[FOUNTAIN]The city is as tasty as a bowl of bibimbap

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[FOUNTAIN]The city is as tasty as a bowl of bibimbap

Around this time of the year four decades ago, it must have been very cold in Seoul. In “Seoul ― Winter 1964,” Kim Sung-ok wrote, “The streets of Seoul were as cold and empty as the streets in a colonized city in the movie previews, but the ads for spirits were brisk and ads for medicines were lazily glittering.” The scene of Seoul’s deserted streets makes readers curl up from the chill.
In fact, Seoul’s winter of 1964 was freezing. After the sizzling summer of the protests against the Korea-Japan talks and normalization treaty, Seoul froze under martial law proclaimed by the military regime. Kim Sung-ok gathered three men in a bar and then to a Chinese restaurant and through their lips, Kim portrayed the loneliness and pain of living in Seoul in the winter of 1964. They share a bizarre conversation about loving Paris, protests and anything that wriggles. The three men check into a small inn of “rooms divided by thin walls,” which symbolizes Korean society of the time, and part with one another as they each face death.
In the winter of 2004, Seoul is far more warm and gaudy than forty years ago. After hosting the Olympic Games and the World Cup, Seoul became bigger, more abundant and more versatile than any other Asian city in recent years. The legacy of a 600-year-long history and culture are combined with the skyscrapers, and the city is as tasty as a bowl of bibimbap. Instead of the gloomy inns, the city is filled with karaoke, sauna, PC stations and DVD video screening rooms.
A few days ago, the New York Times said in its leisure section that Seoul is “a capital with the culture and excitement of Tokyo, but less hectic and easier on the pocketbook.” The article dubbed Seoul “the new Tokyo.” We thought Seoul was a recommended destination because of its energy, passion and character.
As the politicians debate creating a new administrative capital or an administration-oriented city, Seoul has emerged as one of the trendiest tourist destination in the world. If the government leaves Seoul, it won’t change the character of the city. The city’s fate is in the hands of citizens that stay behind. Seoul will always be Seoul if the inhabitants continue to live the life as Seoulites, just like the three men that wander about Seoul from a bar to a Chinese restaurant to an inn in the winter of 1964.


by Chung Jae-suk

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