2022 UE Seollal Spectacular: Day 1, Seongbuk-gu

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Welcome to the Year of the Black Tiger (임인년)! The Lunar New Year is a second Christmas for me; the city is empty as many people leave to visit hometowns, making exploring a more accessible and relaxing experience. On Saturday, a small group of four wandered around three neighborhoods within proximity of each other in Seoul’s Seongbuk-gu.

The first neighborhood on our itinerary has been an eyesore for years now; the weekend before Seollal seemed the best time to investigate this red light district (at one point, the largest in South Korea, according to Wikipedia) without fear of being reproached. The small section we explored pales in comparison to its heyday. Redevelopment over the years has shrunken the place, but there is still an active sex worker community. It may be that 2022 is when this red-light district finally bites the dust.

But, first, we attempted to get on the roof of a high-rise apartment to get a view of the surrounding area. We failed to gain access to the top, but we got high enough for a bird’s eye view of the second neighborhood on our itinerary, across the street from the red light district. This partially abandoned neighborhood has been waiting for demolition for at least a decade. Workers did a good job making it inaccessible for people like me. In the meantime, people have been turning the abandoned houses into giant trash receptacles.

Back on the ground, we strolled around the area, relying on our spidey senses to direct us. It wasn’t too long before a garbage-strewn alleyway called to our attention. I went down and took the first right, opening the ajar door. There was nothing extraordinary about the place except a giant blown-up photo of women circa the late 90s early 2000s. What’s the story behind the people in this photo?

While there is a prominent red-light district, it wasn’t the only attribute of the neighborhood. There were lots of shamans living and practicing in the area.

My favorite part of the neighborhood was something I would have missed if I didn’t do a double-take. At first glance, it looks like someone half-assedly spread the cement on the wall, not paying attention to the varying layers. Upon further inspection, you can make out the mountains, the moon (or sun), and the detail in front of it that looks like a bird in flight. The years and elements have faded the blue color, which I presume to be the ocean.

And here are pictures of the mural from Kakao Maps from 2009 and 2013:

There are also many abandoned buildings in the area. Still, they’re hard to access for various reasons, the biggest being that this neighborhood (for the time being) is still active—this neighborhood warrants future visits and blog posts.

Next, we headed to the second destination, the neighborhood we saw from the rooftop. This place has confounded me for a long time; it’s been in a semi-abandoned state for as long as I’ve been an urban explorer, probably even longer. The worse part is it’s been inaccessible the entire time. Nature taking over worsens the problem that it seems futile even trying to get inside any building. With that said, there are some cool things I’ve found here, but I think this area deserves its blog post in the future. I have been visiting this place many times over the past eight years; it’s my White Whale in that I haven’t been able to tame it.

I took only one picture, and it was because I appreciated the stenciled lettering.

“Closed Door”

Our final destination of the day was a moon village I hadn’t been aware of until recently. This unnamed village is alive and kicking, unlike 104 Village, which has about 35 percent capacity. On my previous visit, I ran into a group of college kids volunteering their time to distribute yeontan (coal briquettes used to heat older homes) to the village residents. It’s another place that deserves its blog post in due time. 

The next post will be about the next day of our UE Seolal Spectacular, where we visit sites south of the Han River. See you then!

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