Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gwanghwamun Square - Preview

Gwanghwamun Square is preparing for its inauguration on Saturday (August 1st, 2009) : most fences have been removed around the site, and a giant stage with big screens installed where The King, the way only major stars do, shall take a seat long after the party is over.

Sorry for disappointing Elvis fans : that King probably won't come. This is Sejongno, and as we saw earlier (see last year's "
Gwanghwamun Square" focus on Seoul Village), King Sejong will at last be granted a statue on the avenue named after him. Different projects have been exhibited in front of Sejong Cultural Center a few months ago, but the winner is going to wait until long after the Plaza inauguration : in this (literally) double stage launch, we'll celebrate separately the opening of a new public space and the return of the King.

King Sejong's statue will be officially uncovered on October 9th, 2009... in other words : Hangeul Day (한글날). A perfect tribute to the Great Man's most beautiful gift to his country : the Korean alphabet.

I can't wait until Saturday to see Gwanghwamun Plaza without its last protecting fences. Since I leave one block away, I've been checking the working site almost every day from every angle - from the pavement, from up the staircase of the Cultural Center, from my bike... By the way : bike lanes are ready (see "
Seoul loves cycling... even around Gwanghwamun !"), but only around Gyeongbokgung. One-way, painted red, and symbolically protected from car traffic by two rows of stone pavements, they have not been opened to the public ahead of the Plaza's inauguration.

The new traffic lights, joining
as expected both sides of Sejongno to the Plaza's midsection, are also ready but not operational yet.

I must confess I did cross by foot today nonetheless, while the traffic was clogged at the main crossing (the only one up to now, in front of the Kyobo Building). The beautiful perspective with Gwanghwamun itself - the gate - and Bukhansan in the background was spoiled by the podium in the foreground, but the screen started flashing the new blue Gwanghwamun Square logo, so you could compare the real thing with its symbol. The logo represents the same perspective with the very same angle, but of course with the original and graceful gate, and not the colorful mock-up hiding it since the restoration of that other landmark started (I wonder how the gate - which has yet to rise from an uncompleted wall - can be ready for the King's party - but then again, I still wondered two weeks ago how the Square could be completed before August 1st).

On the square, the images representing Seoul's history were yet to be washed up from their dust, but the gentle slope leading to the underground gallery (called "Haechi Madan") and Gwanghwamun Subway was opened and fully lit, including the video screens on its sides. The slope looks much larger and nicer than on the master plan drawings. As it offers Haechi a new lair, Seoul pays another tribute to its "new" mascot, a longtime Gwanghwamun resident if I ever saw one (see "
Goodbye HiSeoul, hello Haechi").

On Saturday, there shall be crowds and music, geiser fountain shows, wows and aahs. Some may complain about the lack of shade and trees, but at the end of the day, all Seoul citizens will claim the place as theirs, rediscover their history, see the heart of their city from its best angle, wonder at the incredible panorama (I don't know of many capital cities boasting such a beautiful and pristine mountain at its very center). As German-born LEE Charm (Bernard Quandt, the newly appointed head of KNTO) noticed, too many Koreans are not aware of the formidable assets of their country as a tourist destination.

At very last, Sejongno Highway, which cut in two Hanyang's historical center, is gone. Pedestrians, tourists, and Seoul lovers will quickly embrace this most vital articulation, Seoul's original and true center.

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ADDENDUM 20080731

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh ! An utterly kitsch multicolored carpet of flowers has been laid all over the square overnight. The nightmarishly kaleidoscopic disneylandesque patterns, probably a tribute to some supposedly French Garden in Michael Jackson's Neverland, reminds me of that extravagant Dutch trap for tulip tourists where I'd been unwillingly dragged back in the 90s.

Now I can't wait to see if this monstruosity will survive Saturday inauguration.

Say it ain't so, OH, please, say it ain't so.


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