“I love the smell of tear gas in the morning….”

 

It smells like a demonstration.

Back in the day, in this case, back in the early 1990s, one sure sign of spring in the air was the smell of tear gas in the air. This photo was taken of riot police wearing their Darth Vader-like helmets at a demonstration in Chongno outside of the Sisa-Yong-o-Sa building (now YBM Sisa) and across from what used to be called Pagoda Park.

Before I came to Korea in 1990, one of the images I had of Korea were all these pro-democracy demonstrations in the late 1980s.

Spring has traditionally been a time of demonstration that dates back to the 1960s with the ouster of Syngman Rhee and Kwangju in 1980.

In 1991, following the death of a Myoung-ji University student, there were demonstrations almost every day. Things really got out of hand with the self-immolation of a couple students in front of Yonsei University that same spring.

In my most recent book, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm, I have two chapters about having survived these demonstrations, including the mother of all demonstrations, the 1996 demonstration at Yonsei when students occupied the university for over a week.

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