[FORUM]Signs and portentsDo you ever wonder about the people of the past? If so, try walking down old streets. The signs on these streets will give you an answer. You will be able to return to the past, and confirm how different today is. If signs from way back are still in their places, you can ride a time machine and embark on a journey back to the happy past. If you see a new sign standing in front of you, you can take a deep breath and promise yourself a new start. If by any chance the street has grown old with you, you will be able to see your life in a panoramic vision.
Jongno is such a street for me. From cram schools I entered in preparation for college entrance exams, to beer houses and coffee shops I went to with close friends, to silk shops I visited to prepare for marriage, and even cinemas I used to frequent with younger friends, Jongno contains parts of my life from my teens to my forties. The transfer of the administrative capital is spurring heated debates. The supportive opinions that claim it is the best solution to check unbalanced development between Seoul and provinces clashes with the critical view that sees the transfer as an irresponsible desk theory playing with the formation of a city. The two sides are getting out their calculators and arguing, one saying that we cannot afford to spend the astronomical sums that will go into this plan, and the other that it costs as much to support annual 400,000 incoming residents to Seoul.
Getting caught up in this myself, I thought about the meaning of Seoul and started to wonder about the people of the past. I went to Jongno, but it was hard to even take a stroll because of the street traders, people with loudspeakers petitioning for something and jumpy uneven sidewalks. From Jongno 2-ga to 4-ga, there was no room to look at the signs on the streets. The sidewalk was too narrow to avoid bumping into people’s shoulders. The sidewalk of Jongno is less than one-third of the width of the Champs-Elysee in Paris, but it grunts as it holds three times as much in street facilities. The principal problems are the street stalls and subway ventilation openings. The entrance of Tapgol Park, the site of the March 1 independence movement, and the front of Jongmyo, which is designated as a world cultural legacy for its ancestral tablets of the Joseon kings, is also far from nice. In fact, these areas are more of a mess than they were before. The sight of these places at night covered with tent bars was even somewhat bitter for me.
I went down the 2.8-kilometer street and looked around for places of memories here and there, as if walking over stepping stones. The small buildings on the northern part of Jongno are still almost the same. What was different was only numerous big signs put up in front of them vertically and horizontally as if shouting out “Look at me!”
Seoul has invested 20 billion won ($173 million) into a renovation project, saying that it will turn Jongno into a street where people want to walk. I hope that there will be more old signs on this historical street to help us go back in time. Signs that allow us to go on a joyful journey into the past whenever we feel tired from everyday life.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Hong Eun-hee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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