The North Korean government has allowed Buddhists to rebuild an ancient Buddhist temple that was destroyed during the Korean War. The temple is being
reconstructed by South Korean monks and craftsmen in a joint venture with the North Koreans. The project will cost an estimated $10million and will be
completed in 2007.
For the past 11 months, South Korean monks and craftsman have been living in
North Korea to rebuild a famous temple destroyed during the Korean War. Among the myriad of joint ventures under way between the politically divided
Koreans, this one is extraordinary because it is happening despite the communist government's hostility to religion.
Houses of worship have not fared well in North Korea, but there are exceptions to the rule. The Shingye Temple is one.
Although the $10 million reconstruction will not be completed until 2007, there are regular services. In the main shrine, where a statue of Buddha
sits under intricately carved but as yet unpainted beams, one can hear the hollow tapping of the wooden gong each morning and the hypnotic chanting of
a monk calling the faithful to prayer, or at least those permitted to attend.
The temple is intended for South Koreans and other foreigners visiting Mt. Kumgang, one of the few parts of the reclusive country open to tourists.
The only North Koreans permitted here are a handful of construction workers and some farmers who tend to a collective plot thick with curling vines of
pumpkins and squash.
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Whilst its a break with communist tradition to be lenient with religious freedoms, its not quite glasnost either. The temple is being reconstructed
in a part of North Korea that is off limits to most North Koreans. Its a tourist area and the only North Koreans who frequent the area are officials
and a handful of farmers.
However, it still under scores the multifaceted relationship growing between the North and South Koreas. Couple this with a possible changing of the
guards with Kim Jong Il stepping down and a China-esque economic and social change might be in the wings.
Maybe now that the North Korean government has secured a non-aggression pact with Washington they might feel more comfortable spending money on
non-military related areas such as education, agriculture and science. Heres hoping any how.
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