[Viewpoint] A picture that touches the heart

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[Viewpoint] A picture that touches the heart

When I visited Shanghai for a business trip, I went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, the most popular tourist attraction in Shanghai and the symbol of China’s opening.

Shanghai’s development is indeed impressive, but what struck me most was not the spectacular view from the observatory but a photograph I found in the basement of the tower.

Visitors to the Oriental Pearl Tower take the elevator to the observatory from the first floor, and on the way down, they get off on the first basement level.

When I got off the elevator, the first thing to catch my eyes was a photograph of the Japanese high-speed Shinkansen train running under Mount Fuji. As I asked myself why that photograph of Japan was displayed in Shanghai, I found a row of photographs displayed around the circular hall.

Each photograph featured a landmark representing countries around the world such as the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids of Egypt. Probably, the designer aimed to emphasize China’s place in the world, but frankly, I was not immediately impressed.

Then suddenly, my heart began to throb. In a split-second, different thoughts came to my mind.

There were fewer than 20 photographs representing less than 20 countries, so would it include Korea? If there is one for Korea, then what would be in the photograph? What image best represents the idea of Korea? I would feel unhappy if there is not a spot for Korea at all, and if there is a photograph that I might recognize but foreigners would not associate with Korea, I would feel even worse.

As I browsed through the photographs, I tried to think of one image that could instantly remind foreigners of Korea.

Would it be Namdaemun or the 63 Building? Foreigners might not be familiar with Hunminjeongeum (the first Korean writing system) or samulnori (traditional percussion quartet). What about hanbok, our traditional dress? Would foreigners know our traditional rice dish bibimbap or the beef dish bulgogi? They might all know the DMZ, but it is not quite pleasing.

My pulse quickened and, just as I thought there was not a photo representing Korea, I found it. And anyone can tell that it represents the Republic of Korea.

It was a photograph of the Seoul City Hall Plaza. Or, to be exact, it captured an image of masses of people gathered at the plaza. Everyone in the huge crowd was wearing a red shirt, and I could almost hear them cheering, “Daehanminguk!”

I finally felt assured. I was so proud and moved by the photograph. Although the lineup of photographs might be meaningless, I felt as if Korea had made a list of major nations around the world.

I held my breath and studied the photographs again.

Pictures representing other countries focused mostly on landmarks and architectural masterpieces. But Korea’s photograph was the only one depicting people as the main subject. It could mean that Korea does not have an architectural landmark that symbolizes the country. But from another perspective, Korea might be distinguished by its ethnic characteristic as the symbol and moving force of the country.

How many among over 200 countries around the world can be readily recognized by foreigners with a single photograph? If you think about it, you can associate only a handful of countries with a certain image.

Korea has accomplished today’s advancement over a short period of time solely with the power of its people. Koreans say, “People are more beautiful than flowers.” And indeed, it holds true for Koreans.


The writer, a medical doctor, is chief editor of the Korean Medical Doctors’ Weekly. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Jae-young
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