It’s strange seeing parts of Korea that are so familiar to me change so rapidly. Not only is the Grand Mart getting a facelift, but an old part of Shinchon is also changing fast. Down the street, where the old rail bridge used to cross the big road, looks like it is about it get its park at last.
The rail bridge used to cast a pretty dark shadow over that stretch of Shinchon, and only old, lousy buildings abutted the noisy tracks. The bridge was torn down six or seven years ago (seen here in 2009 from Google Maps).
Then the big ugly concrete anchors were taken out and the train line was buried and turned into a subway (Naver Maps: 2012).
Then the construction was covered over, but the land on top has been left to grow wild, with those same old buildings just sitting there — an old gopchang jeongol restaurant, a tiny vegetable stall, and some little, rundown places (Daum Maps, 2014).
Or, rather, they were just sitting there. Monday night, they were all gone.
I guess this means they are finally getting around to building the long-promised park here. It’s already done by Daeheung Station to the east and is nearly done west of Hongik Station. Now they need to fill in the middle bit. Considering how much those completed sections have improved, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this stretch will change. It’s really perfect for some cafes and open spaces, the kind that Seoul so lacks.
When I came to Korea, it was still the era of the “three Kims” — Kim Young-sam (then the president), Kim Dae-jung (soon-to-be-president), and Kim Jong-pil (never president, but not for lack of trying). JP, as former head of the Korean intelligence service, was the most sketchy of the three, but both YS and DJ had found it necessary to play nice with him in order to win the presidency.
Now the Joongang Ilbo has published a series of articles based on two long interviews with KJP, mostly looking back at his early days, leading up to Park Chung Hee’s coup d’etat in 1961. Of course, JP portrays himself as a positive force in Korean history, opposing corruption and trying to foster democracy, and the Joongang doesn’t push back at all against his narrative. And despite being “compiled” by the Joongang, it’s still pretty rambling and disjointed. But, nevertheless, it’s still an interesting dialogue.
Drab old Grand Mart in Shinchon appears to have gotten a fancy facelift. It’s about to re-open with a Spao on the ground floor, and the usual mix of restaurants upstairs. I guess it is mostly (entirely?) E-Land stuff, which isn’t a huge surprise, considering the mini-chaebol is headquartered just down the street.
The Shinchon Grand Mart opened in 1994, even before I arrived in Korea. But ever since I started hanging out in Shinchon, it was the most depressing building in the area. The three-screen cinema that used to be housed in its upper floors was perhaps the worst I ever went to in Seoul, with tiny screens and terrible sound. That theater closed years ago, thanks to the rise of nice multiplexes everywhere, and the Grand Mart has generally be trending downward for years (although I do appreciate the supermarket in the basement).
The Grand Mart is located in the lower left of the above photo. As totally as the area has changed over the years, I think I recognize a couple of the buildings on the rotary, though — the Hongik Mungo bookstore and the Woori Bank building.
Far too many interviews with K-pop groups in the Western media end up being rather infuriating. Sometimes that act like clueless fans, eating up all the marketing b.s. the group’s management throws at them. Or, worse, they ask a lot of insulting, condescending questions that are just as ignorant (usually under the guise of being “probing”, when really it is more about cultural ignorance).
Of course, it helps that 4Minute are a bit more established now, letting them loosen up and be themselves a little. And it helps that their latest single and music video, for “Crazy”, are so good.
Young-hee and the Pullocho
Young-hee stumbles into a magical world, where the fairy stories of her childhood are real and all the frustrations of her everyday life fade away — until her little brother is kidnapped by a goblin. The only way Young-hee can save him is by finding a magical plant called a pullocho, but little does she realize the fate of a whole world hangs in the balance.
On sale now at: Amazon.com
And hopefully more ebooks stores very soon.
The original edition of Pop Goes Korea is now out of print.
K-Pop Now! takes a fun look at Korea’s high-energy pop music, and is written for its growing legions of fans. It features all the famous groups and singers, and takes an insider’s look at how they have made it to the top.