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Gwangju; The birthplace of Korean Democracy

On Saturday, November 17th, I set out to discover another South Korean city. This time I set my sights on nearby Gwangju. It's just a 1:30, ₩7,000 express bus trip from the ecological hub of Suncheon, South Korea where I live and work.

*I have a feeling I'm going to frequent Gwangju in the future so I'll update this post as I discover more of the city*

The adventure started with arriving at the bus terminal in the heart of Gwangju, called Usquare. Usquare is an architecturally modern shopping area that doubles as a large bus terminal that boasts over 30 bus gates for the busses that come in and out of Gwangju.

Attached to Usquare is the swank Shinsegae Department Store that features luxury name brands like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Dior. The Louis Vuitton store stuck out immediately upon entering the 9 floor department store as the line was long and wrapped around the corner of the outside of the store.

Gwangju was not the first time I went to a Shinsegae Department Store location. I went with a couple friends when I was in Busan in September. You can read about Busan, HERE.

After looking up what to do in the city, I hopped on the public bus to the May 18th National Cemetery. From USquare, it's a long bus ride as the cemetery is a bit outside the city.

The May 18th Memorial Cemetery is a memorial site to those that perished in the Gwangju Uprising. The uprising occurred between May 18th and May 27th, 1980. It is estimated that as many as 606 people died in the Democratization movement.

The exact numbers of exactly how many people perished in the Gwangju Uprising is still unknown to this day.

The uprising began when the de facto leader of South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan, who previously came to power while leading a military coup on December 12th, 1979, imposed martial law on Gwangju.

Activists, mostly Chonnam University students, robbed local armories and raided police stations to take up arms against the military after they were fired upon, killed, raped and beaten by government troops during days of protest and demonstrations.

Gwangju Uprising activist grave sites

The Memorial Hall is set up with the pictures of all the Koreans that died in the May 18th, 1980 Gwangju Uprising. It is a stark reminder of all the struggles the Korean people have overcome to become one of the strongest democracies in the world.

After walking through the Memorial Hall, walk across the street and go down the steps to see the burial site of those that died on that fateful day.

After seeing the gravestones of those who sacrificed themselves to stand up to a military dictator abusing the citizens of Gwangju, continue walking deeper into the site, including through a small temple, and then past murals along the wall of the walking path towards the May 18th Memorial Monument.

May 18th Memorial Monument

The Monument consists of two 40 meter tall pillars that represent, "new life, survival and seeds of hope." In the middle of the pillars is an ovular shaped object which represents, "resurrection."

Having arrived late in the day and the closing time of the cemetery rapidly approaching, I left the site and headed to downtown Gwangju.

In downtown Gwangju I explored and took in the atmosphere of the Chungjung-ro area. This bustling section of the city is ripe with blocks-upon-blocks of stores that can fill your every need. Chungjung-ro also has restaurants and street food vendors that can indulge your every desire and supply you with enough calories to keep you at your peak exploring.

Chungjung-ro reminded me a lot of Myeong-dong in Seoul, but on a much smaller and more intimate level. The Myeong-dong district in Seoul sees roughly 2 million visitors on any given day. Chungjung-ro is heavily trafficked, but nothing like Myeong-dong, which makes it even more worth checking out.

After Chungjung-ro, it was time to say goodbye to Gwangju.

I'll be seeing you again soon, Gwangju!

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