Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wangsimni Old Town

Most buildings have been evacuated now. Some have already lost all window frames, exposing their skull with empty sockets staring at nothing. Large plastic drapes cover the first row to prevent people from trespassing or ghosts from leaving the area.

Yet, I almost prefer that state of redevelopment to the previous one, when human beings roam lifeless streets, when only a few merchants remain open to get the most from compensation schemes, even if only a few customers dare pass by. That's the actual ghost town.

But this process starts much earlier, with the first rumors of redevelopment. Unfortunately, that's the case of every single "dong" of Seoul which is not already redevelopped. That feeling of upcoming disappearance motivated this excuse of a site : Seoul Village is about witnessing a city at a turning point, wondering if its very soul can survive such a titanic trauma.

Wangsimni New Town (왕십리 뉴타운) remains far from delivery, and I've been keeping track of the changes in the area over the years, with a focus on the core to be reborn as a "New Town" : Sangwansimni-dong, Hawangsimni-dong, and the section of Hongik-dong which completes this 337,000 m² losange.

The frontiers are easily recognizable :
- to the North : Cheonggyecheon, and beyond Dongdaemun-gu
- to the South : Wangsimni-gil (the road followed by subway line 2, leading to the West towards the Uljiro / Toegyero fork, and to the East towards the Seongdong Bridge)
- to the West : Nagyero (the street leading towards Sinseol-dong Station), and beyond Jung-gu
- to the East : Muhakno, the street between Sangwangsimni Station and Anam Ogori, named after Muhak, the monk who selected the location of the future capital for the King.

While I'm at it, I recently mentioned the origin of the name "Wangsimni" as the "royal ten li" or the minimum distance separating the palace from the first burial sites (see "
Eunpyeong New Town, Old Tombs"), but another version exists featuring this monk : according to the legend, Muhak would have met a peasant in this very site and asked him where the ideal location for a royal palace would be. The peasant would have answered, pointing towards Bugaksan, "10 more li", which also sounds like "wangsimni". This version is probably too nice to be true. I think the truth must... lie somewhere between both versions. And I can almost imagine, somewhen AFTER the selection of the location for the palace, a place to eat and rest at what must have been a crossroads, and its owner used to telling travellers "to the King ? Ten more li". Who knows ? He could even have named his auberge that way after a while. Decades later, his memory long gone but the name stuck to what became a village, old timers would decide to twist Muhak's tale, merely transforming their Wangsimni into the birthplace of Hanyang. My guess ? They invented that story precisely because the expression wangsimni as "royal ten li" became too popular, bringing bad vibes to a place which had nothing to do with a graveyard.

Whatever. Neither Muhak nor those fabled old timers would recognise Wangsimni New Town : a tower field boasting 5,000 households, 14,000 souls, brand new schools, and very much needed public infrastructures around 3 blocks. The only features reminiscent of the Wangsimni I knew will be the two axis cutting through the losange : Majangno in its center (that's the road parallel to the stream), and the smaller street (vertical except for its last diagonal section) going down to Biudang Bridge.

Construction shall start in March 2010. Actual destruction ? That was a long time ago.

Seoul Village 2009

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