Growing car culture; scholar’s grave damagedAug. 23, 1995
A decade ago on this date, the number of automobiles registered in Seoul reached 2 million.
This was equivalent to one-fifth of all existing vehicles in South Korea.
During that time, the number of vehicles topped 10 million across the nation, which was a large jump from the 1980s.
According to statistics from the Seoul city government, the increase in the number of cars was the greatest between the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s.
In 1984, there were 377,000 vehicles registered in the city, but the figure gradually increased to 446,000 in 1985. In 1986, the number reached 522,000, and 632,000 in 1987, and it continued to rise until it topped 1.1 million in 1990 and finally reached 2 million in 1995.
The 1990s were the time when critics said Korean society had finally entered the era of “my car,” a term indicating that every family had a car.
But it was also the goal of a determined Korean government that longed to make automobiles the major means of transportation for Koreans.
In the late 1940s, most Koreans used trolleys to travel around the city. One of the busiest lines was the Dongdaemun line, starting in the Cheongnyangni area in northeastern Seoul and ending in Mapo, central Seoul.
In 1948, trolleys accounted for two-thirds of the public transportation available in the city, according to a Seoul city government study.
By 1959, there were 196 trolleys across Seoul, mostly imported from the United States. But buses also became an important means of transportation as people started to complain that trolleys were too slow. (They ran at about seven kilometers, or four miles, an hour).
In 1977, per capita national income reached $1,000, and the government promised the people that the “my car” era would come within a decade. In 1990, the era did come, which is one of the “miracles of the Han River.”
Aug. 25, 1995
The burial ground of one of the famous scholars of the late Joseon Dynasty was partly washed away in a landslide in Yesan, South Chungcheong province, on this date.
A summer typhoon that year was particularly strong and it damaged the tomb of Choi Ik-hyeon, also known as Myeon-am, his nom de plume.
The news was very unfortunate, especially among nationalists, because Mr. Choi, who was born in 1833, was considered a man who demonstrated classic Korean virtues, justice and patriotism.
He was respected by so many people in later generations that there were myths related to his lonely life as a scholar in exile. He was sent into exile several times because he wrote letters to the king protesting against the foreign policies of the Joseon Dynasty.
The island of Uido was one of the venues to which he was sent in exile. According to one mythical story, Mr. Choi liked to sit on a certain cliff to study scriptures. One day, while he was on that cliff, a heavy rain began to fall. Instead of running down to his house, he quickly scribbled some verses on a piece of paper and threw it off the cliff. Soon, bamboo headgear to protect him from the rain magically appeared in front of him. He wore the headgear and came slowly and safely down the cliff, according to the myth.
However strange the myth may seem, there are actually a few more describing him as a person with supernatural powers.
One reason for people’s respect for him was that he had tried to defend the rights of the common people as he fought against a faction of Korean government troops and Japanese troops before Japan’s occupation of the peninsula began. He wrote books and taught the commoners how to read and write as well.
He was 74 years old when he was captured as a prisoner of war by Japanese troops. But he refused to eat in prison, saying it was not right to take food provided by the enemy. He chose to die of starvation in jail.
by Lee Min-a
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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