Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seodaemun Prison

The Seodaemun Prison was built in 1908 by the Japanese during their colonization of Korea.  Because Japan occupied Korean by force, there were (obviously) several Korean patriots who fought against Japanese rule for Korean sovereignty.  Many of these men and women were kept in the Seodaemun Prison.  When Japan lost World War II and Japanese occupation ended in 1945, this remained a prison ruled under the South Korean government until 1987, when they moved the prison to a facility in Uiwang (near Suwon).  Now, the prison is used as a historical site to document the suffering of many Koreans during the occupation.  Next to the prison is Independence Park, a park to honor the sacrifices of Korea's martyrs.

This room was lined with photos of Korean patriots that were imprisoned at Seodaemun.

One example of torture they used at that time.  The soldiers would lock the prisoners in this box, lined with sharp nails, and shake it over and over.
Rooms used for torture.  I'll choose not to go into details.
They would lock the prisoners in these small rooms.  They were shaped awkwardly so you couldn't stand or sit properly.

These rooms were for solidary confinement.  These prisoners were subjected to the worst torture.  When they weren't being tortured, they were kept in these small rooms all alone.  Because they wanted them to have as little contact with humans as possible, they were to go to the bathroom though this small hole in the wall and it would go out the building.  They didn't want to have to spend time to clean the room.  There were no toilets in the entire facility during the Japanese occupation.  The Korean government later put in bathrooms when they used the facility.

These are the regular rooms where most of the prisoners were kept.  They were often overcrowded and could hardly sleep because of the lack of floor space.  There was no heating or cooling system and prisoners often died of frostbite or heat exhaustion.

This is the "excrement hole."
This building was built in 1923 and used to segregate the prisoners who had leprosy.
The prison is set right in the middle of the city, along with apartment buildings and mountains.

The tree is known as the "wailing popular."  It is located right outside of the execution building.  Read the photo above.  If you can't read it, just click on it and it will get large enough to read.

This was the hidden underground passage built by the Japanese to take the bodies away after execution.  It was found only in 1992.
We were not allowed to take photos of the execution building, in order to respect those who lost their lives there.  I did, however, take a photo of a photo of the building.  It was difficult to be in the historical presence of so much pain and suffering.
Most prisoners throughout Korea were forced to work in factories, usually manufacturing something for the war.  Seodaemun Prison was known for making textiles and bricks.  The bricks made in the prison were imprinted with the logo you can see on the bricks below.
Many buildings were destroyed after the war.  They have outlined these areas in the Seodaemun bricks that were from the deomolished buildings.
This Japanese-style building wasn''t found until 1992.  The Japanese built an underground dungeon to keep women patriots in 1916.

Lots of Seodaemun bricks.

Independence Park was beautiful and vibrant...especially after going through the prison.

Independence Gate.  This gate was actually built before the Japanese occupation in 1897.  It was built to commemorate their independence from China as a protectorate.
Some kids playing soccer in the park.
I like the part about never being frustrated - click if you can't see.
You would think we could look at history and see that this sort of cruelity is not necessary...but still, to this day, at this moment, men and women are being tortured or tormented in facilites around the world - and not much is being done to stop it. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Volunteering in Seoul

I've really enjoyed the volunteer opportunities available in Seoul for foreigners.  I've volunteered a few times with different groups, but I've really had a lot of fun and fulfillment from the latest group I've joined, Help Your Seoul.

We arrive at Seoul Station by 7 p.m. and donate 10,000 KRW (a little less than $10 USD).  Then we run to the supermarket and buy enough food to fill around 150 bags.  The amount of money we have depends on how many volunteers show up.  We usually buy fruit, bread, soy milk, and a treat.  Walking around with 150 bananas in your cart may account for a few stares...

 The city of Seoul has a volunteer office outside of Seoul Station where we dump everything out and start putting everything into individual bags.  Once we are finished, we are handed these lovely vests and head out to the underground passages in the subway to hand out food.

There is a man who volunteers with the city (I think) who takes us around to the different underground passages in the subway.  Here, many homeless men have set up their sleeping spaces for the night.  Some, just a cardboard box, flat on the floor - others have taped-up cardboard fortresses.  The men are very grateful and a nice, sometimes toothless smile, makes my night!

The man who walks around with us shows incredible compassion for these men.  If they have any problems, he helps them sort it out.  Some of these men are in terrible condition (meaning vomitting blood, bleeding, etc), but he treats them with the utmost respect and care.  Also, in this office, many homeless men come and get a coffee.  Here, I think, they can also seek help from the volunteers.  At times, I feel that Korea can really shut out the less fortunate, so I was so happy to see this happening in the city.  We leave about fifty bags in the office for men who come by hungry throughout the week.

I'm not sure how the "original foreigner" got this set up with the city.  The leader of the group is a foreigner but both Koreans and foreigners volunteer.  It's great to have such a diverse group.  It is only done on Sundays; it's too bad it hasn't been able to spread to more days of the week.  They've really got a great thing going!

After handing out the bags, we hand in our vests and sing a few songs with some Korean volunteers who sing and hand out coffee.  They're so much fun!  It's great to see a few homeless men dancing to the music and singing in solidarity.  What a great end to the night! 
If you are living in or around Seoul, I recommend checking out the facebook page, Volunteer for PLUR. They really have some great volunteer opportunities. I've taught "underprivilaged" kids English and worked in a soup kitchen. There are other groups on facebook for going to animal shelters, etc... Opportunities are there; you just have to look for them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wine Train

Last Saturday I went on the Wine Train with a few wonderful friends.  The train picked up in Seoul first and then Suwon so I didn't even have to make the early morning run into Seoul - which I do all too often.

 We rode along to the Chung-cheong Province while tasting different wines and snacks.  In case you haven't heard me complain about cheese in Korea yet...just take a look at the cheese offered with our snack platter.  Ya...that's about all Korea has to offer unless you take have a CostCo membership and want to bus forty-five minutes.  If you can't clearly see it, you can always click on the photo to see it bigger.
 It was decorated, Korean-style, of course;)
 Korean-style curtains;)
 Once reaching our destination in the Chung-Cheong Province, we stopped at the #3 bathroom in Korea.  Yes, there is a Korea Toilet Association that rates bathrooms across the country (which you would think would mean bathrooms would then be stocked with toilet paper, soap, and towels/working hand dryers - you're lucky if you get 2/3).  It was decorated and had 3/3.  My only problem with this bathroom was that the toilet paper was still outside.  Many times in Korea there is one or two big dispensers on the wall near the sinks.  When you have to go #2, it's really tough (and embarassing) to estimate how much you're gonna need...just saying.
Some bathroom decor.
 Inside the stall.
 We headed over the vineyard/winery area for a buffet lunch with all-you-can-drink wine.
Chateau Mani

Three types of wine.

 Many famous people store their wine in this wine cellar...

 Then we made some wine soap.  The former Miss Grape (no lie) helped us.

 Next we went out to the wine foot baths. 
They have us grape juice to drink while we soaked our feet in warm wine.

 ...and THEN...we heard some traditional Korean music played by professionals.  They did an amazing job.  I really like traditional Korean music.

 ...and THEN...the real professional tried the jjangu.
 Our 선생님 (sung saeng nim - teacher) was amazing!
 Guiness Book of World Records - Biggest Drum in the World:)
 Then we headed back home on the train for some more wine and snacks.
Someone asked about the view from the train.  There were beautiful mountains, but you know Korea...most of it

The worst part of the trip was that I decided to go on a group tour with all foreigners.  If anyone wants to go on the wine train, my suggestion is:  Don't go with wayguks (foreigners)!  Just go on the normal tour with Koreans, you won't have English translation but the unfortuante immaturity that comes with many young foreigners in the country will make it 99% less enjoyable.  One guy got so drunk he shit his pants!  No lie!  During the traditional music performace one guy walked in late because he went and bought soju and chips and walked in the front of the music hall to get a seat while drinking his soju and eating his chips.  And another girl who was listening to her IPOD during the perforance broke out laughing histerically.  I could go on for days about this.  It was so embarassing!!!

Lastly, I'm sure you are wanting to ask about the quality of Korean wine.  Well...let's just say they're not a world leader for a reason;)

While it may not be Chilean wine, it was still enjoyable.  All-in-all it was a great day trips with the girls.