[NOTEBOOK]Former trash heap now inspires

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[NOTEBOOK]Former trash heap now inspires

I took an unusual hike last weekend. The trip's purpose was to climb an "artificial" mountain, 98 meters above sea level, that has been built from the mound of trash at Nanjido.

Standing at the bottom of this mountain, I visualized the Red Devils cheering squad running about in the colorful scenery of Sangam-dong, near the Seoul World Cup Stadium. I noticed nothing special as I started up the zigzagging steps at the corner of the adjacent Peace Park. Nor did I see anything noteworthy as I walked along the ridgeline of the mound, hiking in the shadow of some wind generators. However, I was surprised by the sight on the top, where a stone sign read "Sky Park." The summit of the mountain is wide: 191,400 square meters, only 33,000 square meters smaller than Yeouido. Foxtails, or spiky brush, were bending in the breeze, and white buckwheat flowers grew here and there in clumps. I noticed certain reeds that don't easily grow in dry soil. These resilient plants must have been there since the old days of Nanjido.

Indeed, Nanjido is a place where orchids and bracket fungi were once joined together. The blue sky now meets a grass-covered plain. Although the old Nanjido was a dirty and smelly place, it is clean and fragrant now. Nanjido's former nicknames, such as "Three Evil Island" (for its dirt, foul smells and flies), "Land of Death, Curses and Sterility," and "Residue of Life" are part of the past.

I suddenly thought of "Nanjido literature." This was the term used for writings that criticized the destruction of nature, which for Nanjido came in the 1970s when the spot was turned into a garbage dump. Jeong Yeon-hee, author of the 1984 novel "Nanjido," depicted the 1950s' site this way: "As seen from a ferryboat, Nanjido was embroidered by orchids and reeds."

But in 1998, Jeong Tae-choon wrote of the place: "Nothing is moving in the wind at Nanjido."

Mr. Jeong then cited the ruination of Nanjido by writing, "Black desire arises like fire there." And: "Everything there has lost its name."

As I walked through a narrow walkway in the foliage, sunflowers and dandelions surrounded me. I even spotted a kind of reed that does not usually survive in contaminated soil. Sculpture and statues were located to my right and Mount Bukhan filled the skyline behind me. Verses by Lee An-bin ran through my mind: "A mountain that has the legend of a pyramid."

"Though it was not born as a mountain, it stands there strong, a pile of puzzles."

It's a great idea for Sky Park to offer an "ecology classroom" instead of the usual shops and kiosks. "Observation notes" left on the summit by schoolchildren typically are filled with stories and pictures about Nanjido: "Various butterflies greeted me. It was great to see grasshoppers."

"I want to come back to this nature park with my parents."

"My mom said that my diaper must be inside the mountain."

We may well sing a song again for Nanjido. As Sky Park sinks 3 centimeters each year for the next 20 to 30 years, the park surely will become richer as time goes by. This will be a solemn process, one in which the new place may well provide new literature.


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The writer is the culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Huh Eui-do

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