Posts Tagged 'Seoul'

North Village

BUKCHON, Seoul – HAD I WOKEN UP on these uneven streets with a dose of amnesia, I could have easily guessed that I’d been dropped into some far off town or fallen through a seam in the fabric of time. This is a Seoul that I have never seen; it is calm, even reflective. Walking down its  alleyways puts me in touch with the human element of times now past, like opening an ancient book of poetry and seeing tea stains made by the master who penned it.

The patchwork of traditional hanok homes that form Seoul’s North Village (Bukchon) is iconographic of the city’s roots, but so too is the plaster that fills in its cracks and the newly finished timber of half of the neighborhood’s doorways. This place may feel ancient, but the destruction wrought by war and development means that many of these homes are replicas. Still, they exude a homey character that has been decimated by the ambitious wrecking ball in most other corners of the city.


I can’t help but wonder what the capital might have looked like if the iron-fisted general behind South Korea’s economic miracle had possessed a nostalgic streak, or been even mildly inspired by traditional aesthetics. Imagine if the now shamelessly gaudy South River neighborhoods had preserved some of their rice fields; if the dilapidated, communist-bloc inspired apartment buildings that define the skyline were instead low, wooden housing developments that would last.

I’ve written before about the destruction of Beijing’s hutong. The difference between here and there is that at least there’s a conversation about China erasing the physical remnants of its history. Here, it is a non-issue. This neighborhood will likely continue to be protected, but elsewhere in the city, progress continues.

August (Far Away from Puget Sound)

photo by Marketian

Heavy drops began to tumble down like
thick Virginia morning dew somersaulting off blades of grass,
and under the milky sun I
trotted towards the nearest mart
and picked out a royal blue umbrella.

When I stepped out from under
the store’s sagging awning
the rain let up
and I laughed and thought about
how long I’ve been away from Seattle.

China Plans New Embassy in Seoul

photo of myeongdong by jungmoon.

IN THE HEART OF the bustling Myeongdong shopping district in downtown Seoul, China is planning construction for a towering embassy that will occupy almost 10,000 square meters, making it the largest in South Korea. Whether this is a sign of the two countries becoming closer — or just another display of the Middle Kingdom’s affection for rampant development — is unclear.

The new embassy will have two sections, says the JoongAng Daily; one 24-story block of apartments for employees and another 10-story building for offices. The compound will also house a pool, a gym and even a hair salon. It will be built on plot of land that was home to the old Chinese embassy before the offices moved to the Jongno neighborhood, and is slated to be completed by 2012.

The consular offices, however, do not appear to be moving. Unless notice is given otherwise you will still need to apply for visas at:

ENG: 50-7, No. 2 Street, Namsan-dong, Chung-gu, Seoul (source)
KR: 서울특별시 중구 남산동 2가 50-7번지 (출처)

Related News: Seoul plans new Chinatown neighborhood.

Seoul Notebook: Days Spent at the Coffee Shop

THINKING BACK, I WAS probably first drawn to Coffee Flanel because of its ridiculous sign. It read: “Flanel than ever before.” By then I was accustomed to the butchered, overwrought English phrasing that was plastered all over Seoul, but that line had a quirky ring to it that made me stop and grin.

It was August. I had just trekked all over the campus that was to be my home for the next year and was disgustingly sweaty; the idea of AC and an iced drink sounded fantastic. I climbed a stairway up to the second story to find the cafe’s glass door. Inside it was brightly-lit and cleanly decorated with dark wood and white tile.

The barista greeted me, and after I paid for my drink she pointed to the pastry case and asked me to choose something. I paused for a second before politely explaining that I just wanted the coffee. She smiled. “It’s service,” she said, meaning that it was on the house. I decided on a cookie (a gingersnap, if I recall), and she gave me two. This was surely my new favorite place.

As the months passed, Flanel’s four walls witnessed my life’s changes. When I first came there I brought only the company of my journal, in which I chronicled awkward episodes of culture shock and loneliness. But as time went by I became less like a foreigner and more like a regular. Months later, a girl from school (now my fiancee) and I would go there every afternoon — supposedly to do homework, but mostly just to talk, procrastinate, and eat cookies.

The coffee at Flanel, like most places in Korea, wasn’t great. But the cafe offered something more subtle and ultimately more important: atmosphere. At coffeehouses around the world, intimately personal narratives intersect with burbling public life. We go to these places for introspection, for inspiration, for study, for meetings with old friends or new business contacts. If the atmosphere is right, as we sit and sip our drinks, we become part of something larger — pieces of our conversation seep into the walls and shiver out into the chatter of the city.

Four years later, Flanel is still a fixture in my memory. When I head back to Seoul it will be one of the first places I go after throwing down my bags — if it’s still there, that is. But either way it will not be the same place that it was. Even if I sat in the same seat with the same journal, different words would come to my pen.

Korea’s #1 National Treasure Burns

SOUTH KOREA’S GREAT SOUTH GATE, a 600-year-old landmark that had weathered invasions and war to become the icon of the nation’s capital, burned to its foundation last night.

The gate, known commonly as Namdaemun but officially named Sungnyemun, was at the center of a bustling commercial district and near one of Seoul’s most famous open-air markets. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, though the Korean media most recently reported that authorities are focusing on the possibility of arson. Two lighters were found on the scene.

News sources and bloggers in Korea report that the feeling in Seoul is one of deep loss and outrage – the word “heartsick” has come up more than once. Having seen and been awed by Namdaemun many times during my stay in Korea, I feel pangs of sadness myself.

Echoing the words of The Marmot, who has posted a beautiful photo memorial to Sungnyemun, though the gate may be rebuilt, the face of Seoul has been forever profoundly changed.

An article by Choe Sang-Hun for the IHT tells more about the fire and the gate’s historical significance, and a photoset by pwalk offers stunning images from the scene.

UPDATE: Yonhap news reports that police have arrested and are investigating 70-year-old Chae Mo as the sole arson suspect. Eyewitnesses have said that a man around age 60 matching Chae’s appearance climbed a ladder up into the gate moments before the fire started. Authorities suspect that if the cause of the Namdaemun fire was indeed arson, whoever is responsible was also behind the arson incident at Ch’anggyeong palace two years ago. (Link, in Korean)

UPDATE: Via The Marmot, Chae has apparently admitted to setting Sungnyemun alight – saying it was motivated by a personal land dispute issue – and has apologized to both the Korean people and his family. Words fail me.

Photo: the face of Korea collapses, by hojusaram.


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