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National Assembly Station(Recent elections and cherry blossoms—now’s the time to pay a visit to Yeouido.)
2012-05-18 VIEW: 2995
With its minty dome and riverside location, Korea’s National Assembly building is one of Seoul’s most recognizable. Surrounded by a complex that takes up most of Yeouido’s western tip, national representatives have met here since 1975.
April brought parliamentary elections and this December sees Korea vote for a new president, making 2012 a busy year politically. Don’t know your Minju Tonghap-dang from your Saenuri-dang, though? A visit here can help bring you up to speed. Korea’s short and tumultuous history as a democracy has resulted in a political culture that even non-wonks will find interesting and, as often as not, entertaining. National Assembly Building tours are available with an online booking three days in advance, or you can simply stop by the Visitor Center and Memorial Hall for an in-depth look at the Assembly’s functions and history. If your Korean isn’t optimal it’s best to go with someone who is, as English information is minimal.
Ironically, the National Assembly Building may only have the second most powerful tenants on Yeouido. By sheer numbers that honor would undoubtedly go to Yoido Full Gospel Church. Started by Pastor Cho Yonggi in a friend’s home in 1958, the church now claims approximately 800,000 members nationwide, as well as 527 pastors, a TV channel, a newspaper, and two universities—one in Korea and another in the U.S.
The church accommodates 25,000 but still must hold seven services on Sundays. Religion on this scale isn’t for everyone, though the spectacle is undeniable: enormous choir, full orchestra, opera tenors, and post-service news programs broadcast on the dozens of flat-screen TVs.
If the weight of politics and religion gets a little heavy, relief is at hand. A short walk southeast of the station is the wonderful Yeouido Park. The former site of Seoul’s first airport, this strip of greenery amid Yeouido’s skyscrapers runs the width of the island and is divided into four distinct zones.
May also usually brings cherry blossoms to Seoul, and one of the best places to enjoy them is just behind the Assembly, on Yeouiseo-ro. When in bloom, the trees that line the road form a low canopy of pink and white, as if a city’s daydreams had slipped their mental confines for a couple of weeks. The annual spectacle draws immense crowds, but with the trees on one side and the Hangang River on the other, you might not mind.
Written and photographed by
Charles Usher & Elizabeth Groeschen
(Source: SEOUL Magazine)
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