Absence proves presence.
– At the ridgepole ceremony for the Sungnyemun –
I felt guilty whenever I passed by it.
I felt empty as if I had a large hole in my heart.
Sungnyemun left us bereft in an absurd fire that fatal night.
We grieved as if we had lost a loved one.
Chrysanthemums kept arriving to lament the abrupt departure,
And citizens raised money to bring it back to life.
An old citizen donated an ancient pine taken from his clan cemetery.
We only truly understand love only after it has left us.
We understood the true value of our heritage only after it had left us.
Sungnyemun proves its presence through its absence.
On the 8th day of March,
A ceremony was held to celebrate the laying of the ridgepole.
This signified the completion of restoration work that has taken four years.
I arrived at the restoration project site on time,
Only to face angry citizens who had not been invited.
They had got there before me despite the spring frost,
But mercilessness kept them from the ceremony of rebirth.
A lady from Gwangju was also thwarted effectively,
Although her hanbok was more than perfect for the celebration.
I asked the Cultural Heritage Administration, the host of the ceremony,
Only to hear that it hadn’t invited the citizens for their safety
Because the ceremony would be held at a construction site.
I thought there was something in the explanation.
However good a policy or an event may be, it will soon lose its luster,
If no citizens are allowed to participate, leaving them to remain onlookers.
Had the ceremony included the elderly lady who visited the site everyday
With funeral flowers to lament the gate destroyed by fire four years ago,
Or the young people repenting of their negligence and folly
With which they lost the priceless heritage for good,
Wouldn’t the event have been more meaningful?
If they found it difficult to invite all those citizens,
They might have chosen some by drawing lots.
The ceremony was still crowded with government officials,
Historians, master builders dedicated to the restoration,
And media people writing and taking pictures of the gate.
Was it only me then who felt so empty, who felt that something was lacking?
I felt the citizens’ existence strongly where they were absent.