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Cultural Values in Korea
By Alan Timblick
President of The Seoul Times
Namdaemun buring in Seoul on Feb. 10, 2008

The departure of the heads of two state organizations responsible for promoting, or preserving, Korea's heritage, although unrelated, highlights the need for a shared responsible attitude towards historical values.

In January 2008, on returning from England to a new job in Seoul, one of my first phone calls was from a journalist who asked how I would react to the "Namdaemun disaster."

Since I had come direct from the airport, I was totally ignorant of the destruction of this glorious icon of Seoul, which in my opinion was the defining representative image of the nation. Driving by the devastated and still-smoldering scene the next day I had to pause, my vision blurred by the stream of tears I could not stem.

During the four or more years of restoring SungraeMun or Namdaemun (Great South Gate), my anger boiled each time I passed by at the anti-social, selfish and ignorant arsonist perpetrator and the lack of security which allowed him to carry out the deed. at the same time I came to realize how hard it must be to muster authentic material, understanding of the original design, and the ancient skills of craftsmen, to recreate the original splendor.

The traditions of wood, stone, roof-tile and paint working are as much a part of our heritage as the artifacts themselves. Training future generations of craftsmen is vital and UNESCO sites require constant care and protection so that visitors to Korea may appreciate the ancient along with the modern.

It took centuries to create today's Korea. Painstaking time and thoroughness of execution are required to avoid imperfect results like the Namdaemun restoration.

Haste in using unseasoned wood and poor colour preparation of paint only resulted in major faults The glorious cathedrals of Europe took centuries to build and many are still undergoing long-term maintenance and restoration. The next head of the cultural heritage Administration should keep such priorities as paramount

Alan Timblick OBE
President, The Seoul Times

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Alan Timblick serves as President of The Seoul Times. He grew up in England, graduated from Oxford University, and has lived in Seoul for over three decades. A former banker, he also worked for the Korean gpvernment as head of Invest Korea and for Seoul City as head of the Seoul Global Center.






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