Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Seoul a little bit.

On Friday I made a last-minute decision to attend the KOTESOL conference in Seoul on the weekend because I learned one of my former professors back home was giving a presentation. Turns out he's been in Korea for two years. I will blog a little about the conference---about the theme, not about the experience---when I have enough time later, though I'll just say here I got to meet a lot of nice people. Among bloggers and internet personalities I met Stafford of The Chosun Bimbo, Jennifer of Seoul Podcast, and Chris Backe of Chris in South Korea, all for the first time, in addition to Stephanie White and a few other friendly faces. I also talked with a reader named Roberto who kindly said he reads the blog every night. And I met a woman named Sarah who clearly didn't like the site, and was kind of a bitch about it.

I planned on briefly attending on Sunday, but a rough night made me rethink that. I spent the night in a roach- and mosquito-infested motel in Insadong*, got a few hours of sleep---with the lights on to keep the insects at bay, and on the blanket and under my jacket because the sheets were dirty---and woke up feeling I wasn't in the best condition to be around people older, smarter, and more accomplished than me. So I wandered around Insadong a little bit and went over to see Gwanghwamun Plaza. Here are a few pictures, not exceptionally good by any means.

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This is the new Gwanghwamun Plaza, or Gwanghwamun Square. A large statue of Yi Sun-shin is in the foreground, and way in the background is the Blue House, Gyeongbokgung, and Gwanghwamun, the palace's gate currently being renovated.

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Of course, for dramatic effect, I neglected to mention the large statue of King Sejong, creator of the Korean alphabet, unveiled in the plaza on Hangeul Day, October 9th. There's a theme. The benches, for example, had Hangeul on them.

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Statues of some of his other inventions were on display as well.

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There is a little museum under the statue, though I didn't look around. Paul of An Acorn in the Dog's Food did, on the same day; here's what one inscription says:
"Hangeul can be quickly and easily into a computer, etc, enabling it to shine more brightly still in this era of information technology. Hangeul, which was so scientifically created by King Sejong 500 years ago, enables its users today to build better-quality digital information faster than the users of other characters. As such, Hangeul is the most scientific and suitable writing system to combine with digital technologies."

Um, what? Anyway, the plaza was pretty.

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The number of flowers in the plaza are said to equal the number of days the Chosun Dynasty lasted. There is a pair of topiaries, one on each end.

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That's "Haechi," the mascot Seoul created last year. It's ugly, but when it was unveiled it was hoped to be as iconic as New York's "Big Apple." I liked this quotation from the Korea Times:
Haechi, generally known as Haetae, is a lion-like horned creature that often appears in myths as a guardian against fire[.]

Because, um . . . you know. There were a pair of handprints on the buildings along the plaza, symbolizing the 100th anniversary of An Jung-geun's assassination of Ito Hirobumi (the guy to whom some local papers compared Ichiro Suzuki when he went 0-for-3 against another Jung-geun during a World Baseball Classic game).

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Regarding the short ring finger, the Joongang Ilbo says:
Ahn Jung-geun’s ring finger is conspicuously short. Like his fellow independence fighters, he cut it off as a symbol of his vow to fight for Korea’s independence from Japan until his death. Today, Ahn’s handprint is a nationally recognized image of his efforts.

Earlier in the week a plush An was in the plaza; from the Korea Times:



The caption reads:
Independence activist Ahn Jung-geun remembered: Officials from the Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs and citizens take part in a hand printing ceremony Wednesday, at the Yeouido Park in Seoul, to mark Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910)’s 1909 assassination of Hirobumi Ito, a former prime minister of Japan, in Harbin, China. Ahn held Ito responsible for the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910.

Though Gusts of Popular Feeling asks:
So Ahn held Ito responsible for an event that occurred after both of their deaths? Alrighty, then. Hopefully that colorful little Ahn character above doesn't run amok in Myeongdong, shooting elderly Japanese businessmen.

Depending on which side of the Sea of Japan you live, An is a freedom fighter or a murderer. Though I don't like celebrating killings, I won't begrudge Koreans honoring An's memory too much. Suggesting that An might also be viewed as a murderer would go over in Korea about as well as suggesting to a lot of Americans that their country's foreign policy had something to do with September 11th. (On a related note.)

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Anyway, I read a little about the plaza before. Gusts of Popular Feeling has a must-read---well, all of his are must reads---about the false history used to market the plaza to Koreans, such as the idea that the current plaza resembles how it looked during the Chosun Dynasty, or that the restoration also, according to a Joongang Ilbo article he links, "remov[es] traces of the Japanese colonial era."
A total of 29 gingko trees that had lined Sejongno since the early part of the Japanese colonial era were removed in an effort to root out the remaining traces of Korea’s painful past.

Fourteen of them were replanted near Simin Yullin Madang, a park near the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in central Seoul, and 15 were replanted in front of the Central Government Complex.

Except, as he shows, the trees weren't there for most of the occupation.

A gingko treeAn elephant in the room also turns up in some of my pictures. Look at the one of Haechi again.

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Behind him is the heavily-fortified United States Embassy, next to Gwanghwamun and a short stroll from the Blue House. Nobody can deny, and nobody should be denying, what South Korea owes to the United States, and that it owes its existence and prosperity to it, though cynics will point out that of course South Korea owes its very existence to the United States, and to the Cold War. With all the historic reclamation going on, I wonder if during there will be renewed calls to perhaps relocate the United States Embassy from such a prominent position.

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A few other pictures from Sunday afternoon. First, for the heck of it, is the Japanese embassy a little bit down the road.

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An old building a few blocks away, at the corner of Cheongjindong-gil and Sambongdong-gil.

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Some free hugs in Insa-dong.

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Posters asking people to walk on the right are ubiquitous.
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However in the Express Bus Terminal Station there were factors working against this movement.

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* I don't recall the name of the motel, and surprisingly there's very little about Insa-dong motels available even in Korean. In the past I've stayed at the Hanhua (한화), which you can find if you make the second left after arriving on the main street of Insa-dong from Anguk Station. It's clean and the manager is friendly, though the rooms are quite small---in line with what you'll often find in Seoul, actually---and if you're travelling with a partner or with any amount of luggage you may find it uncomfortable. I went to a motel around the corner and, like I said, was extremely disappointed. In the future I think I may avoid that street altogether and choose among the roughly six million motels available behind nearby Tapgol Park (탑골공원).

5 comments:

P said...

I went to Gwanghwamun Plaza a few days ago and they had a large exhibit taking up most of the plaza between the statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi with the flags of every nation that sent assistance to Korea during the Korean war, and pictures from the war with captions detailing some of the contributions of each country. I thought it was pretty touching, and it shows that many Koreans have certainly not forgotten the contributions of the UN troops.

matt said...

Nice to see those pics, since I won't see the plaza for awhile. Loved that hands, too.

From the Joongang article you linked to:

"The daring shooter was Ahn Jung-geun."

From Russian Minister of Finance Kokovtseff, who witnessed the assassination:

"[We] passed before the front of a guard of honour, came up to the group of civil authorities and foreign Consuls, [and] a man with a Browning pistol fired several shots from behind the backs of the latter by which the Prince was mortally wounded."

Puffin Watch said...

That astro clock they have on display, which also appears on the back of the 10,000 won note:

http://www.korea.net/news/news/newsview.asp?serial_no=20070123008

I'm given to understand the globe itself is a chinese invention and the Korean idea was to put it on a box.

There was some controversy about this at release time and the BoK defended using only the image of the clock as the box looked kind of stupid. Or words to that effect.

This Is Me Posting said...

I'd like to hear more about Sarah.

Drama is fun.

brent said...

I was at the bus station at Yatap in Bundang, and they had actually changed the direction of their elevators to be on the right side.