03 October 2008

Seoul: Inwangsan

Seoul tourism resumed today for me, after the exhausting yet productive Busan trip. Here are my 21 photos from today, centering around the Independence Gate and nearby Inwangsan, a local hill formerly known for its wild tiger population.

The walls of the subway station at Dongnimmun (Independence Gate) carry the nationalistic theme, in the form of the four trigrams that are found on today's South Korean national flag. Very well, considering that today is the National Foundation Day.

The main trail into Inwangsan starts at this station.

A closer look at this apartment building, on the way to Inwangsan, shows the vast majority of units displaying the national flag today, for the holiday today.

It's a short but very steep climb to Inwangsa, the main Buddhist temple on the slopes of the mountain. Road signs on the alley show a gradient of 15%!

Finally, I am at the entrance.

I continued walking up, to find this grotto. Its name: Seoraeam, or "Grotto of Coming to the West." "Seorae" is the same name as the Chinese Buddhist temple, Hsi Lai (西來), back in Hacienda Heights, California. I thought of my visit to Hsi Lai back in May.

Inwangsa's Daeungjeon (Hall of Great Hero, the main hall in Korean Buddhist temples) is this small, glass-encased building. There also are many neighboring religious facilities, Buddhist and otherwise, and one of them is...

... Guksadang. This shaman shrine once stood on Namsan to the south of downtown, but the Japanese forced it to move to its current location, northwest of downtown, in 1925. The front yard was full of the odor of rotting food, as various food items had been left out for the local animal spirits to eat. No signs of any mudang today, though there were some people praying inside.

Above Guksadang, there is Seonbawi (Zen Rock), where women come to wish for the birth of a son. Remember that traditionally, a son is required to continue the family line, and this resulted in massive abortions of female fetuses during the era of high population growth a generation ago. (I sincerely believe that Goddess sent me to this world as a boy, to ensure that I wouldn't be aborted, while still being able to do my work as a woman later on.)

This is downtown Seoul as seen from Seonbawi. Behind me were people praying, and I did not take photos, out of respect.

Nearby lies a section of the old city wall, one of the few remaining sections. Most of Seoul's city wall was destroyed in the past century, as new developments started to spill over the city limits.

No tigers in sight today. Tigers, in fact, went extinct in South Korea a century ago. Most Korean tigers (actually Siberian tigers) live in Siberia and Manchuria, though a few may also live in the remotest mountains of North Korea as well.

The back side of Seonbawi, which was so named because it looked like a praying Buddhist monk. Lots of pigeons live on top.

Although Seonbawi is near Guksadang, and looks like a good place to perform shaman rituals, signs around me warned that such activities were strictly illegal at the rock, and on the nearby trails as well.

I started walking downhill. It's possible to pick up the Mudang News, the newspaper for the mudang population, here, though no copies were left when I came by.

Shaman candles and figurines between Guksadang and Seonbawi.

Another look at Seonbawi, against the late afternoon sun.

This is the Daeungjeon of a different temple that occupies this area. There are several Buddhist temples crowded into the area.

I've left the mountain and am going through a car park to return to the subway station. I took this photo of a toilet sign, primarily in the interest of usage of Chinese characters, below the Korean and English lines. The first line (化粧室) is the standard Korean vocabulary, and roughly translates into the "Powder Room" label in English. The second line (衛生間), translating into "Sanitary Partition," corresponds to the correct usage in China; to the Chinese eye, the first line is simply a place to do makeups, not a place to go to when nature calls.

At the base of Inwangsan, the Independence Gate stands. Until 1898, this spot was occupied by Yeongeunmun (Gate of Eternal Gratitude), the greeting gate for Chinese envoys visiting Seoul to collect tributes from the Korean royal government; the pillars in front mark the location of the gate. It was demolished for the Independence Gate, which stood for the status of Korea as an empire in its own right, not beholden to someone else's emperor, in accordance with modern Western-style diplomacy. The gate is modeled after Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The Independence Gate, as seen from the other side, as one would've seen it while approaching from China.

The original location of the gate was 70 meters to the southeast, but widening of the thoroughfare and modernization of the intersection (which included the vehicular overpass in the back) necessitated moving the gate to its present location in 1979. A marker was buried at the original location for future reference.

The Independence Gate area was developed into Independence Park in 1992. Here's a statue adorning the park. It depicts Seo Jae-pil, who romanized his name originally as Suhr Jae-phil, then later as Philip Jaisohn. In the late 1890s, Seo led the movement to establish Korea's sovereignty as an empire, even publishing Korea's first modern newspaper to that effect. When the Japanese annexed Korea, Seo continued to work for Korean sovereignty and independence, and ran the US "embassy" of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. (The Provisional Government was founded in Shanghai in 1919, and enjoyed Nationalist Chinese diplomatic recognition, but had no recognition from the US government.) Seo continued to live in the US until his death in 1951, and his remains were moved in 1994 from the US to Seoul's National Cemetery.

This memorial is a tribute to the March First Movement, which was a grassroots movement declaring Korea's independence from Japanese rule as of noon, March 1, 1919. It raged on for months before being ruthlessly crushed by the Japanese. The actual movement started at Tapgol Park in downtown, however, rather than here.

The Independence Hall was used from the 1890s by the Korean patriots; before then, it used to be the reception hall for the Chinese envoy. The Japanese demolished the building when they annexed Korea. This building is a 1995 reconstruction, with one extra that did not exist in the original: a basement exhibition/conference space. The sign below the title says that this building now houses the Confucian tablets of those patriots who gave their lives to regain independence for the Republic of Korea.

Also in the park: a prison, built by the Japanese in 1908. This prison housed many Korean independence activists, who faced various forms of torture and forced labor. In the back is the execution chamber where many inmates were put to death by hanging. Even after Korean independence, South Korea continued to use this facility as Seoul's city prison, until moving it to a suburb in 1987. The prison has been a museum since 1998, and I visited it previously in 2002. This time, I didn't pay a repeat visit, as some of the prison wards are being renovated.

I have to say that given all the struggle against Chinese imperialism and Japanese colonialism in the past, as evidenced by all the objects and monuments in this park, South Korea should know better than to suck up to another foreign power. Unfortunately, the US Republicans now play the role previously filled by the Chinese and the Japanese. The people need to keep up their pressure on the Lee Myung-bak government.

Back in the subway station. Here's a popular Korean motif: "Samtaegeuk," or three-part Taegeuk. Normally, a Taegeuk is a two-part motif of Chinese Taoist yin-yang philosophy; a red-blue version is found on South Korea's current national flag. But the three-part version also throws in yellow, and is uniquely Korean. It's often found on traditional drums, and more recently, has been adopted as the symbol for a subway transfer. All subway maps, in all South Korean cities that have multi-line subways, use the Samtaegeuk to mark transfer stations. The Independence Gate station is NOT a transfer station, however, and this wall motif is purely for decor purposes.