Sunday, May 24, 2009

Encounter of a Street Demostration in Seoul

On Labour day itself, we went to visit South Korea's Presidential Palace, and Gyeongbokgung Palace. On the way there, our local tour guide was a bit worried. She noticed some street demostration happening.

We saw many many riot police stationed along the roads leading to the presidential palace. How many? There are a group of two riot police officers every 5 meters! And then there are a group of about 50 riot police stationing every 500-1000 metres. This is probably the place with the most dense population of riot police in the world.

On both sides of the main road, riot police buses line with bumper to bumper along the road. There is no way any vehicle can possibly park or stop at the road side, other than the riot police buses, of course.

The amazing thing is that, although there are so many riot police present in the vicinity, people on the streets still go on their life as usual. Shopping as normal, talking as normal. Everything looks normal. Nobody seems to be bothered by the police presence, other than the curious tourists, like me :)

The riot police officers are most young people around the age of 18-20. South Korean males have to serve either in the police or the army for a certain period of time, as one form of preparation for the potential war with the North.

In the evening, while we were happily shopping at Myungdong, the demostration occurred. We saw flocks of students carrying flags, shouting slogans and walked along the main street. There were many people from the media too. The atmosphere was a bit tense.

Being the first time encountering a real street demostration, in a foreign land, and not knowing what they are demostrating against, I was a bit cautious. I snapped some photos, quickly left the main crowd.

Street demostrations, in my humble opinion, are never truly peaceful. In the labour day demostration, I saw people started to fight. You can hardly tell whether the demostrators were purposely provoked. And then I found that the street demostrators are mostly students too! It is said that before the boys have to serve in the army (after they grauduate from university), they do all kinds of crazy things, including go for demostrations. Then after they start their service in the police, they confront the demostrators. Anyway, interesting life.

At the end, I still don't know what they were demostrating against. Our local guide only told us it was an anti-Lee Myung-bak demostration.

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