Toeing the in-between: An excursion into Seochon
The area directly west of Gyeongbok Palace ― also known as ``Seochon’’ ― is most noted for its traditional dining hotspots coupled with its long history of cultural landmarks.
Efforts to preserve the area have been launched in past years, including the government’s most recent plan to protect 600 of the area’s ``hanok’’ (traditional Korean houses). But even so, branches of gentrification and redevelopment are tangled throughout.
Seochon, a place often described by its local residents to be simply neighborhood upon neighborhood tightly packed together, has found a way to combine alternating enclaves of modern design with picturesque mom-and-pop stores. The areas in between the neighborhoods have become new centers for creativity, and one such oddly idyllic street, separating Tongui-dong and Changseong-dong, is the perfect place for a day out.
A small white store packed to the ceiling with books and knickknacks calls out to passersby. Gagarin, a bookshop specializing in used art books, independent publications and kitsch from the West is an eclectic treasure for innovative minds.
Though the typical novels and art books can be found, this small, barely two-year-old shop is best for its selection of small-time zines, brought to you straight from the writers and artists who created them.
``We carry a lot of books that are rarely found in general stores,’’ said Cha Seung-hyun, an employee at Gagarin. The wares, rather than
``We can’t take everything, because our space isn’t large,’’ Cha said. But the store takes what it can and a commission is given to their contributors, who pay a small fee (20,000 won for a year) to have their work sold at the shop.
The packed and charming nook carries information ― some in English ― on design movements and artists, as well as a random assortment of shoes, some jewelry, a typewriter and more.
Out front, a shopping cart is filled with various posters, flyers and
The space was first created by a group of artists who worked in the area, to create an outlet to share information. Though today the clientele is still comprised of predominantly art-related persons, Cha said neighborhood residents and others will come for the odd find as well.
Gagarin currently has no website, but is open daily from noon to 7 p.m. Call (02) 724-9005 for more information.
If you’re looking to cool down with an iced beverage, try chic Goghi. The café, bakery and gallery offers homemade, fresh goods from walnut-topped cookies to delectable chiffon cakes.
Located on an odd corner on a small alley down from the main road, Goghi stands out with its modern architecture among rows of residential housing. Visitors, beware. The tiny half-door displayed in the window is, indeed, not an entrance. That would be at the right side of the building, an entrance suspiciously like those found inside apartment buildings.
Inside the cool interior, sandwiched between a painted concrete ceiling and gray concrete floor, is simply-designed wooden furniture braced with spots of lush greens in the form of broad-leaved plants and succulents. Pastel yellows and faded greens help create a soothing ambiance.
An iced Americano might seem a bit steep at 6,500 won, but the café offers something coffee-lovers have probably found amiss in Korea: two espresso shots to the drink. Brunch, ``patbingsu’’ (shaved ice with sweetened red beans and ice cream) and hand-drip coffees are also available.
If you’re feeling that sweet tooth tugging at you even after a dessert, Goghi offers baking classes every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Learn to make three kinds of cookies or some of the shop’s signature cakes. Classes cost 70,000 won, times are accommodating and one to three people can be accepted for a class. For more information call the café at (02) 734-4907 or visit www.goghi.kr.
Though cafes dominate the scene here, a few restaurants are solidly staking their ground. Western food began to make its way into the area in the 1990s, and both pizza restaurants and burger joints can be found.
The surrounding area is spotted with galleries that showcase a range of both popular and independent artists. Though Factory Gallery and Palais des Seoul are the most visible and well-known on the street, numerous other galleries dot the narrow, twisting alleyways.
Interesting architecture can be hidden within these unassuming spaces, such as the 14-year-old Zein Xeno (www.zeinxeno.kr). The gallery itself has a slightly uncertain, assorted feel to it, but looking up, one is greeted with whitewashed beams reminiscent of a hanok mixed amid modern wires and technology.
Kim Young-kyu, an advisor to the gallery, said the owner had renovated the place and added the beams when the building was bought years ago. He admits that though business is slow these days (``Maybe 10 people or so a week’’), the gallery continues to adapt with the times and stay competitive.
``A lot of new galleries have arrived in the area in the past year or so,’’ Kim said. ``Even in the past six months, you can see a lot of change, coming in over here from Samcheong-dong.’’
The saturation of art spaces in the neighborhood is evident, with gallery upon gallery each less than a stone’s throw apart from each other.
KunstDoc Project Space (www.kunstdoc.com) is comprised of an institute and gallery that focuses on alternative and experimental contemporary art. While the first floor is a high-ceilinged affair that offers the echoes of a large-scale museum, the second floor is barely six feet high and is oddly cut out to fit the shape of the building. While the downstairs is open and impersonal, the upstairs is conversely cozy.
Next Door Gallery (literally right next door to Kunst, www.nextdoorgallery.co.kr) features contemporary work that can be taken in within 10 steps. Across the street on the Tongui-dong side, more experimental art can be found at Space 15th (www.space15th.org) while a beautifully built hanok houses classy artwork at Ryugaheon (www.ryugaheon.com).
To get to the area, take subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station, exit four. Make a u-turn upon exiting and take a left at the intersection. Walk straight and take another left at the traffic lights ― the short street and its alleys are sure to hold a gem for everyone