≡ Menu

Cheongyecheon – The “Stream of Pure Ravine”?

 

I thought about doing an indepth posting about Cheongyecheon and its restoration but have instead elected to post this old Korean Republic article that I found while looking through an old photo album (Thanks FD).  The article is entitled “Good Riddance…and yet – ‘Stream of Pure Ravine’ Slowly Flowing Into Realm of Memories.” (Korean Republic, Nov. 18, 1958)

One signpost in Seoul you can read with your eyes closed is Chunggyechun – the Stream of the Pure Ravine. The deep, cloying whiff exuding from this muddy stream has been an odor that any Seoulite remembers from his days in primary school.

More than 500 years old, this stream has been a reminder of many things that happened on both sides of it – not in the manner of historians’ tales with their meaningless dates and esoteric anecdotes. Its few remaining stone bridges have been traveled by vehicles from four-manborne seda chairs to their four-wheeled gas-driven offspring and have long been sentimental curios to all Seoulites.

Since ambitious Gen. Yi Sung Kye picked Seoul as the capital city for his newly founded Yi dynasty, the stream has flowed through the heart of Seoul, sandwiched between Jongno and Eulchiro and torn between abuse and frowns.

Soon, this odor-binding signpost with all its merits and demerits will be no more as the currently-progressing highway projects comes to an end. And, together with it will go the old, bent men who have predicted thousands of futures from thousands of palms along the stream. Also, the little boys with their scrawny hands who have had what they will sometimes remember as the best years of their livings, shining shoes for men leaning against the bridge railings.

This will also mean the loss of a fairyland playground for urchins who “fished” for the fish there never were after a summer showed added a torrent to the dirty water and spirited its malodor away – or who sledded over it after it was coated with ice.

All these will go by 1960 when the entire length of the Stream of the Pure Ravine – that has never been pure – will be covered up as part of the City Plan.

The second phase of this work, expected to end before the end of this year, will cover it up from Gwanggyo to Changgyo. The entire project costs 2.6 billion hwan in Seoul City appropriations and another 1.3 billion hwan in aid materials, including cement, steel, and lumber.

I think this is the money quote:

When the inevitable stream of automobiles skids over this stream, old timers will demand: “Do you remember the beautiful river that used to run underneath this street?”

Here is a link to the reasons professed for the restoration of the stream. Also, looking back at the past, is Gust of Popular Feeling’s piece entitled “A Herd of Jostling Hippopatamuses.”
Apologies for the photo but could not chance removing it from the album.

  • mazef

    Let’s hope THE MAN can accomplish on the Four River Projects and the Han River Renaissance project what HE accomplished on Cheongye-cheon. Exciting post, Robert.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com setnaffa

    “Do you remember the beautiful river that used to run underneath this street?”

    Wow. It’s as though the writer in the 1850s could see the heart of Koreans very clearly…

    And yet, it’s the tendency all people have… It’s called “nostalgia”…

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    Just re-viewed “Obaltan”, the 1961 classic, in which there is a chase scene that goes through the subterranean labyrinth of the river while the construction of the overhead highway was still in progress.

  • hamel

    Sperwer: is THAT where that was filmed? I had no idea. I have seen that movie twice. What a classic. A pity nobody under 40 in Korea knows it.

    가자~가자아~

  • http://www.biblegateway.com setnaffa

    Sperwer, did you like it because of the “gritty realism” of a crappy post-Armistice economy or the portrayal of GIs as consumers of the sister’s innocence? Or, like me, did you think it was just another film designed to depress the viewers?

    Don’t think most Koreans liked it, based on a short sample (4×40+ Koreans knew about the film but had never seen ity and had no interest); but it wasn’t a big hit overseas, either… As far as I can tell, it kinda went along with the whole “US Hegemony” schtick… And didn’t foresee the economic growth the ROK has seen…

    OTOH, I do agree Korea would be a lot better off without Room Salons, Prostitutes, or guys willing to urinate in public right in front of the Shilla Hotel at 7PM on a Sunday evening… For cryin’ out loud!

  • http://populargusts.blogspot.com/ bulgasari

    The 1946 film ‘Hurrah for Freedom’ (자유 만세) also features a chase scene where the independence fighter hides under a bridge (it looks like Gwanggyo, the same pictured above). I’d seen Obaltan years ago, but that was before the restoration of Cheonggyecheon became big news, so I never realized that scene was shot there. I just posted some screenshots here:
    http://populargusts.blogspot.com/2010/05/cheonggyecheon-in-films.html

    As for Obaltan, it was considered by Korean critics in the 1990s to be the ‘best’ Korean film ever made…

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    Sperwer, did you like it because of the “gritty realism” of a crappy post-Armistice economy or the portrayal of GIs as consumers of the sister’s innocence? Or, like me, did you think it was just another film designed to depress the viewers?

    . As far as I can tell, it kinda went along with the whole “US Hegemony” schtick… And didn’t foresee the economic growth the ROK has seen…

    Few if any people in 1961 foresaw Korea’s layer phenomenal economic growth.

    I didn’t think that the film actually made much of the US hegemony trope that later became such a staple of Korean opinion of all stripes. Of course, the “hero”s” sister is depicted as being reduced to prostitution by the impovrishment in which the family lives, but neither their impovrishment or her prostitution are attributed to the ensnarement of Korea in the US-dominated world capitalist order; it’s just presented as a grim fact of life with which they have to struggle and for which, in the particular case of the sister, no elf-righteous moralisms are deployed against either te d\sister or her customers. It’s a film about which use of the word “like” seems otiose. I thought it was interesting as a piece of filmmaking, for its graphic images of 1960 Korea and for its illumination of the shaping events and the contours of the mentalite of Koreans (whether they liked the film or not). I suspect one of the reasons Koreans would not have liked- and apart from the later-day talking heads to which Bulgsari adverts – still don’t care for it is precisely because of its unvarnished and un-ideologically mediated representation of the brute facticity of life in Korea at the time. False consciousness is a powerful narcotic, as is well-illustrated by the delusory babbling of some of our co-denizens here in the “Hole.

  • hamel

    Sperwer: really liked that last comment. You know, I think the RAS should have a viewing of Obaltan somewhere.

    You know that the only print that survived was the one sent to the San Francisco Film Festival (with the – sometimes misspelled – subtitles written on the actual film with what appears to be white texta or correction fluid), since all others were destroyed under Park Chung-hee for giving a bad image of Korea (perhaps here is where it started).

    I also found it interesting that it showed use of prostitution by US soldiers without making that a central theme of the film.

    I found the film quite impactful – yes it was depressing, but not in that tragic, cry-audience-cry way that moden moviemakers do it. The film was too realistic to go for cheap shots like that. And that is what I read about the director – that he was a realist, at least in the early days when that was allowed. Incidentally he (Yu Hyun-mok) just died last year.

    The family’s house is set in Haebangchon, then a slum for North Korean refugees. Given the likelihood that there were few facilities at the time for creating whole neighborhoods as film sets, I wonder how much of it was filmed on location.

    Sperwer, I also liked the new words that I learned from your comment – some of them real, some made up. My favorites for now are “elf-righteous” – something Legolas was; “mentalite” an element that comic book villain Brainiac was probably allergic to; and “facticity” – a word I have neither seen nor heard before; even now I am still not sure how and where to use it.

  • Pingback: Cheonggyecheon in Films | Nanoomi.net

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    Thanks, Hendrick ;)