According to the photo’s metadata in my iPhoto album, I took this building’s picture on October 20, 2018, at 1:33:39 PM. I lived in Gwangju then, so I must have been up in Seoul to stock up on film and to look for a deal on used film cameras. This nondescript, rather bland brick building is close to some excellent flea markets that are fun to walk around and window shop.
I can tell you it was the top floor that caught my attention at the time. A window frame wide open, with the windows out of the sill, leaning against a plywood board against the gape. Upon closer inspection, you could see dead plants lined against the other windows. While it was obvious that the first three levels were still in use, a shaman had vacated the fourth floor long ago. Pink lotus lanterns lined the ceiling, and I thought I could also get a glimpse of a big-screen TV.
Since that first encounter, I had made numerous (probably three or four) attempts to explore that shaman’s divination center. Each time I ascended the staircase, past the 2nd-floor PC room, I’d freeze before the 3rd-floor gosiwon ( a cheap, tiny one-room, usually rented out by students), fearing I’d run into someone before reaching the shaman’s place.
Last week, I happened to be in the area visiting the flea markets when curiosity led me to check on the building, where to my (mild) surprise, it was getting prepped for demolition. If you wait long enough in Seoul, redevelopers will demolish anything; I only had to wait about four years for this site to open up. I spent most of my time in the fourth-floor shaman’s space; it did not disappoint. I’ll start there and work my way down to the ground floor.
I lucked out; the timing was on my side on that day. On a clear sunny day, entry to this place would be tricky, as the building faces a busy thoroughfare—usually, there are clusters of people heading to and from the flea market area. It was a rainy Sunday when I went; it was a constant downpour. It was a lot easier to get in and out of the building due in part to the weather. Most people stayed home, preparing for the “worst typhoon” since 1959.
Welcome to Wonheungsa
Here’s the reception area. The calendar on the wall confirmed my initial suspicions that the shaman had abandoned this place a long time ago.
The kitchen and the shaman’s bedroom are right from the greeting area. The kitchen is not too extraordinary, but the shaman’s closets are something to show; I guess this is where the shaman stored their costumes when not performing gut. As far as shaman’s spaces go, this was the most spacious one I’ve ever been in; it seemed to have enough room that the mudang could perform gut there.
Now for the main room, where the main shamanic activity took place. Another calendar in the room stops in November. I wonder what caused the shaman to pack up and leave. Perhaps they were getting priced out, rent-wise. They left almost six years before the building would get demolished. The shaman only took the essentials and left the less important ones behind.
3rd Floor Goshiwon/ 2nd Floor PC Room/ Ground Floor 7-11
The one-rooms in goshiwon were tiny and claustrophobic. I’d never seen such a complete, abandoned PC room before; the computers were the only thing the owners took with them. Not much remained in the 7-11, but it was cool to find bujeok in two spots.
Discovering this allowed me to relax for a few hours before I had to return to studying. Now that I have even less free time, I am more serious about my leisure time.