Monday, January 14, 2008

War Memorial and Seoul Tower

I have to say, I thought the best part of the trip was the War Memorial. When we had been in Seoul to pick up Kay in 2003, the War Memorial was under construction, confusing and disjointed. However, even then, it was still incredibly powerful. They had a big sign that says "Freedom is not Free" written on the construction gate in red paint and had black marble stone engraved with all the people that lost their lives in the Korean War, both Korean people and people from other countries that had assisted them in the war (yes, even the U.S.) So, it was moving and tied back to our own War Memorial in Washington DC in a surreal way.

I need to be honest. This trip, I was skeptical of taking the kids to the War Memorial. While I had moving memories of being there, I also had a preconceived notion that it would be cold (it was), dirty (nothing in Seoul is dirty after living in India, I should have known better) and disorganized (silly me). Boy, am I glad I was wrong! The War Memorial was my favorite "repeat" tourist site of the trip. And the kids had a blast.

They finished the museum part of the War Memorial in 2006 and it is now a state of the art look into Korea culture, land disputes, wars and battle strategy over the ENTIRE history of the Korean peninsula. It was incredible. They had a granite pillar that dated from 400bc and chronicled the successes of the king at that time. They have bronze busts of each and every major general or admiral since 100 BC and recreated reenactments of battles, war ships and costumes of the time. The kids thought it was a blast! More recently, you could walk through a Navy ship, pilot a fighter plane and see entire reconstructed villages which had been ruined in the Korean war. They also had reconstructed the Viet Cong bunkers of the Vietnam war and had displays of all the conflicts they are currently supporting or fighting (Somalia, Afghanistan, etc).

But.. the highlight of the museum is the aircraft, tanks, submarines and helicopters that are spread over a huge park area outside the museum. These are living monuments to the war and you can climb in them and walk around them, pretending to shoot down, run over or bomb the enemy. The kids were in HOG heaven. Especially the 5 boys. They were running screaming and yelling from one fighter plane to another, sitting in tanks, driving helicopters and overall enjoying boy nirvana. It was pretty cool.

After a long morning spent getting our history degree in Korea skirmishes, we decided to head up to Seoul Tower for a Seattle Space Needle type view of Seoul. Again, the last time we were in Seoul, this was a shoddy excuse for a tourist attraction. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised.

We needed to hail 2 cabs (the 1st of our trip) to get us from the War Memorial to the Tower. Not easily down when you are standing on the street corner with 8 kids under the age of 7. Not a single cab would stop for us... Huh, go figure.... Finally we found 2 slightly disgruntled cab drivers that were in the mood for adventure. Almost immediately the cabs went separate ways and lost each other. I was having flash backs to Bangalore traffic and yet our driver deposited us neatly at the base of the Tower. Nicely done. Our sister cab-ites were not so lucky. Their cab driver dropped them at the exit, they had to walk UP HILL 1 km, catch a bus and a mere 40 min's after we arrived, they were neatly deposited at my feet. We went in search of Julie, Ced and Solomon since it was much too cold for their Costa Rican blood to be standing out in the cold.

Have you ever seen a Korean crowd? If not, an Indian crowd? A Chinese crowd? I suspect that they are all similar in the energy level, lack of personal space and use of elbows. We got to the tower and found ourselves in the midst of a pushing, shoving, loud, hot, manic group of Korean tourists that had one thing in mind.... Get to the top of the Tower. They had lines "formed" and you had to enter the line when your ticket # was called. We waited patiently for our tickets to be called and wondered absentmindedly "where's Julie?", as the time passed, we grew hot, frustrated, crowded and thought ..."what's the deal, where's Julie?!" ( a little more concerned now). This quickly escalated into our children rolling on the floor in boredom, crying in hunger/tiredness and overall parental crabbiness at being in a small space with 1000 people and "WHERE"S JULIE?!" Of course Karma plays a role in all of this and as our ticket # is called, Julie comes sauntering by with Sol sound asleep in her arms. They had been waiting inside where it was warm, got bored, bought a ticket and had their ticket number called. She didn't know what to do since we still hadn't materialized from our cab adventure so she went "up". We were so relived to see her and excited to finally make progress towards the tower.

The elevator moves at warp speed and shoots you to the top of the "needle" for a hilltop view of Seoul. On each window they have cities from around the world longitudinally marked with their distance from Seoul. Tom took a picture of all the cities we have been in from around the world. It was pretty cool. They also had all the tourist, memorial, temple sites in and around Seoul marked on the windows, including descriptions of why these were relevant places in the culture of Seoul. One of these actually gave me an idea for our next outing - Seoul Grand Park (Kays favorite spot and an upcoming blog).

We walked around, fought with the kids about ice cream/candy/etc and finally made our way back to Eastern.

We had been out and about for over 6 hours in the cold, sunny weather. We were exhausted but well educated! :)