Kitchens are the heart of a household. One can assess a family’s internal matters by the organization of a kitchen.
At Seoul’s Changdeokgung Palace Complex, a similar idea holds true.
Constructed in the early 15th century, Changdeokgung Palace Complex today still bears the palatial grandeur of Korea’s long civilization, complete with detailed art work on panels and multi-layered roofs. Visitors admire the royal garden and stately rooms with soft aesthetics found in numerous patterns showcased on the walls, partitions and lanterns.
My impatient local guide from an organized tour tells me about the special sand used in the palace compound, designed to create sound so that an intruding assassin can be immediately detected. She also tells me about the designated seating chart in front of the main hall where advisors and aides sit in hierarchy denoted by the marked distance from the King’s throne. “Will the King have to yell?” I ask. It is a massive court after all. The guide’s response: “NO! The King does not need to do anything!”
But I don’t care much for all that.
What really stands out to me is the imperial kitchen. A medium-sized structure with minimalist interior work: white-tiled and sun-soaked through large glass windows. Locked to modern day visitors, the kitchen’s traces of indoor plumbing and electricity are easily visible. The kitchen’s classical artwork on the exterior masks the highly modern and simple arrangement of the interior space formerly used exclusively by royal servants.
Changdeokgung Palace is already famous for its indoor heating system through stoves built under each pavilion with smoke channeling out from a standalone chimney next to the structure. Modern electricity came to South Korea just seven years after the invention of incandescent light by Thomas Edison. Changdeokgung Palace was already electrified by 1894, which is quite impressive.
Yet, it is a curious thing to see that the modernity of electrification is often masked under traditional design elements as is the case with incandescent light bulbs in the main hall, or relegated to servants as is the case with the sophisticated kitchen operated only by servants.
Of course I am assuming this, but changes have always been uncomfortable. Changes bring even more discomfort to those who are on the better end of keeping the status quo, like the royalties.
Changdeokgung Palace Main Hall after electrification
A proper industrial kitchen with plumbing and electricity
A Korean guide explaining the palatial heating system but not too happy with my questions
Doing some major lurking