Yesterday, we went downtown to Jonggaicheon, the ancient stream that travels through the heart of the city but was buried for several decades under urban sprawl. Recently, however, Jonggaicheon has been the focus of a massive redevelopment project, and it was finally reopened to the public last summer. It's a mixture of old history and new technology (fresh water is pumped into it via a complex hydraulics system), and, because it's several meters below street level, like a canal, it creates a very idyllic feeling. Its lower level creates a form of natural sound barrier, and suddenly the noise of the city streets recedes. And so you can walk along it, kilometer after kilometer, inside the city but outside it.
Once we emerged from Jonggaicheon, we walked north on Sejong-no -- one of the massive main arteries of the city -- past the monolithic Kyobo building, past the phalanxes of Korean riot police that are permanently stationed outside the U.S. embassy, and past a one-man demonstration against cuts to what is called the 스 크린 쾌타 (the screen quota) system; the system by which movie theaters here are obligated to screen a certain percentage of Korean movies. In the distance was Kyongbukgong, the largest of the Joseon dynasty palaces, and then a side-street along the palace where several private galleries are.
It's a beautiful walk, but it's only representative of the smallest slice of what Korea has to offer. It doesn't capture the vitality of the street, or the ragtag charm of the pochang matchas -- small tents where you can get a simple meal for 2,000 won or a cheap bottle of soju.
The pochang matchas can be sublimely beautiful: there's something inimitable about them, particularly at dusk. As the sky turns a deep blue, they light up as their owners turn on bare light-bulbs that shine through the orange plastic, and give the interior of the tent a warm yellowish tinge. Crowds of gregarious taxi drivers, store clerks and young office people sit at small (also plastic) tables. The entire atmosphere is one of casual yet deep happiness. However, there's a subtext to this street life: it's the subtext of the truth of how economies work -- some people who have filtered into the pochang matchas have an embittered, broken look. Other people pace the streets, too poor to even afford what the pochang matchas have to offer. There are too many levels to what happens at these places for them to be comprehended all at once.
And, just as I don't have time to describe all that here, so I won't have time to post for a couple of weeks, since the Big Event is coming up for my fiance and me. Thanks to the people who've visited the site so far. If you'd like to comment, please feel free to do so. I'll see you again in April.