[FORUM]In power’s shadow is realityThere are many small districts in the vicinity of the Blue House that exemplify the common people’s lives. Gungjeong-dong, Hyoja-dong and Changseong-dong are just in front of the Blue House, and Jeokseon-dong, Cheongwun-dong, Tongui-dong, Samcheong-dong and Palpan-dong are located within 500 meters. These districts create a peculiar atmosphere for a place where the country’s most powerful agency is situated. Upon closer look, there is no influence of political power, but just scenes of ordinary lives. There is also no arrogance of financial power, just the traditional atmosphere of small towns. These villages with a cluster of small houses are too easily visible to passers-by to be haughty with political and financial power.
Except for some shops on Hyoja Street and Cheongun-dong Street that are connected to the entrance of the Blue House, almost all shops on the street corners are no different from familiar stores in the countryside. Snack bars selling rice cake in red pepper sauce, clothing repair shops with two sewing machines, cheap shoe stores and bakeries, and restaurants for hangover soup line the street. The most common menus at the restaurants are 5,000 won’s ($4.00) worth of kimchi stew or bean paste stew. Once you step into an alley, a few dilapidated houses are in sight as well. The shabby front doors of some houses are open wide but there is no indication of people living there. For a neighborhood where the president lives, the landscape is rather dreary.
But as people around the area gather in large restaurants at dusk, songs stream out at times and heated discussions go beyond the windows to the street corners at other times. Mixed opinions for and against the abolition of the National Security Law are offered and the pitch of drunken voices is raised by an octave. Nonetheless, the look of the restaurant owner seems peaceful. Even if customers let out a series of complaints that the ongoing recession deprives them of their hope to live, no one tries to stop them. The owner says, “The world has changed a lot. If it were in the past, how could people enjoy such freedom of speech just in front of the presidential mansion? Some trouble must have come to them.” Is it because our biological response to power became dull? Power may no longer be an object of fear for the common people.
Diplomatic officials at the Chinese Embassy in Korea are also major customers of the restaurants in this neighborhood. Since their embassy building was temporarily moved to Changseong-dong, they may have personally felt the sentiment of Koreans in many restaurants around the Blue House. Since the Chinese government’s distortion of Goguryeo history, a great number of policemen still stand surrounding the Chinese Embassy day and night, as if burdened with the people’s cold hearts. The Chinese Embassy, located very close to Korea’s supreme leadership, has moved to a place where it can read the hearts of Koreans quite exactly.
The villages around the Blue House are the epitome of the people’s livelihood. With the Chuseok holidays at hand, if the president visits the Okin Market across the street from the Blue House, he will easily measure how the prices have risen and how difficult the lives of shop owners have been. He will be able to hear frank talk about how things are going from housewives or merchants along the street. If the president just steps out, he will be able to perceive the livelihood of ordinary people directly. Listening to the vivid voices of the people unfiltered by his secretaries can sometimes be the duty and responsibility of politicians.
This kind of common people’s village cannot be imagined to exist around the White House, the official residence of the U.S. president, not to mention the British or French prime ministers’. The Japanese prime minister is also a leader far from living in such a neighborhood. The villages in front of the Blue House have been depressed with a dark and heavy atmosphere from 1979, when former President Park Chung Hee was assassinated in Gungjeong-dong, through the 1980s to the mid-1990s. It would be nice if this area becomes brighter now. I hope President Roh Moo-hyun will walk around the villages this fall and directly look at how common people lead their lives.
I would like to see the president having a cup of coffee with ordinary people and heartily listening to even bitter advice from the world at a teahouse in a traditional Korean house open in the alleyway. I wait for a president who can look into the eyes of the people and read their minds.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Chul-joo