The War Memorial Museum….
I thought it was important for us to see the War Memorial Museum in Yongsan, Seoul, where the American forces were based. It did not disappoint. When we had come outside after being in the museum for 3 hours, I remember saying to myself that it would have taken us 2 weeks to see all of it. There were huge displays inside and outside of real planes and equipment that was used in the Korean War. A huge section inside had rooms and rooms of just Chinese strategies and tactical inventions from hundreds of years ago like how they rolled stones as weapons down a hill during primitive warfare several thousand years ago but then later they gradually developped gunpowder. The rooms presented actual examples of the ancient weapons used over time in many countries whose warfare involved Korea.
There were many interactive display rooms also. You could pretend you were in actual combat. We were in one room where it went dark, and then flashing lights and the sound of gunfire would start, and the recorded voices of what was supposed to be Korean soldiers in the trenches, talking to eachother, wondering what to do, would play. The voices spoke Korean but they sounded confused and scared. During my visit to this museum, I learned that many, many Chinese soldiers joined the Korean War partway through it and they fought on the side of North Korea, making things worse than they were.
It was a museum showcasing how all warfare for hundreds of years had affected Korea. This only cost a few dollars to get into as well!
I wanted to say that we were lucky to even get beds anywhere over there. They don’t like beds much, as they are a western piece of furniture and not considered to be good for the body. Tables and chairs are western too. Korean parents sleep with their babies and small children until each child turns five. And they sleep on the floor on a special “Korean mattress”, which is a colourful, silky blanket with layers of padding under it, like the bright, red satiny seat cushion in the photo below, only bigger. Many people had Western-style beds when we were in Korea, but many people also had their ‘mattresses’ for the floor as well and they preferred their mattressee. When I visited Sang Hyun, we sat together on his floor. The pillows and blankets weren’t the same as the ones in the West either. There were only expensive comforters and pillows that were like sofa cushions with no pillow cases and there were no sheets to ever be found over there at all. A lot of Koreans ate while sitting on the floor at a short sort of coffee table in their apartments, even though they often had dining rooms like we have. The floors in Korea were made out of different material too, like a thin, smooth laminate. Even their walls weren’t like ours, and they were like the fire-retardant walls you see that are inside of trailers. I never noticed any gyprock while I was there.
So SoJoung gave us a bed to sleep in when we stayed with her, at least. I want to mention that SoJoung was Im SoJoung. ‘Im’ was her family name. All Korean women keep their own family names and don’t take their husbands’ names at all when they get married!
While in Seoul, I saw many bottles of what looked like water on sheves in their apartments everywhere. The water was ‘barley water’ they made all the time and that’s what they would drink. They put a bit of barley grains in a pot with water and they’d boil it for a while, then they’d save the water it made and keep that water in bottles and drink it. I always heard over there that something was “good for health”, and barley water was a certain staple at the time. Sail and SoJoung had many bottles of it on their window shelves, I remember. We were always told not to use the tap water for drinking or cooking. Everyone had to buy bottled water to cook with or drink.
It was exciting to go to the Seoul Zoo on our trip, as I had always wanted to go. We had to go by subway to the South of the city, in the middle of it. It was out of city limits. The huge park complex was called Seoul Grand Park and it had 5 large sections in it. Only one part was the massive zoo. The mountains around it and statues and flowers were nice to look at. The enclosures were very spacious and the animals seemed to be treated well. A few spots were better than anything, like the baby albino tiger with blue eyes – he seemed to be the star of the zoo! How would I ever see one anywhere else? Seeing a real gorilla, Asian sun bears and a real Japanese crane up close was exciting to me as well. We spent 4 hours there and only saw a portion of it. The area was nice too and we had some different kinds of excitement there, as I will explain…
To my surprise and dismay, there was a sky-lift to hop on with scary difficulty to get transported to the zoo, the park complex was so huge. We were able to safely jump on and had to do this while it was moving. It was okay for the teenaged students but not everyone would be able to go on the lift. It was like a ski-lift and was a high jump to get on too.
This park was near what they called the Seoul Racetrack. I never went, but it was horse races for tourists who wanted to bet. Can you believe Koreans are not allowed to gamble at all? They spoke of lotteries as well but were not allowed to get involved in it. Korea is and was extremely strict about any crimes or drug use of any kind. More strict than in western countries. There was a no-tipping policy throughout Korea when I lived there. Everyone lived the same and did the same things. They all had a lot of pride in their society and culture. One day I was looking out a high window in the city at the people on the street and it occurred to me what it was that I found different there. It was the army consciption that made the difference. All males had to join the army and train for 2 years. Every single one. Some had medical excuses not to go and some leave Korea to not have to go. I found this interesting when I lived there. As I looked down at the people on the street that day in late 1997, and realised conscription affected the men there, it made sense that all the Korean men were extremely disciplined and orderly. All the time. Not only was everybody freshly showered and neat, but they all walked in an orderly fashion and there was hardly ever anyone who stood out from this orderly, neat crowd.
The photo above was taken because as we went through the zoo, this particular student was exclaiming more than the rest of them every time he saw us. We kept running into him and his group as we walked along. When it was time for me to see the bird enclosure, he planted himself in front of me and wanted to be in my picture. I wish I could have spoken to him, but he really could not speak English and had to go with his group. I like my picture of him and the memories it invokes.
I loved the bird enclosure because of the cranes in it. There were 2 kinds. On the right of this picture is the crane I looked at who was up close. He or she looked me in the eye and it was eery and sad because it looked intelligent. I remember thinking they are such special birds.
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