Friday, March 28, 2008

3/29/08 Seoul, Land of Markets

Our first order of business on the third day was the huge Chungbu market, mostly because it was about a block away from the hotel. This market was unique from the others because it mainly offered food. While I found it very interesting to look at everything being offered, my good sense prevented me from buying any of it. The thought of a fish sitting out in the open air for who knows how long didn't seem very sanitary.

Here is a large pile of dried fish, mouths all agape.

Could someone kindly direct me to the frozen food aisle?

Here is some ginseng on display. Korea is crazy about ginseng. I've seen the little roots advertised in medicine, drinks, and even cosmetics around town. It apparently has the power to cure every illness except extreme gullibility.

This little area was much more to my liking. Everything was covered in an impervious layer of life giving plastic.

We saw these uncomplicated looking animals sitting in a tank in front of a restaurant, presumably waiting for their chance to be eaten. I'll say I've never eaten one of these, but nowadays I can never be sure.

We spotted this place on the way to Dongdaemun. All this guy was selling were little patches with random designs on them. Not a huge business, I wouldn't imagine. He was surprisingly high tech, though. We could see his computerized machine relentlessly sewing the patches four at a time in the back of his shop.

We traveled straight from Chungbu to the Dongdaemun market where we had scouted a bit on our first night in the country. In the center of the Dongdaemun area are two sports stadiums. A happy secret is that one of the stadiums is filled with the giant Pungmul flea market (lots of markets around these parts, I know).

Some hardcore flea marketing going on here.

Unfortunately when the Koreans say that something is "used" they really mean it. Most of the stuff being offered was so used that I didn't want to touch it with my bare hands. There was plenty of good stuff that didn't come from someone's garage, though. I was pretty successful in my hunting. I found a nice new South Korean flag which will be gracing my apartment's walls soon.

My favorite purchase of the day was a little 2007 coin set issued by the Bank of Korea. Oooh, shiny!

After all the shopping, we all wanted a change of pace. Our next stop was Seodaemun Prison. The prison was built in 1908 and was used by the Japanese to house those who fought against Japanese colonial rule. The story turned out to be much more gruesome than what I had expected. Special attention was given to portraying the atrocities committed by the Japanese within the prison.

Several of the original buildings were preserved for future study.

I liked the metal work on the fences that dotted the park.

My trial at the hands of the "Japanese aggressors".

Patriotic Tung getting the noose.

According to the sign that stood at the entrance of the mock trial room:
At the early stage of righteous army struggle, the Japanese aggressors tried to suppress it by committing such atrocities as immediate execution of captured righteous fighters on site, but under a severe criticism from the international community and mounting anti-Japanese sentiment by the Korean public, it reluctantly adopted a formal trial for punishment later.
A drastic surge in the number of prisoners from 1908 to 1910 was resulted directly from the increasingly intensified independence movement by the righteous fighters and a full-scale crack down against them.
You will have an opportunity to share the experience of the patriotic ancestors who were standing at the trial board for a summary execution.

Entrance to the building where the executions took place.

The Japanese built this tunnel leading out of the prison in order to secretly dispose of the bodies.

I think this is a list of names of people who were confirmed to have died at the prison.

I found the prison to be interesting and definitely worth the quick stop that we made. I was less than impressed with some of the signs, however. The explanations provided often had a propagandistic feel to them, incessantly using phrases like "the patriotic fighters" and "the Japanese aggressors". I think that that the story this place tells is powerful enough that it deserves to be told with a more historic, neutral point of view.

We explored around town quite a bit more until we arrived at the Seven Luck Casino. The Casino itself wasn't much, it was clean and classy, but super small inside.

The part that I found interesting was that only foreigners were allowed to enter. It must be that gambling is illegal in Korea, but that us heathen foreigners are allowed to do it just to inject some cash into the local economy. Tung made the mistake of leaving his passport at home on this particular day, so we had a long conversation with the staff guarding the door about where he was from. Even with his Japanese foreigner card, we had to wait for a manager to stroll over and approve us.

A bit from the sign outside.

Clarence and I felt that Tung was missing out on a large part of his Australian heritage, so after days of his begging we finally took him to Outback Steakhouse.

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