Day 1, Part 2
National Museum of Korean Contemporary History
The nice part about visiting the Blue House and Gyeongbokgung Palace is that you’re in close proximity to many other tourist attractions, including the National Palace Museum of Korea, which displays thousands of royal relics from the Joseon Dynasty.
Another fantastic museum that we got a chance to explore was the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, a short walking distance away from the palace. As the first national modern contemporary museum, it uniquely showcases Korean history from the end of the 19th century to today.
The museum is divided by four exhibition halls: The first starts with the period when Korea opened its ports to foreign countries to when the nation was liberated from Japanese colonial rule; the second covers the period of the founding of the Republic of Korea and the Korean War; the third focuses on South Korea’s economic growth; and the fourth showcases the region’s presence and influence in the world today.
If you’re not as familiar with Korean culture and history, this is an excellent museum that shows just a snapshot of how Korea evolved and changed in recent years. As I recalled my high school and college years of absorbing Korean history briefly through textbooks, it was nothing like what I learned in just an hour through this museum. There’s nothing like seeing the diagrams, news clippings and models for yourself to offer a more realistic and visual perspective of history. This simply cannot be taught in a classroom.
Even throughout this short span of years that the museum covers, it was alarming to see and realize how much suffering the region went through, from being ruled by the Japanese to the North Korean invasion of South Korea during the Korean War.
As a foreigner, the superficial characteristics were all I really knew of Korea, but this museum greatly transformed my outlook on the country and the bravery and strength it maintained to fight through a series of hardships.
After a quick buffet dinner with some of my favorite Korean entrees — like kimchi pancakes, gyoza and a wide assortment of other dishes — David led us to Gwanghwamun Square, an open space featuring the statues of two significant leaders, Admiral Yi Sun-Sin and King Sejong the Great of Joseon.
Darkness fell upon us as David guided us along a long stretch of tiles leading to the two main statues. With each step we took, bursts of water shot up from the ground, illuminated by colorful lights below, creating a mystical and serene atmosphere.
To my right was a tent with a special memorial dedicated to the victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster of 2014 in which hundreds of people, including students, lost their lives after the ferry capsized while traveling from Incheon to Jeju Island.
The chilly, still air paired with the gentle and quiet sounds of the water fountain perfectly captured the mood for this memorial: Melancholy and somber.
The first statue you will stumble upon is that of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who stands firmly with a sword in his right hand. Directly behind him is the statue of King Sejong, who is perhaps best known for his invention of the Korean alphabet.
You know how everyone says you should try to be present in the moment? This is what I was telling myself. I looked up at the lights twinkling from the high rises next to Gwanghwamun Square and removed myself from any wandering thoughts I was having about life back home. I was here in Korea and never wanted this moment to ever go away.
Our first official day in Seoul ended with a stage production at the Jeongdon Theatre. The musical we watched, called “YOULL,” featured a nice blend of contemporary dance interwoven with dramatic lighting, upbeat music and interesting costumes.
I have to admit that I nodded off several times throughout — I promise it was only because we had packed so much in the day that I was extremely exhausted — but the lively music definitely kept me from falling into a deep slumber.
Yes, it was certainly a tiring and exhausting day since we packed so much into one day, but it was also completely fulfilling. If this was what we experienced in just one day here in Korea, I was looking forward to what would unfold during the remainder of our stay in the country.