Young people find peace in Palpan-dong

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Young people find peace in Palpan-dong

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Just a short walk behind the tourist-filled neighborhood of Samcheong-dong, past and modern Korea harmonize in the calm, peaceful alleyways.

These streets make up Palpan-dong, a triangular area located between Gyeongbok Palace, the Blue House and the prime minister’s official residence on Samcheong-dong’s main stretch.

Many well-known restaurants that draw regular customers from all over are hidden in the labyrinthine locale, while families that favor a slower pace of life call the area their home.

Since 1940, Palpan Butcher’s shop has been a local fixture here.

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Palpan Butcher’s has been located in Palpan-dong for more than 70 years. It holds barbecues once or twice a year for its neighbors. [JoongAng Ilbo]

It may seem like just an ordinary store that trades meat, but its long history means it has stood for decades alongside renowned traditional Korean restaurants such as Hadong-gwan and Urae-ok, which are also its main customers.

Lee Yeong-geun is the store’s co-founder, but his third son, the 67-year-old Lee Gyeong-su, took over the business in 1974.

Rather than handing it down to him, Yeong-geun sold the butcher’s shop to his son.

“I borrowed the money from my wife’s family to pay for all the meat at the shop, and I took over the store at half the market price with the money I borrowed,” said Gyeong-su. “To pay the money from my wife’s family off, I have never closed it [for a day].”

Gyeong-su’s second son, Lee Jun-yong, 42, joined the business in 2011.

Ivy League-educated Jun-yong chose to become a butcher, working from 5 a.m. and finishing at 7 p.m. instead of selling education programs to conglomerates - his former job - because his father became sick and was worried about the success of his butcher’s business.

“My father has been my hero since I was a little boy,” said Jun-yong.

“He never yelled at me and my older brother. I think it is my fate to follow his will, so I should help the butcher’s shop as his son.”

After Jun-yong’s mother heard that her son would start working at the shop, she cried for more than six months. His father had to persuade her that he would pay Jun-yong double the regular annual salary.

Jun-yong truly cares about Palpan-dong, perhaps proven by the fact he holds a barbecue for the neighborhood once or twice a year with meat provided from his business.

Lee Soo-sung, a former prime minister, once joined the party after stumbling across it as he strolled along Palpan-dong.

The shop’s regular customers include the prime minister and residents of Pyeongchang-dong and Seongbuk-dong, so encountering famous politicians and CEOs here is no surprise.

Several days before former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik retired, he dropped by the butcher’s to thank Lee for providing him with good-quality meat.

He even gave him a small rice cake gift for Chuseok, or Korean thanksgiving.

테스트

Gyeong-Su, Jun-yong’s father, is regarded as a sort of uncle to young store owners in Palpan-dong.

He once went to a newly opened bakery in Palpan-dong one day and bought all of the bread before handing it out around the neighborhood to introduce the new bakery. He was worried that the owner of the new bakery would not get know the people of Palpan-dong otherwise.

Jun-yong, of course, knows everyone in town.

“It is not a pompous vocation to take over a family business. Instead, I just follow my father’s will because I sincerely have respect for him,” Lee said.

“I absolutely remember my father always said that a business only for money cannot be prosperous, so we should win customers’ hearts.”

테스트

Just a short walk behind the tourist-filled neighborhood of Samcheong-dong, past and modern Korea harmonize in the calm, peaceful alleyways.

These streets make up Palpan-dong, a triangular area located between Gyeongbok Palace, the Blue House and the prime minister’s official residence on Samcheong-dong’s main stretch.

Many well-known restaurants that draw regular customers from all over are hidden in the labyrinthine locale, while families that favor a slower pace of life call the area their home.

Since 1940, Palpan Butcher’s shop has been a local fixture here.

It may seem like just an ordinary store that trades meat, but its long history means it has stood for decades alongside renowned traditional Korean restaurants such as Hadong-gwan and Urae-ok, which are also its main customers.

Lee Yeong-geun is the store’s co-founder, but his third son, the 67-year-old Lee Gyeong-su, took over the business in 1974.

Rather than handing it down to him, Yeong-geun sold the butcher’s shop to his son.

“I borrowed the money from my wife’s family to pay for all the meat at the shop, and I took over the store at half the market price with the money I borrowed,” said Gyeong-su. “To pay the money from my wife’s family off, I have never closed it [for a day].”

Gyeong-su’s second son, Lee Jun-yong, 42, joined the business in 2011.

Ivy League-educated Jun-yong chose to become a butcher, working from 5 a.m. and finishing at 7 p.m. instead of selling education programs to conglomerates - his former job - because his father became sick and was worried about the success of his butcher’s business.

“My father has been my hero since I was a little boy,” said Jun-yong.

“He never yelled at me and my older brother. I think it is my fate to follow his will, so I should help the butcher’s shop as his son.”

After Jun-yong’s mother heard that her son would start working at the shop, she cried for more than six months. His father had to persuade her that he would pay Jun-yong double the regular annual salary.

Jun-yong truly cares about Palpan-dong, perhaps proven by the fact he holds a barbecue for the neighborhood once or twice a year with meat provided from his business.

Lee Soo-sung, a former prime minister, once joined the party after stumbling across it as he strolled along Palpan-dong.

The shop’s regular customers include the prime minister and residents of Pyeongchang-dong and Seongbuk-dong, so encountering famous politicians and CEOs here is no surprise.

Several days before former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik retired, he dropped by the butcher’s to thank Lee for providing him with good-quality meat.

He even gave him a small rice cake gift for Chuseok, or Korean thanksgiving.

Gyeong-Su, Jun-yong’s father, is regarded as a sort of uncle to young store owners in Palpan-dong.

He once went to a newly opened bakery in Palpan-dong one day and bought all of the bread before handing it out around the neighborhood to introduce the new bakery. He was worried that the owner of the new bakery would not get know the people of Palpan-dong otherwise.

Jun-yong, of course, knows everyone in town.

“It is not a pompous vocation to take over a family business. Instead, I just follow my father’s will because I sincerely have respect for him,” Lee said.

“I absolutely remember my father always said that a business only for money cannot be prosperous, so we should win customers’ hearts.”

“You have to live at least 30 to 40 years here if you want to say that you’ve actually lived here for a while,” said painter Lee Heon-gu, 55. “The pride of Palpan-dong still remains.”

Lee, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2004, always greets people politely and sweeps snow away from the front of his neighbors’ stores.

Caring for others is an embedded notion in Palpan-dong, and many people who live in the area don’t want to sell their houses as they have lived there since they were children. Some don’t even want to renovate, meaning that the alley has retained a retro feeling reminiscent of the ’80s and ’90s.

Kim Su-mi, 47, the owner of A Table, also didn’t want to ruin the scenery, so she gave her traditional Korean house a small upgrade by inserting one big window on its front.

Kim has run her restaurant with just one set menu of the day and only six tables for 11 years because she does not want the establishment to become too crowded.

The owner of Cafe Ross, Jeon So-Yeong, 48, has created a small garden in front of her cafe instead of putting a big signboard in place, in order to keep this alley plain.

Jeon also brews only hand-drip coffee and roasts her own beans. This contrasts completely with the local coffee trend and matches Palpan-dong’s character.

Because the area is located in front of the prime minister’s official residence and close to the Blue house, many well-suited men can be seen roaming around this simple-looking town.

In Palpan-dong, the Korean restaurant Dalhangari became popular among senior secretaries and Blue House guards because it serves delicious dishes such as doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) and deulkkae tang (perilla seed soup).

“I cannot raise the price of dishes because I know most of the customers,” said Jeong Hyeon-ok, 52, the owner of Dalhangari.

Another Korean restaurant well known for its croaker and pomfret dishes, Byeongwoo’s, is another culinary landmark among politicians and CEOs. Ex-cabinet officers Han Hwa-gap and Chung Mong-joon are its fans.

“The only ingredient not from Korea is sesame oil,” Chung Jeong-u, the owner of Byeongwoo’s, said proudly.

“Lee Myung-bak, the former president, also bought jeoneobamjeot [salted chestnut and shad].”

Another point of interest is that the area’s establishments close early, at around 8 p.m., because its main visitors are staff from nearby art galleries and Blue House personnel.

The neighborhood’s stores tend to shut when the workers go home.

When Lee Myung-bak ran for president, the combination of chicken and beer, or chimaek, was the hottest food trend.

However, all the pubs serving chicken and beer closed after former presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung became embroiled in a sexual assault scandal and the Blue House prohibited its staff from drinking. Even the historical jazz bar La Cle shortened its opening hours.

The younger generation started to move into this town seeking a slower pace of life.

Five bakeries are located here altogether and the owners are all in their 20s and 30s. Most don’t even have tables, but their passion is big enough. Signs flanking their entrances with phrases such as “This is the choux” may sound strange, but they make visitors curious about trying the goods on offer.

All the young owners said they like Palpan-dong’s antiquated style.

“I am little bit nervous because it is my first time opening a store,” said Kim Hye-rim, 28.

“But I feel energetic when my older neighbors encouraged me like my family.”

While walking through Palpan-dong, you will notice that there are abundant benches and tables, providing anyone who walks by them a chance to rest his or her feet.

It’s difficult to find anywhere similar in Seoul.


BY SEO JEONG-MIN [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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