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∙ Current position: Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki
∙ Ph.D. dissertation Neighborhood Shopkeepers in Contemporary South Korea: Household, Work, and Locality available online (E-Thesis publications a the University of Helsinki). For printed copies, please contact me by e-mail.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Book note: Valérie Gelézeau's Séoul, ville géante, cités radieuses

"In three years me and my boyfriend will be living in an omakotitalo."
I substituted Korean with English, but left the non-Korean word as I was told this line. It's Finnish for 'detached house'. Why was it said in Finnish? Because it would have made little sense in Korean, as detached houses (most often chut'aek, 住宅) have little status value, unlike omakotitalo in Finland.

Too bad my two years of French in high school a long time ago will not be enough to go through the French geographer Valérie Gelézeau's book Séoul, ville géante, cités radieuses, which is about the social and cultural processes that made apartment housing the middle class ideal of desirable, developed and modern housing. Here's at least a review of it by James Hoare at the Korean Studies Review page of the Korean Studies internet discussion list. The book would especially of interest to me, since my own neighborhood and its surroundings are characterized by the lack of high-rise apartment blocks (even though Kwanak-ku in Seoul has been "apartmentalizing" quickly in the last years).
From the review by James Hoare:
Park and those around him then encouraged such buildings for a number of reasons. They further assisted the great construction chaebol such as Hyundai, tying them in close to the regime. They provided housing for the large numbers who flocked to Seoul as a consequence of economic development, replacing more traditional-style buildings and shantytowns that had sprung up after the Korean War, when South Korea was too poor to afford anything else. Gelézeau also sees the development of the high-rises as an important part of Park's commitment to modernize South Korea. Perhaps drawing on his experience of Japan's Manchukuo experiment, Park equated the traditional with the countryside and the countryside with the backward. Not only should people move off the land, but they should also change the way that they lived. And the new blocks with their "Western"-style bathrooms and kitchens were a potent symbol of that modernity. But as so often happens when one probes into developments in Korea, the inspiration for the new blocks that began to appear from the mid-1970s came from Japan rather than from the West, despite the Western-sounding nyu t'aun (New Town) appellation that the Chamsil first mega-complex received. The chaebol built their blocks following what had become the standard modern Japanese layout, "LDK" - that is, a set of bedrooms around a "living, dining, kitchen" area.
And not to forget the distinction between rental apartments (imdae ap'at'û) and individually owned (or occupied by chônse tenancy) ones, here's one part of Joongang Ilbo's children in poverty series: "Ashamed to live in a rental apartment." (Update. These two links have ceased to work.)

For comparison, here's a story in Ohmynews about the so-called Journalist Village (Kijach'on) in Eunpyeong-gu in northern Seoul, where it's said to be "just like in the 1970s." (In Korea, an urban scenery as old as from 1970s is considered a rarity.) The story says that the neighborhood is a popular place to shoot films set in earlier decades, having escaped much of the real estate development (should that word have been put in quotation marks?). Now the metropolitan goverment wants to redevelop the area, but the residents are against the non-voluntary government-led project.

Photograph ⓒ2004 김대홍, from Ohmynews.
A surprisingly non-Korean-looking house in the "Journalist Village."

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