Loss of charm in the old alleyways

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Loss of charm in the old alleyways

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When I was admitted to a university in Seoul more than 20 years ago, the first thing that came to mind was, “I can finally visit my old neighborhood.” I spent six years of elementary school in the Samseongyo area in Seongbuk District. Steep alleys in the neighborhood were lined with old Japanese-style houses. My family was renting out one of those houses, and all the happy and sad moments in my childhood happened there. I played house with friends, pretending to serve dandelions as food. I also ran away from home for the first and last time in my life. I left in the evening with determination, but I sat at the nearby Seoul Fortress, where I could still see the light shining from the window. By the time the curfew siren went off, I was back home.

My family moved when I entered middle school and I went to high school elsewhere. When I returned, I thought I was somewhere else. The alleys were narrower than I remembered. After I got married, I lived in different areas of Gyeonggi for several years, but I always thought I would move back to my old neighborhood. About 10 years ago, my family moved to Cheongun-dong, Jongno District, not far from Samseongyo. As I made new memories in the alleys, I found new favorite cafes and became a regular at cleaners and bookstores. But last year, my family had to move again and we all became homesick. On weekends, we would drive an hour to visit my hometown. But things aren’t the same. While the old, quiet beauty is everywhere on television dramas, the area has become a kind of tourist attraction. As old stores disappear and buildings are renovated, the neighborhood is gradually losing its charm and tourists with cameras have taken over.

Last Saturday, I felt a similar sense of loss in Garosugil in Sinsa-dong. The street has changed drastically in the last few months. Fast fashion brands, cafe chains and restaurants run by conglomerates are located in strategic positions. The shops, cafes and unique restaurants that had once given life to the street are long gone.

Now, the possibility that an unknown yet talented designer, an independent curator with a unique perspective or a young chef eager to offer creative recipes has nearly disappeared. Will Garosugil be the same without their creative presence? The loss of charm won’t be good for the landlords either. A long-term perspective and vision are desperately needed. You cannot plant memories and love in a neighborhood that changes overnight.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Na-ree
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