Changdeokgung Palace, Joseon Dynasty, Korea, Seoul, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1395 and it is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Changdeokgung, like the other Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, was heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Currently, only 30% of the Palace structures remain.
Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. The UNESCO committee inscribing the site stated the place was an “outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design” being exceptional because the buildings are “integrated into and harmonized with the natural setting” and adapted “to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover.”
From The Ottawa Citizen:
The issue that brought people there on a grey, foggy day was a nearly seven-decades-old open wound: Imperial Japan’s forced enlistment of an estimated 200,000 young women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other nations as sex slaves — so-called “comfort women” — during the Second World War.
The women were incarcerated in “comfort stations” in Japanese-occupied foreign territories and forced to service the sexual needs of up to 30 Japanese soldiers daily. About three-quarters died and most of the survivors were left infertile by sexual trauma or disease.
The Ottawa demonstration was one of about 20 marches, documentary screenings and poetry readings around the world marking the 1,000th consecutive Wednesday that the frail, aging survivors and their supporters have demonstrated in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. Korean women made up as many as 150,000 of the comfort women.
The “Wednesday demonstration”, which began in 1992, is now such a fixture that it has become a tourist attraction. The travel guide Lonely Planet ranks it No. 42 of 438 things to do in the South Korean capital.
“It’s one of the longest-standing demonstrations in the world, and they called for global action,” said Clara Wong, co-ordinator of the Ottawa event. “We’re responding in solidarity.”
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The DMZ (38th parallel) separates the Korea Peninsular into north and south. This strip of land is roughly 4 km wide and runs 250 km east to west. It acts as a buffer zone between Communist Korea in the north and Republic of Korea in the south. It is the most militarized cold war border in the world. The surrounding area is heavily mined and the tension has been running high since the Armistice Agreement was signed back in 1953.
Panmunjeom or Joint Security Area is the place where the negotiations have taken place in the past. Inside this area, you can enter one of the buildings that are built right over top the Military Demarcation Line. Once inside and accompanied by military personnel, you are allowed to cross into North Korea territory by walking across to the other side of the table pass the border line. However, you are not allowed to go through the door across the room and enter into North Korea. Who would want to start WWWIII!
Numerous incidents have taken place in the DMZ area since the Armistice was signed in 1953. One took place as recent as October 2010 where shots were fired from the north and was quickly responded by gunfire from the south. All in all, there were 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 US soldiers killed due to skirmishes between 1953 and 1999.
Since 1974, South Korean army had discovered 4 tunnels dug by the north that crossed into DMZ. The size of these tunnels are large enough for the entire infantry to pass through within an hour.
The tension in the DMZ is all too real. Seoul is situated within an hour drive south from DMZ area. This is why the South Korean army is always vigilant and takes every possible threat as an military aggression. Besides UN’s presence (mainly US armed forces), the DMZ is also monitored by members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission which includes Swiss and Swedish armed forces stationed in this area.
The survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery from WWWII have been demonstrating in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul since January 8th, 1992. It is the world’s longest ongoing demonstration.
The halmoni or grandmas as they are called in Korea, have been doing this for 19 years every Wednesday morning. They and the supporters have been demanding the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for this war time act. So far, the Japanese government has been reluctant to do so. Due to the advance age of these grandmas, they might not be able to see the justice that they deserve.
Around 50,000 to 200,000 women from Asia had been forced or coerced by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war time. Most of the women came from Korea. Besides being raped daily by the Japanese soldiers in these comfort stations, these women were subjected to constant physical abuse and often killed if they tried to escape.
Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain and flooding in Seoul, the grandmas were not able to attend this week’s demonstration. In their place were these young students and activists who showed tremendous support for this thorny issue between the two countries. Without acknowledgment and sincere apology from the victimizer, the Korean people don’t believe that reconciliation can be achieved.