August 16, 2014
Yesterday we didn’t have school because it was Korea’s Independence Day! In Korean it’s called Gwangbokjeol which means “Restoring the Light Day.” Although technically Korea would not be fully independent until 1948, August 15, 1945, is the day Japan surrendered to the Allies and thus ended their reign over Korea. The Republic of Korea was established three years later and inaugurated on August 15, 1948. We took our day off as an opportunity to explore more of Seoul.
We began our day at Independence Park – it seemed fitting. Independence Park was formerly the grounds of the Seoul Guchiso, a detention camp. The camp was used to imprison Korean activists for independence during the Japanese occupation and later by Korea’s postwar military dictators to house dissidents and democracy activists. When the prison was moved in 1987, the park was built as a memorial to the martyrs. Part of the prison was preserved as the Seodaemun Prison History Hall – we decided to leave that tour for another day as it was quite crowded. The rest of the park had monuments to commemorate Korea’s push for independence.
We left Independence Park and strolled down the street toward Gyeonghui Palace. We stopped at a cute coffee shop – Grimm Graf – which could have easily been transported to Austin.
Then we made our way over to Gyeonghuigung. It was built in 1616 as a secondary palace but became the main residence in 1624. In our book I read that the palace was dismantled before the Japanese annexation, however our brochure from the palace stated that much of the palace was destroyed during the occupation… so I guess you can believe either. In 1988 Seoul began to rebuild the palace – but what you see today is not even close to the size of the original palace complex. The only original structure is the Heunghwamun Gate which was moved from its original location by the Japanese and then to this site during the palace’s recreation. Even still, it was a nice palace to visit because it was almost desolate. There were very few tourists so we could actually wander around in peace. It was very calming and gave a nice glimpse of Seoul’s ancient past meeting its modern present.
After we left the palace we went toward Gwanghwamun Square and stumbled into a lot of chaos for two reasons: the Pope was going to be performing a Beatification Mass there on Saturday and there has been an ongoing protest regarding the Sewol Ferry disaster which occurred in April of this year (I’m sure everyone saw it on the news). So first we saw the protesters and family of the victims – we did not take photos out of respect – and then we continued down the square to see the preparations for the Pope’s visit. There were police EVERYWHERE in a way that I have not ever experienced. We didn’t take photos of them specifically, but you can see them in some shots. The square is very picturesque though – starting at the top with Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s statue one can see all the way to Gwanghwamun Gate and Gyeongbokgung and then Mt. Bugaksan frames everything in the distance. It’s quite beautiful.
We stopped by Kyobo Bookstore (Korea’s largest) and it was awesome! Take your regular Barnes and Noble store and multiply it by 1,000. It is officially my new favorite bookstore because it has a great selection of English books – hooray! We both have a few books we’d like to go back for already.
We went over to Insa-dong for dinner and ended up celebrating Indian Independence Day too! We had some delicious curry and then walked up the street looking in different shops that were still open. Insa-dong is a shopping street with a lot of great local wares, but since it was past 9pm most of those shops were closed. We’ll go back another time.
A little more from our day out: