Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wangsimni: From pasture to 'gopchang' street

A butcher shop in the late Joseon period is seen in this photo on display at “Wangsimni Goes On” exhibition at Cheong Gye Cheon Museum.
                                                                    / Courtesy of Cheong Gye Cheon Museum

Press which was used for metal processing

The smoky smell from restaurants and street vendors that grill “gopchang” (intestines of cows or pigs) usually depicts a night scene of the Wangsimni street in Seoul. Better known as the “gopchang” district, Wangsimni is surrounded by uneven and curvy roads spanning the gigantic construction site of urban redevelopment projects. It’s a fatigued and disorderly part of Seoul metropolis.
Amid the rapid urbanization and modernization, the area has historically changed from horse pastures, farmlands and a domestic factory complex to a redevelopment site. The Cheong Gye Cheon Museum is showing the history of the area through the exhibition titled “Wangsimni Goes On” through Feb. 24 next year.
The exhibition displays some 130 items including the maps, machines, products used in Wangsimni factories along with the videos carrying the interviews of the native residents of the area. Also a recreated model of the 60-year-old restaurant “Daejungok” which was moved to Yeoksam-dong under the redevelopment project is installed.
Wangsimni literally means “go 10 more li (four kilometers).” In the ancient time, Buddhist monk Muhakdaesa was commissioned to find a site for the new capital by King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). Looking for the suitable place, the monk passed by the area and a farmer told him to go 10 more li to reach his destination — the southern foot of Mt. Bugak where Gyeongbok Palace is located.
During the early Joseon period, the area used to be vast horse pastures but after the Manchu war of 1636, the pastures were ruined and turned into farmlands and butcher shops.
In the Japanese colonial period, Wangsimni was installed with lines for electric trolleys and rapidly transformed into an industrial complex hosting machinery and textile factories. After the liberation in 1945, as people living in other regions massively moved to the capital, Wangsimni became home to the small-sized handicraft factories dealing with nacre and metal crafts and making costumes.
“Surrounded by the factory complex, ‘haejangguk’ (hangover soup) restaurants spontaneously mushroomed to provide soup for workers who mostly drank after the heavy working days. The restaurants were provided with fresh meat by the nearby livestock markets and the leftovers of the meats such as intestines were used to create the unique cuisine of ‘gopchang,’ becoming a trademark of the current face of Wangsimni,” the museum said in a press statement.
Such a historic tale of Wangsimni is told through the black and white photos and poems and novels depicting the scenes of the area in the 1950s-70s and music albums including songs and films describing the pathos of Wangsimni residents are shown at the exhibition.
Admission is free. For more information, call (02) 2286-3409.

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