Last Saturday Youngjoon, a former "middle school" student at LTRC, and I went to both Tapgol Park and Jongmyo. It was my third time to Tapgol
, and this time I was determined to get more pictures. Just like last time, I was hampered my camera's narrow angle, but I hope you'll be able to get a good impression of the park anyways. I had an experience in this park that summed up the entire Korean people's way(s) of dealing with foreigners in this park. Read on for more!
In Tapgol, there is a lovely row of life sized bass relief carvings showing patriotic scenes of surprising brutality in an extremely graphic manner. A young woman leader of the resistance against the Japanese, whose name escapes me, at the moment (despite being in an auditorium at Ewha Girls' High school yesterday named in her honor!), was tortured and killed in a prison run by the Japanese during the colonial era. She and others are commemorated in the series of reliefs. This next one photographed well (because of the angle of the sun), but is not very graphic.
One such Bass Relief
Taken together, the reliefs emphasize that this was a nation born in blood and suffering, and, indeed, martyrdom in the true sense of the word.
Declaration of Independence Monument
You can see several grandfathers at the base of the statue that supports an insription that is the Declaration of Independence of Korea, a document that is visionary and forgiving of past faults. It was in front of this monument that my little incident unfolded. I wanted a picture of Youngjoon and I in front of it. I saw many old men, but was unsure about asking them to use a digital camera (based on past experiences with shaky hands). So I asked a well-dressed man in a suit and tie. He was middle aged, an adjoshi, the male counterpart of an adjumma. He grumpily refused and made an ugly face, and walked away. And right there you have a classic case of Korean xenophobia and anti-Americanism (he couldn't have known that I was Canadian). Seeing this, one of the haraboji, that is, one of the grandfathers, smiled and graciously offered to take the picture. And right there you have the classic Korean openness to foreigners which never fails to touch this foreigner's heart. And the man took the picture well, too! This little incident also shows a demographic divide. The generation that lived through the Korean war still thinks of Americans as benefactors. Their hated enemy is Japan. The adjoshi, on the other hand, is part of a generation that hates America and fears it. Where were the young people? Well, there just aren't any young people in Tapgol Park.
After all that, you might be surprised that I'm not showing the photograph the old man took for me. The reason, of course, is that I'm not sure I should be posting a picture of a student whom I've identified by name (I haven't used his family name, however). Anyway, on to the apolitical historical places in the park!
National Treasure #2 (detail)
This "Tap" (pagoda), is the eponymous piece in the park, dating to the 15th century during the Joseon dynasty. Like many of the National Treasures, it is not native to its present location, belonging formerly to the Wongasa temple. This great structure has a living relationship with the people: it was being venerated by prostrating laypeople and monks while I took this picture. National Treasure #2 was much too tall to be photographed by my little camera, so this is the best I can give you. The whole thing is massive, contains a lot of artistically carved scenes, and is enclosed in a special glass case. Again, I remind readers that a pagoda (the English word is Japanese!) is a symbol of Buddha consciousness. I suppose there's an irony that in this park you have a political statuary reminding in the most "in your face" manner the citizenry of past Japanese war crimes, together with a symbol of a religion whose goal involves attaining freedom from the dualities of light and dark, good and bad, etc. In the main, the impression I have is that Korean Buddhism tends towards nationalism, which might be considered a bit odd. Doubtless there are others who have some academic background in the study of Buddhism, and I hope that they will feel free to leave comments, as should anyone else (t r o l l s excepted).
National Treasure #2 cont'd (detail)
Sign for National Treasure #2
In the next picture you can see the top of a stela whose turtle-base I took a picture of in my last post on this park. It is Treasure #3, and commemorates the building of Wongasa temple. It also dates to the 15th century.
Stela in Tapgol