중앙데일리

Mourners visit gate, creating a funereal climate

Tears shed at altar at Namdaemun

Feb 14,2008
In droves, mourners continued to visit Namdaemun to pay their respects to the fire-damaged National Treasure No. 1. By Byun Sun-goo
Shaking off the bitter cold, a stream of mourners continued to visit Namdaemun yesterday to see the rubble with their own eyes and pay their respects to the ancient structure.
In the grass plaza behind the 610-year-old gate, a makeshift mourning altar was set up with apples, pears and soju on a picnic mat. A traditional funeral song blared from a speaker.
“I came from Daejeon yesterday to see Namdaemun,” said a 64-year-old man who introduced himself only as a North Korean defector. He was handing out white chrysanthemums to passersby.
“I do not understand why the government surrounded the gate with steel walls. People from all over the country are coming to Seoul to see the gate. Everyone has to see it and learn lessons.”
The two-story gate was gutted by fire Sunday night. Police said an elderly man burned it because he was angry with the government.
Yesterday, the site was completely surrounded by a 15-meter (49-feet) high wall for the reconstruction work.
“There were no magnificent traditional buildings in North Korea, but we treated our cultural heritage better than they do here,” the man said.
Visitors waited in line to offer a flower and bow twice, as is done at a traditional mourning altar for a dead person.
Kwon Jae-yoon and Lee Yoon-gyeong, 18-year-old high school students, stood there and prayed.
“We cried together when we watched the news on TV Monday morning,” said Kwon. “As a citizen of our country, my heart aches. I prayed to God to please forgive us. The old man was, after all, one of us.”
Children were among the mourners, as well.
“I want to see your beautiful face again as soon as possible,” read a letter written by an 11-year-old elementary school student, placed in the midst of piles of flowers.
Gil Soo-bin, a 7-year-old boy, said he asked his grandmother to take him to the site. “I am so sad. I liked the building so much,” Gil said.
“The gate disappeared so unexpectedly, so Koreans are in shock. The gate was a representative symbol of our country and people think of it as a living creature,” said Yang Yoon, professor of psychology at Ewha Womans University.
Still, people were skeptical about President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s proposal on Tuesday to conduct a public campaign to raise funds for the reconstruction.
“The fund-raising should be conducted voluntarily. Moreover, Lee Myung-bak himself is partially responsible for the fire,” said Lee, the high school student.
Lee opened the national treasure to the public during his term as Seoul mayor in 2006.


By Kim Soe-jung Staff Reporter [soejung@joongang.co.kr ]



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