Sunday, February 15, 2009

Namdaemun one year later

The Los Angeles Times has an article on the one-year anniversary of the arson that virtually destroyed the wooden portion of Namdaemun Gate (남대문/南大門), also known as Sungnyemun (숭례문/崇禮門). 

Namdaemun was in many ways a symbol of the capital, if not the entire country, and a person quoted in the article likens the loss to France hypothetically losing the Arc de Triomphe. Sure, the French arch is a few times higher, but the Korean gate is three times older. (Two main differences between the two structures: The Arc de Triomphe was never used to keep tigers out of Paris, and victorious Nazis never marched through Namdaemun.)

Namdaemun is close to my apartment in Seoul, and I would walk by there quite often. Seeing it last summer in its burned-out state made me (and my mother) very sad. I look forward to its completed restoration in 2013. Just like Kyoto's famed Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple), which was rebuilt five years after being burned to the ground in 1950 by an arsonist "mad monk," I think the spirit of the building can be recaptured and preserved. 

[above: Namdaemun at night, with its usual cast of nocturnal characters: a couple enjoying each other's company, a homeless man, and people quickly trying to get home after a day of work and a night of revelry. One night while walking home in 2007, I snapped this photo with my Olympus 770, a waterproof pocket camera I use for snorkeling and water sports in Oahu. Now that I have a digital SLR, I'm sad that I can't redo pics like this.]

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