Korea 2008 Day Eleven: Independence Hall, Cheonan

by Kara on October 18, 2008

Monument to the Nation. Independence Hall of Korea. Cheonan.

Monument to the Nation. Independence Hall of Korea. Cheonan.

As planned, today we went to the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan. That is one long subway ride! We left at 8 am, and didn’t get to the hall until nearly 11 am. We took a taxi from the train station, or it would have been even later when we got there. The Independence Hall of Korea deals mainly with Koreans’ struggle for independence from Japanese colonial rule. Colonial rule is an awfully nice way to put what the Japanese did, in my opinion. I had read about it in a couple histories of Korea, but the museum really brought to life just how horrible things were for the Korean people during the period of occupation. There may have been a few years in there where the Japanese relaxed some of their more stringent laws that subjugated the Korean people, but all along they were imprisoning, torturing and killing Korean independence fighters. Many of the people who weren’t executed outright died in prison due to malnutrition, disease, cold and torture. They actually had life-size animatronic models graphically depicting some of the methods of torture, which was pretty horrific. Much of it wasn’t very pleasant, but I feel the same way about it that I do about visiting a Holocaust museum, for example. I think it is really important for us to be aware of how willing some people are to mistreat (a really mild word) their fellow man. I never get my maxims just right, but one of the few sayings I think is more true than trite is, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Calling it the Independence Hall is a misnomer, because it is actually a number of buildings that took us several hours to go through. The major disappointment was that the material that was more uplifting and inspiring, such as what all the freedom fighters were doing, was all in Korean. They had two rooms full of pictures of various men and women, and next to each picture it said “The Patriotic Act of (name)” and everything else was in Korean. Some of the most famous ones had a little bit of English, such as Ahn Jung-Geun, who assassinated Ito Hirobumi, but for the most part, I had no idea what each one did. I am hoping I can find a book in English dealing solely with the resistance movement so I can find out more about the people who fought for independence.

They had a “4D” movie theater that had wind and the ground shaking to enhance the 3D film they showed. It was a nice little animated film about a little boy who went back in time and saw his grandfather, who was an independence fighter. It was a sweet film, but again, it was in Korean, so we didn’t quite get all of it.

Korean flag (Taegukgi) made from cups. Independence Hall, Cheonan.

Korean flag (Taegukgi) made from cups. Independence Hall, Cheonan.

We left at about 4:30 pm. This time, we took the bus back to the train station. We stood the whole way, and the bus driver drove like a maniac. When it was so crowded, there was nothing for these little old ladies to hold onto as they made their way to the back door to exit. I was kept busy through most of the half hour or so ride grabbing people to keep them from falling down. I was surprised I was the only one doing it, because it seemed like they really could have gotten injured. I happened to be standing next to another American (a rare occurrence on Korean public transportation), so we got to talking. She and her husband have been in Cheonan teaching English since last February. She was six months pregnant, so they are having their baby here, then leaving in February. I really wish I had done something like that when I was younger, but at this age, I don’t want to put my life (and retirement savings) on hold for a year.

I saw an editorial in one of the English language Korean newspapers that said people teaching English in Korea should at least make an attempt to learn Korean. He talked about how he has heard some English teachers make fun of the way Koreans speak English, and made the point that if they tried to learn Korean, they would understand why it is so difficult for Koreans to pronounce certain English words. I agreed wholeheartedly with him up to that point. But then he started talking about how people who come to teach English in Korea are losers and they were rotten students in the universities they attended. He said they couldn’t get jobs at home, so they had to come to Korea. He got more and more insulting. Guess what he is doing in Korea… teaching English. So Apparently he thinks he is the sole exception. I am sure there are some bozos who go to other countries to teach English, but I am sure that people have many reasons for doing so. I thought it would be a great way to learn Korean. The couple I met really wants to live abroad when their kid is a little older, so they wanted to try it for a year. Anyway, I just brought it up because I thought it was hilarious that this guy was making fun of other English teachers in Korea, but couldn’t see any of the traits in himself that he sees in other people.

For dinner, we went to a traditional restaurant with Stephen’s Dad. Traditional just means you sit on the floor (and your legs fall asleep and you fall on your face when you try to get up). The theme of this dinner was noodles, noodles, noodles. Stephen’s Dad ordered three kinds of noodle soup and one order of mandu. Unfortunately, they forgot the mandu so he went to angrily remind them, and then he refused it when they brought it. So we never got our mandu.

Even when we go out for dinner, when we get back to the apartment, after our showers we eat a bunch of fruit. Since I have been here, I eat TONS of fruit every day. I probably don’t eat as much of it as I should at home, and I have found I kind of like having the fruit after dinner (although maybe not in the quantities Stephen’s Dad pushes on us). In one day, I typically eat one banana, 2-3 apples, 2 GIANT Korean pears, and maybe a peach. Every day, he tells us to eat the persimmons, and we refuse. It cracks me up, because every day when his Dad tries to get him to eat one and Stephen says he doesn’t like persimmons, his Dad responds, “No, it’s good. Just peel like this. See?” It is the exact same conversation every time. At least Stephen and his Dad are consistent.

Check out more of Stephen’s pictures of South Korea.

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