Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kangneung Beach near Kyungpo-dae (1960 ~ 2008)

Posted in a modernly landscaped park beside Kyungpo Lake is a public bathroom designed with a nautical theme, and in front of that bathroom is a metal information board with pictures showing the development of Kyungpo Lake and the annexed beach since the Korean War. These pictures show an amazement development of the beach which is a reflection of the character of the developing nation!

In 1960, not even a decade after the Korean War the expansive oceanfront beach was lined with striped white tents for vacationers. The tents were surprisingly numerous and very tidily arranged on the creamy clean sand. The number of tents surprised me as, since I came to Korea in 1991, Koreans have been 'fearful' of the sun and haven't wanted "black" skin as they put it. Here, obviously Koreans were enjoying the beach with all its brilliant tan-creating sunshine. I have two particular thoughts on this at the moment: (1) people in Kangwon-do didn't 'fear' the sun as much as the citified Koreans, although a very tiny percent of Korean were urban-dwellers at this time, and (2) the dislike of browning one's skin has been a more recent aversion as white skin signifies a non-rural, non-farming complexion and thus connotes status on the person. Probably the latter is more in tune with the sun-tanning practices of the 1960s.

By 1970 a railroad had been constructed in order to facilitate people vacationing. At that time, industrialization was off to a pretty good start and Korea was able to generate some income for urban and rural development. The population in Kangwon-do was relatively small and so spending dough on building a railroad would suggest a need for transportation to the city of Kangnung and by extension, the beach. For many many kilometers the railroad parallels the ocean, and what a scenic tour that would offer, thus promoting tourism and giving Koreans a place to get away. I'm not sure when chaebols started the vacation season in August with half of the workers getting vacation one week and then the other half getting vacation the following, but this railroad would have been heavily used during the August season. I think chaebols were well established by this time and already had those fixed vacations.

By 1980 permanent camping facilities were appearing in a tight stretch along the beach-head, in the thin stretch of land between Kyungpo Lake and the ocean. These kinds of structures could operate year-round ... and they probably did to some extent.

By 1990 the beach was becoming very well developed. Permanent cement beach cottages jammed together closest to the ocean with tourist hotels popping up behind. The two visible tourist hotels pictured would fall under the classification of "villa", or multi-apartmented building having only four floors or less. The villa, made of poured but smooth cement, was the common structure of the late 1980s and 1990s. These two villas still exist today but they are swallowed in a burgeoning number of villas and tightly squashed together taller buildings.

By 2007, a jump of 17 years, the beach front has been developed and re-developed over the years. By this time, multiple advertising signs polluted the view, and the government was disseminating information country-wide about the need to reform the clutter of advertising on buildings (that foreigners thought so gaudy and gauche). The government was also promoting a 'greener' Korea ...

... and so in the year between 2007 and 2008, the Kyungpo beach front underwent a huge beautification process, promoted by the government. Flashing lights, neon signs and building shingles in front of buildings had to fall within specific governmental guidelines on size, color, location of placement on or in front of buildings. And the 'ugly old' had to be removed to create space for trees, which had to be transplanted since the Korean government wanted (and still wants) to promote a 'greener' image and only a modern image (which I find sterile and lacking personality as the modern image is everywhere and does not change ... this to me is a rewriting of Korean history as old places of nostalgia are rebuilt).

This kind of "history rewriting" is happening all around Korea, and because of this it is very hard to accurately trace Korean development and history. But I am glad for these pictures as each "is worth a thousand words" and tells its part in the rapid development of this lovely stretch of beach.

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