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Monday, September 5, 2011

Junggye's "Baeksa Village" shall survive

Here's one of my favorite Seoul villages. If you take a Nowon-gu map, it's easily recognizable as the only area with a crooked shape in an ocean of neat appartment blocks. That's actually how I spotted it for the first time, and I wasn't disapointed by the place, one of Seoul's last typical "moon villages" ("달동네") with a soul of its own and an almost rural lifestyle. I took this picture* of kids playing there exactly seven years ago, and I remember the red peppers drying up on the streets, or the old people inviting us for a chat on their mat at a fork in the road.

Located on the Western slopes of Buramsan, "백사 마을" (Baeksa Maeul or Baeksa Village) doesn't owe its name to the fact that it hosts the 104-san beonji of Junggye-bun-dong (also spelled "baeksa"), but to a legendary "white snake" ("baeksa"). And "White Snake Village"'s serpentine main "street" leads you to the edge of a forest that didn't exist back in 1967, when the area first drew the attention of the media (and when Park Chung-hee's reforestation program hadn't turned Seoul's bald red hills into green lungs yet).

Last time I visited the place back in 2004, there were already talks of redevelopment. You could see many "budongsan" opening shop at the feet of the village, and in those new town crazy years, I wouldn't have bet any buck on a survival for this forsaken place.

Baeksa Maeul again made the (local) headlines not so long ago, when LH Corporation's new town plans were made public. Not very original, but at least we were spared the usual tombstone giants.

Today, the village makes national headlines because all plans have been dropped (in financial turmoil, LH has cancelled many programs over the past year), and local authorities have opted for a softer "remodelling" that partially preserves the shape, the streets, and hopefully the spirit of this very cute place. Among other sources, I recommend this KBS video ("
마지막 달동네 ‘백사마을’, 마을 한켠에 보존") where you can enjoy many different views on Baeksa Village, including films from 1967 :

I'm really happy. Not only because White Snake Village has a chance to survive without losing its soul, but because all this noise shall boost preservation for the other few surviving gems and moon villages still clinging to the city's mountain slopes.

More likely, speculators will rush here and there to snatch cheap land and build big mansions before local authorities manage to secure the areas. Not far from there in Sanggye, I could see that happen in Danggogae's former slums years ago.

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* you've seen this picture in "Junggye Maeul" (June 2007), as well as, among other "Seoul crumbs", in dragedies.

UPDATE 20110906 : added a snapshot from the KBS video showing the village before/after remodelling.

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