Lights off, a city slows to meet nature

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Lights off, a city slows to meet nature


Seoul usually blossoms with light after the sun sets. The bridges over the Han River erupt in beams of red, blue, purple and green, and the Cheonggye stream glows and shimmers with underwater illumination.
But for 30 minutes last Wednesday, the city’s lights dimmed and sank. Although the weather was cloudy and rainy, it wasn’t a power outage that darkened the city: It was “Candle Night in Korea,” a campaign to “pull the plug on civilization” and make life slow down a little.
The event was held by two environmental non-governmental organizations ― the Korean Women’s Environmental Network and Green Fund ― on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
The campaign to dim the lights started in the United States in 2001. It was originally designed to protest the U.S. government’s energy policy. But as it was carried over to Japan the next year, the value of “slow life” was added. Since then, “Candle Night” events have been held on both summer and winter solstices for two hours from 8 p.m., by turning off any electricity and lighting candles. The campaign was held in 12 nations this year, including Japan, India, Taiwan and Canada, with Korea participating in it for the first time, according to the Korea Women’s Environmental Network. “It’s a campaign to become an owner of time and action, by cutting off our link to the electronic world for just a moment,” said Park Eun-jin from the Korea Women’s Environmental Network. “By lightning up candles instead of bulbs, we slow down to the speed of nature.”
The campaign was strictly voluntary. At exactly 9 p.m., the area of downtown Seoul around Jongno district suddenly faded from splendidly bright to barely dim. The Jongno District Office turned the lights off at Bosingak belfry for 30 minutes; the outward lights of Jongno Tower building and SC First Bank building were gone for 10 minutes, and the lights for the underground paths of Jonggak subway station were dimmed for an hour.
“We decided to participate in the campaign because we share the value of slow life,” said Lee Gee-hoon, an employee at Jongno Tower. “But as there are some people working in the office, we can’t completely turn off the lights inside the building.”
To back up the campaign, a series of small concerts was held in the Jonggak subway station. About 100 passersby sat down on the stairs and enjoyed the music, even as the ground shook with the rumble of passing trains. “I was just passing by, but I liked the phrase [on the banner], ‘Take one step slower,’ and sat down to know more about it,” said Jung Ji-hee, 22, a college student who joined the event for more than an hour. “Koreans are always in a hurry, so they have become more selfish. If we take one step slower, I think we can think of others as well as look back ourselves.”
Even though not many buildings and shops turned off lights, it seemed the campaign was already successful ― it at least slowed down a few people.

by Park Sung-ha
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