Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Blue House

My great historian friend and I had another historical experience. Usually we talk about Korean history and we both have a fascination with ancient history - the splitting of the Han and their cousin the Hun nomadic groups and how the Han (Koreans) and the Huns (Turks) are still connected by blood and historical records. We're interested in the Mongols and how they affected Korean history, and then we've had deep discussions on the presidents and the re-writing of Korean books based on political viewpoints of the times. I believe all countries do this (shocked?). And by doing so, there is created an intentional historical amnesia which the old and historically valuable documents discovered and preserved around the world seek to continue to preserve and to honor. Korea has some of these documents, the Uigwe, known as the Memory of the World. These documents help historians trace where present-day known history can be realized to be incorrect. These documents are true to their time; however, the Uigwe, Korea's contribution to the Memory of the World, is not without flaw. They are the annual published manuals of the kings ... but they are rewrote at the end of every year, loose or unwanted elements have been eliminated and only the facts chosen are included. Perhaps this can be said to be creating historical amnesia by omiting certain facts that can not be verified by later generations as all original notes and writings are put into the river to wash all words away and to disintegrate the kingly texts that were not to pass into the wrong hands.

Anyway, my friend and I had our historical walk on this crisp, brisk winter day on Bugaksan. We started at Hyehwa Station and hiked over the mountain, ending up at Police Commisioner Choi Gyushik's Statue and from there walked past Cheongwadae, the Blue House, to Gyeongbokkung. Basically, we circled the Blue House but of course were not allowed anywhere near it. And particularly on the mountain trail guards were posted so that we could not even take pictures. Thankfully we had just passed beyond the point where pictures were not allowed when I detected some brown movement on the trail below us. And shocker of shockers! In this city of nearly 15 million people stacked on top of each other with roads and busy thoroughways crammed with traffic, there before our very eyes were 7 deer!

The movement I had detected was from 4 deer as they walked gracefully below. As I looked closer and had already taken some pictures to prove I wasn't hallucinating, I detected 3 more sitting placidly in the shade and looking very much like the brown shubbery around them. You bet I was excited! In all my years of hiking in Korea, I've only seen two special kinds of wildlife: 11 deer on Halla Mountain in Cheju Island when another friend and I were hiking a trail over the mountain and were caught in a snowstorm. And the other time with the same friend I was in Sobaek Mountain and there was a light rain and lo and behold an Asian raccoon crossed the trail right in front of us! And I didn't get pictures of either those events so ... wow!

After hiking the 3.3 kilometer segment of the formerly 18 km wall (at present only 10 km remain as roads were built through the city), we ended up at Police Commissioner Choe Gyushik's Statue. Police Chief Choi Gyu-sik was killed on January 21, 1968 when he and his men defended Cheongwadae (Blue House) from North Korean infiltrators. He was posthumously promoted to Superintendant General and awarded the Order of Taegeuk Military Merit. Officer Jung Jong-su who assisted him was also killed in gun battle against the North Korean commandos, and he was posthumously promoted to Assistant Inspector Officer and awarded the Hwarang Order of Military Merit.

As the sign reads explaining the area: "A tombstone has been erected on the site where the two police officers died while resisting the infiltration by armed North Korean troops. On the Jahamun Pass overlooking the road to cheonwadae, stand the Bronze Statue and the Memorial Monument erected in memory of two outstanding patriots." We came, we saw, we witnessed the memorial wreaths with memorial ribbons of black and white, and in one year if we were to return to this site, we will again see the memorial wreaths and ribbons for every year the same police force offices present their flower arrangements to pay honor to the dead and their heroic deeds for the living.

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