Monday, August 6, 2012

Seochon's Dead Poets Society (YI Sang, YUN Dong-gu)

YI Sang (1910-1937) and YUN Dong-ju (1917-1945), two of the greatest Korean poets of the last century, died at an early age in Japan after being jailed for crime of opinion. They never lived in a free country: YI was born the very day the annexation treaty was concluded, YUN died a few months before the liberation. YUN did get involved in the independence movement but anyway, being a Korean poet was already a crime of opinion since under the Japanese occupation, Korean culture itself was illegal.

Both used to live in Seochon, west of the Gyeongbokgung. And like the rest of the neighborhood, their long forsaken places are now back in favor:

. YI's hanok was until recently split between two street shops, but it has been restored by the National Trust for Cultural Heritage and Arumjigi, and hosted the "Conversations with Yi Sang" event in spring last year. The address is 18 Jahamun-ro 7-gil (formerly Tongin-dong 154-10, Jongno-gu). A temporary street name if I ever saw one. I bet this strategic diagonal street will be renamed, but not after YI Sang. To me, this is Baekundongcheon-gil, after the main Cheonggyecheon tributary (supposedly) about to be restored*.

. YUN's house (actually the house of his classmate, a novelist) is now a nondescript 'villa' about halfway along Ogin-dong's main axis, at 57 Ogin-gil, formerly Nusang-dong 9, Jongno-gu. Ogin-gil connects Tongin Market and the not sorely missed Ogin Apartment, and that's probably the way YUN went up Inwang mountain for the walks that inspired him. He must have often followed the path towards Bugaksan (under which the Jahamun Tunnel was dug half a century later**), because the spot renamed "Hill of the Poet Yun Dong-ju" ("윤동주 시인의 언덕") in 2009 is located much further, next to Changuimun, the North Gate of Seoul fortress. Making up for the lack of museum to honor the poet, a Yun Dong-ju Literature House has recently been inaugurated on this hill. It hosts a collection of artifacts as well as literary events:
Yun Dong-ju Literature House (윤동주 문학관):
3-100 Cheongun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea (119 Changuimun-ro).
Tel: +82 2.765.0703.

Unfortunately, not all former residences of artists have been saved***, yet the trend is definitely positive. As Seochon reclaims its past glory and welcomes more and more tourists, cultural assets are a key differenciator compared to Bukchon. Note that the other side of the Gyeongbokgung is also promoting preservation: the home of painter GO Hui-dong (1886-1965) in Wonseo-dong was saved from destruction at the last moment, and for a long while you could see it rot between protective metal walls. The hanok is now illuminating the elbow of Changdeokgung-gil.

For centuries, the names of many Seochon neighborhoods have been resonating in Korean literature, and if I wouldn't want to see the whole place transformed into a city-museum or a theme park, I wish less prestigious landmarks were also included in the big picture. I'm thinking about the cult Daeo Bookstore (대오서점), a tiny Blue House that recently threatened to fold its last pages:


Seoul Village 2012
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* see "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It".
** see "2 more tunnels up North"
*** not to mention a former empress (another Yun's place, see "The Empress's Last Bang").


UPDATE 20120808: I added the 3 places on Seoul Village Map (reminder: the blue line follows Baekundongcheon's path):

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