Seoul, May 18 (BUS): For many South Koreans, the former Presidential Palace in Seoul was an under-visited and heavily secured mountain landmark. This has now changed as thousands have been allowed to peek inside for the first time in 74 years.
As one of his first acts, the new South Korean leader moved the presidential offices out of the Blue House, named after the distinctive blue roof tile, and opened its gates to the public, allowing a maximum of 39,000 people to visit.
The normally dangerous complex has been transformed into something like a gallery, with enthusiastic crowds looking around and standing in long queues, the Associated Press reported.
“I am grateful that the Blue House has opened to the public,” Lee Sang-won, 61, a 61-year-old office worker, said recently during a tour with his family. “I’m really happy to be here.”
The Blue House has gone through multiple transformations over the years. Once the site of the Royal Garden, the Japanese built the official residence of their rulers general there during Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. After Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, the place was occupied by an American military commander until it became the official presidential office for South Korea and its headquarters upon the country’s founding in 1948.
The opening of the Blue House is part of South Korean new President Yoon Seok-yeol’s pledge to abandon the palace and set up its offices in the Defense Ministry compound in Yongsan District, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
Yoon said he chose the Defense Ministry compound because it is already equipped with security-related command facilities. He said he aims to build something similar to the White House in Washington that will allow citizens to get a closer look at the building over the fence. Yoon said the new offices will allow for better communication with the public.
However, his plans to move have met with complaints of urgency and unrealism. Critics say a hasty movement to top government positions can undermine national security by concentrating too much power in one place, costing too much and violating the property rights of people who live in the area.
His predecessor, Moon Jae In, also expressed concern that Yoon made his decision before hearing enough of the public opinion.
When Moon took office in 2017, he also vowed to break out in an effort to distance himself from his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hee, who was raised there by a dictator’s daughter. Moon eventually abandoned his plan, and Park was pardoned late last year.
However, Yoon began his first day earlier this month as president in Yongsan, and the former presidential office opened to the public on the same day.
Choi Jun-chae, 60, who runs a mill at a traditional market near the Blue House, lamented seeing the presidential office leave his neighborhood, but he also hopes transportation will boost local businesses by bringing in more tourists.
“Under the administration of (former president) Lee Myung-bak, there were a lot of protests… so it was really difficult to travel to this area. Cars weren’t able to move, so I had to walk,” Choi said.
Thousands of people have gathered near the Blue House in the past in rallies and rallies. Nearby residents said they experienced noise and traffic congestion.
“I hope the protests will decrease and more people will visit the area,” said Yoo Seung-jung, head of a popular bakery in the neighborhood. “But (the boss) has been here for a long time, so it’s a bit sad too.”
While some people in the new presidential district expect an improvement due to the new offices, there are concerns as well.
“For traffic issues, I can already see more people visiting here. It will be very crowded and complicated at first, but I think it will gradually improve,” said Kim Jong-taek, a gallery owner near the new presidential offices.