21 November 2008

Day-Tripping around Seoul

Here's the story of how my first two days of Seoul-area sightseeing by automobile unfolded.

Yesterday, I drove east, to the suburb of Namyangju, where there is a movie studio open to the public. It's actually over a mountain range from Namyangju proper, and a car is the only viable way to get there.

I paid 3,000 won to enter; parking is included. Now, I've parked my car at the lot, where snow is actually accumulating. It's bitterly cold - a degree or two below zero Celsius. As it's a weekday afternoon and very miserable, virtually nobody is out here.

The studio's star attraction is this replica of Panmunjom, and it's the reason why I came here - to re-visit my memories of actual Panmunjom. That was 4 1/2 year ago in early summer; now it's the first snow.

I approach the border from the southern side. Between the blue buildings, the border is indicated by a yellow bump halfway.

Panmungak, the main northern pavilion, stands on top of the mound, though it's only two stories tall, lacking the third story it has now in real life.

I did what I couldn't do at the real Panmunjom. I walked across the border into North Korea.

Here's a look back south, from the doors of Panmungak. In the foreground are the armistice meeting buildings, straddling the border; blue ones are under UN control, and gray ones are under North Korean control. At the real Panmunjom, I had entered the middle blue building, then walked across the border within the confines of that building.

In the distance is South Korea's pavilion, Freedom House. This whole set appears to be based on Panmunjom of a few decades ago, rather than today. Freedom House looks real pathetic, and it surely was the case for decades, as North Korea, having kept most of Korea's heavy industries, initially had more economic power (read: more propaganda building budget). Of course, today, North Korea has pretty much collapsed economically, while South Korea is a powerhouse; the real Freedom House today is a huge, ultra-modern building.

This set was built in 2000 for use in the movie JSA. Last year, President Roh Moo-hyun took a DVD of the movie to Kim Jong-il, a noted movie fanatic, as a gift of the South Korean people, when he headed north for the inter-Korean summit.

Here's another movie set, which depicts Seoul's Jongno area in the latter parts of the 19th Century. As the movie sets are strictly sets and not historical exhibits, some angles may show them in less than flattering light.

Indoors, below the parking lot, there are some exhibits. Here's a hall of fame. One of the inductees is Shin Sang-ok (his preferred romanization was Sang Okk Sheen), who passed away in 2006. He was a top-notch director, and was married to Choi Eun-hui, a noted actress. Kim Jong-il, being the movie fanatic that he was, ordered the two kidnapped, when they were visiting Hong Kong in 1978. Sheen continued to crank out masterpieces even under the ideological constraints of North Korea, and he and Choi escaped to freedom in 1986 by asking for asylum at the US Embassy in Vienna. Sheen returned to South Korea in 1989 and continued to be active until his death.

Here's an interesting exhibit. It shows a shipwreck turned into shopping mall and apartments. It depicts one of the settings of Wonderful Days, a very recent South Korean animation feature. The story takes place in the 22nd Century, as overpolluted Earth sees most of its human population perish. The elites, owning a technology that turns pollutants into clean energy, secretly run away to a remote island, so that they could someday have the entire planet to themselves as the rest of the human race die off. The masses somehow figure out the plan, and those able to make the trip end up on a remote corner of the same island. The two groups eventually clash for the survival.

The rest of the exhibits (no photos allowed) included a history of cinematography worldwide, and the development of Korean movies from nationalistic beginnings in the Japanese era, the golden age in the 1950s, suppression during the military fascism, to current rise to international fame. The key question is whether the Korean movies can continue their current worldwide fame, or quietly fade away as a fad, like the Hong Kong movies that dominated the 1980s. Other places included a prop room and a costume room; the costume room was very well-stocked especially with military uniforms, from South Korean to American to North Korean to Imperial Japanese.

That was yesterday. Today, clearer and warmer, was again an all-day driving day. I started out in the late morning, first heading for the pottery city of Icheon. The only trace of yesterday's snowstorm was the presence of some road salt. I wasn't too worried though, as (1) my car is a rental anyway and (2) Korean cars these days have great anti-corrosion treatments, unlike the Ponys of a quarter-century ago which had a reputation in Canada as rust buckets.

I spent my time at this free pottery museum, which showcases modern Korean pottery based on historical elements, as well as collections of modern artistic international pottery. I loved both the European minimalist artwork and the American ones inspired by Asian elements. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside.

Three flags hang outside.

Proper flag etiquette in South Korea demands that when there are an odd number of flagpoles, the national flag must be the center, as shown above. When there are an even number of flagpoles, the national flag must be on the far left, as seen from the front.

The left flag belongs to the pottery foundation that runs the museum. The right flag is that of Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds, but does not include, Seoul; Icheon is part of Gyeonggi Province. Gyeonggi Province has a population of 10 million, equalling Seoul; Incheon, formerly part of Gyeonggi Province but separate since 1981, has another 2.5 million. That means that the greater Seoul metropolitan area has 22.5 million people. That's a lot of people!

I continued driving. A radio station was giving me an overview of pop music history (in Korean, "pop" refers to English-language popular music of all genres, primarily from US and UK; K-pop is "ga-yo" while French-language pop is "chanson"), starting with "When You Believe" by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, then moving on to "Come As You Are" by Nirvana as performed at MTV Unplugged. I was reminded that exactly ten years ago, both Whitney and Mariah were desperate to check the runaway success of Celine Dion, and fifteen years ago, Nirvana made history by performing grunge in an Unplugged setting (and also by having its last major performance, as Kurt Cobain killed himself in early 1994). And as Celine is mentioned, I also got to hear some memories of the Titanic movie which had featured her in the soundtrack.

Further discussion on the same station involved a new Korean movie with an overt male homosexual storyline, sure to attract lots of women. Yes, women - no self-respecting straight Korean man will go see a gay men's movie, as machismo is still very real here. But the fact that gay movies are being made in South Korea and actively promoted shows huge changes from a decade ago. I'd love it if lesbian movies are out there, but unlike American men who have fetishes about lesbians, Korean men won't watch lesbian movies either. There have certainly been transgender women's movies, and a few have turned out to be very popular, but they are considered gay men's movies. If anyone in South Korea wants to make a trans lesbian movie, however, I'll be the first to get in line to watch it! Following this discussion was one on a new Hong Kong movie, and the rise and fall of various Hong Kong movie stars (including one who recently jumped to his death).

A short drive back toward the expressway took me in front of this pottery shop. Lots of traditional Korean pottery of all types are available. Most pottery-themed areas consist of shops like this, and little more. There are, however, places where I can go in and learn how to make some pottery myself; some are in English.

Icheon is also famous for its rice, and plenty of restaurants are around serving it. And if I need to do my genealogy work in the future, I will have to come back to Icheon. My father's ancestors have origins here, and their clan actually has a nice genealogy institute right in Icheon. I wasn't in town for genealogy work, however, so I didn't even bother looking for the institute, and decided to move on to my next destination - Cheonan.

As I continued to drive, I made the following additional notes about South Korean driving:
  • Expressways, freeways, and other limited-access roads are considered "motorways." In Korean context, a motorway is open only to vehicles with four or more wheels. That means no motorcycles! While this is a regulation that has Harley-Davidson enthusiasts up in arms (and there are thousands of Harleys here, with more being added daily), I actually appreciate this regulation, as motorcycle riders in South Korea tend to be extremely reckless, the motorist is automatically at fault when colliding with a motorcycle, and I want as little exposure to the motorcycles as possible.
  • Rest areas are run by private enterprises under concession from Korea Expressway Corporation, and offer lots of nice services. I love them!
  • One key feature of Expressway 1 used to be that some sections of it could be converted to emergency airstrips in case of war. This made sense when traffic was light. But these days, traffic is so heavy that it's better to keep the expressway open for supplies, and build better, dedicated airstrips elsewhere. No expressways today serve as airstrips. Another benefit: the former airstrips now have permanent, real crash-proof center dividers, improving safety for the motorists.
  • Expressway 1 reserves its far left lane for buses only at certain times. They are bus lanes, NOT HOV lanes, so carpools are not allowed; you must have a bus to drive there, otherwise you'll get a ticket in the mail. Weekdays, the entire stretch of Expressway 1 north of Osan has the bus lane rule in effect from 7 AM to 9 PM. Weekends, the bus lanes run from 9AM to 9PM, but extend all the way south to the outskirts ot Daejeon. Bus lanes are clearly marked in blue, and electronic signs indicate when they are in effect.
  • Speaking of Expressway 1, it actually has ten lanes - five in each direction - between its northern terminus in Seoul and Expressway 50. However, the far right lane may only be used when overhead signals indicate that it's okay to do so. Violators, again, will get a ticket in the mail.
  • The Highway Patrol prefers to enforce regulations using closed-circuit television cameras. They show up in person only when requested, or if there is a wreck. And those cameras are well-signposted in advance, so outside the camera range, it's pretty much every motorist for himself/herself. If it weren't for heavy traffic, it would make perfect sense to drive at 130-140 km/h or even faster; the expressways are that good!
  • There are frequent signs indicating the radio frequencies of key networks. Most national networks (KBS, MBC, SBS, EBS, Christian, and Buddhist) have two FM frequencies in a given area, one for news, one for music. There also are some local networks with their own frequencies. AM frequencies are harder to find, but they are out there; at least they are not the ethnic/right-wing hate talk/both varieties that American AM radio tends to be. Many of these frequencies have repeaters in tunnels, so reception remains crystal clear. My car has a European-style radio, with FM frequencies available in 0.1 MHz increments (though like in the US, only odd-numbered 0.x MHz frequencies actually have broadcasting) and AM frequencies available in 9 kHz increments (as opposed to 10 kHz in the US).
  • South Korea, like Mexico and the Iberian Peninsula, is known for its extensive, excellent express bus network, and I saw plenty of buses around today. It appears that Hanjin (Korean Air) has gone out of the express bus business; I couldn't see any of its buses anymore. This leaves Kumho Buslines, owned by Kumho Asiana (which also owns Asiana Airlines), as the largest bus line in the nation, with services primarily to/from Gwangju and the southwest. Kumho Asiana also owns a smaller line, Songnisan Express, running to/from Cheongju. Other major bus lines I could see include Jungang, whose livery looks a lot like Greyhound (only with a lion instead of the dog) because its original fleet consisted of used Greyhounds; Dongyang, owned by Dongyang Construction with plenty of services to the southeast; Chunil; and Dongbu, with extensive services along Expressway 50 heading east out of Seoul. There are dozens of new, minor bus lines that have popped up to cover gaps in the majors' networks, as the expressway network continues to expand. All bus lines are strictly regulated and offer exact same fares; nobody picks a bus based on the bus line, but rather, based on destination and departure time. There are deluxe buses, identifiable by the label 우등 (those buses formerly had special liveries with pink stripes, but not anymore) and offering three-across seating as opposed to the standard four; fares are much higher, but still reasonable, and if/when I take a bus trip, I refuse to take anything less than a deluxe. Express buses often stop for about ten minutes at a rest stop on longer runs, to allow passengers to go to the restroom and/or buy a quick snack.
I soon arrived in Cheonan, a major city in South Chungcheong Province. Although it's outside Gyeonggi Province, and therefore not officially part of the Seoul metropolitan area, it can still be considered part of Seoul's sphere of influence, as Seoul's subway trains run there. Subway trains make the trip to downtown Seoul in 1 1/2 hours; driving takes under an hour in light traffic, and the bullet train makes the trip in under 30 minutes. Cheonan's greatest attraction is the Independence Hall to the east. Also nearby is the birthplace and memorial for Ryu Gwansun, a young woman who fought for Korean independence after being inspired by the story of Joan of Arc, and who was eventually martyred. Time constraints prevented me from visiting the Ryu memorial.

Here it is. Quite a sight. I paid 2,000 won for parking, but admission is free. It's also possible to get here by bus from downtown Cheonan, after getting there from Seoul by subway, but it's far more painless to just drive.

The blue-roofed building in the back is the main building. It caught fire shortly before the scheduled opening on August 15, 1986; as fire suppression systems had been installed but not activated, the building suffered serious fire damage, and opening had to be delayed by a year. The roof tiles are made of bronze, and the blue hue is the patina.

This stone has a saying derived from a popular US slogan "United we stand, divided we fall," and in South Korea, it's attributed to reactionary Korean-American Syngman Rhee, the nation's first President who ruled during the Korean War. Rhee turned the slogan into "United we live, divided we die."

This garden has 815 national flags, flying on poles of staggered heights. Quite a sight!

This outdoors exhibit re-enacts execution by firing squad. Three Korean militiamen were executed at 10AM on September 21, 1904, by the Japanese, at a railroad crossing in Seoul, watched by forcibly gathered bystanders. The crime: the three had been charged with vandalizing the new Japanese-funded railroad network.

In 1907, a militia gathered from throughout Korea and marched toward Seoul, getting within 12 kilometers of the city's east gate. Here, the militia overwhelms the brown-clad Japanese troops.

Although Korea was nominally a sovereign state in 1907, in reality, Japan had taken over its foreign affairs, and in virtually all aspects, it was part of Japan already.

Under Imperial Japanese penal system, guilt could be proven by self-confession, even if given under severe duress and torture. Needless to say, torture was commonly used against those deemed to be anti-Japanese and pro-sovereignty.

The above boxes were a popular method of torture. The accused would be locked into the box, which has nails sticking out of the side walls. The policemen would then kick the box around, so that the nails would pierce the unfortunate prisoner inside.

I am inside the main hall, looking at a picture of the Rose of Sharon. It's kind of cold out there, so the flowers are no longer blooming; I'll have to settle for this.

Rose of Sharon is South Korea's national flower, and as it is extremely resilient, it is supposed to stand for the Korean people's own resilience against tyranny of all forms, foreign and domestic.

Behind the main hall, there are seven exhibit halls, one of which was closed today for renovation. But the other six managed to be very informative anyway. The first hall deals with the long, glorious history of the Korean people, and their continuous streak of nation-states, before the Japanese ended that streak in 1910.

This huge monument is dedicated to King Gwanggaeto (reign 391-413) of Goguryeo. He was responsible for a massive expansion of the kingdom's territory, covering modern-day North Korea and most of Manchuria. Goguryeo is believed to have had the most territory of any Korean nation-state ever.

On Ganghwa Island, on the outskirts of the city of Incheon, the prehistoric people buried their leaders in dolmens like this. I'll make sure to drive out to Ganghwa before I return my car.

The first Korean nation-state was Ancient Joseon ("Ancient" added to differentiate it from Joseon Dynasty of 1392-1910 and modern-day North Korea). Legend says that the son of God married a bear-woman, and gave birth to a son named Dangun Wanggeom, who went on to found Ancient Joseon in 2333 BCE in Pyongyang. If the legend is to be believed, Korean civilization is 4,341 years old as of this year. In casual conversation, however, the number is rounded up to 5,000 years. North Korea claims to have discovered Dangun's tomb near Pyongyang, and to have carbon-dated the tomb to 3000 BCE, making it indeed 5,000 years.

The above are some artifacts belonging to Ancient Joseon.

Hwangryongsa was a magnificent Buddhist temple in Gyeongju, but the Mongols burned it down in the 13th Century, and nothing remains of it today. (Just to be sure, I drove by its site a number of times.) This roof is from that temple, built with roof tile fragments recovered from the site.

Here is a wooden printing block from Tripitaka Koreana in Haeinsa, which I visited two days ago.

Here's a Turtle Ship - 40% of actual size. I'm nevertheless very glad to be able to see it so close up. Love those spikes on the roof, which prevented the Japanese from boarding the ship.

The Turtle Ship was instrumental in leading Korea to defeat the Japanese navy when the Japanese invaded and ravaged Korea in the 1590s.

Some golden royal seals. The left, with a turtle-shaped handle, was the personal seal of King Sejong. The right was a generic royal seal used by all Joseon kings.

Another magnificent ancient Korean Buddhist temple that no longer exists is Mireuksa, in Iksan. Today, its only remaining structure is the western (left) stone pagoda, partially collapsed.

Iksan is in the southwest, and even though it's served by the bullet train, much of the journey is on conventional lines, so it takes a while to get out there. I'll have to save Iksan for my next Korean road trip - but it'll be certainly a treat.

This Japanese map from the 1930s shows Manchuria and Korea. Manchuria was nominally an independent kingdom, but in reality, it was a puppet state of Japan; this map shows the new political subdivisions as drawn by the Japanese. The Japanese wanted to develop Manchuria and Chosen (the Japanese name for Korea) as a combined territory of Mansen, to provide Japan with raw materials and labor, and to provide a land route to invade China from.

Here's a monument with a very interesting history.

When the Japanese invaded Korea in the 1590s, a northern Korean leader by the name of Jeong Mun-bu led a successful militia attack against a Japanese military division. Unfortunately, Jeong's rivals framed him for treason, and Jeong was executed. It took decades for his reputation to clear, and in 1708, this monument was built near Jeong's home, near Songjin, North Hamgyong Province. In 1905, a Japanese commander in the area, stationed to fight the Russians, spotted this monument, recognized it for what it was, and had it sent to Japan, where it spent decades at the infamous Yasukuni Shrine. In the 1970s, South Korean citizens' groups found out about the monument's whereabouts and history, and launched a movement for its return; on October 20, 2005, it returned to South Korea. On March 1, 2006, per an agreement with North Korea, the monument was sent back to Songjin (now renamed to Kimchaek) and re-erected there, and this is a replica.

I'm entering a new section dealing with Korea in the age of modernization. While the laws of capitalism governed Korea's modernization, and many foreign companies sank money into Korea, the goal was to benefit the foreign entrepreneurs, not the Korean people themselves.

The above is a telegraph switchboard. Seoul got telegraphs and telephones early on, and even today, it's known for its telecommunications technologies.

In the 1890s, Seoul even got this streetcar. I'm allowed to actually board this.

But the whole goal of this was to ensure that some foreign power would end up with dominant control of Korea. The Sino-Japanese War of the 1880s was fought over the control of Korea; Japan won it, China had to give up Taiwan, and Korea was no longer paying tributes to China. At this time, Russia was also a rising power, and some Koreans, namely the Empress, wanted to forge ties with Russia. Japan got upset, murdered the Empress, and burned her body. Eventually, Japan signed treaties with the US and the UK to ensure that neither power would challenge Japan in Korea. With Russia, Japan started another war, and won again; shortly thereafter, Japan made Korea sign the treaty above. It stipulated that Japan would take over all foreign affairs from the Imperial Korean government.

Here's the re-enactment of signing of the 1905 treaty. The man at the far end of the table is the Japanese envoy, Hirobumi Ito. The left front and the four right are the Korean representatives with sympathies to Japan, and the five are now considered major traitors of the entire Korean people. The second from the right, Lee Wan-yong, also signed the 1910 treaty which formalized Japan's complete takeover of Korea; his name is now synonymous with treason.

With the annexation treaty of 1910, Japan immediately established a strong military presence in Korea, and intimidated the Koreans with their military culture. These are swords and rifles that many Japanese officials - including school teachers - constantly carried around.

Japan also sought to divide and conquer the Korean people. Japan heavily taxed the ordinary Koreans, yet gave landowners and property owners, as well as those deemed loyal to the Japanese Emperor, preferential treatments.

In 1919, a grassroots independence movement took the Japanese by surprise. It eventually fizzled, but it led the Japanese to relax its rule starting in 1920, allowing the development and expression of native Korean culture.

As Japan geared up for war starting in the 1930s, however, the third and final phase of colonial rule began. Korean culture and people would cease to exist. One provision was that Koreans were "encouraged" to adopt Japanese names. This family census register shows a certain Hong Sun-ryong changing his surname to a more Japanese one, Hiroyama.

Technically, the name change was voluntary. But in reality, it was required in order to get anything done in the society of that time. Only the very rich, with tons of property (and good relations with the Japanese), managed to get away without name changes.

Koreans were required to serve the Japanese war efforts. Many young Korean men ended up fighting for the Imperial Japanese Military against their will. Some were captured by the Americans, and housed at a Hawaii POW camp. The Korean internees there regularly published this newsletter for themselves, titled "Liberal Koreans."

Others were drafted into forced labor, for various Japanese corporations including Mitsui and Mitsubishi, at various sites throughout Manchuria, Japan, and beyond. Many died due to the terrible work conditions, and some died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Americans nuked those cities. The above documents record the deaths of some Korean forced laborers; the bottom center is a 1944 letter from Mitsui to the family of a Korean forced laborer who had just died.

Nearby, there were no exhibits, but plenty of explanations, about the Comfort Women. Korea was the main source of Japan's Comfort Women program. Hundreds of thousands of young Korean women were abducted, and forced into sex work at various Japanese military installations throughout Asia. Most never lived to tell about it, and even the few who did were ostracized by their families and South Korea's government for decades. Japan also sourced its Comfort Women from other Asian nations, and for its soldiers who preferred white women, the Dutch women from Indonesia were also forced into slavery.

As the Japanese ramped up war efforts, the students were required to recite three phrases, write them on rocks like above, and carry them at all times. The phrases were:
  1. We are the citizens of the Empire of Japan.
  2. We will fulfill the allegiance to His Majesty in One Heart.
  3. We shall become strong and disciplined citizens.
Another torture demonstration. Here is water torture. The water is scalding hot, and contains pepper powders; it was so irritating, especially as water went into the lungs, that those who endured this torture have been quoted as saying that they would've preferred execution.

Again, under Imperial Japanese penal code, any confession - even one obtained under severe torture - was valid evidence. All sorts of torture methods were used by the Japanese police to obtain the desired confession.

There is one exhibit area that says "The people who do not remember their history shall have no future." It refers to the Japanese revisionist historians, though it also applies to the right-wing extremists within South Korea, who claim that the Japanese were benevolent developers of the Korean mindset, that the Comfort Women were willing volunteers, and that left-leaning independence activists were evil terrorists. Unfortunately, the right-wing extremists currently own the government and the public discourse in both Japan and South Korea.

The above exhibit wants to set the record straight. It shows historical evidence showing that Dokdo is Korean territory. In fact, the idea of Dokdo being Takeshima, part of Shimane Prefecture in Japan, dates back only to 1905, when Japan took over Korea's foreign relations and diplomacy, and arbitrarily redrew borders. Other Korean territories lost that way include a small portion of Mt. Paektu as well as an island on the Tumen River where China, Russia, and North Korea come together.

Some Japanese revisionist history books from over the years. They all beautify Japan's occupation of Korea as something beneficial to the Korean people. The colorful middle books are the current history textbooks that Japan's secondary school students use.

I've entered another hall. The Korean struggle against the Japanese influence and eventual rule turned out to be grassroots and widespread. This painting shows two Korean activists in San Francisco, assassinating a man identified only by his surname of Stevens. Stevens was an American advisor to the Japanese government, and was instrumental in ensuring that the US would let Japan take away Korea's sovereignty.

After Korea lost its foreign relations control in 1905 to Japan, the frustrated Emperor Gojong sent this letter to the Hague, Netherlands, explaining the unfairness and the illegality of the 1905 treaty. Three imperial envoys carried this letter to the World Peace Forum, being held at the Vreispalace (today, the World Court) in 1907. Japan intervened and ensured that this message would not be seen by the delegates there, as Korea could not send legitimate envoys of its own; one envoy committed suicide in frustration. Japan forced Emperor Gojong to abdicate, and his son Sunjong became the Emperor for three years, before Japan finally annexed Korea.

I've been to the front steps of Vreispalace, though I couldn't go inside. This letter allowed me to think of that moment for a bit.

On March 1, 1919, at noon, hundreds of thousands of everyday Koreans gathered nationwide and declared independence. The March First Movement went on for months afterwards. Inspired by US President Woodrow Wilson's speech on self-determination, it went nowhere, but paved the way for eventual independence of Korea - and for similar movements in China, India, and elsewhere. The above are some statements from that movement proclaiming the independence of Korea.

Japanese crackdown was severe. On April 15, 1919, Japanese authorities took over a village near Suwon, forced the villagers into a Christian church, locked the doors, and set the church on fire. Many burned to death; those who broke out were gunned down. Children coming out to take a look were also gunned down.

The Korean independence movement took place well outside Korea as well. There were military operations, primarily in China. The Korean independence fighters fought alongside the forces of Nationalist China, the UK, and the US, as they struggled for the control of China against the Japanese invaders.

Even outside China, there were Korean militias. The above painting is something of interest to me; it shows a Korean militia in Los Angeles. It was formed in February 1942 as a Korean-speaking unit of California National Guard, with a name of Maenghogun (Warriors of Fierce Tiger). On April 26th, 1942, it received official recognition of the California state government, and on August 29th, 1942, a Taegeukgi (the traditional flag of Korea, and current national flag of South Korea) was hoisted at Los Angeles City Hall. Maenghogun added another division in San Francisco on January 6, 1943, and starting in late 1944, trained for an invasion of Korea itself, though it never panned out due to Japan's surrender in 1945.

The final area deals with the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, which was founded as a government-in-exile in Shanghai in 1919. It was located in Shanghai's French concession, primarily because the French were more tolerant of anti-Japanese activities than others. In fact, Shanghai's Korean community called the French concession its home.

Nevertheless, as the Japanese kept expanding into China, the Provisional Government was forced to flee to a number of other Chinese cities. Also, it was so cash-strapped at one point, that it couldn't even pay the rent for its modest offices!

The overseas Korean communities funded the Provisional Government, and much of the funding came from the US. The early Korean-Americans, as seen above, worked as indentured servants on Hawaiian sugar cane plantations and in farms in California and elsewhere. They made very little, but what little they could spare, they often forwarded to the Provisional Government.

The Provisional Government was one based on a democratic, republican form of government, with power to be shared between three equal branches. It was a rare point in Korean history where both leftists, such as Kim Ku, and rightists, such as Syngman Rhee, worked together for a common goal.

The above document is a record of a meeting between Kim Ku, the President of the Provisional Government, and Chiang Kai-shek, the President of the Chinese Nationalist government (Republic of China). The Provisional Government applied for diplomatic recognition from members of the anti-Japanese alliance, including the Republic of China, the US, and the USSR; China did recognize the Provisional Government.

When Japan surrendered, and it was time for the Provisional Government to leave China and return to Korea, both the Nationalist Government and the Communist rebels sent it off in grand style. However, the Provisional Government found itself ignored upon return to Korea around the end of 1945, as by then, the USSR had taken control north of the 38th Parallel, and the US to the south. Neither power trusted the Provisional Government, and the two were looking into a trusteeship rule for Korea for the next several decades.

This photo shows the 38th Parallel, the border between the two Koreas, just south of Yangyang, on the east coast. I visited Yangyang at the beginning of my road trip, so this photo hits close to me.

As it turns out, a UN-sponsored election was to be held throughout Korea, but the Soviets did not allow UN monitors into North Korea, so only South Korea participated in the election. The only real presidential candidate was Syngman Rhee, the American favorite; Kim Ku was also on the ballot, though against his own wishes, placed there by an anti-Kim activist as a smear tactic. In 1948, the Republic of Korea was proclaimed as the southern government, with Rhee as President, and it is considered the successor to the Provisional Government, despite the inability of actual Provisional Government personnel to play any real part in it. Less than a month afterwards, the Soviet-sponsored government was established in North Korea, led by Kim Il-sung. Korea was permanently divided, and remains so, even after a bloody war.

The exhibits end with a wish for peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula, as well as the coming together of Korean communities throughout the world - including those in China, Japan, Russia, Europe, North America, and Latin America - for the common good. Nice goal, but the Korean-American community that I know of is no longer the inspiration for freedom and independence that it once was. If anything, it wants Korea to be America's next Red State and a bastion of Christian extremism, neither of which I will stand for.

A row of seven cars belonging to facility staff. The left six are South Korean domestics. From the left, they are Daewoo Lanos, Hyundai Verna (Accent in the US), Hyundai Grandeur (XG-series in the US), Kia Pride (Rio in the US), Hyundai Elantra, and Kia Visio (no longer available in South Korea, but built and sold as a Hyundai in India). The right is a BMW 5-series.

Returning to the Seoul area means that I encounter lots of BMWs on the road again. I am very steamed. And in this setting, a BMW is even more inappropriate. I would hate to come here in a Japanese car, or even a Korean car designed in Japan (as is the case with the entire Renault-Samsung model range), because of the Japanese political establishment's inability to acknowledge its dark past, much less do anything about it. It must also be remembered that Nazi Germany was Japan's key ally during those years; while most German corporations have atoned for their sins and made corrections, BMW refuses to do so, and today funds the same kinds of vitriol in the US that were once pushed by the Nazis themselves. And BMW's biggest beneficiaries in the US are the Nazis' biggest allies - the Bush family.

I'm more determined than ever to get rid of my BMW when I return home. In the meantime, many Koreans will get a word from me as well. While many (not all, but still many) in Korea and China won't buy Japanese vehicles, they will surely buy German. While I don't object to the likes of VW or Mercedes, and I myself surely look forward to driving another German car in the future, I certainly do object to BMW, and I'll make that clearly known.

A remote section of the outdoors exhibits has this area. It looks a lot like a Greco-Roman amphitheater. But in reality, it uses the architectural elements of the Japanese Governor-General Building, which stood in downtown Seoul until 1995, when it was demolished. The large spire at the bottom of the amphitheater used to crown the dome of the building.

The building had the shape of the character 日 (day or sun). Of course, it also stood for Japan, as the first character of 日本 (pronounced "nippon" or "nihon," Land of the Rising Sun), the real name of Japan. Even though South Korea made good use of the building well into the 1980s, it was still too much for the Korean people to put up with.

I'm now leaving the Independence Hall. This is a dedication monument, put up on August 15, 2007. It replaced the original monument put up at dedication on August 15, 1987; the original, now next to the Governor General relics, was signed by President Chun Doo-hwan, which was now considered inappropriate due to Chun's rise to power through a bloody military coup. The Korean people will not accept tyranny, foreign or domestic. I'm very inspired. And 2MB better take note too.

My maternal grandparents are buried at a cemetery nearby, so I decided to head over there, while there was still a bit of daylight left. I had to pass in front of Sun Moon University, however; if it sounds like it was founded by Reverend Moon, it's because it was founded by Reverend Moon, as its banners proudly claimed. My grandparents' grave was well-decorated but unmarked, and I had to double-check with a relative back in Seoul, giving the section, row, and plot numbers and a description of the grave as well as nearby graves, to confirm it. Once confirmed, however, I immediately gave the traditional Korean two-and-a-half bow given to dead ancestors, then spent some time there. I promised my grandparents that one day in the near future, I will take their ashes out of that grave, and personally drive them back to their North Korean birthplace. I sincerely want to do that.

I then returned toward Seoul, but instead of returning to Seongnam, continued into Seoul, ending up at Jamsil's Lotte World. On the way, I continued to listen to the radio. My favorite Seoul-area FM frequencies include 104.5, which often broadcasts English lessons. Although I certainly don't need those lessons, I do get an idea of what the average Korean-speaking student of the English language has trouble understanding, and that will certainly help me communicate with the Koreans better. It handles mostly American English, but also uses occasional British English as well. Another frequency of help is 95.1, which normally handles traffic but also has some current events. Yet another is 91.9, MBC's music channel for the Seoul area. Another interesting choice is 102.7, "the Eagle," which is run by the US military; I love it when it plays Mariah Carey or Colbie Caillat, but much of its programming is not of much use to civilians, and I lose reception in tunnels. In any case, I find these radio stations to be far superior to the overly commercialized Clear Channel stations that crowd the dial in major US cities. While paying premium for satellite radio is a necessity in the US, it's neither necessary nor available in South Korea.

(Update: 104.5 is EBS - Educational Broadcasting. 95.1 is TBS - Traffic Broadcasting - and is launching TBS-E, an all-English station, on 101.3. SBS Music at 107.7 is also interesting.)

My route took me on a small portion of Expressway 25, which is privately funded and managed, before taking Expressway 1 to Pan-gyo, just past the end of the thruway section. I then took my father's favorite route to Jamsil, which uses Provincial Road 23 northbound past Seoul Air Force Base (handling VIP flights, including US Air Force One) into Seoul city limits, turns east for a kilometer, then turns north again on National Highway 3 (Songpa Boulevard in this section) right into Jamsil. Provincial Road 23 used to be a sleepy two-lane road, but it's now a boulevard with 6 to 8 lanes, and with lots of construction work, shifting lanes made driving it very tricky. I have to keep remembering that while there were under one million cars in South Korea when my father drove those very same routes, there are now over ten million, with three million in Seoul alone.

The massive traffic jam caused my drive to take almost three hours. Under light traffic, the drive should be just over an hour.

A Sizzler restaurant has this banner, reminding me that in just over two weeks, I will have a chance to listen to a Venezuelan youth orchestra. Certainly they are coming a LONG way, as it probably takes at least 24 hours of travel time to get from Caracas to Seoul. Unfortunately, I will be headed back to Los Angeles by the time they are performing.

Lotte World's restaurants were either packed with fashionistas on dates, or cut-rate. I had to settle for a Lotteria fast-food dinner, though I made it right by ordering a special steak burger made with domestic Korean beef. It's much pricier than hamburgers made with cheaper Australian beef, but definitely worth the price.

I headed across the corner to a record store. I got to see this special edition of Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album. I didn't grab it as it was imported from the European Union. However, it reminded me of another date in pop history (to add to the pop history discussion from earlier in the day on the radio): on this very day in 1994, Mariah did an autographing session at New York's Rockefeller Center to promote this album, I was there, we got to talk face-to-face for a moment, and I got away with an autograph. Most importantly, we talked about Mariah's numerous fans over here in South Korea, whom I had come across earlier in 1994.

Another reminder of Mariah Carey is here, in the form of her new compilation The Ballads. It's still not available in the US, but it's been available here for almost a month. In fact, I bought a copy at this very store three weeks ago.

Currently, this is the store's best-selling album. Mariah is indeed very popular in South Korea. I'm glad to be able to make something out of that for myself, but even more importantly, for Mariah herself and her fans here in Seoul.

Here's my purchase today: Safe Trip Home, Dido's third and newest album, released this week worldwide. As I bought Dido's first album in San Francisco and her second in London, Dido is the second artist whose albums I get to buy in three different markets (the first, of course, was Mariah Carey).

I took the new riverside freeway, which starts next to Olympic Stadium nearby, back to Seongnam, just to find out what it's like to drive on it. During the drive, I listened to even more radio, which told me some interesting statistics about adoption of Korean babies. Since 1953, when statistics started, 80% of all Korean babies put up for adoption have ended up overseas, and every year, foreign adoptions have outnumbered domestic adoptions. This is due to the Korean Confucian emphasis on blood relationships and the tendency of Korean stepparents to show no love to their stepchildren; moreover, the old Confucian family census registers really put adoptive children at a disadvantage. But that is now history, and this year, for the first time, domestic adoptions are outpacing foreign adoptions. Complications do remain, as most of the domestic adoptions tend to be able-bodied girls, and if the birth mother is a minor, then the baby's grandparents must also get involved, and it gets messy. Nevertheless, this is a start, and even more proof that the South Korean society is changing, slowly but surely.