Tuesday, October 31, 2023

"Paradise" by the projector's light, and real estate databases

 For my latest Korea Times article, I interviewed Todd Henry and Minki Hong about their documentary, ‘Paradise,’ which uses oral history and animation to explore the history of Seoul’s last-standing (if no longer operating) theater that once served as a venue for gay cruising.

I didn't have the space to discuss Todd's other project, which he shared when Paradise was first screened at the theater late last year, which is mapping out queer spaces in Seoul, some dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, which have mostly disappeared (including one grouping of such spaces in Sindang-dong, the neighbourhood I now live in), almost all of which were "anchored" by the presence of second-run theaters where gay cruising took place. The maps he put together were assembled from "a fragmented variety" of sources, a "combination of real estate databases, aerial photography, oral histories, and textual sources" such as weekly magazines. 

I recently discovered a two online real estate data bases, one which you have to enter an address for (and provides building information such as the year it was built), and another which provides a map which you can click on to find similar information, as well as information about the lot. Both are great tools which can be used to learn more about whatever neighbourhood or building you might be interested in.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Exploring Gaehwasan with the RAS this Saturday

I’ll be leading an excursion next Saturday, November 4, for the Royal Asiatic Society to Gaehwasan (near Gimpo Airport), a low mountain covered with temples, tombs, a Korean War memorial, and fall colours. It also overlooks Haengju fortress, site of Imjin War and Korean War battles. 

Starting from Banghwa Station, at the end of Line 5,we will pass through a park with a number of 400-year-old zelkova and gingko trees and then head up the mountain to see the numerous, beautifully carved tombs, flanked by stone statues, of the Pungsan Shim clan, who for several generations served the Joseon kings and were memorialized for their meritorious deeds, including taking part in the overthrow of the notorious king, Yonsan-gun, and, generations later, organizing righteous armies during the Imjin War.

We will also go to Yaksasa Temple and see a statue of the Buddha and a three-story stone pagoda which date back to the Goryeo Era.

We'll see an even larger such statue dating from the early Joseon period outside Mitasa Temple, on the other side of the mountain. The statue was found buried in the 1930s, when the temple was rebuilt. Both temples were destroyed during the Korean War, but the pagoda and statues survived.

Next to Mitasa is the Memorial to the Loyal Dead, which was erected to remember the 1,100 soldiers of the Korean 1st Army Division who died defending Mt. Gaehwasan - which overlooks Gimpo Airport - during the opening of the Korean War, which will provide an opportunity to learn more about the fighting which took place on the mountain during the war, as well as its military importance in the present. I'll also touch on the importance of the area during the Imjin War.

Being a mountain, of course, there will be lots of opportunities to take in views of the Han River and surrounding area and enjoy what nature has to offer (below is a spring view).

For more information about the tour, or to sign up, see here.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Yeouido sinkhole redux

The Korea Herald reports that yesterday a "4-meter-deep, 5-meter-wide sinkhole was found on a traffic island between IFC Mall and Parc 1 Tower in Yeouido, western Seoul at around 11 a.m."

It only took a quick look on Kakao Map to find its exact location. As it turns out, it's about 200 meters from the bunker turned into an exhibition space I mentioned here.

More disturbingly, it's about 150 meters from the site of retaining wall collapse that occurred during the construction of IFC on September 19, 2007, which created a 50-meter-long, 20-meter-wide and 30 meter-deep crater that swallowed several cars.

This might be something to keep in mind as authorities investigate the cause of the current collapse.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Restored Palaces, tunnels, and bunkers (among other things)

Over the Chuseok long weekend I visited a number of sites that might be of interest. First up was  Dondeokjeon, the European-style building in Deoksu Palace that was demolished in the 1920s and, after being restored, was opened to the public last week.

A model of the building.

I guess I hadn't been inside Deoksugung since 2018 (other than grabbing a coffee with a friend by the pond during Covid since it was a central and scenic place to sit outside), so I was surprised to see the gate that once stood in the southwest corner, where it sheltered a water clock, hwacha (multi-cylinder rocket launcher), and a temple bell, was gone. As it turns out, it was moved in 2018 closer to the entrance and back to where it originally stood as the gate to Gojong's sleeping quarters.


I'm not sure where the relics it sheltered went. The bell was from Heungcheonsa, a temple built on the grounds of what is now Deoksugung in 1397 by King Taejo in honour of his recently deceased wife, Queen Sindeok; its bell was commissioned by King Sejo in the 1460s in response to his feeling a bit bad about killing his nephew to take the throne, and the temple stood until it was mostly demolished under the tyrant Yongsan-gun and the sari hall burned by fired-up Confucian students out to destroy heresy in 1510, after which the bell moved from palace to palace, landing in Deoksugung by the 1950s and now gone to who-knows-where. (For more on that temple, and Jeong-dong's history, see Gregory Henderson's article "A History of the Chŏng Dong Area and the American Embassy Residence" from the RAS Transactions Volume XXXV (1959), which can be found here.)

A couple days later I headed to Mullae-dong. While I'd visited it before, I'd never been there on a warm evening, and it had quite a different feel to it as the narrow alleys had tables with customers spilling out into them. It makes for a unique urban space, which would explain the past decade of gentrification.

The next day I visited the Noryangjin Underground sewer, a restored tunnel dating back to perhaps 1899 which has various shapes and is an interesting place to explore (though it is only 92 meters long, so it's not a place you'll spend a lot of time in). It's near exit 7 of Noryangjin station (walk straight from the exit for 250 meters).

If you continue walking in the same direction for five minutes, on the south side of the street you'll find this building, now a wedding hall. 

It doesn't look like much, but this is where the 1971 Silmido incident (which inspired the 2003 film of the same name) ended when the soldiers in a hijacked bus were stopped and they blew themselves up with grenades (I wrote about it here long ago, where I first posted these photos). The second photo confirms that the bus was stopped at the right of the above photo (before the road was widened).

Older brickwork is visible in the sections behind the main street:

The cornerstone makes it clear that it was constructed in 1961 by the Yuhan Corporation, the pharmaseutical company established by Ilhan New (Yu Il-han) in 1926. (Wikipedia has more interesting information about him, with even links to the OSS during WWII.)

Then it was off to Yeouido, passing over the ecology park on the "inner side" of the island

Robert Fouser led an interesting excursion for the Royal Asiatic Society here back in June, when I took the following photos, which make it clear just how rural it feels down there in certain areas:

The next place to visit was SeMA Bunker, the underground bunker, likely built in 1977, that lies beneath Yeouidaero next to the bus stops near the International Finance Center and across from Yeouido Park. (The entrance is here.) The bunker was located beneath where stands were placed when Park Chung-hee would oversee military parades. It was perhaps last 'checked on' in the early 1990s, forgotten about, and rediscovered in 2005, and opened to the public as a gallery space in 2017 under management of the Seoul Museum of Art. The large space inside serves as a gallery, while a smaller section which housed sofas and a bathroom serves as a museum.

What the bunker, inundated with water, looked like when it was rediscovered.

Perhaps one of these days it would be worth documenting the slow, though increasing, gentrification of the area around Sindang Station.