Tuesday, June 21, 2022

what Tom and I saw

I mentioned before that Tom had told me how the old yeogwan (inn) I used to live in, back in the 90s, was gone along with the whole rest of the alley.* We visited the site, and all that's left is a lot that's waiting to be re-developed. Incredible:

The buildings that are still standing are right up against Jongno (Bell Street).
The gray fence you see defines the other side of what used to be the alleyway.

a wider shot

Things are always changing in Seoul; it's a good lesson in Buddhist impermanence. The ground is always moving out from under your feet; places you knew disappear fairly quickly from the ancient perspective of mountains and stars. The only semi-permanent structures are monuments and things of that nature. Otherwise, there are no guarantees. It's always been hard for me to feel any sense of stability or security while living in Seoul; circumstances are constantly changing, even at (especially at) the level of my job. I take nothing for granted, given how tenuous life is, and I'm old enough, now, to worry about how my own body will have changed in ten years. Life moves ever forward. That is the moral of the empty lot.


*Yeogwans were and are a cheap type of accommodation, especially for expats. I lived in a yeogwan my first year of working in Korea, from 1994 to 1995. (I may have been there a bit longer than that, actually.) Yeogwans are supposed to be cheap inns, but at certain inns, you can rent a room by the month for a smallish amount.  In 1994, I paid W400,000 a month for my cheap little room. In 2014, when I temporarily went back to yeogwan living (in the Chungmuro district this time), I paid W450,000 a month, so I guess prices hadn't changed all that much. The second yeogwan I stayed in was OK, I guess, if a bit cramped. The first one in the 90s, though, had thin walls, so I could hear all sorts of drunken sex and violence next door. The back alley was usually decorated with vomit splatters (and pigeons pecking at the vomit), and when I went back to my place every night (I worked right across the street), I would often catch businessmen and young women in miniskirts leaning against the alley wall, puking their guts out. It was a sordid existence, but when you're a newbie to life in Korea, you have to start somewhere. I occasionally envy the expats who applied themselves and got super-fluent in Korean: I suspect that these people, many of whom are now internet personalities, leapfrogged a lot of the difficulties I encountered. Smart.

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