Message board endeavors to brighten up passersby’s days

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Message board endeavors to brighten up passersby’s days

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A billboard bearing messages in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, is a Kyobo Life Insurance cultural project. The 24-year-old board greets passersby with different messages that change season to season. Provided by the Daesan Foundation

A billboard in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, has space for just 30 or so letters, but its frequently changing message is designed to make an impact.

The phrases chosen for the display owned by Kyobo Life Insurance are meant to encourage passersby in the heart of Korea’s capital to reflect on philosophies such as hope, courage and love.

More often than not, they are quotes from novels and poetry.

Every season or so, a new string of words is picked for the sign, which is around 20 meters (65.6 feet) wide and 8 meters long.

Famous poet Kim Yong-taek once described the billboard, which is often dubbed Gwanghwamun geulpan, or a billboard bearing messages in Gwanghwamun, as “The azure blue sky of Seoul. The breath of fresh air that enriches our all-too-common everyday life and the blue river that runs through Gwanghwamun.”

The billboard, which is hung outside the headquarters of Kyobo Life Insurance, has been there for 24 years.

But it has not always carried inspiring thoughts.

In its early days, it was inscribed with corporate imperatives such as “Work like ants. The summer won’t last that long,” or “Let’s get together to revive the economy.”

The message also only stayed up throughout January instead of all year round.

But Shin Yong-ho, the late chairman of Kyobo Life Insurance, suggested it should carry messages that could strike a chord in the hearts of the people.

In order to pick and choose appropriate phrases, the insurance company has appointed members to a committee consisting of a few people from the literary world and staff from the company itself.

Kyobo also allows the general public to submit messages through the insurance firm’s official website, but just a few have made it onto the billboard so far.

When asked about the message that has received the most positive feedback so far, Lee Jung-hwa, the team head at the cultural business department of the Daesan Foundation, a patronage foundation of Kyobo, said that excerpts from the poem “Flowers Shaken While Blooming” by Do Jong-hwan have received the most favorable reviews.

“We don’t particularly run surveys to rank the most popular ones,” said Lee.

“But some messages definitely received more rave reviews from pedestrians than others.”

The poet wrote that every flower is swayed and shaken until it blooms and the messages filled the Gwanghwamun billboard years ago.

“Since the quoted poetry was immensely popular, the poet published his next collection of poems by naming it after that poem,” Lee added.

She also explained why the foundation puts a 30-word-or-so limit on the signboard at Gwanghwamun.

“The messages shouldn’t be either short or long. We thought about 30 words are just right to capture the attention of people who pass by the signboard,” Lee said

Marking the arrival of spring, the sign has recently been replaced with a new one that reads: “I want to make people’s heart flutter, just as a mountain covered in spring flowers does.”

BY SUNG SO-YOUNG [sung.soyoung@joongang.co.kr]
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