Thursday, February 11, 2010

Korean Multiculturalism: Putting Them Furriners In Their Place

I usually don't like linking The Korea Times, for reasons I've delved into before... but Jongno district is giving a group of Filipinos the bum rush, and it sucks.

"Little Manila Faces Closure" describes a Sunday marketplace set up by Filipinos in Hyehwa, near the Filipino Catholic Church - it's a tradition in Filipino culture to go to church on Sunday, and then head out to the markets to hang out, buy provisions for the week, and meet their friends. I haven't been lucky enough to see it happen in Hyehwa on some sunday, but when I was traveling in Hong Kong, I saw exactly that with the Filipino migrant workers there, and the filipino market was awesome - it had this awesome, joyful, busy-but-never-frantic energy.

Well, Seoul City wants to boot the market, because it has been the subject of a few complaints about noise or disorder, and relocate it to the Nakwon-dong neighborhood (near insadong), where Seoul plans to build a "Multicultural Street" (whatever that means - can I open a hot dog/hamburger/steak stand?) in March. The complaints the district office cited were all of the type that, a representative of the market says, "The problems that they raised can be resolved by talking to the vendors. They are willing to cooperate." Meanwhile, it's illogical and frankly insulting to ask people to walk forty minutes to their own market (which is a once-a week thing, not a daily thing that would be given a place at a multicultural market anyway). Even more so, given that one of the complaints was that pedestrians were blocking traffic... so we ought make them block traffic along a five kilometer walk, rather than just from the church to the nearby market? And this makes sense how?

Now, before we even get into the whole "relocation = giving them the shaft in slow motion" thing (cf: the vendors who used to work in the area that had to be cleared for the Chunggyecheon, who were relocated to Dongdaemun Stadium, wrecking the flea market that used to be there, and then turned out again when Dongdaemun Stadium got redeveloped into the new design plaza... were they even provided with another alternate location this time? Or were they just told to piss off?), why on earth is Seoul trying to gut one of the few really multicultural events that has already, spontaneously developed in one of its downtown areas? Why not promote it and support it? Oh - because it wasn't City Hall's idea, that's why. And they want to build a waterfall. It better be a f***ing great waterfall.

On the other hand, when Seoul seems to be in open war with its own, Korean heritage - razing old buildings, gutting the lovely City Hall building, and the like, maybe it's comforting to know they don't discriminate - they shit on everybody's heritage, not just their own, in the name of development.

No. No, it's not comforting at all.

And why should my English readers care about a bunch of Filipinos? Well, first, we have more in common with them than you think, and second, who's to say how long it'll be before some ambitious politician/developer team sends a very profitable proposal across the desk of the municipal government, to redevelop that other dirty old neighborhood full of red-brick buildings from Korea's embarrassing poor past (those red brick buildings are '80s and early '90s artifacts), full of noisy and unsafe apartments, to raze it and replace it with luxury condos that will be seven to twenty times more expensive, and way out of the range of the people living there now, and somebody stamps approval on the Haebangchon redevelopment plan?

The thing about Korea's diversifying population, that Seoul City has missed, is that people are going to form their own communities, and do the things they always did, and they're going to do it where they live, where they go to church, where they shop... and you can't tell a whole population where they have to live, or shop. You can't sequester or ghettoize them. It's good to build Seoul Global Centers in the areas where foreigners live - Ichondong, Banpodong, and the like, to make help available... but trying to require foreigners to stay in the places prescribed for them is the opposite of becoming a really cosmopolitan city. The way to become a city truly acclimatized to the new global environment is to let them furraners do what they do, where they do it, so that everybody else gets used to Seoul no longer being only for Koreans.

Rant over.


Anonymous said...

Excellent rant, mate! Excellent indeed.

When I read this article. My first thought was that Korea is just lousy. My second thought was interrupted by the loudspeaker of some annoying ajumma selling some stupid and useless thing. I looked out my window and saw a bunch of hags with crap for sale spread all across the walkway. People had to walk in the street to get around them. Pure noise complaint and disorder, I tell you.

Seoul is the lousiest thing about this stupid country.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...


Agreed with the Filipino market issue 100 percent. Just a small comment on the Seoul City Hall thing: I am not sure if the city hall was ever a part of Korean heritage. In fact, the building used to be the headquarters for the Imperial Japan during the colonial era. It was built specifically by razing a significant portion the main palace for Korea's emperor. (경복궁) To me, it was not lovely at all. It was an odious reminder of the possibility that I could have been a second class citizen in a colonized country. I am glad that it went away.

Garrett said...

TO be fair, the old city hall building was built by the Japanese occupational government; I don't really have a problem with their decision to tear it down. Agreed on all other points, though.

Gomushin Girl said...

It's a load of bs, moving this market. It's just as organized and clean as any other 7일 시장 in Korea, and it hardly impedes traffic or pedestrian access. Jogno-gu has been pushing to get certain vendors out of high profile areas, but this isn't like the ones on the main drag of Jogno who were given new, tidy areas immediately visible from the main street where they had been set up. This is the total removal of the market away from its community to a place that doesn't even exist yet ~ has anyone heard of this "multicultural street" plan before? Nice too that they keep proposing (completely impossiple) solutions without consulting the community involved.
Re City Hall: Even if the Japanese built it, the city hall building was still a major part of postwar Korean history as well, and of definite historical interest for its architecture as well. And they're not tearing all of it down, just the back halls and portion - the main facade and some of the forward halls will still be part of the "new" (and incredibly ugly) city hall to come. Guess you'll just have to be faced with history for a little bit longer . . . I know I'd rather have to look at this particular poiniant reminder of colonialism than the glass blob going up behind it.
Re The Chongyecheon/Dongdaemun Stadium vendors . . . they did in fact get their own permanent structure in Shinseoldong. However, the transition was so drawn out and chaotic, and with so few guarantees in the process that very, very few of them actually set up in the new building. It's still a cool place to go, but the scale is substantively reduced.

Rich said...

The Korean: You're getting confused between the old Japanese Governor General Building at 광화문, and City Hall (opposite 덕수궁). The former was demolished in 1996, the latter is still in the process of being raped, and having an utterly unsympathetic and unattractive blue glass blob added to the back of it.

I'm coming from the position of a 20th-century architecture enthusiast, so I'm sad to see any attractive colonial-era buildings disappear, regardless of what they mean politically. That said, I understand why the Governor General Building had to go. It dominated the 광화문 area to such an extent that it was a constant reminder of colonial occupation, and it was unsympathetic to the surrounding buildings.

On the other hand, City Hall has never been disliked in the same way, and is a fine example of a colonial-era building that, while having a formidable frontage, does not overpower surrounding buildings. It could have been retained for future generations. Instead, it's being defiled with a shapeless glass tumour, which will, no doubt, be 'unfit for purpose' by 2025 or so, and will be pulled down, frontage and all. And no-one, save a few architecture fanboys, will shed a tear.

As Matt of 'Gusts of Popular Feeling' says, Seoul seems to be trying to erase any signs that the 20th century ever happened, architecturally at least. Unfortunately, we won't realize the negative effects of that for another 50 years.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...

Rich, you are right. My bad.

Unknown said...

More loss of architecture...seems that the base will have some of the best preserved colonial and post colonial architecture left in seoul

King Baeksu said...

I used to live in Hyehwa. The "Little Manila" Sunday market there is well off the main pedestrian flow on Taehangno, quite near the northern rotary which mainly serves motor not foot traffic, so the complaint that the market is "disruptive" sounds like BS to me. A Korean friend who works in the area told me a few months ago that Oh Se-hoon has a plan to create some sort of small-scale version of Ch'onggyech'on along Taehangno; if so, then this seems like the main reason for getting rid of the market -- more so-called "greening" of Seoul, but really just more gentrification to make the fat cats even fatter.

As for Nakwon-dong, where I have also lived, that is Seoul's oldest and main Korean-style gay district. It seems that the local authorities would like to just dump the "dirty Flips" with the "dirty homos" there, thereby diluting the influence of both. Putting aside the question of whether or not conservative Sunday church-goers would like to congregate in such an environment, I know for a fact that walking there from Hyehwa is quite impractical, public transportation from Hyehwa to Nakwon-dong is also most inconvenient and time-consuming, and it is not an easy place to find parking for cars -- assuming the average migrant worker here even has one. This is not "multiculturalism," but rather top-down, pseudo-fascist social control.

As for "The Korean," he is a diehard Korean nationalist and apologist, so one must always read his comments with that in mind. City Hall is certainly part of Korea's history and heritage, and like Little Manila should not just be "erased" from Seoul's landscape and forgotten in the name of some dubious higher purpose -- be it "pride" or "gold."

kushibo said...

The Korean wrote:
Rich, you are right. My bad.

Jiminy-freaking Christmas! You don't even know what building you're offended by!

City Hall eventually became part of Seoul's (and Korea's) history and heritage, and it should remain. If we let all buildings associated with Japan get knocked down, then there will be a big, gaping hole.

Likewise, the Government-General building should have remained. Maybe not as a national museum, but it is a part of Korean history. The official founding of the sovereign Republic of Korea took place on its steps, and the Korean people in that day saw the taking of that building for the government as a taking back their country from Japan.

It was a foolish fit of nationalistic pandering that led Kim Youngsam to dismantled it — when 70% of the people were actually opposed to razing it!

kushibo said...

At the risk of sounding like I'm taking the mayor's side — I'm not, as I think that moving the market away from the walking vicinity of the church would be a disaster — I'd like to know if anyone can shed light on the proposal mentioned in the KT to move the market to the grounds of Dongsung High School, which I think is right next door (?). Was that really offered as a proposal? Was it reasonable? King Baeksu, do you know anything in that regard?

And while I can't offer any insight into the conditions in 2010, in 2005 and 2006, I drove by frequently enough to know that the Sunday market did create traffic problems in the far right lane, in a place that was already a bottleneck of sorts.

That made me want to stop by and visit, though. I think making the market more accessible to some of the locals might go a long way toward changing attitudes. For what it's worth, some people in the same district have been wage a years-long campaign against a crematorium that went up. Professional NIMYites.

International Underground said...

Jongno District officials have decided to allow the Filipino Market to remain in Hyehwa for now. The Market offers a unique dose of multiculturalism and should be viewed as an asset for the area. In addition, it is a visible and unifying element of a a community created by Filipinos who come together in Hyehwa every Sunday. It would be a shame to see it removed.