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Life in Seoul

SOUTH KOREA | Thursday, 9 March 2006 | Views [1221]

Samsung Plaza

Samsung Plaza

It's hard to believe I've been here for two months already. With the exception of the first half of February, when I was struck with a brutal bout of the flu, I've been so busy- either working at the school or having a good time in Korea. I've managed to set myself up well at my apartment for very little money. I bought a cheap guitar, found a paint easel in someone's trash, found someone to teach me Ashtanga yoga in trade for guitar lessons, and best of all, won a computer in an intense gambling match a.k.a. best-of-seven rock-paper-scissors! Also, as I suddenly remember occassionally with great excitement, I'm in Korea (!!) and there are so many new things for me to see and do.

Definetly the most bizarre thing I have done in Korea to date is make a visit to the Seodaemun Prison. This is a prison, now a museum, that was built by the Japanese in the early twentieth century (when they occupied Korea) and was used to hold, torture, and execute Korean independence fighters and activists. Bizarre, because the horrendous history of the place is presented in a way that was so unexpected and shocking. After looking at photographs of the prisoners, glancing over various instruments of torture, and trying out a wall coffin (a small upright coffin into which people would be locked for several days- after which they would be crippled), visitors can follow the arrows down into the basement of the main building to where the torture rooms are located. On the prison map, this is called "A Place of Experience". It certainly was an experience. You are greeted on your way down the stairs by the sounds of women screaming and men moaning in pain. When you get the the bottom, you make your way through the winding hallway that leads you from room to room where you can witness, through the wonders of technology, life-sized human figures, animatronics, acting out several methods of torture. It's sort of like Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland with an extremely dark plot. On your left, three women being sexually assaulted; on your right, men being whipped and flogged. A woman having her fingers pricked (a long needle shoved underneath her fingernails). A man being held underneath water... The museum goes to great lengths to give you a lasting image of what it would have been like for the prisoners. They also set it up so that visitors can put themselves in the shoes of the prisoners at various stages of a prisoner's term. For example, if you've ever wanted to get a feel for what it would be like to be hung, you can sit on a small bench underneath a noose, have your sentence read to you by some raving Japanese manequins, and then suddenly have the bench drop several inches. For the sake of my mental health, I declined when the tour guide encouraged me to give it a try. For the sake of my mental health, I didn't actually look at many of the musuem's displays.

On a much lighter note, I went to my first professional soccer game ever, and loved it! It was the first game of the season in Korea: Korea vs. Angola. (Korea 1: Angola 0). Koreans love their soccer and their team is one of the best in the world. By the end of the night I had memorized several of the crowd's chants and made friends with the fanatics around me.   

I also made my first visit to a board game bang- essentially, a room with several tables and a few dozen board games to choose from: monopoly, risk, jenga, clue, etc. The best part is that they provide you with large novelty toy mallets that look like something the coyote would find at the Acme store. They're there for people to incorporate into their games, usually to add an extra blow (literally) to the losers. For example, if you're playing risk and one of your countries is conquered, you also get smacked in the head. It's the added element of violence that makes playing these board games a Korean experience.   

Tags: Sightseeing


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