Guarding the Blue House, the President's Residence in Seoul
Current tensions require close monitoring, but Cheong Wa Dae is open for visitors. From its mountainside overlooking central Seoul, "The Blue House" is the official residence of the South Korean president, and if you apply weeks in advance with your passport, you can take a guided tour.
This complex of buildings sits on grounds that have been deemed geomantically auspicious (think "feng shui") for centuries. As far back as the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), a royal villa stood here. "Pavilion of Blue Tiles" is a more literal translation for "Cheong Wa Dae." The color of the roofing was an official decree—blue, exclusive to the king—and now stands for the democratically elected leader.
Today, East Asia's first female president, Park Geun-hye, lives here, and it's a family affair for her: Her father was Park Chung-hee, who ruled S. Korea from 1961 to 1979. In 1968, dozens of N. Korean infiltrators got to within a few hundred yards of the Blue House; 28 N. Koreans, 68 S. Koreans, and 4 Americans were killed in the skirmish. In one of the attempts to assassinate her father, her mother ended up being killed. And now, the grandson of the N. Korean dictator behind her mother's death is in charge up north of the border, breathing threat and war, as anyone following the news is all too well aware.