Seoul’s ‘moon village’ becomes a tourist trap

Guryong Village, the last slum in Gangnam, Seoul’s wealthiest neighborhood. (Yonhap)

Jason Basulto, a 27-year-old American tourist, visited Guryong Village, one of Seoul’s last remaining slums, in April this year. He had been curious about the not-so-shiny side of Seoul, like the basement houses featured in “Parasite.”

“The urban slums are visible not only in Korea but in many other countries, because the wealth gap is a global problem. But the scenery of Guryong village amid tall buildings was striking,” he said. declared.

For those interested in social issues, the village could be an interesting place to visit, he added.

It seems so.

On YouTube, there are a number of videos that take viewers on a virtual tour of the village, where rows of tattered shacks contrast with gleaming, high-rise apartment complexes just across the road.

Videos on YouTube showcasing a visit to Guryong Village.  (Youtube)

Videos on YouTube showcasing a visit to Guryong Village. (Youtube)

A clip describes the village as “a grim reality inside the world’s most advanced city”.

In another, a foreign YouTuber attempts to interview locals, asking them questions such as “do you have water and electricity here?”

The comment sections are filled with viewers expressing their surprise that such a place exists in upmarket Gangnam.

“Moon Village”

Located at the foot of Guryongsan, a hill in the Gaepo-dong of Gangnam, Guryong Village is one of Seoul’s last remaining slums, often referred to here as “moon villages” due to their mountainside location.

Moon villages began to form during Seoul’s rampant development in the 1970s and 1980s, during which the poor were pushed out of the city center to make way for large office buildings and apartments.

A narrow alley in the village of Guryong.  (Yonhap)

A narrow alley in the village of Guryong. (Yonhap)

The residents of Guryong are mostly squatters who were evicted from illegal homes in the Gangnam area before a massive construction boom transformed the area into Seoul’s equivalent of Beverly Hills.

At its peak, the village, which occupies some 320,000 square meters of land, had over 1,100 households. Today, around 600 people still live there, with 454 households having been relocated last year.

After the boom in real estate prices in Gangnam, Guryong has attracted a lot of attention as one of the last remaining plots of land for the construction of new houses.

But any development plan for Guryong has proven difficult, mainly due to disputes over compensation for landowners and villagers.

Last June, the city government approved a city-run developer’s plan to build 2,838 new homes there, 1,107 of which will be allocated to low-income households.

Seoul Housing & Communities Corp., the developer, offered public rental housing to those facing eviction, but villagers rejected it, demanding that they each receive a unit of the new apartment complexes that would be there. built – each likely to be worth millions of dollars.

A three-bedroom unit at Raemian Blestige, the apartment complex just across Guryong Village, last traded at 3.1 billion won ($2.2 million) at the end of the year. ‘last year.

Unlikely tourist attraction

The new interest in the Gangnam slum comes amid a global craze for Korean TV dramas and movies that often share an element of social criticism, portraying Korea as a society with growing economic polarization, injustices and other problems.

The dark story of Netflix sensation “Squid Game”, for example, has 456 desperate Koreans putting their lives on the line for a chance to win a fortune in a critique of inequality and brutal competition in South Korea. today.

The Oscar-winning film “Parasite” not only put Korean cinema in the global spotlight. He also drew media attention to the issue of poverty and the gap between the haves and have-nots here.

With the “banjiha” semi-basement houses, Guryong Village has somehow become a symbol of Korea’s wealth divide, a place where you can find real-life aspects of dystopian Korean shows.

“I wanted to highlight this forgotten place to make people think a little more about the world because there are rich and poor everywhere. I hope you all enjoy and think a little more about the details of Korea,” said said a YouTuber in his video, introducing Guryong Village.

Some villagers expressed discomfort with the attention.

“Our village is not a tourist place or a filming site. It is a place for us to live. Our livelihood should not be used to attract people’s attention,” said one of the residents, who wished to remain anonymous, in an interview with a local newspaper.

By Choi Jae-hee ([email protected])