Last October, I took a walking tour of Pimatgol (Horse Avoidance Alley 避馬골), a famous alleyway in Seoul that dates back to the Joseon Dynasty. The alley ran parallel with the main road back to the palace back in the day. Government officials on horseback were always going or leaving the palace, commoners were expected to bow every time an official rode by. I imagine that would get tedious quite quickly. Pimatgol was constructed for commoners to go about their business and avoid the inconvenience of continually kowtowing. In modern times Pitmatgol was a dingy, narrow alley of small, cozy restaurants. It was a place to go on dates and get delicious, cheap food. While most of the parts I saw had been redeveloped and gentrified, one particular section of the alleyway was still grimy and full of exposed wires. I remarked to my friend leading the tour (a fellow urban explorer) that we’d better keep an eye on the place. I’m pretty sure the other tour attendees didn’t want to climb debris or risk trespassing. There were already many signs of decay: Several abandoned buildings, including a hotel that had extensive fire damage. Here is a picture of a closed down restaurant adorned with a giant Korean traditional mask called tal (탈 倛). The mask was part of a more prominent traditional themed facade which included a mock-up of a Korean totem pole called jangseung (장승 長承 ). In my head, my next visit included trying to get inside this restaurant and getting better shots of the facade. Unfortunately, other explorations of other neighborhoods took precedence over this small alley section. By the time I returned on February 1st, I was greeted by the familiar sight of brown tarps:
Following the alleyway will lead you to Insadong, a prominent destination for tourists wanting to experience some form of Korean culture. I returned on February 1st on a whim as I was taking part in an intensive photography workshop nearby. Ironically, the title of this workshop was “Photographing Where You Don’t Belong.” Urban Explorers know that feeling too well. Some might hold it like a mantra with joyful glee when out on an adventure. We were asked to shoot as if we were meeting a long lost half-brother or sister you had never knew existed. We had four different images to procure: 1) A portrait- asking a stranger to take their photo 2) Find a detail that is quintessential to Seoul. 3) Capture a scene of Seoul at night. 4) Snap a shot of what Seoul feels like. I had no intention of doing any urbexing that weekend, but it seems like I don’t even have to try and find abandonments anymore. They come to me. Plus, urban redevelopment is a significant aspect of contemporary Korean society. It’s only fair that I offer an honest assessment of Seoul and try not to replicate what sights I think a first-timer would be captivated by.