As I headed for Seoul in temperatures of -20 and counting I was a little envious of some of my contemporaries planned visits to warmer climates. In spite of this I was looking forward to visiting some of the places that I’d yet to explore in Seoul, Suwon and Jeonju. Some places I wanted to see because of the snow others I would go to in spite of the snow.
I was staying at Metro Spa Cabin for the first night as I needed a budget hostel and had seen positive reviews online. Of course as well as the price the advantage here is full-time access to the spa facilities. Whilst I felt it good value for money the cabins were pretty claustrophobic and uncomfortable but they do have wi-fi access and electricity complete with dubious wiring! My favourite aspect was the morning recuperation from an uncomfortable sleep using the underwater massage jets. The place is clean but the spa facilities somewhat jaded, only recommended for younger patrons of this blog.
After being liberated from the aches and pains of MSC I headed north across Chungmuro towards my base for the next 5 nights, the Jongno City Park Hotel. Much of this area of Chungmuro has escaped the clutches of developers and remains intact as the maze of narrow dark alley’s testifies, The area seemed to be the epicentre of the cities printing industry, it was a hive of activity.
Chungmuro is coarse and industrial, it was once called Jingogae, and it was a mecca for the movie and printing industries. While the printing and photographic industries still thrive the nucleus of the “Korean Wave” has moved further south to Gangnam.
The main drag is to be turned into a theme street where tourists can steep themselves in Korean pop culture. The Myungbo Art Hall will be converted into a “Korean Wave experience centre”. The 2,000 sq. metre theater will house a museum, bookstore, café, and other shops. With the recent mayoral changes time will tell if this projects manifests itself! Reference, the nearby Dondaemun History and Culture Park whose construction limps along.
Wandering north from the MSC you emerge at the Cheonggyecheon Stream, passing through the monolithic concrete Trojan Horses characterised by the Sewoon Sangga. In 1966 four of theses sangga (arcades) were erected. Built along a 1-kilometer north-south corridor between Jongno and Toegyero streets the gigantic, multi-purpose residential and commercial blocks were trying to symbolise Seoul’s economic progress. At 13 stories tall, designed by the prominent architect Kim Swoo-Geun, the project was deemed a failure as in the 70s the main trade here was pornography. The area is on “death row” as plans are afoot to create an eco-friendly green space between Jongmyo and Namsan.
Everyone will not welcome the redevelopment, the current merchants specialise in electric appliances and products. Other sangga, including the Hyundai arcade, have already had the Fred Dibnah treatment!
This is a current shot of the nearest sangga to the MSC. The area shown, an outdoor terrace on both sides, was supposed to contain outdoor markets.
The new Verde plan for the green corridor can be seen by clicking here.
I passed through here with an open mind, indiscriminate re-development blights every city but maybe, just maybe, these monstrous concrete edifice’s deserve to be no more?
After passing by Jongmyo I stopped by the hotel to leave my bag before heading up to explore another section of the Joseon City Wall. To access the following walk take the subway lime 4 to Hansung University station (exit 4). Walk about 200 metres along Dongsumun-ro. On the left there is a mural and an electronics scrapyard followed by a steep staircase that marks the start of the walk. Over the road is the Hyehwamun Gate “The Gate of Wisdom”, from here you can trek the opposite way to Buam Dong (passport required!).
I took the opposite route which is well-marked and undulating giving great views of the settlements that cling to hills around Seoul. The walk takes you through Samseon-dong, along the top of Naksan park, through the back of Iwha-dong (see earlier post about artwork) and finally into Dondaemun. It takes around 90 minutes at a stroll.
As I took the initial staircase I again celebrated the industry that went into creating Seoul’s ancient wall. King Sejong ordered a complete repairing and restoration of the wall. Construction began in 1422 and apparently over 300,000 labourers from around the country were mobilised for the project. In a span of only five weeks, the existing stone walls and fortifications were repaired and the earthen walls were replaced with stone walls, inconceivable. I wonder if the many “sleeperzzzzzz” I encounter on my travels through Korea could be orchestrated in this way if the need ever arose?
Trekking along the city wall gives a sense of scale of the Joseon Seoul and indicates how the city was founded on principles of pungsu [feng shui]. Though the city wall of Seoul is over 600 years old, walking along it is a comparatively new experience for the inhabitants of South Korea′s capital. This is because the longest remaining section of the wall was declared off-limits to civilians after a group of armed North Korean spies infiltrated the mountains around Seoul in January 1968. The wall on Mt. Inwangsan was opened to the public in 1993, while the remaining sections of the wall on Mt. Bugaksan, behind the presidential residence, were opened gradually between 2006 and 2007.
On my walk I encountered the usual elderly chappie who definitetly does not suffer from Paruresis; I also experienced the dichotomy of odd stern-faced matriarch and the smiling lady walker. I saw squid and fish drying on a line at an altitude of 500 metres, orange haired youths unaware of how stupid they really look and some even more orange persimmon adorning the roof of a house in Iwha-dong. I again recorded some beautiful street art and chatted with some baby Seoulites whose vocabulary stretched from “hello” to “where are you from” and ended there. I reached Dondaemun wandering again around the unfinished History and Culture Park before meeting FOBY for a trip to Gangnam for lunch.
I’m not going to comment on Gangnam other than it lacked class and was mildly irritating and expensive. The Vietnamese lunch was both reasonable and excellent.
On Sunday we watched the exited kids skating in Seoul Plaza before visiting the Tim Burton Exhibition at Seoul Museum of Art. It was mad, crowded and overbearing but the exhibition itself was stimulating. It highlighted what an overactive and creative mind Mr. Burton has but also one had to consider the psychology of what was behind both the stories and the images. Sometimes dark, often horrific and occasionally warped, the variety, multi-faceted and ultimately the scale of the exhibition is mind numbing and impressive. He is, I can confirm, a great draftsman and skilled artist.