So I don't know if you noticed, but this last week was Halloween.
And Erin and I decided it was high time we looked for a few ghosts. Of course, it's not like they're just wandering down at the market, buying oranges. A hunt for ghosts requires a bit of digging. So we did the logical thing and set off in search of stories about hauntings.
When asked, Erin's teacher friends gleefully described the most common ghost story in Korea (at least, the most common one that actually scares people). Late at night, on your way home from the pub, you may encounter a young woman dressed all in white. She has pale skin and long black hair that hangs in front of her face. She is the spirit of a girl who died tragically, suddenly, and without getting married. Since she couldn't do her duty to her ancestors and help to continue the family, she is unable to move on to the next life. Instead, she wanders the night looking for eligible bachelors to drag off into the spirit world. So guys? Be on your toes!
But getting into specific hauntings in Chungju brings us fewer hits. They're the kinds of places that would be difficult to visit: a grade school way out in the countryside, an apartment building, some creepy abandoned buildings. Sure, we could go stand in the common halls of the apartment building and take pictures, but it didn't really sound all that exciting, and we weren't really up for breaking into something that had chains on the door (such as the abandoned buildings).
This turned us toward Seoul, which is just lousy with ghostly opportunity. There's a creepy, abandoned restaurant that nobody can manage to keep open for long. There's a haunted subway stop, where you can see the ghost of a dead girl riding the trains. There's sections of the Olympic Village, from when they held the Seoul games, that are abandoned and thoroughly creepy. In the end, we settled on the luridly named Jeoldu-san, or "Cut Head Mountain."
Jeoldu-san is a rocky promontory overlooking the Han river in downtown Seoul. A hundred and fifty years ago, Korean rulers decided they didn't much care for this new Christian fad sweeping their country (they didn't much care for Buddhism either, but that's another story). Over the course of a few years, they dragged about 8000 Korean Christians up to the height of the promontory, tortured them, chopped their heads off, and tossed the bodies over the edge to break on the rocks below.
As you'd expect, the spot was rumored to be wildly haunted until only recently, when it was converted to a Catholic shrine and a foreigner's cemetery. All the blessings and holification seem to have taken the stuffing out of the unquiet dead. Sightings have tapered off to near nothing, though there are still a few odd stories out of the area.
It sounded gruesome, historical and haunted. It was perfect. Here are a few of our pictures from the day.
Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures in the actual martyr's shrine on the top of the promontory. And we didn't see any ghosts. But the shrine itself was educational, and the staff was more than willing to demonstrate all the torture devices that were used on the martyrs (you think I'm kidding, but they had regular shows, like with times and everything).
Ultimately, the sight was solemn, creepy, and haunting, but not really haunted. Tens of thousands of Koreans go there every year, and it was packed with people praying, walking the stations of the cross, and giving homage to the Christians who died to bring their religion to Korea. It was a wildly different atmosphere than I expected. In my head, I pictured a jutting finger of rock, forgotten by the modern city all around it. Instead, it was a beautifully tended park and shrine, full of families and the faithful.
But I understand. You started this post looking for ghosts. Well, yeah, we didn't see any. But we learned a little about Korean history, and we had a fun day out in the rain so... all in all, a good time, I think.