A Personal History of Haebangchon


I like Haebangchon. I have only lived there briefly, but I lived nearby for a while and spent many formative years in Korea there. I made a lot of friends there, and I still have plenty who float in and out of bars and cafés and shout and wave at me when I turn up on random sorties. A bit like me, Haebangchon has changed a lot, and I’d even say it has become more sophisticated, but still with its old town grit that people come back for so much.

Haebangchon is, in essence, a slum. At least it started out that way. Officially named Yongsan-2 dong, the place gets its name after it became a place where North Korean refugees settled after the war, which is why it’s called Haebangchon, meaning Freedom or Liberation Village depending on who you’re talking too. I know that when residents ask a taxi to take them there, regardless of where in the city they’re coming from, they’ll ask the taxi driver to take them to Yongsan-2 dong. It has a dubious nature, and you’ll do well to get a taxi from Itaewon to there late at night, but that has nothing to do with it being a dodgy neighbourhood. As far as I know, there are a few more former North Korean refugee enclaves around the city, but this is the only one I’ve heard off, and it’s also probably the most famous.

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