Daily Archives: 19 April, 2009

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The Seoul of Korea: Day 5 – Seodaemun Prison, Seoul World Cup Stadium & Hangang River Ferry Cruise

Rest from the night before was a blessing to all of us. We were well rested and able to take on Seoul for the fifth day! This also marked my last full day in Seoul, and I intend to make the best out of it by setting out to see some of the more out-of-way attraction spots in this city.

Breakfast @ Dunkin Donuts

We had an early start for the day; I remembered because we found a Dunkin Donuts outlet in Insadong and had a good breakfast there! These four doughnuts, plus the drink, were not mine. They were Shafik’s, and Shafik’s alone. He devoured this under 15 minutes and ordered another drink. One has to wonder if his stomach is indeed bottomless? And, yes, I know Seoul and Dunkin Donuts do not exactly go together. But we were hungry, and I needed a sugar fix. So we didn’t really care.

Dodaemun Metro Station

Our destination was a mere three metro stations away from Jongno-san (3) Ga. Upon alighting from the train, I realised that we had the entire station to ourselves, and instantly we know that this got to be the most historically rich station off all. The walls were adorned with marble plaques with Korean writing on them. Cheryl was able to read some… and told me they were names. Hundreds of them. It dawned on me, then, they must be the names of Korean heroes from the place we were about to visit.

At Seodaemun Prison

The Seodaemun Prison was a stark reminder of the sufferings of Korean independence fighters who challenged Japanese colonial rule (1910-45). It contains an entrance gate, two watchtowers, a wooden execution house, interrogation cells and eight of the original 18 red-brick prison buildings. Built to house 500 prisoners, up to 3000 were packed inside during the height of the anti-Japanese protests in 1919.

At Seodaemun Prison

Altogether 40,000 freedom fighters passed through the entrance gate and at least 400 died or were killed inside, including Ryu Gwan-sun, an Ewha high-school student who was tortured to death in 1920. Overcrowding, lack of food, beatings and torture were daily facts of life, and the interrogation cells give a vivid and nightmarish demonstration of what went on there.

At Seodaemun Prison

The independence fighters were brave but too few to threaten the Japan’s brutal rule, which attempted cultural genocide – banning the Korean language and forcing Koreans to adopt Japanese names (12% refused).

At Seodaemun Prison - The Secret Tunnel

The prison, now serving as one of the most important historical landmark of South Korea, was tastefully designed to educate the visitors on the hardship these warriors had to go through during the Japanese rule. The secret tunnel where corpses were ferried out of the prison, the execution chamber, vivid replay of prisoners’ torture (nail prickling, torture box, electric shocks, just to name a few), the house of leper, the actual prison building, the cramped cell… it was a harrowing morning for all of us. Cheryl, Shafik and I left the prison compound in a sombre mood and a newly-gained respect to the steadfastness of Korean patriotic spirit.

Seoul World Cup Stadium

Now on to less-sombering stuff! When I saw descriptions on the World Cup Stadium in the Lonely Planet guidebook, I knew I had to pay a visit. No, I am no soccer fan (you’ll know why in a sec), but architecture of stadiums always fascinates me. The grandeur, the scale, the vastness… yes, I like it big. LOL.

Inside the Seoul World Cup Stadium

Costing US$151 million, the spectacular 64,000-seat World Cup Stadium was built to stage the opening ceremony and some of the matches of the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, which Korea cohosted with Japan. Under the stadium is CGV, lots of small shops, a giant hypermarket and household goods. Around the stadium are large parks that have been cleverly reclaimed from landfill sites and returned to natural states.

Inside the Seoul World Cup Stadium

For a mere W1,500 (that’s about S$2), I get to go inside the stadium, onto the pitch and into the locker rooms! Again we had the entire stadium almost entirely to ourselves. Rows and rows of seats, perfect green grass, sitting at field side… I felt almost like a soccer player myself. LOL. And of course we did a great many video, like how I tried to come up with a soccer strategy which was a total failure (see below), changing in the local room and was rudely interrupted by incoming visitors, a full length tour of the soccer players’ locker room, and of me showing off my non-existent soccer skills in the warm up room.

We also took a great many photos of here, many were beautiful because of the majestic stadium. There was also a soccer stadium attached, depicting the colourful history of soccer mania in Korea (look at the soccer players!) and visiting football teams. It was also here where I discovered that my digicam has a wide landscape function. I know, I am such a total klutz! To thin that I have been using the camera for almost two years now.

Picnic @ Seoul World Cup Stadium

We had plenty of time left before our plan for the evening, so we decided, impulsively, to have a picnic right here! The weather was lovely, we saw some green parks around the stadium, and there was a hypermart in the mall where we can get some food.

And so we did. Granted, we could have chosen a better spot than a non-grassy plain next to the helipad (yes, there was one right outside the stadium). We had a great time trying NOT to get sand into our food, as well as to play with them. Like how fling a peanut is really a lost art form, and why certain things are not safe for work (NSFW).

Our next plan was to take on the Hangang River Ferry Cruise. However, time flew by faster than we expect, and by the time we were ready to leave the stadium, it was already past 6 p.m., and the ferry was to depart at 7.30 p.m.! So it was a mad, mad rush for all of us from the stadium to Yeouido pier. Like, Amazing Race style (see above).

Hangang River Ferry Cruise

We made it to the ferry in the nick of time, but not before all of us were breathless from the run (yes, we ran from the metro station to the ferry), all sweaty and bothered. Okay, that sounded sexy, but actually it wasn’t. Less than five minutes after we came onboard, the ferry started to sail away from the pier. Phew!

Hangang River Ferry Cruise

The river ferry cruise took us back and forth across different sections of Seoul, including Yeuido, Yanghwa, Ttsukseom and Jamsil. There was a live performance onboard (attracted mainly middle age aunties), but we were more interested staying at the deck of the ship to take in the sight. Night has fallen and everything was dark, so it was difficult to make out what is what. But we had a better time relaxing facing the night wind (chilling as it was), just talking and be with each other without a mad rush to another point. It was calming and relaxing… and as strange as this may sound, I found this to be the highlight of my trip.

Larvae - Korean Delicacy

Upon alighting from the Hangang River Ferry Cruise, I decided once and for all to try the Korean roadside delicacy which I have seen everywhere I go – a big pot of steaming hot larvae. The smell was kinda nauseating, but not bad enough for the adventurous side of me not to take a little dip into the (literally) unknown.

It wasn’t that bad, actually. Tasted like chicken. Though I finish only 1/3 of the cup. LOL. This is a video of me taking my first bite, and here’s the second part. I even managed to convince Cheryl to try out (her being a Korean princess and all), but the single piece of larva she tasted proven to be too much for her.

Last Dinner @ Insadong

Soon we were back in Insadong for my last dinner. We trawled the streets of Insadong at night, which was totally different from the day as the sleazy part of this culture-rich district came out to play. We found a satisfying cafe at which I bought everyone dinner. It was a good one – Korean food for me, lots of meat for Shafik, and non-veg for Cheryl.

A befitting end to an adventurous day, and to my last day in Seoul. Click here for the full set of photos for today.