Sunday, April 24, 2011

Street vendors driven out of Insa-dong


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.

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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:

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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:

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7 comments:

Foreigner Joy said...

Yes it won't be the same. Is it possible for us foreign folk to start a petition to stop this? Or are we just helpless?

Charles Montgomery said...

LOL... brilliant..

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Are they banning all street vendors? I think we should vote to keep our favourites - the taffy lollipop guy can stay, but the pirated DVD guy can go.

조안나 said...

It can get a little crowded, I'll admit it, but it would be sad to see the street vendors go. They add so much charm to the area.

Chris in South Korea said...

Presuming this is just like the other 'busts' done around Myeong-dong, they'll be back in a couple weeks. Either that, or we'll hear about lawsuits against the government for preventing someone from working, or about a refused cart refund, etc....

Tuttle said...

FJ and JA: I thought about appending a certain easy-to-find email address but don't want to get in trouble with the "foreigners-can't-participae-in-political-activity" clause of the visa rules.

If I were some other guy I would urge petition-type or even individual-type action along those lines (we can express opinion to government agencies, but not activate).

To clarify, the vendors would be corraled at the bottom of Insa-dong-gil, which the article correctly describes as a tomb. It totally changes the atmosphere, for the worse!

Charles: I assume you are laughing at my dig at a certain Seattle-based coffee chain...

Chris: I don't know if it's a "bust" or what, but the powers haven't done anything yet. Surely most of these folks live pretty close to the edge, so it wouldn't take long to collapse them.

Chris said...

I missed this post somehow. What a crazy idea. When I read the referenced article, I have a hard time seeing the actual problem. I guess you'd need to do a proper survey, but the anectodotal interviews, indeed the Tuttle's own observations, nobody wants these vendors to go. Even if you plan to abolish all street vendors, seems like Insadong would be very last place to go, or would merit an excemption. Just crazy.