Saturday, March 26, 2005

Surreal Realities

It's Saturday night here, and I just got home from the most full, yet exhausting day!
This morning was Korean lessons. Week three and I'm finally learning to read! I have no idea what any of the words mean, but I can sound them out...that should count for something!!

Anyway, after Korean lessons a bunch of us went and checked out Sodaemun Prison. It's in Seoul, and it's a historical reminder of the past oppression by Japan. Those involved in Korea's independence movement in the early 1900's were held there and tortured by the Japanese. It was pretty intense. We came across this woman who worked there, she happened to be an English guide, so she gave us a free tour around the main building, which was really nice because although some signs were in English, not all of them were, so she filled in a lot of the gaps. The experience at the prison was very real to me. I couldn't help but picture people stuffed 20 or more to a cell waiting to be tortured, starving for food, and not even being able to lie down and sleep. The prisoners were also not allowed to complain or talk to the Japanese guards. If an inmate had died in the cell, the other prisoners were allowed to push a wood block out as a means of communication to let the guards know that they were needed. The torture in this prison was disturbing, there were artifacts and life size models (quite graphic, fake blood on the walls, ect) depicting women in chains having bamboo shoved under their fingernails until they confessed information about the whereabouts of the Korean Independence leaders.
By the end of this tour I was quite solemn and ready to move on. The tour was quite educational and I definitely learned a lot about a period in Korea's history that I had previously known nothing about.

After the tour Derek, Sarah, and Rob decided that they wanted to head home to chill. So Me, Erin, and her roomate Sarah decided to randomly venture onto one of Lonley Planet Korea's "walking tours". I found it in my book and figured that it would be good to hit both in one day because they were so close to eachother. I decided that I want to play the tourist card for as long as I can here, because you'd be surprised at how many English teachers just live and work here...they don't travel. So our two groups parted ways and we headed toward this Buddhist temple that was set out in our books. We started heading the right way, but a Korean man soon stopped us and asked if we needed help (thankfully random Koreans are fluent in English and usually willing to show their skills). He directed us up this back alley toward these ancient temples. Our first impression of this tour was simply eerie. There were rows upon rows of abandoned homes. It looked like everyone had left in a hurry, there was garbage everywhere and tons of stuff left behind. I'm not quite sure what the story is with this place, but seriously, once you're off the main road it's like you've stepped into another world. So, we headed up this alley uphill for about five minutes and came to a fork in the road. We saw what looked to be a temple, so we headed toward it. At first glance the entrance to the temple looked like it was underconstruction or like a place that was not to be 'toured'. We decided to keep walking anyway. As we walked up these old stone steps we were able to see this giant bell that is the offical enterance of the temples. Honestly, I don't know if I can even begin to describe the atmosphere of this place. It was absolutely incredible. There were birds everywhere, chirping and we could hear the drumming and chanting of Shamans who were conducting some sort of service and offering. As we continued to climb uphill we were able to turn around and see the city, yet feel as if we were in some distant ancient land. We were up high enough to see so much and the soundtrack of this place was something only to be heard and not truly described. We kept climbing and finally got to what seemed to be the top. We could see the city, the temples, and best of all, we could see Namhansansung (Korea's Great Wall), which was constructed in 1392 and in many parts is under construction. The view was incredible. It was a sort of ancient-meets-modern that I've never experienced before. Incredible.

As we were about to leave Sarah looked up and pointed out that there was most definitely a Korean military sniper standing at the highest point on the cliff on a building rooftop with his gun ready to go. I guess he's protecting the wall or something, there were fences infront of the wall so that we couldn't get close enough from this particular location to touch it. I'm not really sure what or who he was ready to snipe, but it just made for a more interesting tour. I think it was really cool because there weren't a lot of foreigners around and we seemed to be the only people who were there just to check it out and take some pictures. There really weren't many people there at all, maybe ten people were there, which is amazing for Seoul because there seems to be people everywhere, always.

Anyway, this has been my Saturday, I'm utterly exhausted and needing to sleep for yet another busy day tomorrow. I'm heading to Insadong, which is a part of the city that is still very traditional. A girl from work, Sophia, offered to take me there and go to a tea house. I'm really looking forward to it, so we'll likely be heading there after church this Easter Sunday. I'll have to let you know how it goes!

Love Andrea


Blogger Mom said...

Hey Andrea Happy Easter

I am so happy that you are exploring the country of South Korea. It sounds like an awsome adventure!

Love you tons

12:41 PM  

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