Ant Village… not so many ants
Having lived just down the road from Hongje-dong for about four years, and having taught a student there for two years, it was surprising that I’d never heard of this street lined with student paintings until this year. Where it is situated pretty much ensures that people wouldn’t just stumble upon it, unless you’re an avid hiker and you’re headed to Mt. Inwang, so the articles that get written up every few months in this magazine or that always give very good directions. I convinced Jae-oo, who is very much a homebody when he isn’t playing concerts somewhere, to go with me since it was only a bus ride away.
The area gets its name from the hardworking people that live here. Living on the side of a mountain, or a daldongnae, isn’t easy, especially in the winter. Some of these families have lived here since the 50s and they’ve stuck it out cold winter after cold winter in houses hardly updated since they’ve moved there. Gathering information from a few well written articles, it seems the paintings were done in August of 2009 by some well meaning students 128 volunteers and the Seodaemun government to give this area a facelift.
Without the murals the village probably wouldn’t make it on to most peoples’ must see list of Seoul, but with the murals it brings people who wouldn’t otherwise see this pre-modern Seoul area. Besides looking at the murals I noticed quite a few houses that still have their bathroom outside their house. There was a creek running directly under one house and it made me wonder how this very rainy, rainy season affected this family. As most of the articles suggest behind the murals the walk can be very nostalgic taking you back to a, some say, simpler time. Personally, it wasn’t nostalgia it was worry for the residents of this poor mountainside village. If one rich company decided to come in here, as often happens in Seoul to the poorer older class’ neighborhoods these people would lose their homes of over 40 years for some sort of apartment high rise or villa and most people wouldn’t bat an eye. It seems there are some restrictions holding developers back in this area currently, so for now the old houses and murals and people have some time in their mountainside village.
Getting there was pretty easy: Go to Hongje Station and catch the number 7 local bus between exits 1 and 2 outside the KFC. Take the bus all the way the mountain side, only about 10 minutes and get off at the last stop. Walk back the way you came.