TIME FLIES, especially at the end of the year. At this time of the year, pondering upon the past several months of 2013 could be great. Why don’t you take a stroll in Seo-chon, enjoying a moment of peaceful silence? Walking slowly through the narrow backstreets of Seo-chon would offer many great opportunities to enjoy its unique scenery and to experience walking through time.
Where is Seo-chon?
Seo-chon is the name of a small village that is located on the west side of Gyeong-bok-gung, one of the palaces in Korea built during the Cho-sun dynasty. Although Seo-chon is quite similar to Buk-chon, the more popular tourist spot, the two have some differences in their landscapes. Since Seo-chon is not as famous as Buk-chon for sightseeing, you can enjoy navigating through the narrow and complex backstreets of Seo-chon in complete silence. Also, another thing to notice about Seo-chon is that some of its houses were remodeled after 1910, due to the colonial government’s plan to modernize the urban landscape in Korea. This stands in contrast with those in Buk-chon, most of which are left in their traditional forms. Houses in Seo-chon have a more modern architectural touch than those in Buk-chon, while retaining some of the traditional style.
To get to Seo-chon, it only takes about 30 minutes by bus from our university’s Sinchon Campus. However, it is important to be aware of the geography of Seo-chon beforehand, because it is easy to get lost due to the lack of road signs. But other than that, Seo-chon is a great place to sightsee, with numerous hidden places and unique buildings that will make you take out your camera. Some buildings have Korean traditional roofs made of Ki-wa and western style walls at the same time, while other buildings have colorful pictures on their walls. Also, some telephone poles in Seo-chon, which also have unique pictures on them, catch many travelers’ eyes. Along with these interesting features, the Dae-oh bookstore, Park Noh-su art gallery and Susung-dong valley are some of the best tourist attractions for people who wish to enjoy exploring Seo-chon.
Among many other old buildings in Seo-chon, Dae-oh bookstore is special because it has kept its place for more than 60 years in Seo-chon. Its long history is immediately noticeable through its old name board hanging above the entrance. Even though the bookstore is very small, the bookshelves are full of old and tattered books published many years ago – books that you may have seen in museums. These old books include textbooks or storybooks which were published for students 20 or more years ago. Since it is a bookstore, these old books are for sale, but many Seo-chon travelers come here to be reminded of their childhood memories, rather than to buy the books. Due to its antique interior, many travelers in Seo-chon do not forget to visit Dae-oh bookstore, often picking it as one of their most popular places in Seo-chon.
Park Noh-su Art Gallery
After you exit Dae-oh bookstore and go up along the street for about seven to eight minutes, you will find the Park Noh-su Art Gallery. As you can guess from its name, it was the personal home of Park Noh-su, who is praised for painting nature using a traditional ink brush whilst also employing various colors in a modernized way. The building was originally built in 1938. The architectural style of this house is highly traditional, with its roof having traditional rafters called Seo-ka-rae* and its floor set in traditional On-dol**. However, this house retains a western atmosphere at the same time, with an arch-shaped porch, an outer wall composed of red bricks, and three fireplaces.
After it was built and remodeled over and over again, Park Noh-su bought the house and lived there from 1972 to 2011. While he was living there, he decorated the garden with his artworks made of stones and trees. In the backyard, there is a stairway made of stones that leads to an observatory designed by Park Noh-su in which you can see the whole landscape of Seo-chon laid out before you. After he died in February 2013, his house was donated to Jongno-gu in September 2013, according to his will, through which he expressed his desire of returning his property to society. Now, this house is used as an art gallery. When you walk into this house, you will feel that the different architectural styles are in harmony and appreciate the woody and silent garden filled with artworks.
The last recommended travel destination in Seo-chon is Susung-dong valley. After you visit the Park Noh-su art gallery and go uphill for about 10 minutes, you will discover Susung-dong valley filled with huge rocks and numerous trees. You may be a little doubtful about whether Susung-dong valley is there before you arrive, because it is hidden behind many gray-colored buildings. However, upon entering Susung-dong valley, you will feel as if you are in a secret garden. Two things that you should not miss here are the deep valley within the huge, thick rocks and a stone bridge, which is known as the longest bridge made of a single rock in Seoul. Because of its beautiful scenery, Jung sun (one of the most talented artists known for his nature paintings during the Cho-sun dynasty) used to paint the valley in some of his artworks. Since then, the valley has been preserved in all its natural beauty, and is currently designated as the 41st natural monument of Seoul. You can enjoy strolling in the valley for an hour or more along the beautiful trail. The valley will display to you various types of beauty depending on the weather. From late November to early December, the trail is covered with fallen leaves. A fog after a slight rain will provide a much more beautiful and romantic scene, and snow in winter will also provide a magnificent view.
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Exploring Seo-chon on foot would be a unique experience, not only because it is not that well known as a sightseeing place in Seoul, but also because it gives you the unique opportunity of walking through time. The backstreets and old buildings all welcome visitors from our modern society, while cherishing parts of their old memories. Amidst your hectic everyday life, Seo-chon could offer a peaceful moment of beautiful scenery.
*Seo-ka-rae: rafters of the Korean traditional architectural style. Seo-ka-rae were used to firmly fix the roof made of Ki-wa.
**On-dol: Korean traditional floor heating system of a house.