[personal profile] niori_1709
Last article, I told you all about the wonderful Changdeokgung Palace. I wrote all about the palace proper, and I didn't have the space to tell you all about the second part of Changdeokgung, which I consider the most amazing part. The second part of the palace is The Secret Garden, and with this review, I am going to tell you all about it. The Secret Garden isn't what I'd consider an accurate name (not only because it's not actually a secret). It's not really a garden, but instead a very big park. It was a park used as a retreat for the royal family, with very select outside people also being granted permission to enter on occasion.

The first part of the garden you come to is actually my favourite. This area is considered the heart of the garden, and it's easy to tell why. There are a number of buildings in the area, and each has an interesting function. The first one is a raised, pagoda style, open room. This was the building where, on special occasions, aspiring scholars took their final exams in the presence of the king himself. This was a huge deal, and passing those exams would make or break a would-be scholar. That was their goal- to pass those exams and become an official to the king. I can't imagine the pressure that was on them, especially when said king was sitting there watching them.
Right across from the building is Byongji Pond. It's a medium sized pond, full of coy fish and with a small 'island' with a twisty, bonsai looking tree in the middle. This pond was the location of many a poetry contest, and the losers were 'exiled' to the island.

Right beside the pond (built partially over it actually) is another pagoda, though this one is different than any of the others I've described. It's designed to look like a lotus flower in bloom, which means the tips of the roof tilt upwards at interesting angles. It's a really cool, geometrically interesting building.

The last building in the area is the one that I liked the most. Up on a hill, at the top of a tall staircase, is the royal library. It's a massive building, two stories, and was, at one time, so full of knowledge that it makes me jealous. This was only used by the royal family, though councillors had access to the building beside the library for meetings with the king. This separation between the two is very apparent from the very beginning. There are three gates to get to the library. There is a more eloberate, normal sized gate in the middle, and two smaller gates on eith side. The main gate is for the king, and the two smaller ones for his councillors. It's a very big reminder that he is better than them: not only did they have to use a different door, they had to bow over to even pass through it. It was the king's way of keeping his underlings humble, and keeping them in their place.

Before entering the next part of the garden, you need to pass through a stone doorway with Chinese characters engraved across the top. This is the Eternity Gate. Legend has it that, if you pass through this gate and are a good person, you'll be granted eternal life. I can't offer any concrete proof of that yet, but I'll get back to you in the future if my life is apparently stretching on into eternity.

Through the Eternity Gate, you pass by the set of simple, plain buildings where the crown prince was put through very, very intensive study. So intensive that it's a wonder the poor boy didn't burn out early on. Past these simple buildings, the gardens get beautiful again with Aeryeon Pond. The name means 'Loving the Lotus Flowers' because beautiful lotus flowers grow in the dirty water (there were only a few in bloom during my visit, but the water was covered in lily pads, and looked lovely anyway). They mean purity, and King Sukjong thought that they also symbolized the virtue of true gentlemen, and that's why he named the pond like he did. Interestingly, this is also a pond said to have two pagodas, despite having only one small one built. Can you guess where the other one is? If you guessed the pagoda's reflection in the water, then you'd be right.

After the pond, there's what legitimately looks like a noble family's home complex. In fact, Yeongyeongdang is an audience hall modeled after a typical literati (a scholarly noble) house, so that was the whole point. Crown Prince Hyomyeong built this complex to hold the Jnjakrye Ceremony for his mother's 40th birthday, and to also give a title to his father. It was certainly a different kind of gift, that's for sure.

I'm sure by now you've noticed a trend- pagodas play a huge part in the design of the garden. This next area, which has four different pagodas, many of them in different shapes, proves it further. The one I liked best sat on a pond in the shape of the Korean peninsula itself. The pagoda was shaped like a fan, and it's the only one like it in Korea. It was so pretty to look at, and it was on the side of a pond, surrounded by so much vibrant green, it was completely stunning.

Like pagodas, you may have noticed that water also played a big role in the design of the garden. In the Ongnyucheon Area, the entire area was built around a brook of the same name that ran through it (there wasn't actually any water in it while I was there, since it hadn't rained in quite awhile). Because of this brook, the classiest drinking game ever was played. This was how it went: a cup of wine was floated down the water. Whoever the wine came to had to drink the cup and then compose and recite a poem on the spot. If they couldn't, they had to drink three cups of wine. If anything, that just shows the emphasis and importance the upper class put on their abilities in personal artistic, cultural and intellectual pursuits.

There's also another unique pagoda here, and it is so because it has a thatched roof. Around the pagoda is the most interesting thing. The pagoda is in the middle of a fully functioning rice paddy. The story of why this is there is an odd one, at least from my perspective. This rice paddy was attended by the king himself, in order for him to know what toil his people went through. It was also a way for him to pray for a good harvest. I feel it falls under it's the thought that counts, since that little rice paddy came no where close to what Korean rice farmers had to deal with everyday.

One final thing to see isn't in The Secret Garden itself, but on the path that leads out. To leave The Secret Garden, you have to walk beside the palace grounds. On the way down, you pass by a gnarled, twisted and bent juniper tree. It's an ancient tree, and is in the shape of a dragon taking off. It's said to be an important, magical tree (dragons symbolize the king), made even more so because you can see the other animals of the Chinese zodiac in the trunk and limbs. I didn't see all twelve, but I was able to pick out a monkey without help. It was a different thing to end with, that's for sure.

One note about The Secret Garden- it's not a place where you're free to wander at your leisure. The Secret Garden can only be done on a guided tour. English tours are only at selected times a few times a day. You need to plan your time exactly if you want to see The Secret Garden. A bit of an inconvenience perhaps, but believe me when I tell you it's worth it. Changdeokgung's Secret Garden is absolutely beautiful, and one of the things you need to see while in Seoul.

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