Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yeouido blooming and Danghyeoncheon's Philosopher's Walk

One day ahead of Yeouido's cherry blossom festival*, I strolled the central park to see how the island was changing. And to observe flocks of humans migrating towards the city's greener spots.
It's still a little bit too early for what I call the "cherry tunnel", when it's literally snowing flowers along Yeouiso-ro. And more than a little bit too early to enjoy the future Yeouido section of the "Hangang Renaissance" : if you can already make out a few features, riverbanks remain a gigantic construction site.

Still, both places were swarming with people.

And under this young April sun, Yeouido Park was blooming with them. I remember how depressing the area could be, when all you could see was a 23-hectare rectangle covered with concrete (Park Chung-hee's 5.16 Square had to be kept bare, as an emergency airport). Hard to believe, but only 10 years after its creation, Yeouido Park looks as if it's been here from the start. And it's much younger than say the Parc Andre Citroen in Paris.

Though not as overwhelmingly as in the 15 times bigger (and much more natural) Central Park in NYC, you're entertained by winding paths, gentle hills and pleasant ponds, and even a "mountain" streamlet. Not to mention thousands of human walking peacefully or picnicking on the grass.

Central to this central park, the "Cultural Plaza" seems the only concession reminiscent of the 5.16 Square. But yesterday, this large concrete space devoted to all kinds of sports evoqued a mix of Tiananmen Square and Jama' al Fna. A safe haven for bicycle riders, whose reserved lanes (over 2km) were colonized by ubiquitous passers-by. Most riders are kids here : for those who prefer riding for long stretches, there's always a direct connection to the Hangang Park and its endless bike lanes.

A popular success, Yeouido Park filled a green gap and claims 30,000 visitors on week days, twice as many on weekends. Yeouido itself is a rather expensive business hub** but on weekends, it belongs to the people of surrounding areas, particularily from the rest of Yeongdeungpo-gu and from Guro-gu. Young couples, elderlies, whole families, packs of friends... everybody’s joining with a big smile on his or her face.

And when I write "everybody", I mean it. Just sit and enjoy : ethnologically, you'll find a unique sample of Seoulites of all ages, shapes, sizes, nationalities, younameits... Dogwise, the fashion show happens to be much less diverse : overwhelmingly, miniature canine barbies and kens (blue costume for him, red dress for her)... and rarely, a beautiful big fella donning his natural wardrobe.

If you're into cherry trees, Yeouido remains a good spot, but Seoul is full of them. Sometimes in more remote places. I call Danghyeoncheon's Philosopher's Walk the short diagonal called Jangmi-gil connecting Dong-1-ro and Danghyeon-2-gil between the first and the second bridge over the small tributary of Jungangcheon. The path itself is more urban less charming than Kyoto's, but I like the perspective on the streamlet and the mountain, and to observe elderlies tending their small illegal gardens on the banks. Former farmers I guess : they grow veggies, even big patches of maize, pepper they will later dry up on the nearby streets... more my idea of Seoul Village. I haven't strolled by that Walk this year but I guess all the gardens have already been removed for the renovation. Now these poor people will be totally rootless.

Seoul Village 2009

* Yeouido Spring Flower Festival April 6-18, 2009 - for those who enjoy watching many people staring at a few trees surrounded by kitschissime floral decorations
** even if adjacent IFC construction site looks quiet : a pharaonic real estate project led by AIG doesn't sound as promising an idea as it did three years ago.

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