Yeongcheon Market, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul

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Another day, another area razed. It’s not a surprise; the push to modernize Seoul keeps bulldozing along. Workers are currently prepping a section of Yeongcheon Market for demolition and redevelopment. Over the years, I passed this area while on the express bus from Ilsan to Seoul. It was easy to view the site while riding on the adjacent overpass. This particular section always caught my eye, even before exploring the city became a hobby. With a bird’s eye view, I saw hanok tiled roofs in various states of disrepair. Many of the owners of the hanok covered the tops with tarps to prevent leaks, which attracted my attention ten years ago. 

Fast forward to September 2020; the word got out that redevelopers will begin demolishing this part of Yeongcheon Market, so my wife and I went after work to check out the scene.

Despite there already being many empty buildings, electricity was still flowing through the remaining residents’ homes and alleyways. This cluster of buildings was close but not ready to give up the ghost. Better to come back in less than a year’s time.

Early June of this year, Jon alerted me that he saw fences and tarps posted around the condemned section. I’ve been to Yeongcheon Market three times since then. The time has come to explore as much of this place before it’s gone. If there are any significant finds in future explorations, I will write another post. In the meantime, here are some photos from my visits on June 6th, 12th, and 13th.

June 6th

It was easy to get in the Market on June 6th. The demo crew only blocked off a few pathways with any sense of effort. We would come back when the workers opened up more buildings and paths. The path of least resistance we took did allow us to go inside a few houses, but the way itself didn’t allow us to explore the rest of the site—the long, narrow, and winding pathways of old Korean neighborhoods are simultaneously frustrating and wonderous.

June 12th

In the week since my last visit, the demo crew assembled steel walls around the entire area, including our original entry point. When I found a way in, I was able to take in more of this neighborhood’s winding, narrow paths. There were some beautiful old hanoks to see. I found a vacant shaman’s house as well. Many of the buildings that I explored appear to date back from the colonial era, if not then, most likely post-Korean War. If you ever take up this hobby, know it’s a practice in patience. Know that there will always be holes or openings in order; you need to take your time, be thorough, or keep coming back until the opportunity presents itself.

June 13th

I went back the next day to go further down paths I’d never been down. But, I was also determined to find a way back entrance to the sauna. It’s still the place I have yet to explore, and it’s my white whale of this neighborhood now. Unfortunately, there are many logistical problems with getting into this sauna, as its entrance is in an extremely exposed place on a busy intersection, near a historical site. But, I will take some of my advice and, hopefully, the time is just right to get into said place. Fingees crossed! Perhaps there will be a part 2 for this exploration?

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