Saturday, 23 August 2014

#PopeFrancisInKorea : The Gwanghwamun Square Prepares For The Pope!

Weeks before the beatification ceremony at Gwanghwamun Square, my Catholic friends and I were already joking about where to camp out at the area. As everyone expected, thousands would be attending the ceremony and only those with tickets would be allowed inside the barricaded area.

                                       (Closed traffic)

I initially thought of registering for a ticket by making a few phone calls. But as the date got nearer, I realized, if the ceremony would start at 10AM and there would be thousands in attendance, the ticketholders should be at Gwanghwamun early in the morning. And to change a line of a break-up song, 'waking up (early!) is hard to do'! Ha-ha-ha!

I always knew I am not a morning person; I am a nocturnal creature. I thrive at night when the sun is gone and the moon is full! That's when I transform, not into a red-caped creature with fangs, but someone who just enjoys darker surroundings. Ha-ha-ha!
                               (The stand for giant TV screens)

Going back to waking up early.

Even if I got a ticket, I wasn't sure if I could get out of bed as early as 4AM and head to Gwanghwamun Square, pass through metal detectors and security, and sit on the assigned area until 12PM, the time the ceremony was expected to be over. With the summer temperatures not so friendly and with the thousands and thousands of other attendees, who wouldn't be allowed to bring umbrellas, I wasn't so sure if I'd be able to last that long, or worse, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take good pictures!

So, no tickets for me. I'd be just fine.

And two nights before the beatification, after dinner treat at the Seoul Finance Center by an old Korean friend (Thanks, Jeeho!), I walked to the Gwanghwamun Square to check how the preparations were. That night, everything seemed normal with little signs of any changes in the area.

(A bbokki vendor unfazed with all the security around her)

But on the eve of the papal ceremony, Liberation Day in Korea, a holiday, the area was full of people. This time, the police outnumbered the curious! With police buses lining up the Sejong-ro from both sides, and with demonstrators marching towards the site and being watched by troops of young policemen around the perimeter, the atmosphere seemed scary, not holy. 
                     (Tourists and police at Cheonggye Stream)
                  (The police and their secret admirers)

I walked from the Gwanghwamun Square to the Cheonggye Stream. The families and tourists enjoying the cooler waters of the stream didn't seem fazed by the hundreds of policemen sharing the popular tourist attraction with them. With metal detectors already standing by, the police and organizers had started barricading the site from Gwanghwamun Square down to the Seoul Plaza next to the City Hall.
                                  ( Setting up the metal detectors)

I left the area; it's one less curious pedestrian  for them to worry about. Ha-ha-ha! The ceremony was one huge event and the organizers, the police and the city government had a long night ahead to set up the stage, metal detectors, chairs and barricades all over. 

And me? I'd just go home, get some sleep and wake up the next day, and return to Gwanghwamun Square with a camera and high spirits! 

"I'll be attending a beatification!"
                          (Yellow-green: my favorite shot of the night)

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