Monday, September 5, 2011

Sajik Heights and micro-hanokization

My previous post* reminds me I forgot to mention an interesting development over Sajik Tunnel : this new hanok overlooking the traffic.



I waited to have the photo opportunity as a car passenger to show the impact from Sajikno. Of course, what strikes you first is the very ugly Yangeuimun Church, a towering white monster under wraps these days (maybe to transform into a towering colorful monster). The red bar to its right is the Korea Social Science Data Archive (KOSSDA or 한국 사회과학자료원). Further to the right is the Jongno Culture and Sports Center, where I used to go swimming twice a week or so**. And to reach this place from Gwanghwamun Space Bon, I had to pass in front of that hanok spot so I know pretty well every inch along the way.

I could write stories about the alleyway leading up to what I call Sajik Heights from Sajikno, the pawprints left by a dog on the rough concrete staircase, the passage over Sajik Tunnel (now covered with a deck), and the poor white dog who broke my heart each time I passed by her tiny place : either leashed or in her small cage, the poor bitch ruled over a 10 square feet staircase (she managed to get babies once but didn't keep them for long).

Now about this new hanok. There's a bigger one behind, and the owner used to grow an amazing variety veggetables in front of his place, including where this small new extension stands, by the ruins of a house partly serving as a parking lot.

This is a truly minor change, and there are many other hanoks nearby, and more than a few nice "jutaek" on the way to Sajik-dan and Seochon, but this tiny detail could have a lot of significance for the local urban landscape because of its visibility for outsiders at a key location.

I'm not talking about something very spectacular like the restoration of a whole traditional village, but about a small protuberance that catches the corner of your eye and suddenly connects you to a neighborhood, help you reconcile with your city. So many places disappeared over the years, and particularly along major avenues, that it's hard to get a notion of what's been lost without venturing deeper into vernacular Seoul. But from time to time, hope shyly shows its head.

Of course, preserving existing landmarks remains preferable to artificially creating new ones. And right on the other side of the tunnel (in Haengchon-dong, 1-88 beonji), there's an amazing jewel on the verge of collapse : not far from a magnificent gingko tree, this 1923 red brick house is not abandoned but - to say the least - poorly tended. Named Dilkusha ('my heart is happy' in Hindi), it used to be the residence of Albert Taylor, the press correspondant who was jailed for 6 months in Seodaemun Prison - at the 2009 exhibition "Three Foreigners' Reminiscence of Seoul" at Seoul Museum of History two years ago, they mentioned how his wife Mary could see him, from their house, walk the prisoners walk.

At the time of its construction, the view over the valley must have been breathtaking but now, villas almost completely occult it. I hope it can be saved the way a smaller red brick landmark was, just one block away : it is now a mini-museum at the corner of the park recently created at the top of the future Gyonam / Dongnimmun New Town.

We also owe Taylor the
fantastic panorama exhibited on the museum's ground floor (curators had the brilliant idea to match this 90 year old marvel with a contemporary view of downtown Seoul).

Seoul Village 2011
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* "
Junggye's "Baeksa Village" shall survive"
** or picknicking higher on Inwangsan (follow the trail on "
Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time")

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