Monday, 14 September 2009

Why does Korea Keep Ruining its Good Parts?

Piano Street might have been my favorite feature of downtown Seoul. It was unique, distinctive, one-of-a-kind, and instantly identifiable - everybody knew "piano street". It was a reliable a meeting place, as automatically known, as City Hall Plaza, but without the occasionally awesome, but occasionally ham-handed Seoul Promotions. They dug it up a while ago, which blew my mind, and I thought, "They durn better replace it with something way cooler, because other than the broken glass panel thing, this little stretch has a good thing going. Well, they finished renovations. Get Scott Burgeson on the line, because now it's a groddy little strip where people sell crap, and what used to be one of the coolest features of the busiest part of Northern Seoul...now sucks.


Yeah. Seoul really needed another place where you can buy cheap crap. I was walking around Dongdaemun thinking that the other day. Or was it Namdaemun? Or was it ONE OF THE HUNDRED OTHER PLACES YOU CAN BUY CHEAP CRAP IN SEOUL (unlike the only Piano street in Seoul, which was, you know, singular). So, if this eyesore and pimatgol are any indication, it seem Korea's new strategy for urban renewal and revitalization is to take out cool stuff, and replace it with cookie-cutter stuff that sells crap, and has none of the character the original had. See, you know, I don't even have a problem with the idea that decrepit old buildings have to be dealt with... but the La Meilleur building is the bone you're going to toss those displaced restauranteurs on one of the tastiest strips of alley in Seoul? And a bunch of stalls selling useless crap is going to help tourists remember Seoul better than the awesome piano keys? Which yes-man has been whispering in Mayor Oh Se-hun's (오 세훈: I hope you find this on google and read it and cry) ear, and the supposed park space between Jongmyo and Namsan better be pretty goldurn awesome to win back my favor after this Pimat-Piano fiasco. (Oh yeah: not to mention almost getting away with trashing City Hall's lovely old building, as if it were his backyard shed and not ANOTHER of the city's most recognizable spots... in a city starving for recognizable images other than matchbox apartments. Discussion class after class tells me that Seoul, to join the ranks of the world-class cities, needs an instantly recognizable symbol -- an Eiffel Tower, a Statue of Liberty, a Golden Gate Bridge, a Shanghai Pearl, or a Sydney Opera House, to build the brand, so what the HELL are these people doing demolishing what few sweet landmarks there ARE?


What next? Han River Park Shopping Mall? Unesco Digital Market? Kyungju "Tomb" Underground Shopping Arcade? Starbucks in Changdeokgung? (Hey: there was one in the Forbidden City)

I mean, go ahead and make stuff better. You know. Tear down old stuff that isn't doing its job anymore, or that's uglifying the town... but replace it with something just as cool, wouldn't you? Sneak in some office buildings; I understand the need... but can you keep SOME of the winding alley-ways around? Fix up the buildings if need be, and see to it the coolest restaurants get spots in whatever preserved thingy remains... but do SOMETHING, would you? Instead of something unimpressive, modern (read: ugly and steel) and totally divorced from nature (isn't harmony with nature supposed to be the great thing about Gyungbokgung? By the way: nice trees in the plaza. Oh wait: they're NOT trees: they're shad-deficient metal dr-seuss abominations!)

How're those working out for you, then?
(image source... sorry for borrowing this gwn, but it's the only one I could find that illustrated my point about the tree-things)

Now Gord Sellar weighs in with the loss of Wonmisan. Seriously? Improving a mountain with stairs? And you're not allowed to take the other path, even if you WANT to? Yech.

Hand, meet forehead.

13 comments:

snowmon said...

that's unbelievable that they're getting rid of the "piano" I agree with you on this one and all these with expense of citizen's tax money!! this is upsetting....

Hwan said...

Yea, now Piano Street is called "젊음의 거리 (Street of Youth)", and I donno what the HELL is that.. :P OK, it is much cleaner than before, cuz they pressed the venders to arrange their small shops along the new street, but is that the only way to improve that street? It was really good landmark to set the place to meet with people...

Chris in South Korea said...

::facepalm::

Yep, that was a distinctive thing all right. That's why it's gotta go. Seriously, in the land of conformity and everyone following the herd mentality, it is surprising it lasted that long...

I wonder how many women had problems 'walking' on the piano keys and the raised black keys. Or drunk ajosshis trying to 'play' the piano and making a ruckus when it didn't work. At least now the drunk ajosshi will walk into a rubber chicken and sound it off instead...

So what did they do with the keys? Any idea which trash heap they ended up in, and where we can get one? Those probably aren't too easy to recycle...

I'll miss them, that's for certain...

CAPTCHA: emadehen - er, e made-uh hen?

Melissa said...

This is great, Roboseyo!

When I see shit like this (not your post, I mean like 'Bye Bye Interesting Stuff, Hello Tawdry Kitsch) I always think it's because like Hwan said, they're trying to 1) clean up the filth - as in Hygiene! Cleanliness! Low-stench! ... and that isn't a bad thing, right? and 2) there are just more people (tourists, students, etc) out there who want to buy cheap crap. There must be a market for it, right?

Anyway. I'm with you. Grrrr, and good post! ^^

Gomushin Girl said...

While I appreciated the utility of the piano keys as a meeting point . . . well, of all the things to get worked up about, this is one of the more trifling examples. I'm pretty happy to have the vendors - WHO WERE THERE ANYWAY - out of the way, out of the rain, and have more room to walk. That part of Jogno has always been a commercial (but not necessarily tourist directed) area filled with chain stuff. Yeah, the piano was distinctive, but they hadn't kept it up and I'm happy to be able to (almost) walk down that street.
signed, your friendly neighborhood contrarian, Gomushin Girl

Foreigner Joy said...

Okay, call me crazy but I disagree with the point that something is wrong with all this.

But I am hypocrit and also would like to say that I agree losing cultural icons such as a famous alley way is sad.

But this is the way urbanization works. Its the waves that are hitting the shore and really it is either sink or swim for most cultures.

Korea still has many places to offer an authentic cultural feeling.

I just feel it is chauvinstic of us Western folks to come here and complain and whine about how Korean society choses to dress up its streets. They can do whatever they want with it, for it is their country. If it loses tourism then it's their own faults. But who am I to say what stays and what goes. From their perspective they see a dirty street and want to clean it up. Sure they could go about it in a way the captures the essence of it all.

All I am saying is that I cater to the other side of the argument. Starbucks is part of our moden culture and history. We truly are elitist to want it not in our backyard.

I lived in a town in Northern Cali that prided itself on having no franchise chains in it what-so-ever. Everything was local and it was fine.

I think we need to accept these changes in Korean society instead of pointing our fingers at them. Besides it is our Western cultures that they are looking up to and copying.

Gomushin Girl said...

Korea needs to find a balance ~ some things are worthy of preservation, and there can and should be worthy efforts to preserve them (city hall, old seoul station, hanok, etc.), some it would be nice if they were preserved but it's not as feasable (coughPimatgolcough), and some things aren't really so important that people should get worked up over them (piano st.)
I have my own separate complaints about the new Gwangwhamun Square, principally with the proportions of the northern end of the square - but the trees are still there, just moved to the sides. And the space, while I think barren and out of proportion, seems to be getting lots of use for events like the Drama thingamabob coming up. My biggest gripe is that it takes ages to cross the northern end. Seriously, who designed the crossings there?

Gdog said...

Wow, that's really sad they took out the piano keys! I gotta admit that was a very unique area, and we would always people watch from the Coldstone nearby. I'm not surprised Seoul would pull something like this...

Foreigner Joy said...

Rob check this website out:
http://upfromthedeep.wordpress.com/part-one-sixth-street/

It is making me change my point of view.

ambearo said...

That makes me so sad! RIP Piano Street!!

Bob said...

Sorry, Rob. Koreans like crap. Does that make Korea crappy? Perhaps.

Ren Piereck said...

I lived in Korea for six years and was very familiar with the Piano Street, I thought it was one of the most original places in the shopping maze hat can be Jongro (which I never did really like despite my Korean wife always wanting to go there). I sure hope they don't smear that kind of feces all over the city. I miss Korea and Seoul, with all its faults...

matthew said...

DOesn't anybody remember when they put that ugly-broken-ass-from-day-one-piano in the street, kicking out all the pojangmacha places and cart vendors that once gave the place character?
I love it when newbs complain about the place changing, you're all hardened veterans now.