19 December 2007

field trip #5: singye-dong

note: no, i didn't rush back to korea to tour an abandoned shantytown. but before i left i stuffed a few field trips away in the kitty for later posts. this one's for starters...

slummin it seoul style.

palaces are pretty and all, but there's nothing like a good ole shanty town to really say authentic. i'm sort-of kidding. anyhow, based on an article on a popular expat website, 3 of my japanese friends and i woke up early one morning and ventured over to samgakji station in central seoul's yongsan-gu to explore the lost neighborhood of singye-dong.

(photo by my buddy, aka asougi shun).

in a city whose politicians are in love with major economic redevelopment projects, yongsan is probably the biggest. the area, which is translated as "dragon mountain," is probably best known as the home of the u.s. military garrison. but, since troops will relocate to pyongtaek at the end of next year, their 630-acre compound smack dab in the middle of seoul is a huge piece of prime real estate that's up for grabs.

no kids, this ain't dubai.

no surprise then, that a consortium, led by samsung corporation and korea's national pension fund service, just revealed plans to invest $31-billion dollars into developing a futuristic business town. the project, which is expected to be korea's biggest-ever, will be anchored by a 620-meter high, 152-story tower in the shape of... a huge tacky water drop! here comes mini-dubai, right here in seoul.

the catholic church on top of danggogae.

anyhow, with construction expected to start as early as next march, my friends and i ran over to see what the wrecking ball called progress is going to obliterate this time. well, we walked west from samgakji station over the train tracks and saw a small hill on our left, which is named danggogae. the hill is where ten korean catholics were martyred in 1839. if you climbed over the fence, which i did and still have a puncture scab on each palm jesus-style to prove it, you'd see rows of wooden pews and an altar... but no roof. yes, kids, it's... an outdoor church, or something like it (doesn't it seem kinda strange to demolish a shrine to 10 martyrs?). anyhow, the area around the hill is covered by a tight network of narrow alleys and old colonial-style homes.

virtually all of the homes were abandoned, most with lots of personal items left behind.

the whole yongsan area has historically been the home of foreign military forces in korea- first the chinese, then the japanese and now the americans. during the colonial period, japanese railway company employees lived here, which is why the architecture, in many respects, looks more japanese than korean. of course, any other evidence of their former japanese denizens has been scrubbed clean.

the singye-dong neighborhood is generally a series of narrow alleys between shanties. some of the sturdier buildings feature japanese-style roof tiles. on the left is the evacuation order by seoul city officials (photo by asougi shun).

on the whole, these homes have not been well cared for, and since most of the residents were required to evacuate in october, it's basically an abandoned shanty town, of what my friend hyocheol says is called sandongnae (산동네) in korean. but the maze of partially-demolished, empty homes and the ubiquitous red spray painted “cheol-geo” (철거) or “demolition” signs make it a kind of spooky.

the juxtaposition of these colonial-era shanties surrounded by glitzy high-rise apartments is certainly a sign of what's to come for the area. my hetero crush kenkichi used his superior korean to speak with a delivery man in the area who said the homes are expected to be demolished sometime in march or april. let's hope the former residents have been fairly compensated and are enjoying better living conditions today (unlikely).

singye-dong is dwarfed by the residential highrises that will soon take its place (photo by asougi shun).

so... if spooky neighborhood photo ops are your thing, head over to singye-dong while you still can.

getting there:

→ take subway line 4 or 6 to samgakji station (exit #8... i think) and walk several hundred meters west over the rail tracks until you reach a major intersection. turn left and walk until you see a hill covered in abandoned shanties on your left.


corextacy said...

i am definitely going to this place!!!!

matt said...

aw, that's the best news i can hear from folks who visit my blog. lemme know what u think about it! ps looks like i'll be in nyc the weekend of the 19th... you better be there!

corextacy said...

19th!! :) awesome. i will definitely be in nyc by then.

347-907-4382. that's my cell. call me.

cormack bajudy said...

while i appreciate your cultural posts (really -- and i do read them and they do make me want to visit kokoland), judith and i are on the edges of our overfilled seats waiting for bruising pictures and pants-down in the eagle blog entries. judith is getting antsy.

Anonymous said...

I checked your blog!
Thanks for your kindness. KEN

soko'n paul in TH said...

now you know about Seoul more than I do..

you should give me a tour!!

matt said...

is this my friend paul in bkk? anyhow, come to seoul and i'd be happy to give you a tour! happy holidays!

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