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Friday, November 18, 2011

Yeongcheon Market saved, Tongin Market already bukchonized

Shall I start with the so-so good news or the not so good news (the good news being that there's no really bad news out there)?

The so-so good one? So be it: Yeongcheong Market has been officially recognized as a market by Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Spoiler: the other piece of news has something to do with another traditional market, Tongin Market.

I know, I know, most of you don't give a fart in a high wind and I fully understand that. But to me it's important, and If you're familiar with this excuse for a blog, you already know that I have a crush for Seoul's markets. Recently, I even mentioned these two in the same (gimbap-ddeokbokki) breath*.

So. What does the Yeongcheon Market recognition mean? This covered street is now a legal entity municipal authorities can deal with, and a priori that's good news: each member becomes stronger and forces can be pooled more easily, so this lively spot might resist more efficiently against potential redevelopments that could mean the end for one of the last remaining 'villages' in the area.

Note that the towers already planned at the Northern entrance (see "Wonjo Ddeokbokki - a.k.a. "Ddeoknimmun"") will be developped as scheduled, but the main entrance should be safe and that's essential for the future : Donuimun New Town will be erected on the other side of Euijuro**, and too many cute places will disappear in the process around Gyonam-dong.

Well. Yeongcheon Market is not exactly "cute". And even after recent improvements it's still a bit dirty. But it does have a soul. And the reason why I'm just so-so pleased by the news is that Yeongcheon Market might be too much 'sanitized' or 'gentrified' for my taste.

Of course local authorities have in mind the preservation of this small animated landmark, but they should be careful not to let it become a tourist trap.

Mind you: Tongin Market is not a tourist trap. But as I feared would happen*, its atmosphere is changing at an alarming pace. On the bright side, the place is cleaner, fresher, better lit with a high ceiling that lets daylight in, and there's much more joy and - yes - fun than ever before. Art students decorated each booth and regularly organize exhibitions (the other day about two sisters who own a shop there). Now there's even a market newspaper... Everybody is smiling, and you can still enjoy the great Hyoja Gimbap*** for only KRW 2,000 a roll (big, tasty bites with a 4 to 1 filling / rice ratio).


If most members stayed, newcomers are not exactly in the same vein. They're good and nice people, and their food does look and smell great, but it's often more the kind of neat shops or eateries you'd find on a busy street. Tongin market is by no means turning into a mall of course, but it's becoming more a gallery than a market, or maybe more the Covent Garden kind of market. I don't see the old generations of merchants resist the sirens of a fat profit: more will sell as the area welcomes more tourists.

Hanoks are being restored around Tongin Market, and the first one that benefited from the renovation program sponsored by local authorities (following the protection of Seochon hanoks) lies precisely in the small vertical alley that joins Tongilsijang-gil in its middle. The feat is well advertised on the door, and the artisan from nearby Nuha-dong even made a wooden box to hold a pack of his business cards. In this alley, a few signs announce trades from another era ("ice" sold here, clothes fixed there...). I bet it won't be long until hanok stay guest houses take over.

I have a word for this : bukchonization.

Seoul Village 2011
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* see "Tongin market opens up to art : adaptation or yet another symptom of Seochon's "Bukchonization" ?"
** dang, I'm still not used to call this street "Tongil-ro". Tongil-ro used to start only from Eunpyeong-gu (the former frontier of Seoul city), and now it goes all the way to Seoul Station (see footnotes of "Culture Station Seoul 284").
*** Hyoja Gimbap (gimbap), Tongin Market, Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu. Tel +82.2.730.73.69


  1. As somebody who actually does the bulk of her shopping in Tongin Market, I have to say that I am a little irked by labeling the market as "Bukcheonized." There's actually been relatively little turnover in actual market stalls, and the additions, and the few additions that are there have primarily been beneficial to the market and community. The changes have thus far been locally driven, and work to connect the merchants with local artists, children, and other groups, enlivening the space. It's hardly turning the market into a Samcheongdong-esque space full of galleries and cafes. As someone who actually lives nearby and patronizes the market, I have to say that I find your characterization unfair.

  2. I fully agree with your points and previously pointed out the positive and original approach for the local community. Once more, this place has been saved. A couple of years ago, it was most of the time quite depressing and now, everybody is all smiles.
    I'm just worried about the future and about how quickly the area evolves. It was also a concern for local authorities when they considered protecting the hanoks in Seochon three years ago. They didn't want Bukchon to happen again, a gentrification that drives away local communities. But that's a very delicate challenge, and real estate speculators have already targeted the area.
    Of course, Seochon is not Bukchon. Even East of Jahamunro, where all the galleries and cafes have boomed over the past few years, the atmosphere is more European / bobo / indie than West Coast / Cheongdam / bling. But that side has always been more 'upper class' than the Western one. I hope Ogin-dong and co will keep their soul and natural simplicity.


Thank you for your comments and remarks. Also for your patience (comments are moderated and are not published right away - only way to curb the spam, sorry). S.

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