The Prison and the Mountain

Today was a beautiful, cold, crystalline day in Seoul. The wind blew through the buildings and played with my hair, reminding me of the strong winds of Patagonia. It was one of those days where my hands felt frozen to my camera. The day began with the quick train to Seoul, and to the Seodaemun prison. This was a facility that was in use from 1908-1987, and housed those who dared to stand up to Japanese colonial rule. As with any site of human atrocity, there is no way of knowing how many were killed in the prison. Estimates range from 70 to over 3000. Ryu Gwan-sun was eighteen years old when her entire family was killed for being suspected of supporting Korean independence. She was hold at the prison and tortured to death in 1920. This picture, hidden to one side in a room with nothing of real interest in it, caught my eye. Many Koreans gathered in the prison yard bearing their nation’s flag, and the looks on their faces show the happiness and pride in their nation. Maybe it’s because I’m also from a country that fought for its independence, but this picture made me all choked up. However many were killed and tortured in this prison, the spirit they worked and died for lived on. Then we went to climb the mountain across the street, home to one of the most important shamanistic shrines in Korea.

Women climb this mountain to pray with prostrations for children at the rock at the top of these stairs. I took a moment and removed my shoes and bag, and climbed up onto the platform. A flock of pigeons landed noisily on the rock, seeking the rice left in offering there. I closed my eyes, and heard the wind rush around my head. The women next to me we prostrating themselves, imploring the four directions for aid. I thought of those who had been held and died in the prison below.

The sun shifted in the puffy clouds and illuminated my eyelids, bright red. I immediately felt more as peace.

The whole of Seoul stretched out below us. It reminded me forcefully of Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago de Chile, one year ago. Buildings in a valley, as far as the eye can see.


I’d missed nature so much. There are an awful lot of days that I don’t even touch unpaved ground here. The rocks and trees called to me.

Then it was back down to the city for Moroccan food.

Just another day in South Korea.

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