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Bowing down to filial piety

Posted by pakin On August - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

The picturesque Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, just outside Seoul, was built by King Jeongjo to honour his father

IT IS a sunny day in Suwon, the capital of Gyeonggi-do province. The city is just 30 kilometres south of Seoul, making it a convenient day trip from the South Korean capital and an easy commute for locals preferring not to live in the big city.

Suwon’s most famous historical attraction is Hwaseong Fortress, a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site since 1997.

“You know the Korean series ‘Yi San’ (Lee San)? That series was based on the life of King Jeongjo, the ruler who built this fortress and Hwaseong Haenggung Palace,” says Kevin, our friendly local guide.

I find myself wishing my mother and my sisters were with me. Major fans of the series, I can picture them walking through the fortress and the palace reciting the characters’ conversations and telling me the story of Yi San.

Born as Yi San, King Jeongjo was the son of Crown Prince Sado or Sado Seja, who was put to death by his own father, King Yeongjo, by being placed in a sealed large wooden rice chest. Thirteen years after King Jeongjo acceded to the throne, he began making plans to relocate his father’s grave in order to grant him eternal peace. Searching the whole country for the perfect place for his father’s new tomb, King Jeongjo decided to re-inter his father in Suwon.

King Jeongjo, the 22nd king of the Joseon Dynasty, built Suwon Hwaseong Fortress as an expression of his will to reform the nation and to show his filial piety towards his father.

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, a piled-stone and brick fortress, stretches for a total of 5.74 km and surrounds the centre of Suwon City. We have too little time to walk the full distance around the fortress so we jump on the Hwaseong Train, a tourist train that travels between Paldalsan Mountain and Yeonmudae. The front of the train is shaped like a powerful dragon to symbolise King Jeongjo while the guest cars resemble the palanquins that once carried the king during his excursions.

The Hwaseong Fortress influenced the development of Korean architecture, urban planning and landscaping. Jeong Yakyong, a leading scholar of the School of Practical Learning, designed the fortress. combining architectural and scientific knowledge from the East and West. The design was characterised by careful planning, the combination of residential and defensive features, and the application of the latest scientific knowledge in that era. Hwaseong is also unique in that it covers both flat and hilly land, making use of the terrain for maximum defensive efficacy.

From the Hwaseong Train, we can see the “chongan”, as the holes in the fortress walls are known. They were used to shoot at the enemy while remaining protected by the wall. The shape of the holes are different: some are drilled straight outwards to shoot at far off enemies, others at a downward slant to shoot at enemies close to the fortress wall.

Equally remarkable was the completion report for the building of Hwaseong Fortress, “Hwaseong Seongyeok Uigwe”, which was published in 1801 and provided details and particulars about the fortress design and construction process. After the periods of Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War, the fortress suffered partial damage and loss and “Hwaseong Seongyeok Uigwe” served as the main resource for the restoration works.

We are lucky to arrive at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace just in time for the martial art show. The performers are dressed in traditional royal guard costumes and quite aside from staging realistic fistfights, they also show how to use traditional swords, spears, lances and halberds. The performance is staged in front of the main gate of the palace twice daily – at 11 and again at 3 – except Monday. The show is free of charge and comes complete with English translation.

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace is the biggest haenggung, or temporary palace, of the Joseon Dynasty. King Jeongjo built it to accommodate his stay when he came to pay respect to his father’s royal tomb. He stayed at this palace a total of 13 times during his reign and also held various important events including the 60th birthday celebration of his mother in 1795.

Most of the palace was destroyed by fire during Japan’s colonial rule in the early 20th century, but a restoration project began in 1996, marking the 200th anniversary of the construction of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, and the royal villa has been open to the public since 2003.

Suwon, deeply tied to Jeongjo’s deep loyalty to his father, is also known as “The City of Filial Piety”.

New ministers prepare for first Cabinet meeting

Posted by pakin On August - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

SOME new ministers yesterday trickled into Government House to assume their next roles and prepare for their first Cabinet meeting today.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was the first to come into work early yesterday, and later joined others to worship and pay tribute to shrines in the compound.

Energy Minister General Anantaporn Kanjanarat then came to clear out his office in Command Building 1, where he worked as an adviser to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and president of the Budget Scrutiny Committee.

Anantaporn reportedly went to see Prayut before leaving.

Deputy PM ACM Prajin Juntong was the third to appear, wearing a blue tie sporting the Royal Air Force logo.

“My future tasks may be different from what you media have assumed,” he said, implying that he might not be in charge of infrastructure and transportation. And as a practitioner, I’m capable of administrating,” he added, dropping a card identifying him as the transport minister, his previous post, on his way to Command Building 1.

Another Deputy PM ADM Narong Pipatanasai came next, in the afternoon to move into his new office at Command Building 1. His decorations included a figurine of ADM Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, known as “The Father of the Royal Thai Navy”.

Narong will reportedly use the room vacated by foreign minister, who is now Deputy PM General Tanasak Patimapragorn, on the third floor.

Tanasak will shift to the former office of ousted deputy PM MR Pridiyathorn Devakula on the fourth floor of the building, while Somkid will take over the old office of PM’s Office Minister ML Panadda Diskul.

In another move, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also defence minister, said he had submitted the annual list of military appointments to the prime minister, who will then forward the list for royal endorsement.

He was confident that the new military chiefs would be acknowledged by all parties. “If the military accepts that, so why wouldn’t others? We’ve done everything legitimately.”

General Teerachai Nakwanich was tipped to become Army chief, while Prayut‘s younger brother General Preecha Chan-o-cha was reportedly slated for permanent secretary of the Defence Ministry.

CENTRAL GROUP has strongly urged the government to ensure the coming tourism high season is a success, while the group’s revenue forecasts for its hotel and food businesses this year remain unchanged.

Suthikiati Chirathivat, chairman of the board of Centara Hotels and Resorts, yesterday called on the government to make immediate efforts to rebuild the tourism industry after the bomb blast in Ratchaprasong Intersection on August 17 that killed 20 people.

He said many foreign tourists needed to feel confident about coming to Thailand as they are consider making reservations ahead of the high period starting in October. “If tourists do not feel confident, they may shift to other countries,” he said.

Since the bomb blast, Central Group has seen room cancellations and drop in food consumption, suffering total financial damage of more than Bt10 million.

About 3,400 room-nights have been cancelled, mostly at Centara Grand at CentralWorld (900 room-nights), Centara Grand Ladprao (800 room-nights), Centara Pattaya (700 room-nights).

However, several international conferences will still be held at its flagship hotel in Ratchaprasong as planned, including the World Congress of Surgery.

For Central Restaurant Group, sales at outlets near Ratchaprasong and the Siam area dropped by Bt1 million.

Suthikiati said Central Group had proposed that the government extend the permissible length of stay for tourists who carry visas on arrival in order to attract more visitors as well as to stimulate spending.

Furthermore, authorities could offer more privileges to MICE (meeting, incentive, convention, and exhibition) travellers during this period.

Ronnachit Mahattanapreut, senior vice president for finance and administration at Centara Hotels and Resorts, said the revenue projections for the hotel and food businesses this year remained unchanged as the group had set a conservative target of more than Bt19 billion.

Several new hotel investments have been drawn up including two hotels in Maldives worth a total of Bt3.6 billion. Moreover, its new Cosi hotel brand is set to open in Koh Samui and Chiang Mai by 2018.

Chai Srivikorn, president of the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association, said that shopper traffic in the area had dropped by almost 40 per cent in the first week after the bomb blast, but was now gradually recovering, and was now only 25 per cent below the normal level.

“However, we have found that the number of foreign tourists in the area dropped by 30 per cent. Meanwhile, a number of events and activities scheduled by many international brands have been postponed. This has caused the occupancy levels posted by many hotels in the Ratchaprasong area to drop significantly from 90 per cent previously to only 50-60 per cent today,” Chai said.

Faulty CCTV ‘curbs hunt for suspect

Posted by pakin On August - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Most of the security cameras installed along the escape route used by the suspect in the Erawan shrine bombing were broken, which is hindering the investigation into the incident, according to the police chief.

National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang said Monday 15 of the 20 cameras from Ratchaprasong intersection to Silom were out of order.

The cameras are owned and maintained by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Pol Gen Somyot said the images obtained from the five working cameras do not give his men a complete picture of the incident. “The footage jumps around from one camera to another. And because some of the images were not available due to the broken cameras, we have had to rely on our own imagination,” the police chief said.

Police last week released a sketch of the prime suspect seen on CCTV footage leaving a rucksack at the Erawan shrine 15 minutes before the explosion.

A male suspect in a yellow T-shirt was seen on the surveillance images leaving the shrine after allegedly planting the bomb there on Aug 17. After he left the shrine and the bomb exploded, he took a motorcycle taxi to Silom.

A source said earlier that police are looking for another taxi driver who picked the suspect up from Silom Soi 9 after the explosion. Police have questioned about 15 taxi drivers whose vehicles appeared in CCTV footage around that time.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau has conceded that it is difficult to say whether the suspect is still in the country. According to the latest reports, the suspect possibly entered Chulalongkorn Hospital, changed his clothes and then fled the country to Malaysia.

Pol Gen Somyot said the police are missing some essential photographic evidence and therefore they might need to expand the scope of the investigation to fill in the gaps.

The police chief added it was fortunate the security cameras at the Dusit Thani Hotel captured images of the suspect, which showed him heading to Hua Lamphong train station.

However, Pol Gen Somyot said the investigation into the bombing is moving forward.

The BMA, meanwhile, declined to confirm if the 15 cameras were broken. Tripob Khantayaporn, director of the BMA’s Traffic System Development Division, said the BMA operates security cameras throughout the city which are either directly connected to City Hall’s central control panel or are stand-alone ones.

Images from the control panel-linked cameras are constantly monitored whereas the pictures taken by the stand-alone ones are reviewed every 15 days.

He said the cameras may not produce clear pictures because they are designed to see the surrounding areas from a certain vantage point, which is different from police-operated cameras which can zoom in on traffic offenders.

Mr Tripob added that the BMA has around 57,000 CCTV cameras in Bangkok. Of these, about 10,000 are new and capable of taking high-resolution pictures.

Also Monday, chemical analysis of blast residue found at the Erawan shrine has detected nitrite but it is not sufficient to identify the bomb type, a source in the MPB’s explosive ordnance disposal unit said. The source told the Bangkok Post that nitrite is usually present in residue from C4 and TNT explosives so at this stage it cannot be determined if the device used in the Erawan bombing is C4 or TNT.

According to the source, the ball bearings used in the Erawan shrine and the Sathon pier explosions are from the same manufacturer. The ball bearings are about 6mm in diameter and are commonly found at hardware stores. “This type of bomb isn’t commonly used in Thailand. The latest was the bomb in Sukhumvit Soi 71, but it is unlikely it was made by the same person. Their signatures are different,” said the source.

A source at the Immigration Police Bureau also said intelligence reports from the National Security Council (NSC) indicate terrorists in Pakistan provide bomb-making training to various groups including Uighur extremists and insurgents in the deep South.

He said police are also investigating if there is any link between the blast and the hacking of six official websites by a group who claim to be an Islamic group from Tunisia.

Meanwhile, the National Council for Peace and Order said a total of 139 people have been arrested and a small amount of firearms and drugs confiscated in the Friday to Monday crackdown targeting tourist guesthouses and accommodations across the city.

The Justice Ministry and the Tourism and Sports Ministry have distributed financial support to the relatives of 16 of those killed in the bombing.

A total of 104 people have lodged petitions for financial aid. Out of the remaining injured, two people were discharged over the weekend, leaving the number of those being treated at various hospitals at 50.