Saturday, April 07, 2007

Korea's street trees: forgotten heroes of industrialization

A lot of people had to suffer to make Korea the prosperous nation it is today. Girls shanghaied into institutionalized rape and men pressed into labor by the Japanese army saw their reparations taken by the government for use in development projects. Families were torn apart as young men were sent abroad as coal miners and young women as nurses. Democracy was suppressed in the single-minded drive to modernize.
But lest we think that only people suffered to make Korea the powerhouse that it is today, let us not forget the brave shade givers who gave their beauty and youth to the nation's development efforts. I am speaking of course of Korea's street trees.

Try as they might to touch the sky, these street trees are perennially cut back to manageable proportions, less they tear down power lines or telephone wires in the blustery typhoon season. The tree above has taken on their typical knotty, ugly appearance. But truly these are the hardest working trees in Korea. Called upon to bring a maximally efficient dose of nature in an urban environment dominated by factories and bleak houses, like the lotus, they bloom for you again and again. After their perennial trimming, they are allowed to grow reedy and knotty, delivering a compact blast of foliage to a grey urban milieu.

They resemble nothing so much as whomping willows.

In all seriousness, the Korean street tree is sort of the perfect metaphor for all the negative aspects of the last 60 years of Korean history. It's the semi-fulfillment of a desire (nature in an urban landscape) done with no style or thought to aesthetics. 대충 자연. It's a monkey's paw wish fulfilled with ironic consequences. You look at the tree, intended to make you feel some sort of natural satisfaction, and instead you just see a tortured and stifled captive from the forest that makes you feel even less connected to natural world. And yet in the summer, when these torn up trees are fully foliated, it satisfies your brain's desire for green, just enough, and no more

4 comments:

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Flavia Watch said...

thanks for the reminding us of the street trees. without them korea would look absolutely ugly b/c building's don't look all that great. also think of the badly needed fresh air from their photosynthesis.

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