Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cross Road Blues: a street of rain, fire, flying words, and flying rats

This 500 m long stretch of asphalt is by no means Itaewon's most glamorous place: before merging into Bogwang-ro*, it connects main street (Itaewon-ro) with mean streets (red light district).

As part of the complete overhaul of Korea's address system**, it has recently been renamed Usadan-ro (우사단로) to honor Usadan, a shrine to the rain spirits in Bogwang-dong. That's certainly more upscale than the previous name, Sobangseo-gil (소방서 길), which refered to the local Fire Station... and definitely classier than "Hooker Hill", as the area is often referred to (no, not because of the Hookah bars).

20 years ago, the place swarmed with G.I.s at night, either on watch to make sure Higgs Bosons didn't fly between more or less passably inebriated individuals, or off duty but nonetheless testing this Sarge Hadron Collider from the inside. On the hottest summer nights, at the top of the hill, you would often see dozens of young Westerners holding quarts of (officially) orange juice, and chatting in the middle of the street, except for the early birds who claimed the few seats at Kettle House. Back then, even after the courtesy call paid by (to?) the local cops, the only place that served drinks during the curfew must have been one hell of a cash cow (a cow that would replace milk with soju, that is).

Still nowadays, there's something bourbonstreetish, even on a Sunday afternoon:

I also uploaded a short video of those "Flying Rats Taxiing" on Seoul Village's YouTube playlist. The video's so shaky you may think I'd down a couple of kettles before shooting it, but the truth is that first I'm not a pro, and second a car almost took a slice from my behind while I was filming with my phone.

Actually, I arrived in advance for this month's Wordsmiths gathering (FLOW opening only at five), so I walked a bit uphill. I also passed by where What The Book used to be, wondering how neighborhoods could change if you just let different words fly around.

Given time, the new name Usadan-ro shall be adopted, and help change the image of the whole neighborhood. Even if, just to be on the safe side, local authorities made sure the Northern half of the street couldn't be contaminated: for the moment, the curvy road to the Grand Hyatt, with all its luxury residences, is simply called "Itaewon-ro-27-gil".

Anyway, this place can't be totally evil: a crossroads leading to a church, a former shrine, and the Mosque?

Seoul Village 2012
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* the leg of the "T" in the Hamilton Hotel intersection, Bogwang-ro goes South almost all the way down to the river - it then meets Seobinggo-ro
** see "The Great Korean Revolution : addresses with house numbers and street names" followed by "New address system in Korea : 2 more years"

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