Sunday, June 19, 2011

The culture and the subculture.

The culture.

Last weekend, my buddy Curtis and I spontaneously checked out Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul's largest royal residence. It was incredible. We arrived in perfect time for the changing of the guard and we happened to be there on a day when there was a live traditional dance performance. We spent hours there marveling over it all.

Gyeongbokgung Palace was the main palace in Seoul (then called Hanyang) in 1395, immediately after Joseon Dynasty was founded. However, most of the palace was destroyed during a Japanese invasion in the sixteenth century. It was rebuilt in 1868 and restoration is ongoing. It's an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, as it is right in the centre of the city, so there are high rises on three sides of the enclosure.

Amazing. I felt like I was being steeped in tradition, soaked in sights and sounds.

This weekend, I visited the House of Sharing, which is a museum about "comfort women" -- Korean women who were sold or tricked into sexual slavery for the Japanese Army. It is also home to eight Halmoni (the Korean term for grandmother), survivors of this atrocity who are now activists for women's rights. It was a powerful experience. We got to meet some of these incredible women; we sang with them and viewed their artwork. 

It is estimated that between 60 000 to 200 000 women were involved in sexual slavery to the Japanese army. These women, often teenagers, were systematically raped upwards of 40 times a day. They often were forced to eat while these rapes occurred, because they simply didn't have any time off. They were taken from their homes and deposited across Asia, and those who were not massacred were abandoned where they were stationed when the war was over. To this day, the Japanese government does not acknowledge these atrocities. 

It is an intense and heartbreaking tour. But it is also one of hope, bravery and truth.


The subculture.

Noraebangs, all you can eat & drink buffets, makkolli, staying up til dawn...there is an incredible second, foreigner culture here too. You might expect to see soju on that list, but that's not how this girl rolls. But the adventures I've been having with my new crew have been epic. Loads of fun. I can hardly believe I've only been here one week!!