[VIEWPOINT]Cement weeds on city landscape

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[VIEWPOINT]Cement weeds on city landscape

I deserted the house that I had lived in for 20 years. Frankly, I did not abandon my house, I was forced to move. On the day before I was to hand over my old house I went to look at the empty space now devoid of any evidence that I and my family once lived there. There were rough moments and endurable sufferings, but I can say, after all, that the 20 years I spent with the house were peaceful.

My son was born in this house after I changed my mind about living life with just a daughter. I had devoted my soul to writing several books here. I had strolled around the chessboard-patterned living room floor trying to memorize the Apostles' Creed, which entitled me to be baptized a Catholic. I also witnessed the arrival of grayness in my hair in this house.

Struggling to escape the feeling that part of my life was being taken away, I slipped into the garden. Lilacs and magnolias, which had flourished for two decades, presenting us with comforting flowers and leaves, were elegantly living through the winter. I planted just one rose bush, which spread all over the place, almost forcing its way into the front door. The rose's neighbors were peonies that looked cold. I planted them out of jealousy of the flourishing peonies crowding "Dosanseowon," on the day that I visited that place, where students of Confucianism used to congregate and which is also used to enshrine great scholars.

"Farewell, my trees," I murmured.

But I knew that as soon as I emptied the house, the trees were destined to be destroyed with the house, leaving a space for an apartment building made of chunks of cement.

The reason I was compelled to leave the house, which was embedded with 20 years of my life, was simple. My situation was similar to what Albert Camus describes in his novel "The Plague": An epidemic brought about my action. A few years ago the house behind my house was replaced with a four-story apartment building. Struggles over parking space and noise conquered the otherwise quiet street.

The epidemic became a war. Houses on both sides of my abode were soon demolished, followed by the house in the front. A five-story building was being raised.

No choice was left but to leave the space. Surrounded by ever- rising cement towers in every direction, eclipsing the sunshine, attempts to establish "quality of life" were to no avail. Just to no avail.

Maybe finding a quiet housing neighborhood in Seoul will be difficult, a place where houses sit friendly, without imposing themselves on one another. Common housing is fast replacing traditional dwellings. Has anyone given thought to how these monsters that represent the degeneration of life will look 10 years from now? I even suspect the government is secretly encouraging this act of destruction of the quality of life.

Walking down the street, the scenes are not so different. Buildings are debased with rowdy signs; drug stores are the worst.

Pharmacy, Pharmacy, Phar-macy. Some drug stores paint their windows, doors, even the whole building with the word Pharmacy. I would like to ask pharmacists, who form one of the pillars of public health, whether they are entitled to commit this mayhem: Aren't you supposed to worry about our mental health and visual stress?

Architecture is a condensed music. Geothe once said that architecture and music involve similar senses. Where is that music that architecture should harbor? Le Corbusier said architecture is a mental structure, the materialization of the sentiment of a century. We are living with this kind of mental structure. This abhorrent, crude, crass and inhumane mental structure.

I went for a livable neighborhood when we moved. The Green Consumer Network named the worst five residential streets in Seoul. The new area that I moved to, Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu, near Bangbae subway station, was at the top of the list.


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The writer is a novelist and a professor at Sejong University.

by Han Soo-san

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