Coming home to Gyeongju
When the year is drawing to a close, people feel nostalgia for their hometown, no matter if it is famous or not.
Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Gyeongju, which happens to be my hometown, together with members of various non-governmental organizations based in Seoul, such as the Society for Preservation of Historical City of Gyeongju, the Gwanghwamun Forum, and the Legal Fraternity.
Members of these organizations come from various sectors of society and share the similarity that Gyeongju is their hometown. They are also particularly concerned with the development of Gyeongju and the preservation of the Silla cultural heritage, hoping to contribute to an effective preservation of the historical sites.
Gyeoungju is actually a large ``museum without walls," possessing countless and precious treasures of ancient Korean history and culture. The ancient cultural heritage of Silla does not belong to the past; it rather is a resource for the future. Therefore, maintaining continuity between the past and the present is significant when it comes to urban development.
It was convenient for us to go to Gyeongju by KTX train from Seoul, a journey of two hours. We took the trip in the company of Dr. Matthi Forrer, professor of Japanese Art History at Leiden University, the Netherlands, as a special foreign guest.
As a member of the Board of the Society for Preservation of the Historical City of Gyeongju, I attended a conference to explore ways to bolster sustainable development and preservation of the cultural heritage of the ancient capital of Silla. This event, held at the Gyeongju City Hall, was attended by a variety of representatives of civic groups in Gyeongju, and even the mayor, a member of the National Assembly, a Buddhist leader, as well as others, from Seoul and elsewhere.
There were heated arguments at this seminar, focusing not only on issues related to the preservation and sustainable development of Gyeongju, but also on activities to enhance the cultural diversity through the pursuit of future projects.
After the seminar, all participants were invited to a dinner at a modest restaurant located in the yard of Sooho-jae, an old Korean traditional house-style hotel, on the outskirts of Gyeongju, hosted by a civic group.
Drinking makgeolli, a traditional Korean rice wine, with many associates in the yard of Sooho-jae and looking toward Wolseong, the Royal Palace of ancient Silla, it evoked in me a sense of inspiration ― emanating from the fabulous legacy of the Silla culture and a dream-like state of virtual utopia. Harmoniously, there was a bright full moon in the sky.
Most participants were asked to stay at rooms of the Sooho-jae.
I had expected to have a room for myself or for two. However, I was assigned a large room together with two senior Korean professors and professor Matthi Forrer. Although it was not very comfortable to stay there, the unique experience of staying at an old Korean house hotel reminded me of the past, bringing back the good memories of the days when I grew up at my father's old house in Gyeongju, now several decades ago.
Although I visited many ancient cultural remains with the group during this homecoming event, what inspired me most was Yangdong Folk Village. It is Korea’s best-preserved traditional Joseon Dynasty village which is described as reflecting the ``distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture and architectural style that was included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List recently.
Like the full-grown salmon that returns to where it was born and raised in the spawning season, it is my fervent wish to return to my hometown, to be reminded, if only briefly, of the innocence of childhood, and exchange fond memories of friendship with old colleagues at the numerous precious historical sites of Gyeongju in a desire to retrace its roots,
Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times and the president of Dea-kwang International Co., as well as a director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.