Walking from the Gwanghwamun gate of Gyengbokgung towards the city, I noticed a lively and exciting avenue. The avenue is surrounded by modern high-rise buildings, and is named Gwanghwamun Square. Observing the avenue, then I remembered this was the location of the actions of the movie Iris, the popular Korean TV serial drama, where the thrilling chase, and fights happened. Kim Hyeon-jun (Lee Byung-hun) and Kim Sun-hwa (Kim So-yeon) come to Gwanghwamun Square to find the bomb planted here by terrorists in episode 17.
The avenue towards the palace exists since Seoul became the capital of Korea. It was a large avenue for the king and his entourage traveling from the palace to other places. In the 20th century it remained a wide avenue, originally a 16-lane roadway, but in 2009 the Government decided to create a landmark national square by transforming 10 lanes of the roadway into a public space where people could enjoy and socialize. Thus it became Gwanghwamun Square.
At its center stands a statue of King Sejong the Great, the fourth and most respected king of the Joseon Dynasty and creator of Hangeul, Korea's alphabet. Coincidently I watched the movie The King's Letters in my flight with Asiana, a historical film about King Sejong who risked everything of his reputation to invent the Hangeul, Korea's alphabet for his people. It was quite an interesting movie to watch, considering the boring and academic topic about the founding of the Korean written language. Surely it wasn’t easy to make an interesting movie about that topic.
Further down there is the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, a naval commander noted for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) and a hero among Koreans. In front of the statue is a miniature turtle ship that the Admiral built, and at each front corner are two drums that were used to increase the morale of soldiers going to the battlefield.
That time in October, the ‘Hi Seoul Festival’ was going on at Gwanghwamun Square. It was a large annual performing arts festival to promote international unity by enabling people to communicate with one another through music and non-verbal performances, going beyond the barriers of language, race and age. Hundreds of performances by teams from around the world are presented during the week-long festival.
However, it wasn’t only festivity. As the Sewol ship tragedy had just happened a few months before there was a memorial of the victims of the sunken ship on display. There were posters showing the sadness of the victims’ parents, friends and relatives, some also showed anger about how the government handled this tragedy.
Out of 476 passengers and crew, 304 died in the disaster, most notably around 250 students from Danwon High School, Ansan City. The sinking of MV Sewol resulted in widespread social and political reaction within South Korea. Many criticized the actions of the captain and most of the crew. Also criticized were the ferry operator and the regulators who oversaw its operations, along with the administration of President Park Geun-hye for its disaster response.