Today my family and I toured Cheong Wa Dae, or the Blue House. The Blue House is the official residence of the Korean president, currently Roh Moo-hyun. "Cheong Wa Dae" literally means "blue tiled house," referring to the blue tiled roof covering the white wood and brick structure. The White House might be a more fitting name for the structure, but obliviously the United States has dibs on the name "The White House." The Blue House is located north of Gyeongbok Palace on the southern flanks of Bugaksan Mountain. You can see an obscured view of the residence from Jongno, or central Seoul. It’s clearly visible if you’re in a high rise building downtown with a view to the north or standing on Namsan, or South Mountain. The building itself is gorgeous. The predominately white hue of the building makes it unique among traditional, oriental wooden structures.
The tour was fine. Unlike the U.S. White House, which allows a lucky few to tour the East Wing of the residence, the Blue House is not open for tour. We began our tour with a ten-minute film covering the history of Cheong Wa Dae featuring interior shots of the residence. The site was originally a villa built in 1105 by Joseon Dynasty King Sukjong. It later became part of the Gyeongbok Palace garden when the palace became the seat of power for the Joseon Dynasty in 1395. It remained part of the palace until 1939, when the site became the official residence of the Japanese governor of colonial Korea. Korean President Syngman Rhee designated the site the official residence of the Korean president in 1948, the year of the founding of the Republic of Korea. It remains the official residence to this day. Perhaps most notably, Cheong Wa Dae is considered as the "most blessed place on earth" by some geomancers. It sits on the axis of four great mountains that form a cross–Bugaksan to the immediate north, Namsan far to the south, Naksan to the west, and Inwangsan to the east.
We were very hot during the entire tour. The sun bore down and the humidity was high today. Although we enjoyed touring one of Korea’s most important sites, we thought the tour was average at best. The tour guides spent too long explaining the significance of the sites while the sun beat down, and at the same time, we were limited in what we could photograph because of security concerns. The entire tour lasted about one hour. We cooled down just a few hours later when a freakish storm blew in and dumped six inches of rain in about an hour. I feel much better now that Cheong Wa Dae is a memory.
For the Shutterbugs: I added a new photo album showing highlights from today’s tour. People have told me that I don’t take enough photos of Koreans, so I captured some photos of some of the people who joined us on the tour. I chose some of the more beautiful members of the tour group so that those who don’t believe me that Korea has some of the most beautiful women in the world can judge for themselves. These women are just a few of many living here in the Land of the Morning Calm. A friend of mine once told me he thought Russian women were the most beautiful in the world–until he came to Korea. He changed his mind.