The Dark Sides of Popular Tourist Sites

Ghost stories, sex scandals, massacres, and intrigue from the airport city of Incheon to the trendy alleys of Ikseon-dong. There’s a dark story behind these places that the tourism organizations don’t want you to know about.

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Notes

There are tidbits of dark history and alleged hauntings all over Korea

The point here is not to discourage visitors to these places, but rather provide more information, even though dark, that’s often overlooked or purposely pushed aside.

Incheon

  • Travel to Korea (usually) starts in Incheon. However…
    • Sep. 15, 1950: Battle of Incheon
      • Site of early turning point in Korean War
      • North Korea had more ground troops than SK and the UN
      • Seoul had fallen on June 28 (First Battle of Seoul; see Han River bridge episode)
      • Reconnaissance was made of Incheon Harbour
        • discovered and reported on NK’s artillery on Wolmido, another popular tourist site
        • reconnaissance team was discovered, the North attacked, the team fended them off to deliver the intel
      • Sep. 10: US planes dropped napalm on Wolmido
      • Over next few days, bombardments were made on Wolmido
      • Incheon surprised NK; it was successful
      • Operation Chromite was launched to cut the North Korean forces
      • Second Battle of Seoul
    • March, 2017: Kidnapping & murder
      • 17 year old Kim kidnapped an 8 year old girl
        • Girl was in a playground around 12:40 and 13:00, trying to call mother; they did not know each other
        • Kim offered her phone
        • Kim lured the girl home
        • Kim stabbed and strangled girl, dismembered her body, hid parts in two trash bags thrown into roof water tank
        • Girl was reported missing by parents
        • Investigations led to Kim’s arrest; she claimed she did not remember killing the girl
        • Discovered Kim had accomplice: Park, 18 years old
          • They met on social media
          • Park pushed Kim to kill, perhaps knowing Kim suffered from depression, anxiety, and auditory hallucinations and thought she was easy to manipulate
        • Kim texted Park: ‘I’m going hunting.’
        • Kim gave Park part of girl’s body
        • Incheon District Court gave Kim 20 years in prison for abduction and murder; Park was give life imprisonment

Jeju-do

  • Travel to Jeju (usually) starts in Jeju City. Just east is Bukchon
    • Jeju was unhappy with the elections set to take place in May 1948
    • the Jeju Uprising began
    • Jan. 17, 1949: Jeju rebels killed two soldiers near the village
      • villagers found and brought the bodies to nearest military (battalion) headquarters
      • battalion killed the villagers
      • soldiers were sent to Bukchon
      • soldiers burned homes looking for the rebels
      • approximately 1000 villagers were forced into a school field
        • village head of security was killed
        • groups of villagers were rounded up and shot
          • approx. 300 mostly men, but also women and children were killed
        • generations of families were killed, ending their lines 
      • local police officer begged for the killings to stop
      • reports/testimonials at the time said the killings weren’t only revenge, but the commanding officers wanting young officers to get used to killing
      • later called Village of Widows

Cheonggyecheon

  • Key watercourse in Seoul from early Joseon
    • initially seasonal brook that helped pass run off from the northern mountains
    • expanded into a stream in 1412
    • key area for merchants; remained that way for centuries
    • parts of stream were covered in early 20th century (sanitation, flood control, etc.)
    • 1970s: elevated highway was built, covering stream
      • commercial district thrived
    • 2002: Mayor Lee Myung-bak’s restoration project
      • believed it increase development and area economy
      • many approved, especially the gentry and property owners
    • Opposition came mostly from tenant-merchants and street vendors
      • tenant-merchants feared rent hikes and forced relocation
        • made the strongest protest/opposition 
        • interdependence of industry was a concern: button/zipper vendors being forced to move meant clothing vendors would also be forced to move
        • many closed, ending family businesses 
      • street vendors faced the biggest hurdles
        • many were illegal
        • given short term use of (now gone) Dongdaemun stadium
        • abrupt loss of jobs
    • today, Cheonggyecheon attracts Seoulites and domestic/foreign tourists
      • lined with buildings and coffee shops, the rents and prices of which the previous tenants could never afford

Jeonju

  • Historical city, the birthplace of the Yi Royal Family, epicentre of Korean cuisine, famed for makgeolli street, and hanok village. However…
    • Dec. 30, 2019: 60 million won goes missing
      • Tree of Hope is erected every Christmas near Nosong-dong community centre
      • people donate to the less fortunate
        • an unknown person (only known to be a man, perhaps in his 50s or 60s) has been leaving large donations under the tree since 2000; first donation was almost 600,000won, brought to the centre by an elementary student; total to date: 600+ million won (538,000USD) 
      • 10am: donor called centre to inform of drop off point; money was already gone when centre workers arrived
      • investigation, including info from a witness, traced suspects to Chungcheongnamdo
      • suspects learned about donations from Youtube; they waited at centre for a person to drop off a piggy bank; they saw the donor put the bank down by the centre and leave; they took the bank from there
      • the donor had to speak with police, but they agreed to keep his identity secret

Bukchon

  • Originally colloquially known as “Yangban Village”
  • Hanoks are not the original Joseon Dynasty ones but the improved versions built during the colonial period
    • Built by Korea’s first real estate developer Jeong Segwon
      • Started after returning from Tokyo (1919)
    • Influx of population to Seoul
      • Japanese lived mostly south of Cheonggyecheon
      • Built the hanok village to protect Koreans from Japanese encroachment
    • Chopped up the lands held by the nobles
    • Modern hanoks
      • Consolidated into rectangles
      • Modern kitchens and bathrooms
    • Ended up building around 20% of the houses in Seoul during the colonial period
    • Was heavily involved in the independence movement
      • Main sponsor of the Korean Language Society
      • (1942) arrested and tortured
    • Ghost stories

    Ikseon-dong/Jongno 3-ga

    • Was the land of the Daewongun’s family 
    • Originally subdivided by the Japanese around late 1920s
      • Jeong Segwon turned it into a hanok village
    • Part of a large prostitution area after liberation
      • Originated there and spread
        • Tapgol Park to Jongno 5-ga (“Jongsam”)
      • Operation Butterfly 나비작전 (Sept 27th, 1968)
        • Seoul Mayor Kim Hyeon-ok
          • Was visiting the construction site of a Sewooon Shopping Center when he was approached
          • Immediately went to the Jongno office and called an emergency meeting with officials and police
        • “Butterfly” – person looking for a brothel
        • Get rid of the flowers by scaring off the butterflies
        • Broadcast on radio and TV
        • 100 volt lights were set up all along Jongsam Alley entrances
          • City officials and plain clothed police approached men entering the area and interrogated them
        • By early October, scared off all the butterflies
      • Prostitutes left the area but busted up everything on the way out
        • Bussed to camptowns
      • Property prices instantly doubled
      • Cultural significance 
        • THIS is considered the turning point in the post-war generation
        • Nihilism to positivity about South Korea as an up-and-coming powerhouse
        • An elderly poet who survived writes that in the ruins of the 1950s, only alcohol in Myeong-dong and a woman in Jong-sam were the author’s hometown.
    • The rest of the 20th century, was pretty much ignored as a quiet poor neighborhood
      • Home to the LGBTQ community
      • Hanoks deteriorating
      • Slated to be razed and turned into apartments from early 2000s to as recently as January 2018
      • Turned into commercial area
        • Many businesses gutted the buildings, so they only have hanok facades–Disneyfied
        • Will likely have to be demolished after those businesses inevitably fail
        • Gentrification, noise, and tourism have pushed out the residents because the rent has become some of the hottest in town
          • Complaints that it mostly contains foreign restaurants and cafes
          • The food in said restaurants is not known to be good–just for social media

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