[personal profile] niori_1709
M*A*S*H has been my favourite show for a long time, so I have a pretty big interest in the Korean War. It's that interested that made me really excited to visit the War Memorial of Korea. The museum isn't dedicated fully to the Korean War, but instead to the history of warfare in Korea in general, but, for my anyway, that was the highlight.

The first thing you see when you walk onto the grounds is this huge statue of two men hugging. It's impressive, but at first it's nothing too special. At first you don't know what it was, but that 'impressive' changes the moment you know. It's a statue of two brothers, who ended up on opposite sides during the Korean War. They were lost each other when the war broke out and North Korea invaded, and found each other again on the battlefield. One was fighting for the North, the other the South. This statue captures the moment they first found each other after all those years- on a battlefield, where they forgot the war and embraced. It's not just a beautiful story, but a poignant reminder that the Korean War wasn't as clear cut as one country invading another. It was Koreans versus Koreans, and families were separated and fought against each other- it all depended on what side of the line they fell on. That sense pervades throughout the museum, because there's never a section the villainizes the North like I thought they would (the Japanese, who attempted to and then colonized Korea brutally, on the other hand, is an entirely different story). Yes, they cover the atrocities and aggression that the North committed, but they don't hate them- they still see them as Koreans first, and they don't want to keep being divided. They want re-unification, and they care about the Koreans in the North. Whenever the death toll of the Korean War was mentioned, they always mentioned that there were countless other North Korean (and Chinese) who died.

The next thing you notice (well, not really, since there is another huge statue with amazing sculptures that is a monument to the Korean War) is the parking lot. I know that sounds kind of weird, but I'm telling you- The War Memorial of Korea has the best parking lot in existence. There old planes, tanks, missiles and even a ship. They're all real, and I think every modern aircraft the Korean air force has ever used is there. You can walk right up to them, and in the case of the ship, go through it. There's also really helpful plaques (in English as well as Korean) that gives you a brief cut comprehensive history of whatever piece of military equipment you' happen to be looking at.

Outside was cool, and when you get inside and begin to look around, you remember that yes, this is called the War Memorial for a reason. They have a room near the very beginning. It's dark but for the flickering of some candles and a small light shining on a open book in a case. That book has a list of names, and it names of people who died defending Korea. You can light those candles (and I did) in memory of the dead. It's touching and it makes you pause and think. That's not the only true memorial part. On the outside of the building, there's a long corridor. Lining the walls are large stone tablets. On those tablets, are the names of all the foreign allies that died during the Korean War. If you turn the corner, there's names of Korean soldiers who died, not just in the Korean War, but WWII as well. It's quiet, and your footsteps echo as you walk. There's a fresh white rose on every tablet, and it's obvious that great care is taken with maintaining this place. I'm not ashamed to admit that I teared up when I walked it. It's not only this area, but the museum in general, it's so easy to see that the Korean people are grateful to the allies who fought with them. There's the corridor, plus in the Korean War section there's a massive room devoted to the allies and their contributions.

We ended up catching a tour for the Korean War section of the museum (there was so much more than that to see). It was clear that our tour guide knew what he was talking about, and that he was passionate about telling the story of the Korean War. Near the end of the tour, he told us why. When the Korean War broke out, he was just a middle school aged kid. His hometown is in current day North Korea, maybe an hour or so away from the boarder. When the North invaded, his family tried to make it to the boarder to get out, like many other civilians who lived in the North. By the time they got to the boarder, the North Koreans had already fortified boarder too tightly, and they had no other option than to go back. They had to spend a month under communist rule before he and his family were able to get a lift in the back of an US envoy truck. It took them down to Seoul, where his family settled and has lived ever since. Had he been just a few years older, he would have been forcibly recruited into the North Korean army. If there was ever a moment that made the reality of not just the Korean War, but war in general, real for me, it was when that man thanked us for letting him tell us his story.

The Korean War section was powerful and by far the highlight for me, but the War Memorial had a lot more to offer than just that. We ended up looking at those other sections on our own, but everything was also explained in English, so it was easy to know what I was seeing. The ancient warfare section was interesting, especially the replica battle ships. I love old weapons, so seeing all the swords, bows, axes and the like was great. Seeing the development of these weapons throughout the three major ancient to medieval periods was super cool.

Out of all the things I've done so far, out of all the amazing things I've seen, The War Memorial of Korea is the thing I've loved most in Korea.

The next weekend, I really hadn't planned to do anything. I had planned to finish up my 'Christmas' shopping over at Coex and call it a weekend. That was the plan, and I was following it right up until the wire. Then, just as I was about to head back down to the subway, I realized that it was actually pretty mild out. Then I remembered that there was a temple pretty close to Coex mall, and then of course, I decided to go check out that temple before I headed home. So I decided last minute to make the trek to the temple. By trek I actually mean the five minute walk, though the whole time I kept pausing and asking myself if I was going the right way. I was walking down the street with all these skyscrapers beside me, and I just imagine that there could be a temple in the same place. Yet I kept walking until I found a sign that pointed the way, and I found it. Right in the middle of the busy city was this temple.

Bongeunsa temple was originally built in the period of time where the Joseon Dynasty, when the government supported Confucianism and was doing their best to suppress Buddhism. Bongeunsa became the head temple of the Seon sect of Buddhism, and it became a stepping stone to Buddhism being revived in Korea. In the more modern era, Bongeunsa was the place where the Buddhist youth movement began to take root. Today, it's still a working temple. There are still monks (though I didn't see any) that partake in the daily prayers and chants of Buddhism. That was the first thing that struck me- it was a working temple. I mean, I knew that intellectually going in, but I didn't realize it completely until I stood there and watched people - every day people from all walks of life, from men and women in business outfits to young adults in sweatpants and hoodies- perform their daily prayers. I've never seen Buddhist prayers or ceremonies outside of TV, and they were amazing. It's not that they're complex or flashy, but it's the simplicity that makes them rather beautiful. It's calming to watch, and there is beauty there.

It wasn't until the practice itself that was beautiful and calming. I was in the middle of the business district of Seoul, and if I looked over, I could see these huge buildings surrounding me, but it was like I was a world away from all that. I could still hear the traffic, but it was like I was hearing it from inside a bubble. I knew it was there, but it wasn't really touching me. I've only ever felt like that once before, and it was when I stood looking up close at the mountains for the first time. It was amazing and beautiful and so many other things that I can't describe.

It was beautiful, especially the buildings. They're so colourful and intricate, with painstaking designs. I didn't go inside to see any of the inside work (all of which is described and explained in English on signs outside each building), because people were praying, and I didn't feel I had the right to just intrude (I was welcome to, I just didn't feel comfortable doing it). There are some designated national treasures in some of those buildings, and I still want to go back and see them someday. I did see some things besides the buildings themselves. As is usual with a Buddhist temple, there was a giant Buddha statue. The statue Bongeunsa was one of the Maitreya Buddha, who is the future Buddha who will come and save sentient beings at the end of the lifetime of the Sakyamuni Buddha. There's also another statue, this one being Gwanseum-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Compassion by the water. At the bell pavilion, there's the four instruments of the dharma, which are rung before morning and evening services, in order to save all beings in the universe. I'm sure everyone will recognize the dharma bell, even if they have no idea what the other three are (dharma drum, cloud-shaped gong & a wooden fish) and what it is they're supposed to do.

It was a pretty grey day when I went, and it was in January, so everything was pretty blah overall when it came to scenery. I plan to go back in the spring or summer, when there's green and other colours besides brown and grey. I'll stay longer next time, maybe just sit for awhile. Next time it won't be rushed or last minute, but I'll go and just sit and just feel at peace.

The last thing I have to tell you about it isn't some big tourist attraction or heritage site. In fact, it has to go back to shopping. I've told you about Coex, which rocks, but as it turns out, that's not my favourite way to shop in Korea. My favourite way to shop in Korea is a place like Meongdong shopping district. It's one big area of connecting streets and side streets, lined with shops, and even better than those shops, are the vendors. The streets are lined with vendors, and those vendors are what makes Meongdong so awesome.

Here's a not-so-secret thing about me- I love cute socks. I love them to death, and whenever I see them I usually end up buying them. Korea, in general, seems to be the world capital for cute socks, but in Meongdong, sock (and hat, gloves and scarves) vendors are all over the place, with reasonably priced socks of all kinds. Seriously, thanks to Meongdong, I own Catwoman, Ironman, Hulk and Gangnam Style socks. I bought those all on one trip for under 10, 000 Won (10$ish).

It's not just the socks either- there's real stores there as well, and there are quite a few upscale and even some tourist ones. Shopping in Meongdong is fun because it kind of feels like a shopping adventure. I mean, when you go into a normal store, you pretty much know what you're going to see. Here? Here you have no idea what might pop up and surprise you, and there will be different things every time you go. I've been there twice, once with Katie and once by myself (I got on a bus and got off at the last stop, which just happened to be right near Meongdong), and found something new every time.

It's super crowded though. As in, at all times you are touching about four other people crowded, but I think that's just Korean (and most of Asia) thing really.

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August 2017

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