Changsin-dong - Seoul’s noisiest textile industry hood

Changsin-dong view from cafe T(ER)T(RE)

I love the sound of silence and the peacefulness that is difficult to find in a city like Seoul but impossible to find inside the neighborhood of Changsin-dong.

The neighborhood where the Korean textile industry originated during the 60s. Right after the Korean War, when displaced people moved to Changsin to live in the capital city. It was a shanty town. Today, little textile factories fill the ground floors and basements of densely built streets, streets too narrow for a regular car but wide enough for the typical Korean delivery scooters.

This neighborhood is a self-sustaining ecosystem. Delivery workers bring raw textiles to the factories, which then process it according to the order. Scooter drivers pick up the finished products and deliver them to the wholesale market in Dongdaemun. Specialized restaurants, such as Baekban, provide food, and repair shops take care of broken sewing machines and scooters. It is all interconnected and fascinating to observe.

The sound of the harmony within this ecosystem is loud, unique, and full of character. I loved it. Despite the never-ending scooter traffic, a hunk is hardly heard, and a person is rarely hit. Entering this neighborhood feels like stepping into a snapshot of 1960s Korea. The layers of history and modernity are apparent. Seeing these layers firsthand makes one appreciate the development and progress of modern Korea even more.

Sewing factory

Textile delivery scooter. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

Textile delivery scooter. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

An old, non-developed neighborhood like this comes with certain problems. The risk of fires is high; if it ever occurs, firetrucks can hardly reach the fire through those narrow and hilly streets. Buildings are old, badly isolated, and at risk of collapse—the darker side of Seoul’s authentic, rather old neighborhood. I did notice, however, the first signs of gentrification on the border streets of Changsin. West, a beautifully paved road follows the old city wall up north from where the skyline looks up on the Dongdaemun main gate. North of Changsin, hip and innovative cafes offer an even better view over the city in all directions. It’s, therefore, a typical example of old and new and young and old.

Sewing machine repair shop

Sewing machine repair shop

Although the gentrified parts are well-promoted, I dare people to get off the beaten track and follow the noise of the textile industry into the small and narrow back alleys. Don’t skip the Lumpium Sewing History Museum if you want to explore Changsin’s sewing history more in-depth. Unlike other smaller museums in Seoul, this museum has satisfying enough English explanations to get the right idea.

Changsin is the noisiest neighborhood in Seoul yet. A neighborhood that reminded me why I started this project was to uncover the charms and identities of neighborhoods, and Changsin did have a strong identifiable charm. Yes, there’s more like the toy market, and an old Buddhist temple, but you won’t find it difficult to find those places. But you will appreciate the neighborhood more knowing its charm beforehand. It reflects Korea’s hardworking working class.

The shoe repair hospital

Heavy loaded textile delivery scooter

Heavy loaded textile delivery scooter

Baekban (‘100 sidedishes’) delivery pick-up service. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

One of the ‘wider’ Changsin streets. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

Changsin-dong. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

Changsin-dong. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

Textile sewer at work. Photo credits: Jitse Jager

Exploring Changsin-dong

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Changsin-dong,+Jongno-gu,+Seoul/data=!3m1!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x357ca3314cb598b3:0x6b0e1adc7cb63172!8m2