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[Opinion] Merchants in Gwanghwamun

Posted July. 11, 2008 09:50,   


The district surrounding Gwanghwamun in central Seoul is a rarity where the past and the present co-exist. In the midst of old edifices, such as Gyeongbok, Deoksu and Gyeonghui palaces, modern and sophisticated high-rises and government buildings line up along the boulevards. Behind those high-rises stand dilapidated buildings, waiting redevelopment. In areas including Hyoja-dong, Okin-dong, Samcheong-dong and Gahoi-dong, decades-old traditional Korean houses still remain intact. Lots of restaurants and bars are also seen in Gwanghwamun areas. Those businesses, nestled in these transportation convenient areas, are flourishing as they serve crowds of civil servants and office workers.

However, this Gwanghwamun district turned into a “liberation district” for demonstrators recently. Those who held candles in protest of the resumption of U.S. beef imports packed the district over the past two months. Riot police buses were stationed on every corner of the streets to prevent demonstrators from marching toward Cheong Wa Dae and traffic was blocked. All this dealt a blow to restaurants and small businesses operating there. A spaghetti restaurant owner said, “Before candlelight vigils, our monthly net income reached 2 million won. But now it nosedived and daily sales are around 100,000 won on average.” Most restaurant owners and merchants have complained that their revenues declined by half. The situation was so desperate that they staged protests against candlelight vigil rallies.

KBS’s “Midnight Live Debate” aired Sunday has made those merchants in Gwanghwamun outraged. The remarks of Song Ho-chang from the Lawyers for a Democratic Society fueled their anger. Song argued that those who joined the rally against candlelight vigils were not merchants in Gwanghwamun areas, and that businesses in Gwanghwamun are going well. “Normally, convenient stores and restaurants in the district close their doors around 10 to 11 at night. But these days they close before 9 p.m. because goods are all sold out.” Whether Song’s comments are true or not, what is obvious is that there were few customers at night. For ordinary citizens who did not participate in candlelight protests, Gwanghwamun was the area they should hastily leave.

On Wednesday, a group called the Lawyers for Citizens decided to file a collective damage suit against the People’s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease on behalf of merchants who suffered losses due to candlelight protests. One restaurant owner who requested the indemnify suit said, “I couldn’t sleep at night due to a lack of customers. Under the circumstances, Song’s remarks enraged me.” It’s relieving that candles were blown out over the couple of days. Though tropical nights continue, it seems that life in Gwanghwamun areas has retuned to normalcy.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)