January 2, 2010
Seoul ablaze with fireworks, booming with festive song,
right outside the offices of the Korean War Commemoration Committee
New Year’s Eve came with a heady rush to the hard working officials in the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee in downtown Seoul.
The office is located in an office tower adjacent to the US Embassy on Sejongno Boulevard, almost across from the Seoul Arts Centre. Three years ago several lanes on Sejongno were closed and a huge pedestrian plaza was created in the middle of the thoroughfare. It can accommodate more than a million and last night, New Year’s Eve, it rivalled New York’s Time Square – perhaps surpassed it in the number of revellers.
Those working on the Committee’s programs for 2010 had been under considerable pressure for several weeks. While demands of the complex planning keep them at their desks from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, there was the worry that the National Legislature had not passed the Government’s 2010 budget.
Had it not cleared the legislature, President Lee was prepared to place all Ministries on contingency budgets. That would mean they would have only enough funds to pay their operating expenses until the crisis was resolved – none to cover the huge and generous 2010 outreach program to the world’s Korean War Veterans.
So the budget, after weeks of delay and wrangling, was approved by the National Assembly on December 31 a few hours before the 2009 budget was set to expire.
Veterans who participate in the 2010 revisit programs will be astounded at the changes in Seoul itself – even those who have visited Korea since the war but have not been back for the past three or four years.
The great Sejongno Pavilion outside the Commemoration Committee offices stretches toward Seoul Plaza, but the huge concourse slides beneath the pavement and comes out on the Cheonggye Stream.
This is the ancient waterway that courses through central Seoul and for centuries was used for drawing water, doing laundry. It was the “tap water” of the many of those living in the core of the capital.
(Photo taken in summer)
This is not a trickling stream but a river some 10 meters wide with stepping stones at intervals to permit pedestrian passage from one side to another. Excavation and restoration of the stream was the personal project of Korea’s President, Lee Myung-bak, when he was the mayor of Seoul.
New office towers, new hotels have sprung up and the city grows larger and larger, now with some 11 million people estimated to live in Greater Seoul and more than 24 million within the sweeping metropolitan Seoul region, which includes Incheon and other major suburbs.
On January 1, millions stayed up to go to the coasts or to mountains where they could view the first rising of the sun in the New Year and the new decade. Most who were interviewed by reporters said that they prayed for the well being of families and loves ones.
Thousands of people line Haeundae Beach in Busan to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. Many of our Fallen Comrades rest just a few miles from the water in the sanctuary of the United Nations Memorial Cemetery. The same sun will shine on their graves and light the bronze markers and give blush to the roses between them, even though there has been frost in the ground now for several weeks. The sun is at the position most of those brave men came from so many years ago. The beach where the Korean throngs celebrate the coming of the first day of the new year is home to lavish super luxury hotels - quite different from the way things were some 60 years ago.
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Above article provided courtesy of the Korean War Veteran, firstname.lastname@example.org