasis is on work. It's only in restful moments like this one enjoyed by the reenactors that anyone was ever able to admire the beauty in these designs.
The reenactors, by the way, were good enough sports to pose for a picture even though it was their rest break. Maybe it was the novelty of my speaking Korean...fun fact. Notice how they don't have any bags? They don't need them. Traditional Korean sleeves are huge- the crown prince pulled his smart phone out of it right in front of me to take down contact info. Fun Korean vocabulary for the day- 소매치기, which is commonly used to mean "pickpocketing" literally means "grabbing at the sleeves" cause that's where Koreans use to keep the good stuff back before pants were invented. Harumph. I'd rather use sleeves than pockets myself.
Article by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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