Our last day of sightseeing before I had to head to the World Conference of Science Journalists was dedicated to the fortress at Suwon called Hwaseong. We knew it was going to be a tough day when we first tried to climb the subway stairs. After hiking, walking, more walking and then, you know, walking, our legs were pretty beat. We pressed on.
Suwon was originally it’s own city, but is now on the Seoul subway line (a good hour-long ride, but definitely the cheapest way to get there). Powered only by dried fruit at this point, we stopped for an early lunch, in the sprawling grocery/food court inside the Suwon subway station. If Whole Foods had a subway equivalent, this would be it. When we stopped by the dedicated tea stall on the way back out, I bought so much I qualified for a free gift.
We stopped for…pizza. Sorry guys. But when you are as exhausted as we were, you need fuel that tastes like home. Usually what I do in foreign countries is get to town, find a grocery, buy a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter (or local equivalent) and a knife, and make up peanut butter sandwiches to keep us well energized, and save money to eat a truly neat decadent meal or two. This time? Well sliced bread is rare in Korea and I never saw peanut butter at all. We needed pizza, ok?
Afterward we felt much better, and hiked a good mile or so into Suwon proper. The first sign of the fortress is a giant gate, sitting in the middle of a traffic circle. It was built around 1796, and is why the city is know as the “city of filial piety.” The king at the time built the fortress and palace inside as an honor to his deceased father, Prince Sado.
(Traditional Korean formal wear on the streets of Suwon)
Apparently the prince suffered from severe mental illness, part of which was extreme violence (which is, it should be noted, very, very rare). The king at the time didn’t know what to do, but the prince obviously could not rule (and for some reason they couldn’t house him elsewhere). Because he was royal, he could not be just violently killed. So the king at the time issued an order for the prince to climb into a rice chest, where he was sealed. And…well that was that. Sado’s son became next in line for the throne, and built the fortress and palace to honor his dead father (and where, creepily, there are big empty rice chests you can climb into and get your pictures taken in, with no explanation as to WHY they are there. In fact, there is no explanation at all of Price Sado and what happened to him, or why the fortress was dedicated to him. Just that his son was really pious).
The palace is in the center of the fortress, while the walls extend around about 7 kilometers. But first, our attention was attracted off to the side, to a small Buddhist temple. It was pretty, and since it wasn’t a tourist trap, it was also peaceful. You could go inside and really get close to things. Off to the side there was a whole collection of donated tiny Buddhas on a ledge. Some of them doing…rather salacious things, and obviously made FOR that purpose.
(The bells for calling people to prayer)
(The lanterns on the ceilings have little prayers attached)
(Tiny Buddha statues. Look to the far left of the picture. They are doing what you think they are doing.)
Then we turned out steps to the fortress walls. It turns out these are, of course, on a mountain. We huffed our way to the top and from there the several-hour walk around was very easy, though hot since it’s in full sun. We stopped for Mr. S to ring a huge bell with three rings for parents, family and personal thoughts for happiness (you pay a little for the privilege, but it’s pretty amazing to hear the sound ringing out over the city). On the other side of the wall we received a brief tour of the area (by map), from a man who had been to America on tour himself. He thanked us for visiting, and mentioned how much he liked the US, though I’m sure our treatment of visitors is not nearly so nice as the way we were treated in Korea.
(Ringing the bell)
(The top of the fortress walls)
Around the far side of the fortress you can try your hand at traditional archery, taught by masters. Mr. S and I both did decently well, hitting the near targets at about 20 yards more than half the time. But then you realize you’re pretty terrible after all, the masters who trained us took the field, and hit bullseyes at easily 100 yards.
(I hit that one. I’m ashamed to say I was hugely proud of myself.)
(How far we were from home. A long way, indeed.)
We finished our way around the fortress and toured the palace, a very open structure with some very nicely set up room dioramas with models to show what life was like in the 1790s. There were also several rooms devoted to costuming from various period dramas that were apparently filmed there.
Sadly I had to leave Mr. S to himself, as I headed to the World Conference of Science Journalists. Despite the noteworthy occurrence involving a certain Nobel prize winner, there were many other interesting conversations taking place, especially questions on the future of journalism, and how much science journalism should focus on simply reporting the latest findings and giving them context…and digging up the stories of misconduct, failure and replication that exist in the scientific enterprise?
I was particularly interested in those centered on the future of journalism. In a world where everyone thinks information on the internet should be free, how do journalists survive? Who pays for them to eat and live and write? Dan Fagin had some interesting reflections on this, and since then I’ve been thinking very hard. Who will pay for journalism? Should the public pay and if so, how? Should private groups pay? In a world full of bloggers and tweeters providing live coverage of important events, does the public even know what extra things jouranlists provide? If they do not know this…how do we tell them? In the words of Dan Fagin, we need to defend our profession. How, exactly, do we go about doing it?
A note on Korean food: Every country has its food fads. The US has seen frozen yogurt, cupcakes and…I’m not sure what it is now. Probably something full of sugar or fried (or both!). Korea’s current food fad is currently fried chicken. With beer. In specialty restaurants serving nothing but fried chicken and beer (with an exception for a stew made of BEETLES which I am still slightly sad I didn’t try for the sake of science. It really did look irredeemably horrid though. I’ve eaten crickets, bees and even raw horse. But this stuff? Looked GROSS). If you do get a chance to have the friend chicken, though, I definitely recommend it after a long day of hiking. Especially with some beer and the “spicy” fries (the secret to which is Old Bay, which is always delicious, if a little surprising).
Fried chicken and beer! A winning combo in any country!