I would like to introduce the Mayor’s Office, a place filled with stories.
As I was moving into the new Seoul City Hall, I thought about filling the Mayor’s Office with the diverse stories of individual citizens. This is because all our citizens may be considered collectively as “the Mayor,” and my personal wish is to fill each corner of the building with their stories and personal histories.
In fact, many city halls around the world are filled with such stories, thereby surpassing their function as mere administrative spaces. In such city halls, records and exhibits of their respective cities’ history and even mayors’ interesting personality traits are on display, so city halls have become representative spaces of their respective cities, as well as excellent tourism recourses.
I came up with this idea quite naturally: ‘I should first fill the Mayor’s Office with citizens’ stories’. While contemplating my idea, I received a suggestion: ‘Why not fill the mayoral meeting room with chairs that embody the personal stories of some of Seoul’s distinguished citizens’. I thought this suggestion was splendid, and quickly found twelve chairs with beautiful stories.
Some citizens personally donated their chairs, others loaned them to us for free, and in other cases we collected the chairs directly. Now we are using the chairs in my meeting room. Today, I would like to tell you some stories about these twelve chairs. And I will tell you more whenever we hear further interesting stories in the future.
Beautiful Citizens’ Chair – ① Jeong Deok-hwan, CEO of the Eden Welfare Foundation
Beautiful Citizens’ Chair – ② Byeon Jae-woo, a courageous firefighter who died in the line of duty
Beautiful Citizens’ Chair – ③ Robert John Brennan, a dedicated Catholic priest
Beautiful Citizens’ Chair – ④ Ryu Yang-seon, an elderly lady who donated 2.3 billion won
Chairs with Tradition – ⑤ Artisans’ chair of Bukchon Hanok Village
Chairs with Tradition – ⑥ Chair of Seoul native family
Chair with Traces – ⑦ Chair from Daerim Traditional Market
Chair with Traces – ⑧ Chair from Baeksa Village
Chair with Traces – ⑨ Chair made of wood from the old Seoul Train Station
Chairs with Administrative Philosophy – ⑩ Chair symbolizing respect for human rights (Attorney late Jo Yeong-rae)
Chairs with Administrative Philosophy – ⑪ Chair symbolizing communication with citizens
Chairs with Administrative Philosophy – ⑫ Chair symbolizing village communities
First, I would like to introduce the “Beautiful citizens’ chairs”. This chair used to belong to Catholic priest Robert John Brennan (Korean name: An Gwang-hoon), a citizen of New Zealand who helped the residents of shantytowns for nearly fifty years. We can still feel the warmth of his care, as if his love remains in every corner of Seoul.
We also have a chair that belonged to a courageous firefighter named Byeon Jae-woo who died in the line of duty. He used this chair when studying for the state examination to become a firefighter. This chair seems to give off a sense of emptiness. However, we will make sure that this chair and late officer Byeon will no longer feel lonesome.
This wheelchair was used by former Korean national judo athlete Jeong Deok-hwan (present: CEO of the Eden Welfare Foundation) to help seriously disabled people like himself. We can feel his passion radiating from this chair.
We also have a fish container which was used as a chair by an old lady named Ryu Yang-seon, who is also well known as a “Donation Angel”, and who has been selling jeotgal (fermented fish) at the Noryangjin Fish Market for over thirty-seven years. We can sense her hard life from this chair. It can teach us a lot about life.
We also have chairs which bear the traditions and traces of Seoul.
This wooden chair, which we collected from Bukchon Hanok Village, belongs to Master Artisan of Embroidery Han Sang-soo, holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 80. She used this chair in her embroidery studio for almost thirty years, and loaned it to us free of charge.
The family of Mr. Kim Hak-jin, resident in Seoul for almost 400 years over twenty generations, donated this chair, which was used for almost thirty years at Neungan Village in the Seocho-gu District. Looking at this chair, we might ponder what kind of life each of those many generations led.
The Daerim Traditional Market was closed at the end of August this year, bringing to an abrupt end its forty-four-year history. One merchant who worked at the market all his life donated a blue plastic chair to the Mayor’s Office. I bet that the minds of all those merchants will still be wandering through the market every day. I would like to say hello to them.
We have a chair which used to be placed in one corner of a small alley at a shantytown called Baeksa (104) Village, whose name originates from the location number 104 of Junggye-dong in Nowon-gu. I visited the town last winter. How are you all doing? We will do our best to keep you warm this winter.
We made our “Dream in Seoul” chairs with discarded wood that we found among the leftovers from the renovation of the old Seoul Train Station, which was built in 1925. We hope that Seoul will become everyone’s cherished hometown.
We also have chairs that embody Seoul City’s administrative philosophy.
This chair was used by the late human rights attorney Jo Yeong-rae, who devoted his entire career to the protection of human rights. The chair symbolizes this guardian angel of human rights. Personally, I respect him as my teacher. I’d like to ask him how he is doing over the distance of time and space which separate us.
Lastly, we have chairs that symbolize our communication with citizens and village communities. Seoul City will do its best to restore its lost connection with its citizens and recover the values of community.
As such, each chair in the meeting room of the Mayor’s office contains aspects of the history of Seoul, citizens’ life in Seoul, and the value and spirit of Seoul. We humbly thank these chairs, and care deeply about them. Simply looking at these chairs provides us with inspiration and insights about Seoul City’s yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. I would like to share this solemn impression with our citizens. Winter is already here with us. Take good care of yourselves, and stay healthy. Thank you, citizens!