Adventures and Observations of an American Seoul-Sister
Monday, August 23, 2010
Last Sunday was Liberation Day in South Korea. It celebrates the day (Aug. 15, 1945) when Japan surrendered to the USA, thereby releasing South Korea of occupation by Japanese forces.
To properly celebrate the day, I went to the official Liberation Day Park in Cheonan (a 3-hour bus ride from Chungju) and learned all about this period in Korean history.
Upon entering the park, it's impossible not to be impressed by the Reunification Monument that towers overhead like some strange concrete bird. Koreans see themselves as one nation divided (North Korea and South Korea) and wish to reunify and live in harmony with all of Korea.
Following the path from the Monument lends views of the beautifully landscaped park, including water fountains and many flowering trees. I stopped on the bridge over White Lotus Lake to watch families feed the turtles and giant coy. One or two coy are cool, but an entire lake swarming with giant coy of all colors is truly impressive.
Moving along, I came to a field of Korean flags (called Taegeukgi), and along this field where archway-covered paths. The arches were laden with growing squashes that hung down like lanterns.
Entering the Independence Pavilion, I lucked upon traditional Korean dancers/drummers. This troupe was so good! Each male dancer drummed the rhythm with several types of drums, and even the costumes were incorporated into the movement. Check out the hats on these guys!
Past the Independence Hall, the museum is composed of several buildings set up in a circle centered around "the Open Space for Harmony and Unity." I went to two buildings before I'd had enough. They were pretty heavy-handed, and I need only see one or two blood-spattered mannequins in my lifetime for it to be enough. Essentially, during the occupation, the Japanese forced all men and boys into the Japanese army. Only Japanese was allowed to be spoken. Anyone speaking Korean would be murdered. It didn't matter to Japan that no one in Korea knew Japanese! All Korean displays of nationalism were destroyed and replaced with Japanese displays. For example, all plum trees (national tree of Korea) were cut down and replaced with cherry trees (national tree of Japan). The Koreans were forced into slavery, laboring for the Japanese government as it took over Korea, or they were just murdered. We're talking straight up genocide! The worst part, from my perspective, was that the Japanese kidnapped thousands of Korean women and girls and forced them to be sex slaves for the "comfort" of the Japanese soldiers. This is where, sick to my stomach and crying, I ended my museum tour and retreated back outside to enjoy cheerful festivities.