A whopper of a renewalIf you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that the dark angel of destruction is at work in downtown Seoul, taking down the Cheonggye elevated expressway so that the stream underneath it can be restored. The riverine resurrection is the pet project of Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, who understands that destruction is necessary to allow beauty to flower.
Since Itaewon isn’t exactly renowned for its aesthetic qualities, we’d like to invite said dark angel here to do some renovations. But at what would we have him aim his divine wrecking ball?
The demolition crew here at Itaewon Wanderings was out last weekend tossing around that kind of idea: “If you were the mayor of Itaewon, what eyesore would you destroy and what beautiful creation would you replace it with?”
The answer seemed obvious ― trash that jaggedy gate at the west end of the main drag. It looks like the facade for a clanky thrill ride at a two-bit carnival. In its place could go a classic gabled gate pranked up with Western-faced gargoyles wielding bottles of soju.
But that wasn’t the reply we got. In fact, everybody we asked gave the same answer ― Burger King would have to go. It’s sad, they said, that Itaewon’s most central landmark should be a symbol of America and its corporate hegemony. The King should be dethroned, they insisted, and the building that houses it destroyed.
So then, we asked, what beautiful thing should replace it?
Brad, an English teacher from Vancouver, said the space should be made into a park with ample trees and shade. His friend Jun-sik, a hair stylist from Seoul, said it should become a Starbucks. Marcel, a businessman from Germany, said it should be an American-style diner, with “fatty Yank lunch portions.”
We got some other suggestions, such as making the space into a movie theater, a traditional teahouse, a casino, a water park.
Then Jan, a photojournalist from England, came up with the best idea ― a museum. Such a facility could give Itaewon exactly what it needs, a place to celebrate its heritage and document its evolution from the foreigners’ ghetto it was long ago to the expatriates’ ghetto it is today.
Jan, who first came to Korea about 10 years ago, explained that the facility could exhibit memorabilia from the neighborhood’s storied past, such as old mugs with the Crown Beer logo, shelves of vinyl records and nametags of old waitresses from bars like King’s Club and Nashville. Various “articles of clothing” worn by bar hostesses past could be displayed as well, he suggested.
Skirting that line of thought, we figured that one wall of the museum could have photos of all the famous people who have been in Itaewon. There would be luminaries like the basketball star Magic Johnson, the big-league tenor Luciano Pavarotti, the aikido master Steven Seagal, the pop icon Kylie Minogue and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
So we’ll soon be ringing up Mayor Lee, and telling him our “whopper” of an idea ― that we no longer want to live in a Burger King town.
by Mike Ferrin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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