Ant Village… Not So Many Ants But Lots of Murals in Seoul
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 the Gaemi Maeul (개미마을), or the Ant Village covered in murals.
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. Just down the street from the popular art and music district of Hongdae, sits the unassuming Village of Ants.
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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 backed by the Seodaemun government to give this area a face lift.
This mural isn’t as popular as the Ihwa Mural Village which means there are far less people and it’s easier to get photos with the artistic pieces.
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. 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, aside from the murals the walk here 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 though, so for now the old houses and murals and people have some time in their mountainside village. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem the mural upkeep was taken into consideration so while the houses were already pretty old and falling apart, many of the murals are doing the same. Some are still vibrant and colorful while others just haven’t been maintained with much care. Walking in the quiet neighborhood with murals in this state make for a bit of a desolate feeling.
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 up the mountain side, only about 10 minutes and get off at the last stop. Walk back the way you came.
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