Yesterday was the official celebration of 새마을운동Saemaeul Undong, the "new village program" of the seventies and early eighties in Korea by which the government modernized, electrified and macadamized, if you will, most of the country, and the countryside as well. The movement was the public face of strongman Park Chung-hee's infrastructure improvement program, which is recognized for its success in taking Korea from dirt-poor, backwards-ass feudalism to a fully industrialized First World economic powerhouse.
How disappointing, then, to read about Jongro-gu's plan to squelch the Saemaeul spirit of entrepreneurship by ridding Insa-dong of its 포장마차 pojang macha, the street vendors who line the street with their covered wagons.
The article, entitled Street vendors driven out of Insa-dong, does perhaps a better job explaining the position of the embattled vendors than it does explaining why the local government wants them gone. According to the article, "Jongno-gu Office cites passengers’ right to pleasant walking on less congested streets". That's it? Really?
Last time I visited Insa-dong was during Tanner's visit, and navigating the crowds was not an issue. But that was in the coldest part of January, so I went back on Saturday, under very pleasant weather conditions, to see how bad it was.
Hmm, what's what in the center of the bottom photo? An automobile? Why, isn't that illegal on this street on a Saturday? "The ward office plans to move Insa-dong’s 76 stalls to two designated spots as part of its plan to make the street car-free on weekdays as well as weekends." How about the ward office start by enforcing the laws currently on the books?
But what are talking about here, anyway? I didn't attempt to shoot every one of the 76 stalls, but here are a few of my better stills:
So, first of all, the crowding along Insa-dong-gil is quite manageable; and secondly, the stalls, far from being a hazard, are one of the charming and memorable things about the "Insa-dong shopping experience." I would urge the Jongno-gu powers-that-be not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
If they are serious about making Insa-dong a more traditional experience, they would do better to ban places like this: