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Arboreal fraud and the rumblings of Gategate

While many of you can speak with greater authority than myself on the merits of good wood, according to the Joongang Daily Korean Gumgang pines are “praised for their resiliency, straightness and high density.” And Russian wood? Well, it sucks.

That unnecessary assessment by the Joongang aside, I do agree that it’s improper to use non-Korean timber to restore Sungnyemun –the country’s number one cultural asset that was torched by an arsonist back in 2008. (Though restoring it with North Korean wood chopped down via a U.S. aerial armada escort might be a nice symbolic gesture)

Police last week raided a Gangwon lumber company on suspicion that the wood used to rebuild Sungnyemun hailed from Russian stock rather than the praiseworthy Korean groves, as was promised in the deal.

The article makes no mention of it, but I imagine they will bring in DNA experts to assess the origin of the wood. The wrong findings could prove grave for Sin Eung-soo, the chief carpenter assigned to oversee the restoration.

The intellectual crime division of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, which is in charge of the case, vowed to conduct a thorough investigation, emphasizing the significance and potential far-reaching consequences of the alleged haphazard restoration.

They sentenced the guy that burned Sungnyemun down to 10 years in the pen –I wonder what the penalty for restoring it with the wrong wood will be?

About the author: Founder/CEO of Meme Communications Korea – www.memecommunications.com

  • seouldout

    An interesting and if true a sad development. I’d like to think Mr. Shin, who having decades of experience as a master carpenter that resulted in the honour of his leading the restoration, would not be up to these shenanigans. Genuine craftsmen tend to be above board guys. Given his deep knowledge of lumber he’d surely know the use of inferior wood would soon enough be evident, and if used on such a high visibility project would surely be scandalous enough to destroy his hard-earned reputation.

    If the lumber is indeed Korean grown perhaps environmental factors such as pollution had a detrimental effect during the trees’ growth that contributed to the defects now seen.

  • cmxc

    Come on, this is Korea in 2014! The only shock I feel is when a news story involving Koreans doesn’t involve fraud, corruption, embezzlement, plagiarism, or prostitution

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Man, everything in Korea is the best! The cows, the food…even the pine trees!

  • http://www.scroozle.com/ Zackary Downey

    Pine is a softwood. It’s generally cheaper, and less durable.

    For quality, go with hardwoods.

    And as far as I know, the colder the winters, the hardier the wood, but maybe that’s just a Canadian myth.

  • seouldout

    Maybe that DNA test you imagined won’t work; Korean pine isn’t just found in Korea.
    “Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) is the most notable endemic tree species in North-East Asia. Korean pine-broadleaf forests are high priority for biodiversity
    conservation in the Russian Far East (RFE) and Northeast China.”

  • 코리아

    I have to think that the wood today is just plain lower quality than back in the 1300′s. Those trees likely had hundreds of years to grow from healthy forests. Given the state of South Korea after the war, how much of this wood could possibly match that?

  • Juniper

    Foreign wood’s no good! It must have the unique Korean DNA. Problem is that means it’s probably Japanese… What to do?
    http://www.koreabang.com/2012/stories/dna-analysis-confirms-japanese-are-of-korean-descent.html

  • seouldout

    “After the 1950s, Seoul slowly developed the organisational and technical
    expertise to save the nation’s trees. In what was probably the best
    orchestrated and publicly cohesive reforestation event in world history,
    the people of South Korea came together in the 1970s and 1980s and
    reforested their country. Reforestation was required at the time
    primarily for developing a domestic timber supply to support its largely
    rural and agrarian economy. The Republic of Korea planted around 11
    billion trees
    until 2008 in order to restore the denuded forests.”

    Yowza! 11 billion! There are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. If one tree was planted every second it would have taken… 348.8 years to complete. That’s something.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Of course the one tree a second thing is arbitrary seeing as they had hundreds or thousands of people working on the project

  • seouldout

    Understood. And consider that the planting season isn’t year long… still quite a feat.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I could have done it myself.

  • seouldout

    … and in half the time.

  • Bob Bobbs

    ‘Genuine craftsmen tend to be above board guys.’

    - What do you have against board guys?

  • RElgin

    I just got back from Kangjin, where, at the home of the poet Kim Young Ran, the wood used for the new gates there was splitting just like the wood downtown. It is most likely not seasoned properly or the correct type of wood, I would think.

  • SeoulGoodman

    “The article makes no mention of it, but I imagine they will bring in DNA experts to assess the origin of the wood.”

    Nonsense. A carpenter, a real one, could tell the difference with one look.

  • SeoulGoodman

    I don’t think it’s really a matter of the quality. A craftsmen should have been able to recognize that it was of a different variety…So, yes, someone wasn’t being vigilant.

  • SeoulGoodman

    Nope, not a myth. The growth rings are tighter. It’s also one of the reasons why Canadian maple is a sought after wood for musical instruments (something to do with its great tone because of the tight and even growth rings).

  • SeoulGoodman

    Growth rings would have been different. Like I said, a good carpenter should be able to tell the difference.

  • SeoulGoodman

    The reforestation program started before the ’70s.

  • KWillets

    I believe there was a wood shortage around that time; other people building hanok’s were asked to return theirs, and I don’t think most of it was fully seasoned. I doubt if it was out-and-out fraud, more likely a combination of lack of supply and lack of time.

  • KWillets

    These foreign trees are infected with Mad Pine Disease.

  • seouldout

    Perhaps. What I read re Pinus sibirica and Pinus koraiensis is they are very closely related. The needle length and size of the cones differ slightly. Assuming it was Russian-grown Pinus koraiensis substituted for Korean-grown Pinus koraiensis a difference may have not existed at all.

  • seouldout

    Recently saw a documentary about Stradivarius violins. For years scientists have studied the properties to determine how to construct one now that duplicates the sound. Some now believe it is the wood, grown at a particularly cool time in Europe, that gives Stradivarius its much acclaimed sound. This is not undisputed, of course..

  • ChuckRamone

    Skateboards are also made of Canadian maple.

  • ChuckRamone

    Well, according to all you malcontents who infest this blog, everything in Korea is the worst! Everything in Korea, and everything Koreans do is just bad.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    a half of a half

  • Dokdoforever

    The Korean peninsula is part of N.E. Asia – the same species are found throughout the region. It’s understandable if the builders want to keep the same species of tree in order to maintain authenticity, but it’s kind of silly to consider a Korean pine in Siberia any different from one in Korea.