Serene cities and safe homes
It is like meeting an old lover again when a tourist revisits places like Paris, Rome or Interlaken after many years. People usually have vivid memories of their first visits ― the serene streets bathed in sunshine, the brisk early morning air of that season, the warm aroma of fresh bread and coffee, the murmuring noises of the market, the mixed sounds from local peoples’ daily living. Almost without exception, these places are now somewhat disappointing, flooded by people from all over the world.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in particular, Europe is no longer a slowly-changing peaceful part of the world where ancient buildings and fountains abound. This is quite natural as even the Chinese with 1.3 billion people have begun to flow overseas, moving around in group tours. Taking a picture alone at the Trevi Fountain seems almost impossible as flocks of tourists stay at the small plaza all day long. Meanwhile, pickpockets and thieves prey upon tourists every minute in London and Barcelona. Paris was already notorious in the 1970s for gypsies with all sorts of skills to mesmerize tourists ― with a rolled newspaper or a long-stem rose. The Coliseum in Rome was known as the territory of many two-man teams of thieves riding motorcycles to snag cameras and handbags from unsuspecting tourists at that time.
Years ago my team of three Korean couples ended up staging a tug-of-war with two ``Ali Babas” on a Paris metro train (Parisians call thieves from the Middle Eastern countries ``Ali Baba”). In no time, they had snatched a watch and a wallet. Someone might remember the day in 2003 when the Paris metro had to stop operations for 15 minutes because an Ali Baba lay flat on the train floor, caught by us while his partner was trying to pull him out at Lyon Station.
Despite all these unhappy experiences, there are many places that one never forgets. Small cities and lesser known, less visited beautiful villages are always inviting. There are many such places worth visiting and staying in and out of Korea.
Most impressive in my mind are places with an extraordinary abundance of ``Ki” (Qi in Chinese or ``energy”). One can feel the mysterious atmosphere at these ``sacred” spots, which impress people with its supernatural power. Even an ordinary person like me could feel the influence of the sacred energy, which is difficult to explain in words.
The two best such places in my experience were Mt. Baekdu and Delphi in Greece. When I first stepped on the ridge of Mt. Baekdu and looked down at Lake Cheonji, it looked different from other mountains and lakes which I had visited. Later I found out that the Chinese also had thought the mountain as sacred and tried to leave no feces on the mountain. Delphi was there exactly as described in Greek myths. In sunshine and silence, I was able to witness the stone chamber of the famed Oracle.
Martin Gray is a noted anthropologist who has spent 25 years studying and photographing hundreds of sacred sites in more than 100 countries, (www.sacredsites.com). At a lecture in Seoul in 2009 he said something like “Similar to the power of a magnet, the power of a sacred site is an invisible field of energy permeating the area of the sacred site. Myths and legends of the sacred places tell of certain sites that have the miraculous ability to heal the body.”
Delphi was one such sacred site. Others I have visited include Stonehenge in the U.K., the Parthenon in Athens, and the monasteries in Meteora, Greece. I agree they are like sacred magnets.
During the process by which 40 Joseon (1392-1910) royal tombs were listed on the UNESCO world heritage list, the location of the tombs drew people’s attention. Pungsu, feng shui in Chinese, played a crucial role in earlier times. No tombs or palaces of the royal family were built until sincere research was conducted. The tomb area is a space of the dead in bright sunshine, surrounded by stone animals with warm, friendly faces.
Pungsu theory was used to select sites not only for palaces and tombs but also temples and public buildings. It is a scientific method of evaluating a site by taking into consideration the surrounding geography, underground water flow, environment of the greater area, directions, topography, and colors of earth, among other things.
Koreans were quite cautious in choosing sites. People thought ``old” villages were suitable places for living. People preferred a site which stood the test of many years of rain, storm, wind and snow.
As many new large-scale housing projects and even new city projects are launched, this tradition of carefully selecting each house or building seems to have been lost. If we do not follow traditional wisdom any longer, then there should be a new safety system in place. Developing a new site for a house or a village sometimes causes a blockage of the natural flow of water. Retaliation by nature does not differentiate among people – rich or poor, young or old. Where on Earth are the serene and safe places to visit, stay and live?
The writer is the chairwoman of the Korean Heritage Education Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com.