A Travellerspoint blog

Gugi Dong

overcast 11 °C

By the end of 2018 we will move to Seoul, more precisely the area of Gugi Dong. It is much more affordable than the posh downtown of GangNam and still close to the city centre –about 6 km to the royal palace. At the same time it is very close to Bukhansan, by far the biggest national park in the Seoul region with over 30 km of tracks.

It took some time to understand which factors affect the price of real estate in Korea. Besides the obvious criteria of size and finishing, a number of unexpected factors appeared:
- The quality of the school in the neighbourhood. The schools in Seoul work with “catchment areas”: if you live in the zone of a given school your children have the right to attend that school and otherwise not. The reputation of the school is by far the most important price factor, as Koreans are obsessed with the education of their children. Gugi Dong has an international French school, but I suppose that the local institutions lack fame and glory.
- The distance to the metro. “Close to the metro” in advertisement means: max. 3 minutes on foot. That is a big factor for Gugi Dong: the metro is kilometres away. A new station will bring us closer by 2021, but even then it will be more than 1 km away from our place.
This being said, there are plenty of busses that bring you within 10 minutes to a metro or wherever in the city, but that doesn’t count.
- The inclination. Seoul citizens like flat surfaces and these are relatively rare, as the whole region is hilly. If your place is on a slope, the price glides downhill.
- The type of construction. Koreans prefer high rise buildings above smaller constructions.

Our place in Gugi Dong does not score well on these 4 categories and we were able to acquire it at a reasonable (Korean standards!) price. 250+ square meters in a dead end street, parts of the living and the kitchen facing the slope of Bukhan mountain, 50 meters from the entrance of the park, in a development with 6 apartments – ours is the smallest.

We visited our place and met our tenants, took measures and checked what we would change before moving in (more than we thought initially) and we strolled in the neighbourhood to see what kind of shops we had within walking distance (more than 5 Korean Barbeque restaurants to start with), and returned fully satisfied to our 12 square meters Airbnb. The living room is “only” 70 sq.m., but we have 4 connected rooms that we see as extensions of the living room and that provides roughly another 80 sq.m. For the rest: 2 bedrooms and bathrooms and a very large kitchen. I have a 40 foot container in Belgium and a vast African art collection in Nairobi, I can’t wait to bring it all together.

Posted by jefvincent 17:48 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

roofs

sunny 12 °C

Last episode of my royalty soap.
Whatever city in the world I visit, I try to get views on roofs. The grey roofs of Paris, the red roofs of Prague, the thatched roofs of the Turkana in Kenya, as long as there is a sense of “unity in diversity” I’m getting very weak inside and excited on the outside.

Seoul has two neighbourhoods with the traditional Hanok houses, but I had visited them before and no time this time. From the window of our Airbnb apartment we could spot some hidden gems, surrounded by ugly blocks from the seventies. However, the Chang Deok Dong roofs are among the most beautiful I have ever seen. They have something very organic, like mushrooms that try to overgrow each other, with a very similar structure and endless variations. The inner roof structure can be equally fascinating, and I leave you with a sample of both sides, in the hope that you find beauty.

Posted by jefvincent 06:38 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

secret garden

sunny 13 °C

In Western fantasies, a secret garden is a powerful allegory of a romantic relationship that remains hidden to the external world. For the Joseon kings and their family who lived in the Chang Deok Dong palace, the Secret Garden was their retreat which nobody else (except their guests and the odd hundreds staff who had to do the maintenance) could enter. It was an integral part of the palace, separated frpm the official court business by a unique gate. The secret garden was huge, in the old times the kings hunted on horseback in it. The garden is now available for the public and we had a guided tour (unfortunately in Korean, but Shin shared the highlights) that lasted 90 minutes. It’s a beautiful place, with rolling hills and small buildings scattered all around, so that at every turn of the path you have a different view. Many trees are 400 years old. Some buildings were utilitarian, like kitchens and guest bedrooms. Others had a more symbolic meaning, like the small rice field that the king had to farm himself to show his unity with the largely farming community. The building with the dragon on the ceiling and the double roof (both symbols of royalty) could only be used by the king himself. and close family. The pond with a tree in the middle, for which I offer you a panoramic photo, represents the world – but the details were lost in translation. The last pictures show the house of the crown prince, who had a direct access to the garden through a backdoor. Lucky him.

Posted by jefvincent 06:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Songdo

overcast 11 °C

Songdo is a special area of Incheon, and Incheon is a city between Seoul and the sea, known mostly because it hosts the international airport of Seoul. Songdo was wasteland 10 years ago, and Incheon got the bright idea to transform it into “the next Singapore”. It spent nearly 50 billion dollars to transform this huge patch of wasteland into a high tech city, and went nearly bankrupt in the process. Eventually it scaled down its ambitions but as of today the Songdo city stands tall –and, according to my impression, reasonably empty. Housing is cheap and many who cannot afford a decent housing in Seoul have moved to have a better place to sleep, taking the long commute on top. Sleeptowns are ghosttowns during the day

I went twice to Songdo, once by bus and once by metro, and from the center of Seoul it takes nearly 2 hours to get there. Songdo is the home of my future employer, the Green Climate Fund (GCF from now on).

GCF is an initiative of the United Nations and it has been set up to efficiently allocate many billions of donor monies to reduce the impact of the global warming on this planet, and to take bold initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. I met with the director to discuss my future role, attended a team meeting, got introduced to the other staff – there are about 100 employees – and learned a lot about the institution, the job and the many types of political interference that are involved.
Over-all very positive and it seems that I will have an income even when I leave Nairobi, sometime in 2018. Not sure what to do with the commute.

Posted by jefvincent 05:17 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

NamSan

semi-overcast 12 °C

Shin’s cousin is a pharmacist. When she started 15 years ago she bought an existing pharmacy that asked little goodwill. The price of a pharmacy depended on the annual sales, and this in turn depended on the number and type of hospitals in the neighbourhood. She didn’t pay a lot because there was only one hospital in the area, specialised in respiratory diseases.
There was pollution that came from China at that time, mostly yellow dust from the desert in Mongolia. With the industrialisation of China the pollution worsened gradually, and when the winds blows from the North it spills into Korea. The number of respiratory diseased has increased proportionally. Shin’s cousin is a rich pharmacist as of now.

The pollution is at its high during winter and early spring. That is: now. A haze covers Seoul and takes all the colours away, as if dementors guarded the place. The signposts at the bus stations report the concentration of fine dust.

Nam San is a hill in the centre of Seoul that hosts the Seoul Television Tower. The hill itself is a national park and a beloved escape target for tourists and locals alike. The top offers a gorgeous view of the city, almost 360 degrees. That is, except in the winter and early spring. I was here two years ago in November and the view was fantastic. At that time I saw how the green mountains intertwined with the highrise city quarters, and the distant mountains made a magnificent backdrop. Today with the haze the cityline was blurred and the mountains could hardly be seen. Even the sun had lost its shape.
And it’s with this disappointing report that I leave you for the day.
On the way back we found consolation in a beautiful view of our hotel, Koreana, backed by the mountain.

Posted by jefvincent 07:44 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

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