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Korean heritage foundation sets to restore Laotian relics

Korean heritage foundation sets to restore Laotian relics

Posted January. 09, 2014 05:29,   


The temple where this reporter arrived after a two-hour drive from Pakse was in worst situation, in stark contrast to fine weather. Except for several stylobates and pillars, the temple looked just like piles of stones. It was believed to have collapsed due to a massive earthquake after the 15th century. It was damaged further by a large tree that fell onto the site due to a typhoon in 2009. Deputy director of the Champasak World Heritage Management Office said, “Since no drawing of the building is available, we can restore the temple only by carefully excavating and studying every single stone.”

The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation in charge of restoring at the site showed confident. Since the temple will be the first overseas cultural heritage to be restored by Korea, the foundation has been thoroughly preparing for the work for three years. Kim Gwang-hee, head of the international exchange team at the foundation, said, “Even the onsite work office was constructed by strictly following rules through close consultations with the Laotian government and UNESCO.” For this reason, officials at the site even expressed complaint that "Korea may be too scrupulous."

The final onsite inspection on the day was conducted amid tense mood. The foundation checked items to correct and change one by one by examining the result of actual surveys done thus far. The floor of the temple is elevated from land surface like Geumdangji site at Gameunsa Buddhist temple in Gyeongju, Korea, and foundation officials held long debate with the Laotian authority over how soil sediment over the surface would have been formed over such a long period of time. Baek Gyeong-hwan, a researcher at the foundation, said, “The restoration of the Hong Nang Sida temple cannot be done cursorily, because it is Laotian relics and a World Cultural Heritage.”

The safety of workers at the site was also a key element of onsite inspection. Though the situation was not very serious on the day because it is dry season, but harmful insects and wild animals frequently appear in tropical rainforest during the rainy season. On the day of this reporter’s visit, a number of snakes appeared from weeds that grew as high as the level of one’s ankle. Landmines or undetonated bombs are also risk factors. When this reporter moved back and forth to take photos, officials with the onsite management office were surprised and shouted aloud. In Laos, more than 3 million tons of explosives were dumped during the Indochina War between 1968 and 1972, and there are an estimated 80 million explosives that remain unaccounted for.

Fortunately, the Korean Embassy to Laos, which has been cooperating with Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration, rolled up sleeves to support from early days. Ambassador Kim Soo-gwan said, “We will continuously consult with the Laotian government and carry out activities to remove explosives.” The embassy is also considering giving the quasi-diplomat status to Korean workers handling cultural heritages at the site.

The onsite inspection that started at dawn was concluded around dusk. The restoration project will be conducted from next month the process of survey of preservation science and historical research, survey through dismantlement, architectural design and construction. “Korea is the only country in the world that works even on Sunday,” said another deputy director at the management office. “Already, some officials say that it would be nice if (Korea) will take charge of restoration of the main shrine at the Wat Pho Temple as well.”

“It is grateful remarks because it means that we have built up strong relationship of trust,” the foundation said. “Rather than being complacent with the good start, we will take steps steadfastly and cautiously.”