[VIEWPOINT]Small cities lead cultural revival

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[VIEWPOINT]Small cities lead cultural revival

The city of Gimhae, South Gyeongsang province, has made a surprising but novel decision. It plans to restrict decorations and signs put up outside "love hotels," inns that rent rooms by the day or by the hour. Gimhae's announcement is part of new municipal ordinances to supervise the local lodging industry.

Love hotels, which have spread nationwide, are one of the ugly images of our country. The construction of love hotels on mountains, roads and near rivers has destroyed our environment. Furthermore, the love hotels represent a blow to our morals, and sometimes, I am afraid, are even destroying our sense of existence.

These hotels hang flags of various nations, as if some international conference were being held. The restrictions will target the banners advertising the availability of waterbeds and automated counters, night-lights and cloth screens to hide the license plates of guests' cars. The effort is a welcome move.

In some of the towns, there have been movements led by local housewives to eradicate love hotels from their neighborhoods. What is even more comforting and lifting for our hearts is that in Gimhae's action the decision was taken in consideration of the representative opinion of the residents. We are enraged that other local governments are neglecting their duties and not doing what Gimhae did so easily.

But there are some other communities that are giving us cause for hope. Culture is formed and develops over time, and these local governments shine even more since they are refining our national culture. Namhae-gun, South Gyeongsang province, is another local government that has refined our culture.

When Namhae-gun was selected as a training site for the Danish soccer team during the 2002 World Cup games, I asked myself, "How could such a small city have done it?" I just could not believe it. Namhae-gun will make a name for itself in the world and have the opportunity to boost the local economy by attracting tourists. Namhae-gun, with a population of 60,000, obviously has set an example for other towns and cities.

The success of Namhae-gun was not built in a day. The Namhae Sports Park, with six natural grass soccer practice areas, symbolizes the city's efforts: the natural grass on the soccer fields was test-bred on a playground of an elementary school in 1996. Namhae-gun employed this method to cultivate the cold-resistant grass, which originated in Germany. This grass made it possible for the soccer fields to be available throughout the year. Namhae-gun's efforts may pay off big: rumor has it that Germany, Australia, Portugal and Spain have considered using the soccer fields for their training sites.

Namhae-gun plans to form a cheering squad of 800 people to support the Danish soccer team during its preliminary matches with Uruguay, Senegal and France. The cheering squad will feature Samulnori, traditional Korean farmer's dance and music, which will be presented to soccer fans from around the world. With the World Cup games, culture will be created, regional economies stimulated and people united.

Namhae-gun's preparation to attract the soccer teams was highly praised by the foreign press. In December, Nakagogi Dooru, a sports writer for Asahi Shinbun, reported on Namhae-gun's efforts to host the soccer teams in detail. He wrote that Namhae-gun has done a magnificent job, one that will not only boost the local economy but also contribute to soccer itself.

Other cities should learn from Gimhae and Namhae-gun and pay more attention to building culture.

What about the city of Seoul? Seoul reportedly plans to segregate 300 homeless people by forcing them to relocate outside the city in the name of "regional training." The objective of the transfer of the homeless is to prevent the homeless from being seen by foreign tourists. These days even the homeless go on regional training!

We need to show Seoul to foreign tourists as it is. What can Seoul achieve by hiding what it is? Ideas such as this are depressing.

What can we do about a way of thinking that does not distinguish the hosts from the guests? More important than the opinions of foreign tourists on our city is the quality of life of Seoul residents.


The writer is a professor of Korean literature at Sejong University.

by Han Soo-san

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