Bukchon, Seoul: Bordering along the past and the present

by Cpl. Hye Joon Byun
U.S. Marine Corps

YONGSAN GARRISON -- Seoul is one of the more notable cities to have shown drastic change in the past 70 years. Seoul was rebuilt after the Korean War from a devastated city to booming metropolis with a glimmering skyline that is home to many well-known corporations.

In the midst of all the changes and modernization, the Bukchon Hanok Village has been one of the few areas within the city that has made an effort to remain the same.

The reason why the Bukchon Hanok Village is considered special is because it acts as a border, not only between the past and the present, but also between the cultures of the East and the West. The village itself has many alleys lined with traditional Korean houses, called 'hanoks,' which create a stark contrast against the corporate buildings that have established themselves around the region. Thousands of tourists come visit the streets of the village every year, but due to the fact that it is a residential area, it is one of the few places within the metropolis where tourists are asked to keep their voices low.

Bukchon, meaning 'North Village,' was named after the fact that it lies directly north of the Jongno area and the Cheonggye stream. Also, because of its location in between two of the main palaces -- Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung -- on the base of Bugak Mountain, the village has always been a historically favorable residential area. According to the Seoul metropolitan government, 43.6 percent of the residents were aristocrats and government officials during the time of the Joseun Dynasty. Since that time, the village has been home to many influential figures in the Korean society.

Although traditional Korean homes are usually not constructed to be aligned side-by-side, it is speculated that the Bukchon Hanok Village shows these characteristics due to the sudden increase in population after many people started flocking toward the nation's capital in the 1930's. Though there was a rapid change in lifestyles for the residents in between the 1960's and the 1990's, the village has been able to adapt accordingly and yet retain its unique characteristics up until now. The harmony that is now created between what is traditional and what is modern leaves a deep impression on both foreigners and Koreans alike.

"Anyone who comes here can tell that the village has a special vibe," said Kim Kwan Kyu, a middle
 school student who was visiting the area for a field trip from Changwon.

"I would recommend anyone who hasn't been here yet to stand on top of the hill at the end of the road. Once you see the Hanok structures neatly align and N Seoul Tower in the background, you won't be able to take your eyes off the scene."

Not only will one be able to spot differences in architectural design in between buildings, but cultures can also be seen converging for the convenience of visitors.

A variety of shops, ranging from traditional tea houses to modern galleries, have been settling in to accommodate the large crowds that visit every day. Pop-up stores and wall paintings are now common sites that can be seen around the village. Some hanok homes have even been opening up as hostels to welcome guests that want a one-of-a-kind experience during their stay. Maps, information centers, and guides donning red hats can also be seen all over the area so people will have a hard time getting lost.

With portions of the rich cultural heritage of Korea and modern businesses coming together in one place, Bukchon provides people with a unique atmosphere where the beauty of the borders between the old and the new can be appreciated by everyone.

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