…Walking the Alleys of Daegu…

The host of the IAAF World Championships in August, Daegu shelters some of the most intriguing historical alleys. Walking these paths, one can discover the city’s deep history.

In Korea, a perseverance to overcome obstacles is known as a “bulldozer spirit”, and this determination to succeed can be seen within local IT companies, construction and other industries. The Korean bulldozer spirit can also be seen in the nation’s athletes, as they increasingly stand in the world’s spotlight with a string of successes, from figure skating to swimming.

Korea is expected to shine once again during the IAAF World Championships Daegu 2011, which runs from Aug 27 to Sept 4. More than 4,000 athletes and officials will gather from 212 countries, with an expected TV audience of 6.5 billion to watch the 47 events. The Daegu Stadium will serve as the main venue for the weeklong event, one of the three major sports competitions in the world. Expectations are running high for the last showdown ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

Daegu, with a population of 2.51 million, is the third largest metropolitan area in Korea and one of the hottest regions in the country. The basin city is surrounded by high mountains, which one protected the area from the North Korean armed forces during the Korean War (1950-1953). Daegu is closely connected to the modern history and culture of Korea, as the ity once boasted great affluence during Japanese colonial rule. City dwellers supported the independence movement against the Japanese and many others migrated to the city, seeking refuge. During the war, a culture of artists, writers, musicians and other creative minds thrived.

To understand the true face of Daegu, it’s best to take a tour through the numerous alleyways of the city, where the past has been well preserved. Cheongna Hill, or ivy vine hill, is a good starting point. Famous for its mention in the Korean song Thinking of Friends, the area once served as the stomping grounds of composer Park Tae-jun, who went to high school there. Cheongna is also well-known for being the site of some of the first modern buildings in the city. Though only three remain today, roughly 10 Western structures were built from 1906 tp 1910, constructed by missionaries at the end of the Confucian-ruled Joseon Dynasty. Until that point, locals were only accustomed to the thatched- or tiled-roofs of hanok, Korean traditional houses, but these new buildings were comprised of a hodgepodge of historical Korean and were created from the stones of the demolished Daegueupseong Fortress, walls were built with red bricks from Pyeongyang, roofs were constructed of Korean traditional tiles and designs were adopted from Western houses.

The first apple tree in the city was also planted on Cheongna Hill by a missionary named Woodbridge O Johnson, the director of Dongsan Hospital. Today, apples are one of the major agricultural products of Daegu.

Down a 90-step staircase and away from the tree, a century-old Romanesque cathedral built in the Gothic style can be seen in the city. The Gyesandong Cathedral, built in 1902, was designed by France and China, and the structure later stood as witness to the 1919 Independence Movement. Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan was ordained as a priest inside the cathedral and former Korean Peninsula Park Chung-hee was married within its walls.

Down past the cathedral’s road of tulips and laurels, Mulberry Alley is next on the tour. The site was the home of famous poet Yi Sang-hwa and economist Seo Sang-don. Yi wrote about national anger during the repression of the Japanese colonialization, in works such as Sorrowful Seaweeds. Seo is known for pioneering the National Debt Repayment Movement, a program that helped the country gain some form of financial independence from the Japanese government.

Next to be explored is Yakjeon Alley, or medicine store alley, which is filled with dispensaries of Oriental medicine. Since 1658, a month-long Oriental medicine market has been held here every spring and autumn. When the market was first established, the site was opened only under order of the king, which ensured its quality. Daegu was known as the best place to buy medicine, with the market even supplying China, Mongolia, Japan and Russia. Today, the Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Cultural Center stands at the entrance of the alley, offering information about the market and medicine.

The next stop is Tteok Alley, or rice cake alley. Korean rice cakes are a traditional food indispensible to cultural rituals, including weddings and birthdays. Rice cake shops display colorful foods sent to the bride and grooms’ homes on wedding days, luring in shoppers with their scent and warm color palettes. Past the rows of delicacies is Jin Alley, one of the most famous areas in the city. Located near Tteok Alley, the name means “long” in local dialect. Today, however, Jin Alley is short. Upon entering, silence falls thick and time suddenly slows to a stop. A rusty bike leans against the wall and senior citizens walk unhurriedly along the 100-year-old alley. The alley can be found on maps dating as far back as 1905, and was once a village of families in the Seo clan during the Japanese colonial period, a cluster of studios for artists and writers during the Korean War, and the neighborhood of businessmen during the industrialization period.

Daegu has a range of other streets to explore, such as the Art Street for artists in Hyangchon-dong, Culture Street in Samdeok-dong, China Town Alley and Seomun Market. To explore each in depth would take more than a week, but the Daegu Metropolitan Government is working to spur projects and revive the long-lost areas. The secrets of the alleyways each uncover a bit of Korean history, making it the perfect resource to dive into the wonders of Daegu.


Source: Korea People & Culture, July 2011


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