|PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE SEUNG-YEON
ENTERING THE 21st century, most of Seoul and its adjacent provinces have gone through the process of gentrification and urban regeneration. Therefore, the areas once occupied by low buildings that were built in the mid-20th century have been transformed into a cement jungle of high-rise buildings. However, sometimes, city dwellers yearn to escape from the mundane and busy urban environment. In that case, Bae-da-ri Village, which has been preserving the remnants of the past since the early 20th century, serves as a perfect place for a getaway.
First stop: Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village
Entering Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village is not easy. The steps that lead to the narrow streets of the village are very steep and uneven, as they have been made in the early 20th century when people, instead of machines, built the environment. Nevertheless, the hike is worthwhile as the view of East Incheon from the village, which is at a rather high altitude, is breathtaking. Viewing the city from the village, visitors can see a thin wall dividing the city into two, the non-developed and the developed area. The juxtaposition of the rural and the urban is rather sensational.
Most of the buildings in Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village have been preserved since South Korean modern times. The houses are like those found in Korean historical dramas, set in the 1970-80s. Although they seem quite messy compared to the neat square apartments of the city, they have their own charm as silent pieces of living history.
The wall paintings of Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village were created through a collaboration of artists and residents of East Incheon, who are primarily against the urban regeneration plans that aim to get rid of the old buildings. The wall paintings are said to be a silent manifestation of the importance of preserving the past and protecting people’s homes. Many of the walls of the buildings in the village are covered with a variety of wall paintings. For instance, on one side of the wall, there is a witty painting of children playing Korean traditional games; on the other side, there is a poem, implicative of Korean independence. The diversity of such paintings makes the quiet and serene village vivid and lively with colors.
Second stop: Chang-young-dong Cultural Village
Chang-young-dong Cultural Village is about ten minutes away from Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village on foot. Similar to the Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village, the Chang-young-dong Cultural Village is also famous for its wall paintings. However, while the Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village is mostly a residential area, the Chang-young-dong Cultural Village is more of an artistic hub for aspiring artists. Walking past the street, there are various art workshops where tourists can also participate in the village’s art-making process such as recycled art projects and craft workshops.
From 2007 to 2012, “Performance Ban-ji-ha”*, conducted a project called The Hill of Reminiscence and the New. The project consisted of paintings under the theme of the history of the village and life of the residents, and aimed to protect the village from gentrification. The colorful paintings, each with their distinct message and meaning are eye-catching and vibrant. One memorable wall painting that will catch viewers’ eye was that of an old man talking about what it is like “to live together.” According to his words on the painting, living together means “sharing how life was in the past, how life is now, and how life would be in the future.” Likewise, this is a metaphor of the Bae-da-ri Village, which not only retains the beauties of the past but also of the present.
Final destination: Bae-da-ri Secondhand Bookstore Street
The Bae-da-ri Secondhand Bookstore Street is around a five minute walk away from Chang-young-dong Cultural Village. The history of the street traces all the way back to the post-Korean War period of the 1950s. In this period, struck with poverty, students and intellectuals lacked the budget to buy new books. Thus, aware of such needs, individuals started selling their used books at cheap prices. Eventually, the region thrived with over 40 secondhand bookstores in the region. However, currently there are only five left, as the demand of secondhand books have decreased along with the improvement of South Korea’s economic status.
Old books, despite the common perception that they may be dirty because of their distinct smell, in fact, retain sublimity. Unlike brand new books sold in bookstores, each and every secondhand book carries its own history. A coffee stain or a ragged page may be aesthetically unpleasant, but such oddities are what symbolize the long care and attention given by their previous owners. Among the five bookstores, Han-mi Bookstore has recently achieved its fame through its appearance in the popular Korean drama Goblin. It is famously known as the area where Ji Eun-tak, the female protagonist, and the Goblin passed by on their date. Likewise, the Han-mi Bookstore especially is an attractive photo-spot for tourists with its vibrant yellow color.
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Watching the tourists walking around the village, an old resident of Bae-da-ri Village said “There is nothing much in this place. I cannot understand how people come all the way here to take photos.” Likewise, Bae-da-ri Village may be just a residential area for some who chose to stay amidst urbanization and modernization. However, for urban dwellers, it is an important reminder of the significance of the preservation of tradition and history. It is essential not to neglect the beauty of the remnants of the past and continue to preserve such wonders in the future.
How to get to Bae-da-ri Village
In order to travel to Bae-da-ri Village from Yonsei University, first take the green subway line (line two) at Sinchon Station. Then, transfer to the blue line (line one) at Sindorim Station until the subway reaches Dowon station. Exit the subway from exit four of Dowon Station, walk straight, and turn left. The first attraction of Bae-da-ri Village is Woo-gak-ro Cultural Village, which greets its visitors with its colorful buildings and vivid wall paintings.
*“Performance Ban-ji-ha”: An artistic movement based in East Incheon. Upon its establishment in 2001, it has held projects on the representation of public culture, cultural education for local youth, and other local artistic projects.