Firms buff their images by polishing treasures

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Firms buff their images by polishing treasures

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Whether it’s the groundskeepers from a golf course mowing the lawn of a royal mausoleum, the employees of a steel company polishing the body of an old abandoned train or a gas corporation donating fire extinguishers to folk villages full of thatched cottages, Korea’s companies have discovered the value of public service. Or, at least, the value it has for their image.
That would explain why mysterious sounds emanated from behind the Yung-neung tomb in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province. The tomb is the resting place of Sado, a crown prince of the Joseon Dynasty, and his wife. His son King Jeongjo, lies in the Geun-neung tomb next door. (Sado was the second son of King Yeongjo and was killed by being stuffed into a wooden rice bin.) Long blades of green grass had waved in the wind around the tomb, but the mowers cut them down in broad circular sweeps. The tomb quickly took on its new look ― a big tumescent version of a golf fairway.
The man mowing the lawn was a member of the golf course groundkeeping team at Hanwha Resorts in Yongin, Gyeonggi province. The team signed an agreement with the Cultural Heritage Administration in May last year to preserve the tomb, according to Kim Gyeong-su, a spokesman for Hanwha Resorts.
In the beginning, the company ran into problems with the local residents and particularly from the regular tomb workers. The regular workers, fearing that the company workers would take their jobs, glared at them and were as unhelpful as possible. No one would give the golf course staff members even a cup of water, even when they worked in the midsummer heat. Local residents weren’t particularly warm or thankful. And because machines used on golf courses were showing up every day by the tombs, rumors spread that the company was plotting to turn the royal tombs into a golf course.
Mr. Kim said that in the beginning, the lawns around the tombs were in terrible condition, but that the team couldn’t start cleaning up immediately because they had to check the water drainage, the air flow around the tomb and how well the lawn had been fertilized. Once it reported its research to residents, the company said, it finally earned their trust and goodwill. Based on the report, Hanwha changed the tomb’s drainage system after first discussing it with the Cultural Heritage Administration. “The staff members’ affection for the tomb increased to the point that they visit the tomb on their way home to check on the lawn’s condition,” Mr. Kim said.

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An abandoned steam locomotive sitting outside the civilian restriction line near Paju, Gyeonggi province, might not be the first symbol people think of for Korea’s division, but the engine, unable to complete its journey north, has become a potent reminder that unification is an unfinished business. Dubbed by the government Cultural Asset No. 78, someone has hung a sign on it, reading “The train wants to run again.” Yet despite its fame, the train is dangerously close to falling apart.
Or it would have, had not Posco, one of the world’s largest steelmakers, used its steel preservation technology to keep the train in decent shape.
“After we take off the rust, we’ll apply a rust-proofer. It’s a very complicated process that will cost 500 million won ($526,000) to 600 million won in total,” an executive at the company said.
For the work, the abandoned train, which is already decaying, will probably have to be moved inside the civilian line. The executive said the move would cost over 100 million won, because without proper support the train would fall in on itself. Given the risky nature of working around the DMZ, Posco will have to clear things first with the Defense Ministry.
Posco is also working on building a database for over 69 national cultural assets that contain metal, such as iron Buddha statues and bronze bells. After a huge fire tore through Yangyang, Gangwon province, for instance, the bronze bell in Naksan Temple was severely damaged. It is nearly impossible to restore the bell, though, because there is too little information stored regarding its original composition. The government knows the size of the bell and has photographs of it, but no data on its components.
“There is no way to restore metal cultural assets once they are lost if there is no research on its components. We need those to protect the assets,” said Lee Hyeong-gyu, a Posco spokesman.

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Korea Gas Corp. offers to teach gas-safety for free to five folk villages around the nation, including Hahoe Maeul in Andong, North Gyeongsang province. Folk villages have a number of old and worn gas facilities, and since the houses are usually constructed of wood, they are particularly vulnerable to fire.
The service team for the corporation checks gas safety, changes worn-out facilities and sets up fire extinguishers for free. It also takes care of 51old houses designated cultural assets in the Seoul metropolitan area.

The headquarters of Hyundai Engineering & Construction is located next door to Changdeok Palace; only a fence separates them. The company’s employees visit the palace once a month, not to enjoy the royal atmosphere, but to weed and clean the place on their lunch breaks and afternoon work hours. At first, the employees made a lot of mistakes. Employees mistook wild flowers that had been planted in the garden for weeds. They thought cleaning meant nothing more than brushing dust away. But nowadays, they are professional polishers when it comes to wiping the floors of Juhamnu, the reading room of Gyujanggak, a royal library where the king and his servants discussed academics and politics during the late Joseon dynasty. The employees also know more about the palace’s flora.
Not to be outdone, employees at Shinhan Bank’s headquarters are taking care of Sungnyemun ― better known as Namdaemun, National Treasure No. 1. The bank contributed wide and thin stones to help maintain the massive gate, and its employees clean up the surrounding plaza.


by Baik Sung-ho
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