|Grave mounds in Sill|
Fast forward to the 16th century and the appearance of Korea's arch enemy, the Japanese. Koreans and Japanese still don't like each other and you will soon see why. Japanese pirates had been raiding the Korean waters for centuries (no big surprise: Where else would you have gone as a Japanese living on islands surrounded by water and nothing else close by except Korea?), but in 1592 they came in earnest and conquered the whole Korean peninsula.
For 7 years the war went back and forth and finally the Japanese retreated - because they had bigger troubles at home. They left the Koreans traumatized - even now more than 400 years later the Japanese invasion is a big issue. In the city of Jinju we saw a huge fortress that resisted the Japanese attack - including an incredibly tacky 3D animated movie about the brave Korean resistance against the atrocious Japanese.
|War memorial in Busan|
The Korean war is of course a crucial topic in Korea and various sights are related to it. We got our first impression of the war in Busan, where there is the world's only UN cemetery. The Koreans always refer to their supporters as UN troops, but it was mainly an American war: 35,000 of a total of 37,000 UN soldiers killed in the Korean war were Americans. Strangely enough the only other relevant UN nationality in this war were the British (did not surprise me) and the Turkish (did surprise me a lot and the guides at the UN cemetary only gave one explanation for that: Koreans and Turkish are "brothers", they share the same Ural-Altaic language roots?!). Whatever, the UN cemetary boasts a very impressive and brand new war memorial and interestingly enough, some 8 months earlier I had seen the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC.
We stumbled upon a very crude war memorial by pure coincidence; getting off a ferry on the island of Geojedo we saw signposts to a prisoner of war camp memorial. We expected a totally deserted bone dry memorial and could not have been more wrong. The whole complex was heaving with hundreds of Koreans and should rather be called theme park than war memorial. You enter the complex on an escalator through a tank with all the good guys like Truman and MacArthur on the right and the bad guys like Mao and Stalin on the left - as cardboard figures, of course.
The complex then takes you through a history course with dioramas, videos and statues - all very educational. You can see the former prisoner of war barracks and relive daily camp life. They have even set up photo opportunities for "experiencing the latrines" - I am not joking here, see the attached photo. As Germans take history very seriously I was a little bit shocked about this light-hearted approach to war atrocities, but I nevertheless had my picture taken. This post will probably be continued once we arrive in Seoul...