Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Seoul's Wednesday Demonstrations

Last week Aya and I went to Seoul for a few days. This is the first time we were back in 7 years, despite being fairly close all the while. Flights from Beijing take only about 2 hours. Mostly we went back to take advantage of the holiday here in China, since it was the Chinese New Year and I had a week off from work.We also thought it might be nice to see a bit more of Seoul since last time we were on a fairly rushed weekend tour. I can't say we succeeded very much in that since for half of the days we were there it was the new year in Korea as well so many places shut down. We did get to the war museum and I managed to find the statue to comfort women in front of the Japanese embassy, but beyond that we just ate a lot of Korean food, walked around shopping areas, and met with a friend.
The War Museum was indeed interesting. Initially we approached from a strange angle so made our way first through a large yard of old military craft from tanks, planes, transports, and even a ship/cruiser. It seemed like we were encouraged to climb aboard the cruiser, so we did. Aya found the bridge and we had a bit of fun mucking around spinning the wheels and shifting the levers. It was only after climbing down that I realized it was a replica of a ship that had seen action about a decade ago. All about the ship were red marks to show where bullets or shrapnel had hit it. The attack left 7 sailors dead.Inside the museum the story was not any happier. Spread over three levels, each section dealt with a different stage or perspective of the war. I think the most interesting thing to me, in general, was that the North attacked while the South was unprepared and just after U.S. troops had left for Japan. While tactically smart, I find it odd that the North denies these events and claims it was first the South that attacked. Events seem at odds with that interpretation and I would assume they would want to take credit for the clever maneuver, but I'm no military historian. Overall the museum was interesting in its displays, but I thought a bit haphazard with the layout. It felt like the same story, in full, was repeated in each section and so after 3-4 parts in about 2 hours we decided to cut to the UN forces section, then call it done. It was interesting to see how many countries contributed to the effort, but also what they contributed. A number of nations contributed rice and oddly Japan, fresh from defeat, also contributed medical aid and rice. It seems rice can never be under appreciated.The next day I took a walk to see the statue commemorating the comfort women during the war of Japanese Aggression or WWII or, what have you. Of course in East Asia, accounts differ as to the details, but roughly the story is that during the war Japanese troops kidnapped women to serve in their brothels. After the war was over, much later, there were negotiations between the governments of Korea and Japan. A settlement was paid and apologies made, but some S. Koreans were not happy with the terms or apology. Protests started to be staged in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul in 1992 and have continued almost without pause every week. On the 1000th protest day the statue, "Pyeonghwabi", was erected. It was this statue that I was going to see. The protests have continued since then and that was very noticeable when I arrived. There were many political posters and even what appeared to be a man living next to the statue. He approached me at first and then realized I spoke no Korean. The odd thing about that is the next few groups of people to arrive to view the statue were also not Korean, they were Japanese. I was especially curious because over the weeks before my visit Japan and Korea had agreed to a new set of payment and apologies. The same old resistance arose, but it seemed to not have the same wind as before. I have to wonder, as the people involved in this conflict become old and die will these old perceptions die as well? Should they?