Many things lost leave only regrets

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Many things lost leave only regrets

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A couple years ago, I had a chance to interview actress Kim Ji-mee, who lives in the United States and was visiting Korea. The interview took place at an office in Gangnam, where film industry seniors gathered frequently. Kim rushed in and offered a bag of treats.

“Sorry I am late. I had to stop by a bakery. I miss the taste of this wafer sandwich when I’m in America. Whenever I come back, I make sure I have enough,” she said. The elders in the office were delighted. “This is from Taegeukdang Bakery? Do they still make these?” As we shared the treat, the air seemed to become sweeter. I bit into the sandwich and a strong taste of red bean spread in my mouth.

It had been several decades since I had Taegeukdang’s signature sandwich. My father used to bring them in a paper bag after work. He was a strict man, but it is a sweet memory.

Taegeukdang Bakery has a special meaning as the Crown Bakery franchise prepares to close. The news signals an end of an era rather than just another announcement of a business closure. The Crown Bakery in Insa-dong, my usual spot to meet friends, will soon be gone. Where will I see all of my old friends who I used to walk around with in Insa-dong?

So many things have disappeared. New York Bakery at Gangnam Station, where college students gathered in the 1980s, closed last year. Even during the authoritarian era, clubs around Gangnam Station were crowded with dancing young people. They would meet at New York Bakery and continue on to the clubs. Jongno Books has long been gone from Jongno Street. It was the place to meet, whether for a blind date or a protest rally. Before the invention of pagers and cell phones, we used to leave memos on a board by the bookstore’s entrance.

Taegeukdang’s heyday was in the 1970s, but it is still in business when so many remains of the old glories are disappearing.

Just in time, I got an e-mail from a friend, a professor at Yonsei University. The Baekyangro path from the main gate to the campus is in jeopardy because of the “Baekyangro Renovation Project,” and professors are collecting signatures to save the path. While it is not my alma mater and I have no special attachment to it, the path is a significant site that Yonsei anthropology professor Cho Hae-joang calls “a historic site that often appeared on world news in the 1980s.” Foreign press used to take photos from the Shinchon Station tracks of the clash between student protesters and riot police, and those photos were sent around the world.

On top of the significance of the path, the internal decision-making process seemed to be flawed. The late poet Ko Jung-hee wrote, “All things disappearing leave blank behind.” But some things often only leave regrets, and we have experienced so many of those cases.

*The author is a deputy culture and sports news editor.

By YANG SUNG-HEE
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