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A Walk to Remember in Seoul: Yongsan
If the word Yongsan conjures up images of barbed wires, American troops, the electronic market, and basically nothing more than that, you are mostly right. In the coming years, however, you may have to think again. It seems Yongsan will no longer be content with just the dollars gathered from American troops and electronic gadgets. After American troops move out by 2007, Yongsan will have to seek new sources of income, and while at it, a newer, updated image. Some call it re-claiming of lost land; others call it impetuous childishness. For the residents of Yongsan, however, it can only mean one thing: a crisis.
Yongsan was - and perhaps still is - all about the river. The waterway is the source from which the former satellite city generated, and with which history took a downward turn. In the Joseon Era, Yongsan`s proximity to the Hangang (River) made it a port city, the gate to Seoul (then called Hanyang), the merchants stronghold. Once the origin of capitalism in Korea and the first satellite city of Seoul, it was the most international part of Seoul and its vicinity when it was designated and open market to foreigners and mission work was allowed. People of all nationalities poured in.
Perhaps herein lies the irony: in modern times, Yongsan`s geographical advantages, the very pride and asset of Yongsan, bound it as a military area, and the seat of foreign troops. As the first of its initiatives to reclaim Yongsan, the government chartered the National Museum of Korea in 1993 and opened it in 2005, the year of the museum`s 60th anniversary.
Get off at Yongsan station, and all you see is steel. Yongsan is not just any subway station; your train is just one of the many train cars that come, go, and leave for the military base. Multiple tracks extend on your front, back, and where you came from. Not long ago, for many adult males in Seoul, the mandatory military service started at Yongsan. If the time was right, if you came early in the dewy dawn, you could sight a train full of young men with close-cropped heads and morose expressions.
Today such depatures are hardly imaginable, as the trains all but went extinct. Gone is the dirt and grime and tears; Yongsan is now the starting point for high-speed KTX trains going to the Honam region. The new Yongsan Station`s size and height is big enough to house a shopping mall. The shopping area, I`Park Mall (formerly known as Space 9) sits atop Yongsan Station. The movie theater in the mall has 11 screens, including one IMAX screen. Next to the electronic market, the heaven-on-earth for gadget gurus, it is the next shopping Mecca of Yongsan.
The National Museum of Korea is a short bus ride away from the station. It is the head of all national museums in Korea, and the fortress of historical artifacts and artwork. The massive new structure encompasses six permanent exhibition halls, a children`s museum, three museum shops, a food court and a theater. The museum is seated among greenery, fronted by Gateway Pond and surrounded by Yongsan Family Park.It is a vast structure (sixth in size around the world), which would require at least a few visits to cover everything. Of course, it has to be big, as it is the symbol of reclaimed land. After the demolition of the former museum building (the former Joseon Governor General, a symbol of the Japanese occupation) in 1995, the museum had to be relocated to somewhere significant, symbolic. Yongsan`s former military land was perfect for this purpose: not only was it a long-lost loan to foreign military troops, but also the port of landing for the Sino-Japanese War.
The museum looks yet unpolished (you can plainly see the golf practice nets from one of the buildings), but its presence is immediate and inarguable. This month, the museum celebrates the one-year anniversary of its Yongsan era.
Since its opening in Oct. 28, 2005, the museum is still adjusting to the new surroundings and undergoing changes, especially after the inauguration of the new director, Kim Hong-nam, earlier this year. A bit of confusion is to be expected, but the content is indisputably Korea`s best. The most famous pieces are congregated at the museum, including numerous National Treasures. To take in all textbook favorites such as the Pensive Bodhisattva or the Gold Crown, it`s a good idea to take note of the locations of highlights before setting out. At two thousand won, the admission is a joke, compared to famous museums around the world.
On a sunny day, the family park is filled with inline skaters, bikers, and families on picnic. It is not difficult to sight couples on a stroll, especially in the cooler months. The government and Yongsan-gu is still debating what to do with Yongsan`s expected surplus land. While the future of the area remains uncertain, the construction of the National Museum and the vicinity is a sure step forward.
For the most part, Yongsan is still what it is: helicopters roar by above, cutting a striking line in the blue autumn sky. The sidewalks are barren, the scene in front of the train station still chaotic, suspicious, and overwhelming. Ministry of National Defense and the War Memorial are all located here, and military trucks are not difficult to sight.
But as the troops start moving out, things are about to change. And they must - if not to find meaning, then to make a living. On the way, shaking off the image as a military zone will be Yongsan`s assignment of the future, not only for itself, but also for the benefit of the nation that lives among ghosts of the past.
But for now, there isn`t anything we can do except to stay attentive with expectant and watchful eyes. With the relocation of the National Museum, the process of remaking Yongsan has already begun. It is an uncertain venture, but an exciting one nevertheless. After all, what comes after the wait of long and tortuous history will only be told by history itself.
Yongsan Electronic Market is directly accessible from Yongsan Station, Line 1 or Sinnyongsan Station, Line 4. I`Park Mall is connected to the Station. The National Museum is 150m towards Yongsan Family Park at Ichon Station Line 4, exit 2. Alternately, get off at Yongsan Station, Line 1 and take bus 0211 (green).
Written by Kim Meejung
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[2007-02-09 14:22 Input / 2011-04-18 17:16 Modify] Article source:Seoul Metropolitan Government Tourism Division