Travel Nov 20

Junggye-dong - Half a Moon Village

Inside Baeksa Village

Welcome to one of Korea’s Moon Villages: Baeksa Village. It is one of the few remaining shanty towns.

 

This week I drove to Seoul’s northeastern neighborhood Junggye-dong. On the map, it looks like a regular neighborhood. On the western side are modern apartment buildings, and on the eastern side, a mountain with nothing but nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although difficult to see on the map, the western side is filled with little hastily built houses and small steep paved roads. This part is one of Korea’s Moon Villages, Baeksa Village. It is one of the few remaining shanty towns comparable with a ‘slump.’

I’ve never seen anything like this before in Korea. Apocalyptic atmosphere, with most abandoned houses marked with a red circle. This is done as soon as the owners move out or pass away. Of the original 4000 tenants, only a shockingly low 50 remain. The ‘Astrix and Obelixes’ of Korea, I would say.

It’s called a moon village because it’s built on a hillside and relatively close to the moon. It’s a romanticized name, though. These people were pushed out of Seoul’s city center to develop the touristy Cheonggyecheon stream, a small stream cutting through central Seoul from west to east. It’s, however, super picturesque and a beautiful walk through the 60s lane.

The remaining locals give nothing but friendliness, and those who remain keep the spirit high. An indescribable spirit. It feels far from Seoul, yet it is Seoul. The sound of nature is a pleasant bonus. And don’t worry; downtown still has a few restaurants and a traditional barber.

Moon Villages like Baeksa were built on previously unoccupied land, usually without government approval or support. Places like this were developed with a distinct lack of planning, filled with winding alleys and steep hills, riddles with small communal spaces, and urban farming plots. They have become symbols of the impoverished and the poor’s struggle to make ends meet. With the current population aging rapidly, their future has become uncertain. Will their homes make space for redevelopment, receive compensation, or should they again displace?

So yeah, how shall I conclude…. Junggye-dong is half a Moon Village, and the Moon Village is more than half abandoned. The clock is ticking before this part of the neighborhood will no longer be recognized as a Moon Village. I must visit again to explore the other half of Junggye-dong.

On my visit to Baeksa, I took a Korean with me for extra context, translation, and ethical reasons. Wondering around this town with a camera isn’t necessarily something the locals are waiting for. Try to treat the place with the utmost respect.

This house is still inhabited

One of the side alleys where time stood still

One of the side alleys where time stood still

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Red circle mark and text saying “It is forbidden to enter”

Main street

One of the downtown shop owners

One of the downtown shop owners

Exploring Junggye-dong

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Junggye-dong,+Nowon-gu,+Seoul/data=!3m1!4b1!4m6!3m5!1s0x357cb9733686e379:0x7b84a1fc6fdb8676!8m2!3d37.6510125!4d127.0799977!16s%2Fm%2F043l8mw?entry=ttu