When you live in a new country it’s always good to try and learn about the history and the country itself. I love historical sites, even if they can be quite emotionally draining (Eg. S-21 and The Killing Fields in Cambodia)
However it helps your understanding of the culture and makes you less ignorant to your surroundings. Within our first month in South Korea we decided to head over to the Geoje P.O.W Historical Park which is only a short 10 minute taxi ride from our home. However you can’t help feel that the park was more about propaganda than telling the true story of the Korean war which would educate its people on the mistakes of the past.
The Korea war ended 50 years ago and during the war the island I live on
was used as a prisoner camp. You can enter the Geoje P.O.W camp from Goyung for a small price of 4,500 won ($4.50) and ‘experience’ camp life and ‘learn’ about the Korean War. As we walked in there was quite an impressive fountain which led you up to the ‘tank exhibition’ which was just a big fake tank on a hill with an escalator in the middle and cardboard cut outs of the major players in the Korean war on both sides…. no other tanks! Hmmm… As we started to walk around the park we noticed that on every explanation you were told that the prisoners were held in accordance to the Geneva Convention Rules however I am not sure how much of this I believe to be true. All the explanations told how the prisoners were kept in good conditions and how they could live a very good life, we given an education and how they could even take part in their hobbies. It even went on to explain how some even refused to leave at the end of the war. Now this may be in fact true due to the conditions they faced if they were returned to the North however the rest just seemed a bit suss. They did tell the story of the riots that went on in the camps however even these managed to keep the South as the good guys.
Every exhibit never put the South Koreans in a bad light, now I’m not saying they should slate themselves but the point of historical sites is to educate the population on what happened- good and bad and it is a shame that it felt more like a propaganda tool than a park telling about the Korean’s history. Korea is different from other countries in the sense that it is still divided and tensions are still high which is maybe why it feels it has to be very bias when telling the history of the country.
Although it was quite a recent war none of the original buildings stood (apart from one that was tucked away right at the back and had been left to fend for itself) Even all the artifacts looked reproduced down to the scissors on display. One exhibit showed the ‘remains of one of the buildings’ however on closer inspection the thing was made out of plastic!
Then we come to the ‘photo zones’ which are though various parts of the park. Visitors are encouraged to take their pictures in various ‘scenes’. Some pretending to be a North Korean behind barbed wire, another pretending you are doing the toilet by squatting over buckets filled with ‘poo-like’ plastic, and then another with the prisoners peeing into a large pot.. However the statues had everything out on show and I mean everything!!
It felt a bit weird and wrong, Andy and I played along however you couldn’t help feel it felt more theme park than historical park.
The last part of the park is the bit I enjoyed the most. You were able to walk around the tanks, planes and helicopters, some of which I think were the real deal! (Or at least not made out of plastic!!)
All in all its one of those places you need to come see if you live on the island, I don’t think I would take the trip down to Geoje just for the P.O.W camp if you lived in Seoul or anywhere up North, and if you do come maybe don’t take everything you read for gospel!
We are going to visit the DMZ soon so hopefully this is not quite as tasteless although I expect it to be biased like the P.O.W camp !