Sunday, February 5, 2012

Neighborhood watch

Did you know that Yeonhui-dong area was seriously considered by Jeoson dynasty founders for their new capital (nowadays Seoul)? They eventually chose Bugaksan instead of Ansan because the place could be defended more easily, but Sinchon owes its name (new village) to that period, and King Sejong loved the place so much he built a palace for his father. Unfortunately, nothing remains of it and no one knows where Yeonhuigung was precisely erected. I guess somewhere along what is now Yeonhui-ro, not far from Yeonhuimat-gil, where a streamlet used to flow a few decades ago: according to feng shui, you had to have a 'ying' mountain behind you, and a 'yang' river below.

Anyway. It was then said that some day, kings would live here. And it turns out that two former presidents have a residence in Yeonhui-dong (Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo), and that former president Kim Dae-jung used to live just a few blocks away, in Donggyo-dong (and to shop at
Saruga, then the country's first supermarket). Note that Chun and Roh share ROK army backgrounds, and that land was granted to high ranking officers in the area following the Korean War: fierce combats raged in Yeonhui-dong around Hill 104, a strategic position, and a gateway to the Capital.

These days, Roh Tae-woo is very ill and Chun Doo-hwan seldom leaves home. As is the custom for former presidents, their residences are heavily guarded, and you can tell when a big fish is visiting by the insigna of the people waiting outside. Guards have to live in the vicinity, and a whistleblower recently revealed that the crew in charge of protecting Chun used, free of charge, a building within the Seoul Art Space Yeonhui* domain (next to his residence), and that the contract would expire on April 30th.

Last year, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon received a welcomed last minute boost for his election when a scandal broke out regarding the future personal protection of President Lee Myung-bak (suspicious land acquisitions for his retirement place and security facilities). In this even bigger election year, chances are he won't renew a contract that ensures for free, in the most charming public residence for writers, the protection of a former dictator.

Seoul Village 2012
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*see "Seoul Art Space Yeonhui"

UPDATE 20120208

As expected, Seoul Metropolitan Government won't renew the contract: "Chun's security detail to be booted off city land" (in today's Korea JoongAng Daily)

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