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Namsan - then and now

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The International Seoul Youth Hostel stands on the hill of Namsan in central Seoul. The building once served as the headquarters of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. /Courtesy of Richard Pennington
By Richard Pennington

Namsan, meaning "south mountain," sits opposite Seoul's Bukhansan on the north side of the city. These days, it's popular with hikers, bicyclists, tourists and cozy couples who attach locks on a series of fences ― to show the strength and permanence of their love, I think.

Many times I have ridden the cable car to the top and then gone up Seoul Tower for a 360-degree view.

All quite nice. But I had other things on my mind as I rode the subway to Namsan last month. This time I would be going less than halfway up. I was determined to take a close look at a building with a dark past. I emerged from Chungmuro Station's exit 4, walked 600 meters and asked for directions to the International Seoul Youth Hostel. It would not be hard to find.

As I climbed, I passed by a place called Ground of Memory, the site of what had been the official residence of the Japanese resident-general of Joseon. A marble marker stated that the Japan-Korea annexation treaty ― an unequal treaty if ever there was one ― had been signed there in 1910.

A little further up the winding hill was a steel........

© The Korea Times