Saturday, April 02, 2005

A prison in the heart of Seoul

Some Korean selections (C) Lrong Lim

Got back from Korea a few days ago. Brought seven students from my university to visit our counterparts in a university two hours away from Seoul.

The Korean students and teacher put up a very warm welcome for us, despite the ongoing sparring match between Japan and Korea over a tiny speck of an island in the Japan (or East) Sea.

I adore the food and the chilies there. My hair stood on their ends whenever my tongue made contact with the condiments.

Hot indeed, but I could not stop my hands from reaching out for more.

Of all the places they took us to, the one that left the deepest impression was the visit to Sodeamun Prison in the heart of Seoul.

The Japanese army built this prison in 1907 to imprison and torture Korean nationalists fighting for independence.

The exhibits looked very real, coordinated with voices screaming from being tortured.

There were 'wall-coffins' which practically restricted any movement of the prisoner.

Once scene that made my skin crawled was the poking of the fingertips of prisoners with sharp bamboo spikes.

The execution house still stands, as it is, with the poplar tree still alive.

Prisoners walking toward the execution house for the last time grabbed the trunk of this poplar tree, refusing to let go.

I have not even been to Mainland China yet where I suppose there will be more similar displays of cruelty by the Japanese army.

But after seeing these exhibits, I guess that the Koreans will never be able to forgive the Japanese for what they have done to the Korean people.

The seven Japanese students observed silently while listening to the Korean interpreter.

Later, they wondered why the Koreans keep on harping about history.

I have no answer to that, but I believe that the Koreans have a point in preserving this inhumane slice of history.

The other side of the story lies in Hiroshima.

The Japanese people have constructed an equally terrifying range of exhibits to demonstrate and remind the world of US cruelty in dropping the H-bomb.

I actually wept (discreetly of course, and out of sight from anyone) when I first saw those gory exhibits years ago.

So here the Japanese are telling the universe that the US was evil in dropping the bomb.

Although I was emotionally affected, I never lost sight of the fact that the Japanese were the initiators of the conflict.

The Koreans are keeping the original prison buildings as they stood.

More Japanese people should head there to see for themselves what their ancestors had done.

As for me, I would love to make a return trip to Korea just to sink my fangs into a dish that eluded me, a chicken herbal soup dish called 'Sam Gae Tang'.