Ihwa Village is a controversial excursion to write a blog post about. There is currently a cold war playing out between selfie hungry visitors and those who call the area home. Obviously, as a human being, you want to side with the inhabitants. But, as someone who loves to look at street art and loves to put money into Korean crafts and stores, you can also see well meaning visitors’ sides.
The issue arises again and again in Korea and makes me wonder: Can’t we tourists just stop being assh*les all the time?
So What’s the Controversy?
Imagine living in a sleepy little village for most of your life. It’s underdeveloped and poor, but it’s home. One day a group of well meaning individuals decide to paint some colorful street art on the walls surrounding your neighborhood. It’s cute, sure, you might even like the whimsy at first. It’s supposed to bring tourism and money to your neck of the woods. Everything sounds great.
And then, bam! Your village in overrun with loud mouth camera hogs desperate to get the same shot that they’ve already seen online. They’re noisy. They leave trash. They take pictures of you like you’re a zebra at the zoo. Might bug you a little, right?
Urban beautification and public art area not always a good things for everyone. Last year, five residents, who probably hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time due to tourists, decided to take matters into their own hands. They took gray paint and covered up several large murals, including the iconic daisy stairs:
One of the men apparently lived right next to the stairs. And, I get it, the fury had built up for a long time. They complained of tourists coming at all hours of the night, yelling, and being general deviants.
So what can be done? How can both residents and tourists enjoy this type of public art and the possible benefits?
In my opinion, I fully believe we can all enjoy this style of art but it would take two separate things: government intervention and tourists using their manners. Most people can be taught or reminded to use their manners and visit these areas with respect. Don’t throw trash on the ground, don’t yell, wait patiently in line to take a photo and purchase items from the area to support the businesses. All of this would happen with every tourist in a dream world, but let’s face it, some people are just assh*les. Not everyone will ever treat tourist areas with respect because they don’t respect anything.
That’s where government intervention comes in.
- Set up laws that allow tourism only during certain hours. If someone comes in after hours taking pics and yelling, call the police. Then, the police actually have to do something.
- Put trashcans and recycle bins in areas of high tourist traffic, like Ihwa. And afterwards, fine people for throwing trash on the ground.
- Paid security can keep an eye on people: telling them to clean up and be quiet and don’t take pictures of people without permission. It would create jobs in the area as well. Right now there are signs in place for these things, but who listens to a sign? A physical human being making an “x” with their arms would be a lot more potent.
- What do you think? Do you have other ideas?
Korea is always promoting itself as a worthwhile tourist destination in Asia, and I know that it is. I love going to tourist places here, but Korea has to protect itself, its people and its tourists. How long will it be before residents in this area turn violent from police inadequacy and government indifference? Easy things can be done, and if done properly, everyone can be happy.
And in the meantime, please visit Ihwa with the understanding that this is area is home to the residents. Treat it like it’s your home too.
Read more here:
Like murals and street art? Check out these other great places in Seoul.
Directions: From Visit Korea | From Hyehwa Station (Line 4), head straight out of Exit 2 towards Marronnier Park. Turn left at the park, past the Arco Arts Center and continuing until Dongsung-gil. Make a right turn onto Dongsung-gil and then a left onto Guldari-gil. Following Guldari-gil will take you up to Naksan Park, and continues on through the heart of Ihwa-dong Mural Village before turning into Yulgok-ro 19-gil, making its famous P-turn and running back down to the southern end of Daehakno. Look for signs pointing to Naksan Park and the Mural Village.
Address: 6-18 Ihwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul