Friday, May 04, 2007

The Bucheonist

Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has another great/depressing piece about the future of Bucheon, specifically Wonmi-dong, Sosa-dong and Gogang-dong, which are set to be turned into faceless apartment complexes. I would say the biggest loss will be Wonmi-dong, which is for the most part residential. Sosa may actually benefit from leveling, for the most part, but there is still that one nice strip of residential neighborhood between Bucheon station and Sosa Station that will be missed for its twisty little roads and endless rows of sexy little bars and fried chicken joints.
So after reading Matt's piece, I spent the whole day thinking about the future of the city and the proper attitude to cop. Something would be lost, and something would be gained for some, but what? And who would the new people be, coming into Bucheon. In my wife's family's case, her sister lives in Sang-dong, the most recent big development project, but her other sister, recently married, is currently living in a very old neighborhood and considering moving either back into Seoul or into one of the other satellite cities. Her brother, forget about it, he's 26 (non-Korean age) and he's a long way off from living anywhere but with his parents. So this development will certainly serve some young Bucheon families, but I am sure the vast majority of the residents will be coming from elsewhere to get close to Seoul and Incheon.
Last night I had a chance to talk about all this change with long time Bucheon residents at one of my private lessons. It's done through a church, so I consider it charity, even though they pay me the standard rate. Here's a map with the three areas to be trans-gentrified in red and a red X at the class's location
The first interesting comment was from a 21 year old college student. She pointed out that 'ten years ago this neighborhood was a grape farm.' I don't know how accurate that is, but it is essentially true. No matter how ancient these little old Bucheon neighborhoods look, they just ain't that old. Then I got specific about the apartment complexes going up and in particular the Wonmi-dong development. A woman in her late forties said 'My mother would like to see Wonmi-dong completely disappear. SSak!' and she swept her hand across the front of her as if wiping Wonmi-dong off the face of the Earth.
When I heard all this I realized that to lament the passing of old Bucheon was on some level foolish. First of all, it's not that old. Second, and more importantly, it's a lot easier to appreciate it when you don't have to live it. How would my family and friends like it if some weirdo Frenchman (or some such) came to our home town and told them that it was a shame that a new, cleaner and better supermarket was coming to town, and that we have to protect our local price gougers? I also realized that trying to preserve Bucheon is like trying to save vinyl records: romantic and ultimately futile. Rather than being silly old Eddie Vedder about Bucheon, wouldn't it be better to find enjoyment wherever you can while it's still there? Preserving Bucheon unnaturally would be like attempting to preserve a young woman's beauty even as the ravages of age encroach: depressing and hopeless. Better to enjoy it while it lasts.


Jeff said...

This is kind of like people's attitudes toward Fenway Park in Boston. Yes, Bucheon, from what you've written, is younger than Fenway so it's not a perfect comparison. People hold onto Fenway despite the fact that it seats less than 40,000. It makes tickets more expensive and scarce which is such a strain in the Boston market where baseball is king. Most stadiums can easily fit 50,000. I think keeping something around just because it's historic is often a bad idea.

gordsellar said...

Yeah, I sometimes think about that when I hear people railing at the eradication of hanok. (You know, old-fashioned traditional houses.) Certainly, some should still be preserved so people can visit them, see them, even experience them. But in Jeonju I heard people were legally prevented from modernizing or renovating their homes, which brought them to protest that they'd prefer to live in high-rises.

I, too, hearing about this was horrified at the idea of replacing houses with the same endless high-rises that are already covering so much of the city. But when I heard about the conditions within those houses, and how unpleasant it was to live in them that way, I started to understand. I have a friend who lives in one of the nice, big apartments in a high rise, and I gotta say, except for it being a scary distance from the ground, I'd be happy to live in such a place any day.

The real problem isn't the high-rises: it's the fact that too many people cannot, and will not be able to, afford living in them. The other (more minor, but still somewhat serious) problem is that all the damed buildings look the same. It'd be nice if some company started making buildings with a little character, so the cookie-cutter trend could be eliminated.

Finally, it's nice to see someone else in Bucheon blogging. I live here too... well, in Yeokgok, right at the foot of Wonmisan.