Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Temporarily imprisoned in Seodaemun Prison

Saturday I went to a prison near Dongnimmun station that the Japanese used during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to imprison, torture and sometimes kill Koreans that were opposed to the invasion. It was much more graphic than I was expecting. The huge close-up picture of a tortured man's face will stay in my mind much longer than the many mannequins depicting various torture scenarios, due to the very real and very raw look of anguish on his face. Not that the mannequins weren't made to look very real within the several blocks of cells, complete with blood spattered on the walls and recordings of screaming and yelling voices. Not recommended for everyone.

There are a couple of solitary cells in one of the buildings that you can go in to experience for a moment (albeit under radically different circumstances) what life was like living in a 3X5 cell. I went in and shut the door behind me and tried to imagine this "room" being my home for an indeterminate amount of time. It was of course, impossible. I went to open the door and my luck for attracting improbable and unusual situations had struck again and I had unknowingly locked myself in the cell. I knew someone would eventually make their way into the building where I was (and of course they did) but the 20 minutes when I was waiting gave me a horrifying taste of what it must have been like for the Korean prisoners to live in this freezing cold and dark cave. After I realized the door was actually locked and there were no other voices in the building, I felt claustrophobic until I told myself I should feel lucky to be in this cell under these circumstances. I sat down and looked at the walls and ceiling. I was looking at the same walls and ceilings that past inhabitants must have unintentionally memorized. I believe a place has a personality that is altered by interactions with people and the experiences they have while there. This room was no exception.