Seoul Mountain Housing: going, going, gone…

철거 cheol-ko) means demolish. And this word was sprayed in red on many of the little houses built up on our local mountain. Housing is cheaper on the mountainside, but now most of the houses have been demolished to make way for the growing middle-classes desperate for apartment accommodation. I paid particular attention to one house as it was the film location for the home of the poor heroine in one of my favourite Korean dramas What Happened in Bali (SBS 2004.) I’ve mentioned this house several times and I was worried how long it would survive before the bulldozers arrived- and now they finally have. :(

The Little Bali House is gone

Here is a still from the drama What Happened in Bali showing the house and the view as it was back in the winter of 2004 when the drama was filmed. There’s a community of houses to the left below the house.

Below we see the character Lee Soo-jung (played by Ha Ji Won) doing laundry outside her home on a snowy winter’s day in 2004. To the right is the building for the outside toilet and in the background we can see a huge apartment complex being constructed.

And here’s the house in ‘real life’ in April 2010 when we first stumbled over the location of the drama. Back then a large open area had already been flattened off and construction work had begun. The apartments that we can see under construction in the drama are now complete.


In February 2011 in another walk up on the mountain the word 철거 (cheol-ko ‘demolish’) is splattered in red spray all over the little homes all over the mountain. Cranes have appeared close behind the little ‘Bali House’ while the sign on the now pink door hopes for good fortune for the Lunar New Year.

By September 2011 apartments blocks are being constructed even nearer the Bali House and many of the other mountain houses in the area have been demolished.

January 2013 The Bali House is gone. In the background only the building for the outdoor toilets battles on whilst the newly constructed uniform apartments sparkle in the background. The apartments are not quite finished but the surrounding mountain area is already being ‘done up’ in anticipation for the new apartment residents.

In the foreground we can see the remains of coal used for heating this type of house. (apartments and modern houses use gas for underfloor ‘ondol’ heating)  Furniture and belongings are strewn around too – but it’s the small red container of kochujang red chili paste that kills me. And I wonder where the previous tenants have gone.

Construction work goes on all around the city to meet the demand for new and modern flats. It seems that everyone wants to live in the capital. But new apartments are a lot more expensive, so where do those that can’t afford this kind of accommodation go? They’ve already been pushed up onto the mountainside, so I can only imagine that the next step is to leave the city. This is a problem that has been going on for years and I see here that Catholic missionaries in Seoul have been working with people who are in this predicament as cheaper affordable housing is disappearing before our eyes.

Here another fragile home trembles alone in the shadows of encroaching modernity gleaming in sunlight. I think this picture says it all.

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