안녕하세요: Seodaemun Prison History Museum

02:17:00

I first heard about Seodaemun Prison History Museum 서대문형무소역사관 from Sheryl the week I arrived in Korea, and had wanted to visit the place since then. Sadly, few will be interested in this kind of attraction, and hence I finally decided to bite the bullet and go on my own since I had already been travelling around Seoul on my own the past few days anyway, and it was unlikely I would be able to find time to go another day considering how the date of my return flight to Singapore got nearer and nearer so quickly.



Seodaemun Prison was built in 1910 when Korea fell under Japanese rule at the end of Joseon Dynasty and in here, was where many Korean patriots were jailed and executed till the conclusion of World War II in 1945. Today, seven of the prison complex's original fifteen buildings are preserved as historical monuments, and Seodaemun Prison History Museum was also built on the actual grounds in remembrance of the history of struggle Koreans had went through to attain Korea's independence.

It may seem normal on the outside, but wait till you get in.




“A Place of Experience” located within the museum is probably the scariest place in the prison, I would say. Not only were the recreated scenes chillingly realistic, there were sensors all over the place that would trigger sudden turning on of lights, projection of videos onto a seemingly innocent piece of blank wall, and also audio sounds of gunshots, screams as well as prisoners trying to communicate to each other. Right there, I was terribly careful with my movements, wanting to prepare myself before I accidentally activate any well-hidden sensors. There were also a couple of times I was simply too distressed to move, and just wanted to wait for other visitors to be within an arm's length before I go on to the next section. It was that unnerving.


Intentionally allowing suspects to hear torture screams


Creating false impression of drowning by pouring water down the nose


Fitting individuals inside a small box stubbed with nails and shaking it


Wield torture by disallowing individuals to sit or stand properly for long periods



While I was there, I have also read and saw pictures of various other tortures inflicted by the Japanese on the Korean patriots, including unthinkable atrocities such as cutting off of body appendages, peeling of skin and rupturing of internal organs. I was really relieved when the last gate I had to go past led me out into the open, so I got a bit of fresh air before continuing on to the jail cells. Then, I stationed myself comfortably between a Singaporean slightly ahead (he split up from his two companions) and another two Caucasians behind. Very naturally, we adjusted our pace to suit and just followed each other throughout the visit because yes, it was a little intimidating even for the guys too.



This is Prison Cell No. 8 in the Women's Prison where Yu Gwansun, a well-known symbol of Korea's fight for independence, was imprisoned for organising the March 1st Movement, a peaceful proclamation by the Korean people for their freedom against the Imperial Japanese. It was said that Yu Gwan-sun shared her terribly insufficient meals and helped take care of an inmate, Lim Myeong-ae's baby when gave birth in the same prison cell.



The "Wailing Poplar" planted in 1923 at the time when the Execution Building was constructed. Apparently, numerous independence and democratic movement activists on the course of being dragged to the execution hall in the name of a "proper hearing" held onto this tree and wailed in resentment. It was found out later that the Japanese Imperialists would secretly transport the corpses out of the prison through a secret passage and lie that the prisoners were released.



In the event that you do wish to visit, do be prepared to leave with an heavy heart. I don't regret coming by at all as I have definitely learnt a great deal about the modern history of Korea, not the ancient ones that we are more frequently exposed too. However, there was undoubtedly a feeling of melancholy apprehension the moment you walk through the gates and onto the grounds where you know thousands of people were not just imprisoned, but tortured in a way beyond belief and eventually died or killed.

P.S. Seodaemun Prison History Museum is located at Exit #5 of Dongnimmun Station on Subway Line 3, and admission for adults cost ₩3,000.

Yvette

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