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Korean golfers and gamblers
By Elson T. Elizaga Tupa, Mindanews, November 10, 2003

Seoul is mega-modern and appealingly ancient. Partially destroyed by Japanese and Manchu invasions in the 16th and 17th centuries, and almost totally flattened in the Korean War, most of the city has been rebuilt since the 1950s. Peeking out from among the 12-lane freeways, overshadowed by high-rises, Seoul still retains a hidden history of centuries-old temples, palaces, pagodas and pleasure gardens. -- http://lonelyplanet.com/

During the last three months we’ve heard nothing about the Koreans except this: They’re interested in playing golf and in putting up a casino in Cagayan de Oro.

How shallow.

The Philippines has a strong, continuous relationship with Korea. Cagayan de Oro businessmen and government officials frequently visit Seoul, asking for investments. Several government staff members are sent to this country to study. But what do our leaders like mayor Vicente Yap Emano tell us about Korean interests and personality?
Golf and casino.

On Oct. 6 to 10, Emano was in Korea, accompanied by a team of local traders and government officials. They returned without showing us anything about the place and the people: No pictures, no thick reports, no evidence of humanity in that rich, beautiful country. Even city Historical and Cultural Commission has no summary about the comprehensive cultural preservation programs of South Korea. We don't know about its history, culture, and World Heritage Sites. And, yet, our leaders go there repeatedly to ask for money.

I myself haven't been to Korea, though my mother has, and some of my friends have. From their stories, I get the impression that the people are proud and protective of their heritage. They will be more than willing to accompany you to their cultural sites. My mother is a witness to old women and children riding a bus on the way to a museum, bringing packed food along with them on the long trip. There is a museum filled with disturbing, realistic, life-size replicas of Koreans tortured and maimed during the Japanese occupation. The message is clear: Remember your ancestors. Remember why you are here.

Before I wrote to Korea Herald, Korea Times, and several government agencies about our "cultural terrorist visiting Seoul", I did a small research about the country. I discovered several things that struck me: The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) traces its origin to Hansong Chamber of Commerce, Korea's first commercial chamber. Take note that the organizers used "Hansong", the ancient name of Seoul in 1392-1910. Also, the creation of this chamber was patriotic: According to its website, it "came into existence in 1884 as the nation struggled to transform itself into a modern state amidst fierce competition from foreign powers ... [It was organized to] combat overpowering foreign capital and goods, largely from Japan ...."

Compare KCCI with our Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Inc., which traces its roots to "Camara de Comercio de Filipinas in 1890s." Camara was dominantly foreign. It was "composed mainly of Spanish companies such as the Compania General de Tobacco de Filipinas, the Fabrica de Cervesa San Miguel and Elizalde Y Cia, among others."

And when was our OroChamber organized? Only in 1982.

The other impressive feature about Korea is its National University for Cultural Heritage (NUCH). Other universities devote one or two departments to history, sociology, and anthropology. But the entire NUCH, not just one section of it, teaches four-year courses in cultural heritage. And its president Byung-mo Kim is an anthropologist! He was chairman of Korean Archeological Society in 2000-2002, and chairman of the Organizing Committee for the General Assembly of International Council of Museums to be held in Seoul in 2004.

In his message in the NUCH website, Kim writes: “During the last century, the Western technology seems to have overwhelmed the Oriental philosophies. Yet, many countries and ethnic societies in the East sustained their own cultural identities. Koreans, for example, are very proud of speaking their own language and writing their own alphabet, Hangul ... our ancestors created most refined celadon, gold crowns and eighty thousands tripitaka all of which are not only national treasures but also world widely admired. Therefore, we are now responsible to preserve them and to contribute to the world culture based on our traditional culture ...The Korean National University of Cultural Heritage is first institute of it’s kind in Korea and perhaps in the world ....”

So, we are dealing with a different philosophy here, a different tribe. The Koreans have built an electronic, cultural city. We are constructing the usual concrete jungle. In 2001, the contractor to the Balulang-Taguanao bridge project was a Korean firm named White Horse Trading Development and Construction, Inc. When heritage conservationists complained about the possible destruction of our ancestral home, White Horse sent representatives to Dr. Erlinda Burton, and consulted her about the project. Emano then replaced White Horse with UKC Builders, a local firm, which blasted to oblivion a huge portion of Huluga, a legally-protected archaeological site.

Last month, an upset Emano returned from Korea and admitted that Korean journalists questioned him about my email, wherein I suggested that Emano be asked how he could ensure that Korean investments would not help further destroy our heritage. This is accurate information. They did ask Emano. But then Emano also alleged that the Koreans “ignored” my letter and “criticized” me for it. This pronouncement, relative to the first, is not only a ridiculous oxymoron. It’s also a diplomatic slap, suggesting that the Koreans are culturally insensitive and ill-educated.

My unsolicited advice to government officials: When you conduct a trade mission, please bring someone who represents the best of our culture. Don’t bring and don’t go with a bugoy. End

Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga. Published in Mindanews, November 10, 2003. Elson T. Elizaga Tupa is a writer and photographer. He lived with a Hanunuo Mangyan tribe for two years. Today, he is part-owner of Nazca Graphic Design & Photography, and member of the Heritage Conservation Advocates. Tupa is the maiden surname of his maternal grandmother, a Waray. He used it for sometime in 2003 to stress the difference of his political views from those of his father, who was a member of Emano's party, Padayon Pilipino.

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