Friday, August 26, 2011

Exploring Daegu

DAEGU — Twenty-one-year-old Daegu native Lee Sang-hyeon is proud to serve as a guard at the Athletes’ Village for the 13th IAAF World Championships, which opens Saturday here in Korea’s third largest city.

The Kyungpook National University student, who is serving out his mandatory military service with the Daegu Central Police, was excited to assist athletes and visitors from all over the world, particularly with sightseeing.

When asked to list Daegu’s foremost attractions, his first choice was Gukchae Bosang Memorial Park, the starting and finishing point of the marathon course of the championships, and one of the city’s central establishments. It is one of several scenic parks in the vibrant city of 2.5 million.

“It is a trademark of our city and a good place to start a day of sightseeing here,” Lee said. “To get a taste of traditional Korea, visitors should consider Yakjeon-golmok, the oldest market for Korean medicinal herbs in the country with a history of 350 years.”
With its origins dating back to the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), the entire alley is lined with herbal medicine shops, acupuncturists and all manner of traditional Oriental medicine.

“We have hosted several important international events in the past, but this is the largest. I’m hoping that the Daegu World Championships in Athletics will benefit our city’s economy,” Lee added.

Parks and museums

Gukchae Bosang Memorial Park is dedicated to the 1907 National Debt Repayment Movement led by Daegu citizens, organized to repay the country’s debt through collecting individual donations.

It was started by Seo Sang-dong, a Daegu-based independence activist against Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), on Jan. 3, 1907. At that time the national debt was 13 million won. At the movement’s height in 1908, it had amassed 190,000 won.

The movement had attracted nationwide appeal and many, including King Gojong (1852-1919), gave up their tobacco in order to help repay the national debt. To this day, the movement remains one of the strongest expressions of Korean collective patriotism.

The park holds various exhibitions and musical performances. During the championships, the park will hold an opera, and musical and orchestral concerts starting at 5 p.m. until Aug. 31.

Every New Year’s Eve, the people of Daegu gather at the park to hear the bell and celebrate.

The park is adjacent to the Daegu Central Library, where a special exhibition of a copy of “Jikji,” world’s oldest extant metal print book, is being held through October.

Printed during the Goryeo Kingdom in 1377, Jikji is the abbreviated title of a Korean Buddhist document, the title of which means “Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests’ Zen Teachings.”

UNESCO confirmed Jikji as the world oldest metalloid type in September 2001 and includes it in its Memory of the World program.
Jikji was published in Heungdeok Temple in 1377, 78 years prior to Johannes Gutenberg’s acclaimed 42-Line Bible, printed during the years 1452-1455.

“So far, we have had around 3,000 visitors since the beginning of the exhibition in May. On Aug. 27 and 28, we plan to have translators explain to foreigners the historical significance of Jikji,” said library guide Kwon Eun-young. “The document is a compelling demonstration of Korea’s excellence in printing technique.”

The greater part of the Jikji is now lost, and today only the last volume survives, and is kept at the Manuscrits Orientaux division of the National Library of France.

Another famous location is Gyeongsang-Gamyeong Park, beloved by citizens for its gorgeous walking courses. Dalseong Park contains the city’s only zoo, and Duryu Park, or Duryusan, is a large forest in the middle of the urban area.

Daegu also has many art museums and an opera house, to be utilized as venues for cultural festivities celebrating the championships.

In particular, the Daegu National Museum is holding an exhibition to tell the story of Korea’s most respected marathoner, Sohn Kee-chung, a sporting and social hero during Japanese colonial rule.

The first Korean Olympic champion is currently being honored in a two-month exhibition, featuring the late marathoner’s treasured possessions accumulated since he was crowned an Olympic champion Aug. 9, 1936.

Highlights include the gold medal he earned as a member of the Japanese delegation, since Korea was at the time a colony of Japan. The medal is being exhibited to the public for the first time. Visitors can also see rare photo collections and extra issues of Korean and Japanese newspapers — The Maeilshinbo and the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun — that carried the news of Sohn’s phenomenal victory.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a Bronze helmet from ancient Greece from the 6th century B.C., given to Sohn to mark his victory at the Olympics.

It had been stored at a museum in Germany and was delivered to Sohn in 1986. It is the only Western object to be designated a national treasure in 1994.

Visit Daegu Campaign

Tourism officials organized the “2011 Visit Daegu Year Campaign” to promote tourism in Daegu, traditionally known as a tourism underdog in comparison to adjacent tourism centers like Gyeongju, capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 B.C. ¡© A.D. 935) or Busan, Korea’s largest port city, resembling Hong Kong.

By taking the high-speed KTX train, Gyeongju is only 20 minutes away from Daegu and Busan is a 40-minute ride.
Officials and citizens have long been concerned about losing tourists to nearby cities.

“Frankly, Daegu has had a hard time because of towns like Gyeongju, but there are places and food that one can only experience in Daegu,” Chung Hee-sung, a taxi driver said. “I haven’t had any foreign customers yet, but I would advise them to make sure to see Palgongsan Mountain and its temples.”

Although largely outshined by Gyeongju, Daegu has a longstanding Buddhist culture and boasts many Buddhist treasures.
One of the most well-known sights of the city is the stone Buddha called Gatbawi on the top of Gwanbong, Palgongsan Mountain. People from all over the country visit the site, believing that the Buddha will grant their wishes.

On the outskirts of the city, mountains house many renowned temples such as Donghwasa, Pagyesa and Buinsa, home to the original version of the Tripitaka Koreana, one of the world’s oldest complete collections of Buddhist scriptures.

Donghwasa dates from the Silla period, and many of the period’s artifacts are found around the temple in northern Daegu.

Daegu has used important international events like the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the 2003 Universiade and the upcoming championships as opportunities to make significant improvements to its tourism infrastructure.

For example, Daegu recently opened a foreigners-only casino in an annex of the Inter-Burgo Hotel in time for the championships.
The city also has several large traditional markets, like the Seomun Market. The busiest street in the city is Dongseongno, lined with the Daegu Department Store, Donga Department Store and stores filled with the latest in fashion, sporting goods and shoes, in addition to numerous restaurants.

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