[ Once Upon a Time in iTaewon ]
there are three stories to the beginnings of iTaewon figured in the origin of its name, two of bloody tribal conquest and the other of a picturesque hill full of pear trees . and it turns out both to be true, coming one after the other, according to the old man collecting cardboard boxes in the area for sale into recycling :
neighboring invasion forces crossed the narrow sea in the 16th Century who took base on a temple here seem to have raped female monks . after they retreated on changing tide of war : the children born in religion were gathered to be raised in the “house of the foreign-born”, along with surrendered foreigners who couldn’t make it back, offering a similar translation of the area of “people from another land” . iTaewon was a larger region then comprising North-Western part of NamSan (South Mountain) near today’s HooAmDong . soonafter people came to plant pear trees in today’s region of iTaewon and inns for touring public officials grew, amounting to an area of “official inn of great pears”.
then again over the turn of 20th Century Japanese forces were stationed nearby in a vast orchard of pine trees – which American Forces took over after the war . inhabitants who were living in this area between current NamYoungDong to U.S. South Post were pushed out into iTaewon .
so the whole area South-West of NamSan pretty much relates to strangers and foreign things . during the hard post-war years of the 60’s rations flowed from the base into the into NamDaeMoon (South Gate) Market for locals and to HanKang (Han River) Mansion where Japanese residents were increasing in ratio with recovering relation and mounting business with Japan . thus the birth of “DoKKaeBi ShiJang” Ghost Markets which still exist today in their original spots, where now fewer locals come for convenient proximity than for precious items .
over the 70’s private merchants opened small shops in iTaewon catering to neighboring U.S. Base, developing into a place to buy bootleg for-export apparel and custom-made suites . as the Won started to gain strength G.I.’s stayed in base but with increasing handcraft 80’s saw Japanese tourist hop over to buy fake watches and custom leather suits for ladies . then bus-loads of Chinese tourists came in the 90’s to see what the heck it was all about .
all-the-while, muslim population has been slowly forming since the participation of U.N. Forces in the Korean War . and at the height of South Korea’s Middle-Eastern “Boom” (where laborers & technicians sailed over to work for fortune in straining weather), today’s Central Mosque was built in 1976 on the hill where many Arab merchants lived – the site provided by then-President Park, and built by donation from several Islamic nations .
this then, was unquestionably the ideal arena for the eventual coming-out of gays and later, transexuals in the 70’s . for iTaewon was left alone for G.I.’s – then looked upon as saviour and protector – to wonder as desired, while the rest of the country was held in tight grip by the military regime .
[ iTaewon Today ]
in the post-bubble Millennium most shops are still there but the people have changed .
better quality products with all-sorts-of designs from local brands has cut the need to buy clothes in iTaewon, plus the real wholesale markets with more flashy buildings in DongDaeMoon (East Gate) has lured bargain-seeking fashionistas away . still, some business have a foot-hold here :
- large-size clothes AND shoes
- custom-made shirts
- bags and luggage
as early as the 70’s the first fried chicken outlet was open in around today’s OutBack SteakHouse and small independant cosmopolitan restaurants have been popping up in iTaewon steadily while other area such as downtown MyungDong and new KangNam has been stocking up on international branches and fusion food .
Arabs and Africans have an absolute foothold here, on the Central Mosque hill and over as far as BoGwangDong short of the Han River, like Russians do across the main train station in the port city of Busan (Pusan).
in the daytime the main iTaewon road stretching from the West Entrance over from South Post to YongSan Hotel to the East is busy with shoppers while the alley behind Hamilton Hotel serves even Koreans out to enjoy almost-cosmopolitan cuisine . then come nightfall the lights go up across Hamilton and alleys behind the Fire Station where once a lucrative Intenational Red Light District – now turned Seoul’s mecca of LGBT comes alive . gay life in Seoul – a no-no amidst military rule held from post-war days – where hidden at night in seedy alleys downtown in the printing district, moved here when star-status bar owners relocated in the 80’s .
[ Future of iTaewon ]
one more year to go until 2010: The Year We Make Contact, iTaewon is caught big-time smack in the middle of three changes set by the government :
- relocation of all Northern U.S. Bases to PyongTaek by 2012, eventually enlarging current Camp Humphreys
- formation of International Culture Zones in iTaewon
- reDevelopment of YongSan, whose Ku-sector iTaewon is a small part of
concerning  above the relocation process is ever delayed from original plans due to different views from changing administrations .
as part of  above, YongSanKu released in January 27th 2008 ambitious plans to develop the whole iTaewon area into a multi-cultural theme-zone . all expatriate and Koreans alike welcome this but a few doubtful points :
- only the alley behind Hamilton Hotel been given project dates of 2008 and no dates on the rest .
- naming of some projected areas are dubious such as (clockwise from West): West of Hamilton Hotel as ‘Netherland Street’, further rear of Hamilton as ‘China Town’, East of iTaewon Hotel as ‘Swiss Street for Banking’, across the road South towards HanNamDong as ‘Spain Street: Festival Arena’, just East of JaeilPlanning glass building as ‘French Quarters in apparel’ and behind the Central Mosque towards SoonCheonHyang Hospital as ‘iTaly Street for antiques’.
all above will suck everything American away from this once jolly street, and bring in richer Korean families into new modern apartments rebuilt (though NOT high-rises due to height restrictions in NamSan area) from this rather still slumber neighborhood . no doubt these popular but small restaurants will sell-out when real-estate value will soar .. so it remains to be seen if the iTaewon we so much love will still exist in reality come the second technology revolution in South Korea .
if you are worried about all the melting-pot of restaurants there are already other areas such as the Trendy ApGuJong although more Japanese, posh Rodeo Drive, rather recent formation of SeoRae Maul (Village) on the French hill at the entrance to BanPo and further South to the satelite city of BunDang where European alley is formed amidst endless rows of futuristic high-rise apartments .
let’s ponder about this for a moment ..
– February 2009 –
( September 2012 Update between Typhoons Bolaven and Sanba )
as noted above : two large-scale real estate development gradually under way in YongSan-Ku ( in South Korea larger cities are first divided into ‘Ku’ then ‘Dong’ )
- first of the controversial (local leased store demonstated to end in death-by-fire) re-building around YongSan KTX Train Station, mostly of business store-fronts,
- then a whole demolish-and-rebuilding of older apartments into new high-tech high-rise apartments (yes, seems no end to this as living standards improve dramatically) of the Western expat hill of HanNam-Dong and Arab dwelling around BoGwang-Dong,
then another two regional developments in iTaewon (which is a small part of YongSan) to boost local store sales :
- behind Exit 1 of iTaewon Subway Station i.e., alley rear of Hamilton Hotel : promotional developement of the up-hill North-West alley into an international restaurant zone, of which has become quite successful with all palates,
- and now this Month the once-dead alley behind Subway Exit 4 has been reborne : speculated since about two years ago after the new YongSan-Ku regional admiinstration Office has been built in shiny glass . alley leading from the North end of this building – home to Arirang Taxi serving USFK – originally blocked from the down-hill South-West alley from African Alley, has been open-through . this is the hottest alley in iTaewon now, with new boutiques opening along-side older restaurants, all small .