“Whatever happens today will change future events. Create its own time line, its own reality. The future pivots around you, here, now” – The Doctor, Doctor Who (2005).
Anything regarding the future, listen to the best in the time travelling business. Yeap, The Doctor. Wait, this is supposed to be about Seoul and her future prospects, why am I quoting the Doctor? Well, there was one thing he knows best about one’s future: it happens today. Then, why Yongsan-gu? Why are we not using Songdo of the ambitious Korean Future City project? If not, what about the iconic Gangnam-gu, the historical economy turning point for this country? Why Yongsan-gu?
Well because Itaewon, the most un-Korean part of the nation is here.
The Korean past- the palaces and hanoks in Jongno-gu. Check.
The Korean present- the cool, refined hipster, Korean college vibe in Mapo-gu. Check.
The Korean future- Asian Pop Superpower!!!
NO. STOP. That wasn’t my point. Super Junior has nothing to do with this post. (Right… Miss Hoggy *tweedling her thumbs*)
My point being, the Korean future, in my opinion, is in the emerging multiculturalism that we can hear and breathe in Itaewon. Multiculturalism, the very feared word in homogeneous communities, most especially in late Joseon era. The fear of erosion of their cultural heritage forced isolation policies to be put in place with the idea of protection, most especially from the then aggressive Japanese expansionist (with very valid reasons). Whatever happened on the day where Joseon fell into foreign hands in early 1900’s, it spurred forward a whole lot of future events that went on to change the Korean Peninsula. Hello, Korean War.
The war did not just introduce us to two brothers who are wary of each other (Spoilers: they’re still not a family); it went on to introduce Korea a surge of new cultures from around the world in the name of friendship. The introduction of Yongsan Garrison of U.S 8th Army near Itaewon, opened the door to extensive English usage, for the first time in Korea. This little tidbit isn’t that interesting, though we all know what happened after this little introduction (*cough cough* lyrics in K-pop with amusing effects. Some may even say addictive.) What’s interesting is the introduction of a tiny little brigade called The Turkish Brigade.
Long story short, with some Turkish from the brigade decided to stay back after the war, they found a small but strong Muslim community here in Itaewon, filling up Islamic Street with yummy Middle Eastern goodies, mainly Pakistani, Malaysian and Turkish- based. And there I was, relishing in some awesome kebab in Salam, a Turkish restaurant owned by a Turkish chef and his Korean wife and baklava from a nearby Turkish bakery.
Is Itaewon the only multicultural enclave in Korea? It was once, but with the current economy boom and the popularity of Koreans as spouses (it’s true!! Especially Korean men), South Korea is turning into a melting pot of Asia. With what I see from Yongsan-gu, it’s definitely a foreseeable future.
Featured image, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.Facts: Itaewon: Main district of Itaewon is just a subway away. Take Line 6 to Itaewon, Exit 3. Salam and the Islamic district: Line 6 to Itaewon, Exit 3. From the exit, turn right and follow the signs to Seoul Central Mosque. Salam is just next to the mosque.