Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reaction to gate

Reactions from Korean about the arson attack that destroyed Korea’s 610 year old National Treasure No. 1, the Namdaemun (Sungnyemun) Gate have ranged from outright anger, sadness, to even the bizarre:

Oriental topography experts said the fire at Seoul’s 600-year-old structure may have something to do with the mysterious “fire-torching” energy from a mountain in southern Seoul.

“From the perspective of Oriental topography, it is possible that the energy torched the fire,” said Jeon Hang-soo, head of Korea Oriental Topography Research Center. “Basically, Seoul is more densely filled with the energy than any other cities due to the shape of mountaintops surrounding the city ? spiky and sharp. Mount Gwanak in Southern Seoul notably has the characteristic.” (…)

Some experts in Oriental topography said the number of crimes in the capital might increase in the aftermath of the gate’s collapse.

“As Namdaemun, having served as a guardian restraining the `hot-temper’ and `easy-fighting’ energies from Mount Gwanak disappears, we will see the number of crimes in the capital escalating until its restoration,” predicted head of the topography research center. “The restoration of Cheonggye stream has largely contributed to mixing the hostile energy with peaceful one from the manmade waterway, resulting in weakening the violent energy.” [Korea Times]

This is great news, the next time a GI or a low quality foreign English teacher commits a crime in Korea they can blame it on the “mysterious fire torching energy” from Gwanak Mountain that burned down the Sungnyemun Gate.

Koreans view the damage to Namdaemun Gate

Another bizarre response came with the front page article in the nation’s largest newspaper the Chosun Ilbo:

Koreans were reaching for the superlatives on Monday. “The Korean equivalent of the 9/11 attacks happened while the whole country was watching.” “The Republic of Korea’s no. 1 National Treasure or no. 1 national pride turned to ashes in an instant.” (…)

Baek Sang-bin, a professor of psychiatry at Gangneung Asan Hospital of the University of Ulsan said, “Just as Americans were thrown into a panic after watching on TV the World Trade Center buildings, the symbol of the U.S., collapse in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Koreans now feel a great sense of loss and frustration at the sight of the Namdaemun collapse. The disaster in Seoul didn’t pose any threat to their lives. But they psychologically felt the equivalent of feelings the American had in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.” If they happen to watch the scene of a disaster with their own eyes, people regard its consequences as happening to them personally and feel great unease and panic, Baek added. [Chosun Ilbo]

I think this is just another example of how people in the world in general, not just Koreans do not understand what the 9/11 attacks really meant. 9/11 wasn’t just about buildings falling down but about a loss of life and how American life was about to drastically change. Nobody died with the gate burning down and Korea isn’t about to go to war with anyone over it either. The gate will be rebuilt and life will go on in Seoul, for the people in New York, Washington, DC, and America in general life will never be same for a long, long time. More proper analogy would be if the Statue of Liberty burned down and fell into New York harbor, not 9/11.

Enough of the bizarre, most people interviewed seemed to be genuinely very saddened by the destruction of the gate:

“I could not believe my ears when I heard the news. It was our pride. How could such a thing happen?” 25-year-old university student Kim Sun-mi said. “This is really heart-breaking and I thought I had to come and see,” she added while clicking away with her camera to get pictures of the tragic site.

“It’s really a shame. I have worked in this area for seven years, but never imagined such thing could happen,” a street vender selling egg buns said. [Korea Times]

Some people especially netizens were extremely angry at the government for not properly protecting the gate:

Internet users expressed their fury toward the government for having failed to manage such valuable national asset. The Web site of the Cultural Heritage Administration was abuzz with criticisms toward the office’s staff for having had an alleged laid-back attitude at the beginning of the fire.

It was reported that the administration and fire fighters could not decide on how aggressively they should fight the fire for fear of unnecessarily damaging the highly valued building.

A netizen who identified herself as Kim Yun-mi, a mother of two, said government officials should take responsibility for the tragedy. “I could not give any answers to my children as to why the building could not be saved,” she said.

The administration drew more blame upon itself when it was later revealed that 23-year-old Kim Young-hun had warned the authorities last year of a possible arson attack on Namdaemun also known as Sungnyemun.

Civic groups also expressed regrets. The Young Korean Academy said the fire was a “manmade disaster.” “If there was not enough protection, they should have not opened the gate to the public,” it said. [Korea Times]

Others people directed their anger towards the arsonist who set fire to the gate:

Thousands of people gathered around the base of the charred gate Monday, and many said they were shocked and angry at the arsonist, and at the South Korean government for not protecting the historic structure.

“Whoever is found guilty, he should be executed in front of Namdaemun,” said Ahn Myung-su, 70, who traveled 90 minutes by subway to visit the site Monday.

Her friend, 67-year-old Kim Jeong-suk, agreed.

“He deserves to be put to death by every single Korean throwing rocks and stones at him in front of the gate,” she said, crying. “His entire family should be killed, too.” [Stars & Stripes]

That sounds like some pretty pissed off people. I don’t think they will get their chance to stone him or kill his family but at least the arsonist has been captured:

A 70-year-old man has confessed that he set a fire to the country’s No. 1 national treasure, police said Tuesday.

Police officers have inquired the suspect, identified by his last name Chae, since late Monday after discovering at his home clothes and a bag similar to those described by witnesses who told police they saw a man appearing to be in his 60s near Namdaemun, the site of the fire, with a backpack and a ladder.

A bottle of paint thinner was also found at the suspect’s home, police said.

Police said Chae was apprehended on Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul, on Monday on suspicions of setting a fire that crumbled down Namdaemun (South Gate), a 600-year-old gate in the capital, on Sunday night.

He was confirmed to be the arsonist who set ablaze a part of a former royal palace, Changgyeong, in central Seoul in April 2006 and caused some 4 million won in damage.

Police said that he seemed to commit similar crime again in anger against the alleged wrong handling of the compensation for his land confiscated for housing construction, which he had claimed when arrested for the arson of the Changgyeong Palace in 2006. [Korea Times]

Pretty outrageous that this guy torched another Korean cultural asset and was allowed to torch another one because no security was put around it. Personally I blame Japan. Hopefully the proper authorities will be held responsible for allowing this happen because this is quite a disaster and hopefully leads to improved security of Korea’s remaining cultural assets.

Note: Roboseyo has pictures of the remains of Namdaemun Gate and reactions of the Koreans watching the scene that are worth checking out.

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