Inside a secretive Seoul

Inside a secretive Seoul

Well hello! Firstly, I guess I should address my absence. There’s quite a simple explanation – I’ve simply had nothing to say. Which is most unusual for me!

I mean, I have had things to say and I could have written posts or added to my ongoing Lacunae tale, but my heart’s not been in it, whether that’s down to being busy, tired or just plain lazy. So apologies… *must do better* 😉

So what have I been up to since I last posted? Well, it’s only been a couple of weeks so I’ve not changed the world or anything, but I have visited South Korea. Kind of…

Part of Hull’s City of Culture line-up included a performance called ‘One Day, Maybe’. Inspired by the Gwangju uprising of 1980 in Korea, the only details really given beforehand told us that it would be interactive, involve taking your shoes off and wandering around a derelict building.

Bizarre = right up my street (usually!)


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We weren’t even told the location until after purchasing tickets. Instructed to arrive at a disused office building in the centre of town, ten minutes prior to our booked slot, we really had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.

As we arrived, a City of Culture volunteer greeted us and told us to proceed to the tiniest lift. Breathing in, we squeezed inside next to a very sombre volunteer, who explained that we had to show our tickets to  a member of the KASANG Corporation on the third floor. The chap said we would be presented with a K-Pad and everything would become clear.

Hmmm… K-Pad??

Based on the ‘company logos’, we began joking about probably entering the Dharma Initiative and frantically tried to remember the numbers from LOST in case we needed to hit some kind of escape button!

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Stepping out into a dimly lit hallway, we were silently pointed in the direction of the office reception. That’s when we received our first shock.

A group of 8 or 9 ’employees’ descended on us, speaking rapidly in what I assume was Korean. The tone and smiles suggested it was all friendly, but I felt like I’d just disembarked a plane into a another country and was being bombarded with info on the best sights to see whilst visiting!

A tablet – our K-Pad – was thrust into our hands and from the wild gesturing and finger stabbing at the screen, it seemed we had to fill in an electronic form with our details.

And take a selfie.

Whilst we waited for more victims guests to wander in, we read the info provided on the corporation – seemingly a technology organisation that developed VR software and video games. Then, the smiliest old Korean lady turned up with her shopping trolley and started chattering in her mother tongue at everybody and anybody. Surely she was part of the whole shebang?

Yeah, still no idea…

The company CEO called our attention, first in Korean and then, thankfully, in English – we were beginning to think we would be unable to understand anything all evening!

Ushering us through dark and twisted corridors, we learned we would get the chance to sample their latest technology and take part in a 3D, real life version of their most popular video game, Hostage.

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Oh great… why couldn’t they have been the makers of Kandy Krush or something less sinister?!

However, before any fun could start, she was eager to tell us about the uprising and how it paved the way for South Korea to flourish. I genuinely didn’t know so much of the technology and companies that we take for granted everyday (Samsung, LG being only two) hailed from this part of the world.

In a darkened room, the CEO unveiled a hologram of a statue that commemorated the struggle and lives lost in the uprising.

Erm… should we tell her that thing is moving? Quite clearly those are real people. That are moving. Towards us. Very closely. Too close…

And then, with a flash of light, the walls swung outwards and our group was thrust into shopping heaven: all neon lights, happy Asian dance music and £10,000 at our disposal!

We were encouraged to spend, spend, spend – checking out the latest in smart fridges, scanning images with our K-pads to add to the shopping basket and testing VR headsets to explore interior design choices before committing ourselves.

All previous uncertainty of what the night was about disappeared as we played in our virtual playground.

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But just as suddenly, the lights dimmed, the music channels were replaced by images of fighting and political figures talking about the regime. The KASANG employees moved to the screens like robots – maybe they were robots – and began a surreal dance.

It was starting to feel a bit Westworld…

With a click of a switch in their internal hard drive, the bots / actors / employees snapped back to smiley, split us into small groups and told us we were about to play Hostage.

Oh goody. Seriously, my mind didn’t know what to make of it and it all happened so quickly, we didn’t have time to question.

Four of us were taken in a small room and asked to press play on the K-pad. Our mission was to navigate the maze ahead, using the tablet to avoid the guards that patrolled it. Small snag, we could only enter one at a time. And I was first…

I intently watched the large red guard dots moving around my virtual maze, like ghosts on a PacMan board. If I went too fast, I’d be penalised, so a skulked around corners, praying that nothing would jump out at me.


The exit was within sight but I could see from the screen that a guard was coming up on my right. Taking a chance, I legged it down the corridor for the last few feet, giving a little squeal as a saw a marching figure in my peripherals, and burst through the door.

But the game wasn’t over yet. The monitor indicated the next stage was to locate all the evidence and checkpoints to win. Several players were milling around in one room, so my rebellious (or maybe competitive) nature kicked in and I went in the opposite direction.

I sneaked into empty rooms and investigated pitch black corridors, some of which I later discovered said no entry in Korean. Oops!

In some rooms items were left that when scanned, translated military documents. Other rooms contained personal effects, such as passports and wallets and then there were the lone chairs and buckets, accompanied with a video that appeared on our K-Pad, suggesting that some time in the past, some poor soul had been tortured.

I still hadn’t found all the checkpoints so went off down back corridors again, only to be confronted by a Korean guard staring at me through a glass door! Except he looked straight ahead, like I wasn’t there.

I think this droid had been powered down…

SVT Äkta människor, Real Humans
Photo: Johan Paulin

A hasty return to the group was just in time, as suddenly angry shouting began and several guards ‘came to life’, snatching our K-pads and herding us all outside into a deserted multi-storey car park.

At this point, Sam and I joked that this was the part were we would be lined up and shot. And then they lined us up and…

Oh bugger…

It was like a scene from a Korean crime film. The guards shouted indecipherable commands, prodding people to move, stop talking, smiling, breathing. Then their chief, who perfectly fit the description of 80’s mob member, turned up and inspected each one of us, singling out some to be removed from their friends and others to rough up a little.

With a final shout, we were split into small groups again and marched back inside, where we were shown into an incredibly small room. The only contents were a chair, bucket and cloth. And the guard. Who bolted the door.

interrogation scene

Okaaay… She stood and stared at us, unflinching. Now, Sam and I have done several of these escape rooms and believing this was still part of the Hostage game, tried to find a way to get out.

She was blocking the door, so we started examining the room’s contents, only to be yelled at. The young lad who’d ended up with us sat on the chair, but quickly jumped off when she gesticulated wildly and screamed at him.

Severel minutes passed and nothing. It was beginning to become quite unnerving. So I sat down. And she shouted. But I didn’t budge. So she continued screaming at me in Korean and moved towards my end of the room.

This was it – distraction! If she came for me, they could unbolt the door. Except Sam and this lad wouldn’t do it. And she kept coming for me…

That was when she finally said, in English, “This is not meant for you”.

And began dancing…

Oh. Hmmm.

It was starting to make sense, sort of. And when we were led into a room with photos of each of the employees from their childhood, or pictures of their parents from the 70s and 80s back in Korea, I realised it wasn’t a game at all, but a thought-provoking way to show what many everyday people went through, under the sadistic regime that the uprising helped to end.

What a jerk I felt.

The atmosphere calmed a little and we were asked to remove our shoes. The old lady from the start was waiting for us and we all sat down to a traditional tea and prayer ceremony, where she sang as we ate sweet treats and drank something like Sake.

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And then we were told we were free.

We wandered through rooms of an old house, unable to find an exit until a cupboard opened to reveal another abode, albeit a stark contrast, with modern, minimalist furniture. Up some stairs, we found artistic installments of miniaturised apartment blocks and interrogation rooms, then a beautiful, serene room filled with over two hundred chairs and candles – each representing a life that was lost in the 1980 Gwangju massacre.

Then a final doorway and we were back on home turf.

I’m still not sure what to take from it all. It was bizarre, a little creepy, made you think and was very, very different to any performance I’ve ever been to before. But I did think it was a good way to show how old meets new and recreate the uncertainty that South Koreans faced in their day-to-day life, before the regime was brought to an end.

And as for North Korea, the CEO said they often get asked if they are worried about the dictatorship north of their border. Her reply?

“We’re far, far more worried about America”.


IMAGE CREDITS: randomwire, tellyupdates, redbubble, blumhouse, tasteofcinema and Pinterest.

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8 thoughts on “Inside a secretive Seoul

    1. It was! But in a good way – my parents are off to see it next week and I’ve told them nothing. Goodness knows what they’ll make of it!
      And yes, you do need to get out the feather duster, seems ages since we’ve herd from you. But at least you have a better, more exciting, excuse being up mountains in the middle of the night 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for sharing that, Haylee. I tried to imagine holding on to the thought that it was one of the Year of Culture exhibits, while feeling as uncertain about what’s going on around you as immigrants must feel when they don’t speak the language of the country they’ve entered. Though, hopefully, they wouldn’t feel as threatened as you must have. How bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was SO bizarre Sue! I hadn’t thought of it from an immigrant’s viewpoint. But some of it would be close to the mark, I assume. Especially if they were taken for questioning at border control.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a gripping account of your experience. Sounds so powerful. – stepping into a simulation, rather than a piece of theatre. How up to the minute to encounter a version of the Korean regime. Imagine you’ll remember the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it was rather apt that it depicted that particular area of the globe! The only negative we had was that it was difficult to read the tone. We were often laughing when we probably should have been serious. But then perhaps that was also part of the plan, to give us a false sense of security.


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