King Baeksu(2005-07-17 18:30:54, Hit : 15906, Vote : 2119
 Dowon.JPG (131.4 KB), Download : 81
 Another One Bites The Dust (Insa-dong Becomes Ginza)


I've been saying for years that Insa-dong, Seoul's "traditional" art, antique and crafts district, is slowly but steadily transforming
itself into a wannabe Ginza, as its quaint, funky single-story landscape of old Korean-style architecture is replaced bit by bit
with sleek modern high-rises,Western-style cafes and overpriced yuppie wine bars. First the convenience stores moved in,
then Starbucks appeared and now its last yojong or gisaeng house has bitten the dust, soon to be replaced by a very traditional
parking lot.
   Dowon was a lovely and extremely large kiwa-jip or tile-roofed Korean manor, on a little alleyway off the northwest end of
Insadong Street and right next to Agio, the popular Italian restaurant chain. Last year I stopped by to ask how old it was and one
of the genteel, hanbok-bedecked madams said the yojong had been in business for about 50 years, but she wasn't quite sure
how old the building itself was. It was right near my place, and whenever I passed by over the years, I always heard the plaintive
sounds of Korean trot tunes echoing from within, and sometimes saw the occasional gisaeng in chic office attire arriving discreetly
for work, or the ajummas from the kitchen preparing vast quantities kimchi out in the street (to go along with the sumptuous feasts
served there). Late last September, however, about a week after the Roh Moo-hyun administration launched its nation-wide
crackdown on the sex trade, Dowon closed its doors for good. I asked one of the ajosshi attendants what was going to happen
to it, and he said they were going to turn it into a parking lot.
   I couldn't believe that such a fine example of traditional Korean architecture was really going to meet with such a fate, and
thought perhaps that they would eventually reopen for business after the adminitration's rather half-assed crackdown had eased
up more. For about ten months it sat there forlorn and quiet, and then all of a sudden, the wreckers pounced and demolished
almost all of it faster than you can blink an eye. This past Sunday morning, I was walking by to get lunch and saw that the
main building was being leveled rapidly, and by the time I could rush back home, grab my camera and buy film, the work was
nearly done and the workers had gone off for lunch themselves. I snuck into the grounds and surreptitiously took the picture you
see here, and managed to get out before anyone returned.
    Of course, it makes perfect sense that Insa-dong would need more parking lots, given that it continues to rise vertically at an
alarming rate. After all, all those extra workers in all those new offices and fancy multi-story galleries have cars and need to put
them somewhere, right? Somehow it seems so perversely poetic that Korean tradition has been sacrificed here to the automobile,
that most modern of conveniences. Not to worry too much, though: when I passed by again later, one of the construction (or rather
"destruction") workers said that the structure you see here would be symbolically preserved and restored as a "hongbo-gwan" or
public relations office of some sort, just so that unfashionable preservationists like myself can't get too worked up and overly
indignant. To put things in perspective, however, this little building occupies a mere 5% of the total site, and is but a fig-leaf to
cover up this greed-fueled, thoughtless erasure of Korean history and heritage.
   Some might argue that a gisaeng-jip is an "immoral" business and so good riddance. Well, not everyone who goes to a yojong
sleeps with the girls (although, admittedly, it does tend to happen more than with Japanese geisha, the Korean gisaeng's traditional
counterpart); in any case, the business could have been changed while preserving the original building, instead of simply flattening
it. But perhaps that would not have been enough to cleanse away the lingering stigma of such a "dirty" place. After I took this picture,
I dropped by the nearby Insadong Tourist Information Center and asked the young girl there if she knew the name of the yojong,
since I could not read the Chinese characters that advertised its name on the sign out in front (which was now gone anyway) and
had momentarily forgotten it, what with all my rushing around. She pointedly declined to help me by refusing to acknowledge that
there had even once been a yojong there, and every time I repeated the word "yojong," politely but firmly insisting that it had been
a famous 50-year-old local landmark right around the corner, she looked vaguely terrorized by the blasphemous word. I finally
said, "You just don't want to help me, do you?" and her cool silence was clear confirmation. Of course, it wasn't identified on any
of the official tourist maps of Insa-dong, either. I then went to several other nearby galleries right next to the site and encountered
the same blank, mildly hostile stares. It was almost as if I had the plague. Finally, I went back to the site itself and one of the
workers told me the name right away. At least he was friendly and not all hung up about it.
   Well, all I can say is that the Kangnamification of Chongno continues apace. And as my previous chat with Lala proves ("'Korea
Wave' Hits Jakarta!"), South Koreans seem to have no problems exporting their sex trade abroad if it's too hard to keep operating
here. Frankly, though, it's hard to say what's really worse: paid sex between consenting adults, or raping your own history and
tradition just to get paid. Oh, it's all so complicated! Mori ap'a! ("My head hurts!")
   Let's just forget about it, eh?




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