Do you know that Expo 2012, the biggest international festival in Korea last year, was held in Yeosu, Korea? Last year, over 8 million people visited Yeosu, located in Jeollanam Province, a coastal city in southern Korea. The Expo exhibited various themes such as global environment, Korean and global cultures, and so on. These features gathered a lot of people, and those tourists also focused on other sites including the natural sceneries and tourist attractions of Yeosu. One example is the Marae Tunnel.
A Google search of “Marae Tunnel” will lead to a video on the top of the list. Shown in the footage is a narrow tunnel where cars stop and go at the entrance and inside the tunnel to allow other cars to pass by. The scene portrays the warmth of countryside sentiments in South Jeolla province. Yet, a lesson in history reveals that the tunnel holds tears from the past.
The Marae Tunnel has several unusual features. First, there is just one lane through the tunnel, but people drive their vehicles in both directions. When cars emerge from the tunnel, other drivers wanting to go through the opposite way must wait until they cannot see another vehicle in the tunnel. At 640 meters in length, the tunnel is not short by any means.
Another surprising point is the rocky surface of the curved wall and ceiling. You can discover the secret of the tunnel when you reach the first detour point of the tunnel after 100 meters. There is a waiting space for cars. This tunnel connects Manseong-ri beach and Yeosu Expo Station. This is the only tunnel in Korea exhibiting these characteristics. Who made this tunnel? Let us look at its history.
Passengers have to be careful to use this bilateral lane.
Where the People Endured the Pain
This tunnel is evidence of historic pain the local residents endured through the Japanese colonial occupation. In 1926, the Japanese occupying the region needed storage facilities for cargo and tunnels for storing provisions and transporting armies and food. So they planned to construct two tunnels. Marae Tunnel 1 was constructed as a provisions store, and Marae Tunnel 2 was constructed for transport. from all corners of Korea, and even from China, were forced to construct the two tunnels through Mt. Marae.
The bedrock is formed from the molten lava during the Cretaceous period. It is harder than iron or glass. The structure of the tunnel is so solid that the tunnel is used today as it was first built. Despite its solidity, the workers at that time had to dig that bedrock without any heavy equipment. The construction sites’ conditions were deleterious. Workers died from mysterious diseases, and quarrels among the workers erupted. For a full day’s labor, workers were paid 30~40 jeon, the unit of currency used during the Joseon dynasty, approximately 5,000 won in today’s currency. The atmosphere of the tunnel resonates the chaos of the time in the thick, cold stone walls.
Glimpse of the light comes into the tunnel following passengers.
Another Adversity of Civilians of Yeosu
You can find a site which mourns victims from an accident out of the tunnel. After six detours, the car emerges out of the tunnel. You can see the sea on the right-hand side. After driving around one minute along the road, you will discover the site under a small valley with a black memorial stone engraved with “The memorial to the victims of the Yeo-soon Incident.”
The stone stands alone in the center of the place. This is called the site of the massacre of the Mansengli Area. This site is the evidence of the massacre of Yeo-soon. This incident was ignited by an uprising of Jeju Island, which intended to reject the election and construction of a government without the northern Korean peninsula on April 3rd, 1948. At that time, the administration of Rhee Syngman’s armies and police tried to mobilize the part of the 14th regiment left in Yeosu. However, the soldiers of the 14th regiment including master sergeant Ji Chang-soo refused to participate in suppressing the uprising of Jeju Island. Although there were skirmishes between the 14th regiment and the other armies and polices, the administration of Rhee Syngman judged them to be a group of rebels who intended to support the communists of the Soviet Union.
From then on, the administration’s armies started to suppress them. After the 14th regiment was thwarted they tried to track down the supporters of the rebellion among the citizens. From late Oct. of 1948 to Aug. of 1949, numerous people were suspected to be sympathizers of the communists. Some of those civilian suspects were captured in Jongsan elementary school, which has been renamed as YeosuJoonang elementary school, and the troops finally moved them to the site which commemorates the massacre. From the prison barracks, ironically, innocent civilians had to walk through the Marae tunnel 2. Some of them were killed in that tunnel, and the rest of them were massacred in the valley. History tells us that the tunnel came to embrace the name of tragedy inspired by the local workers who were tortured and mistreated by the Japanese and the local civilians who were accused of false charges.
Yeosu Expo was the symbol of the development.
Yeosu Overcomes the Painful History
When Japanese occupied the Korean peninsula by force, the city of Yeosu was famous of military facilities rather tourisms. This city, which locates the southern coast of Korea in Jeollanam Province, has developed its touristic features from 2012 with the opening of the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea (Yeosu Expo). Many tourists, who wanted to see attractions and festivals of Yeosu including the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea, encouraged the regional growth. Its natural sceneries and historic sites also have been gathered visitors attentions along with opening of the Yeosu Expo. Even after the Expo ended an aquarium in the Expo still on running, and other festivals such as International Youth Festival, Geobukseon Festival; Geobukseon is a kind of battleship covered with steel plate on its roof, and admiral Yi Sun-shin obtained lots of victories on battlefields by mobilizing this warship, are expected to gather lots of the tourists.
However, still some lamentable stories lies in the city despite huge expectation that Yeosu will flourish more than ever before. On leaving the memorial site, the reporter tried to visit the Brothers’ grave of the Mansengli Area, which is located near the site of the massacre of the Mangengli Area. This site is also a memorial place for the victims of the massacre. Allegedly, about 125 civilians were killed by gunshots and burnt by troops on Jan. 13th 1949. After the terrifying incidents occurred, the remaining local residents dug many graves for the victims there. However, from the entrance, it seems to be run down, and nobody seems to care for it. After climbing several steps, a tomb and headstone, engraved “Brothers’ Grave,” appeared. There were flowers presumably mourning the victims in the graveyards. Maybe someone came to this place, but the surrounding environment was not well maintained.
Climbing the mountain, numerous other graves appeared but their condition was worse than the graves lower down. Actually the whole hillside was covered with graves ?large and small. A few fruits and rice cakes which commemorate dead people were found near the graves. But people nearby were unaware of the origin of those graves- from a woman who lives next to them and soldiers guarding the region, to the local guides at the traveler’s information center. None of them knew about the location or existence of the graves. Even though downtown Yeosu, the Yeosu Expo exhibition site, and Mansengli beach are within a 10 minute drive of the Brothers’ Graves, the site is poorly maintained. Behind the fancy tourist attractions, the scars that should be remembered are receding into the dim past.
All photos taken by Kim Ji-hyeock