Between day and two of my research trip to Seoul, here’s what I’ve learned
Greetings from Seoul, the capital of the ROK, the Republic of Korea, or South Korea as most of us know it. The country’s official name is the very reason (or part of it) why North Korean forces attacked on an early day in 1950: the fact that the United Nations only recognized the southern government as the peninsula’s legitimate government. Eighteen months later, the entire place was up in flames and we saw the first post World War II conflict between the “West” and the communist East, as North Koreans were supported on the ground by China and Russia, while the ROK was supported by the United Nations. The almost unanimous resolution (Russia wasn’t at the table!!!) would be impossible today, as Communist China, not Taiwan, is now considered the legitimate government of all of China. Times change.
Think this is complex? Yeah, it is, and any historian with half a brain would find at least a dozen areas to fill out the gaps I’ve left in this one short paragraph. But how does this all help you understand my research or why does it matter? For one, being here, just seeing these three letters everywhere, ROK reminds me that the very basis of the conflict is still unresolved. Whether it matters practically in any future talks, as they just seem to have begun re the Olympic Games which are about to begin here in less than a month? I don’t know. But I know from the situation in China that any mention of Taiwan and independence causes convulsions in Beijing. I can only imagine how some North Koreans might react to the claim that their dear leader isn’t really a legitimate representative of his people… As a writer, this gives me perspective. I am literally forced to see things from someone else’s perspective.
I couldn’t have done that from a European vantage point, staring at Google Maps. No offense. Yesterday, and I’d like to share some of my findings here, I spent time in the War Museum (or memorial as it is officially called) and in Buk-chon Village. The latter plays a significant role in the novel. Join me for some tidbits?
Just finding some information about this base, this place that so much symbolized the Korean colonialization, first by the Japanese, now by the U.S., is a place that is difficult to get in to. And to get the armed forces to respond to questions a dead end. They do have social media accounts, but their communication is very one-sided.
But luckily, I found Intel I needed about the base in the fifties from the War Museum. And it seems as if Yongsan is about to finally be a closed chapter for the people of Seoul as this prime real estate is to become available for the local government. The U.S. forces are relocated about an hour outside of Seoul in the near future.
The base plays a role in those aspects of the book that take place in the fifties, during the war, and I needed to get them right. With this, I can safely finish certain aspects. So that was a great thing to accomplish.
Another fun detail I found was this pair of standard issue military underwear. For some reason, I mention this in the book, but the look eluded me, despite extensive research on Google (don’t ask…) Finally, I found them.
Very important aspects of the book play out in Bukchon village, an old part of Seoul, or the old downtown. At the War Museum, I was able to both see pictures of old Seoul, because so much was destroyed during the war, not to mention torn down to make way for the modern metropolis that is the South Korean capital. But I did find a lot of inspiration and potential locations. Here are some photos from yesterday:
Beautiful, isn’t it? My guide, Jaekwang, later took me to a local market where we were fascinated by a long queue for something. We stopped, I dutifully got in line (Swedes cannot not queue when we see one) and we ended up with a delicious and cheap (500 Won) dessert made from waffle dough and filled with bean curd:
This guy was making his fish waffles non-stop for the whole day. And delicious and warming (it’s around the freezing point here in Seoul) they were. Anyway, it’s almost time for me to head out again. Today we’re going to see Itaewon and other parts of Town. I’ve asked Jaekwang to surprise me and to take me off the beaten track, to show me aspects of Seoul tourists normally wouldn’t see. I’m curious. Tomorrow I have a business meeting, I’ll try to visit more local museums and on Wednesday just wander around, soak up the atmosphere. Come Thursday, I’ll fly home, and I’m sure I’ll have given my brain what it needs to complete the book!
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