Their roofs, doors, windows and other useful parts were cannibalised long ago. Only their cinder-block-and-concrete shells remain, and perhaps the faded cheer of their pastel overcoats.
Spring seedlings advance to their rubble-littered edges…
..here where every available inch of bare earth is a coveted, if ever-shrinking commodity.
Who knows how long ago these dwellings were inhabited? And why they were abandoned?
Not far away, the newer and preferred domiciles sprout in clumps in the fertile mountain shadows. Why are these ruins left to stand, when the Koreans, with their talent for bulldozing, could easily shove the whole mess to one side and make more profitable use of the ground?
You see them all over the place in this part of Korea, in these places where farmhouses and even villages have been squeezed out of valuable real estate by the advancing tower armies. These are a minute from the banks of the Daecheong. A decade or so ago this would have been farmland.
Now it’s one of the countless pockets of scrappy wasteland where locals go to toss their trash, till each shell is jammed with putrid mounds of plastic, rubber, styrofoam, glass and metal discards.
What astonishes me as I ramble through these urban and semi-urban jungles is how the Koreans tolerate living in constant proximity to filth. I mean, there are inhabited dwellings literally abutting these gaily-painted garbage dumps. In most wealthy countries you’d only find places like this in slums. They’d be no-go areas for most.
Here in — what? — the world’s seventh-richest economy, an environmental ethos is yet to catch up with the rapid “development” transforming a country ruined for much of the last century by wars and dictatorships.
That’s the charitable interpretation. The less kind one is that Koreans just don’t care about mess and trash and ugly wasteland. I walk many, many miles of Korea every day. This is the land of the shit-pile. Every street has its mounds of curb-side trash, every community garden its rising mountain of filth, its borders of waste and junk.
Maybe the attitude is that sooner or later it will all be bulldozed anyway, so why waste time with beautifying and cleaning up?
There’s no romance and poetry in the gardening here. They just push all the crap to the side and get back to work.
So I wander, and wonder, alternating between amusement, fascination and disgust. A typical workday afternoon in Korea for me.
Now and then a woman walks out of her place — right there, paces from all this mess — is momentarily taken aback by the sight of the foreigner with his camera strolling with feigned nonchalance through her charming neighbourhood, and then walks on with feigned nonchalance of her own.
A dog at the distant end of a dirty alley lunges in righteous rage. Reaches the end of his chain, is jerked back to the reality of his predicament. I flip him the bird and wander on.
A young mother looks the other way as she passes, pushing a pram.
I have to say, though, there’s something refreshing to the eye in a nice break from the sterile uniformity of the apartment villages. It ain’t pretty, but there’s character in abundance!
And even here in the rubble, entertainment and diversion are easy enough to find.
Lining up a shot of Dead Man’s Peak, a yapping terrier-ist lunges into frame…
..and it seems best to retreat before more locals emerge, perhaps armed with shotguns, empty bottles or rusty tin cans.
Anyway I have a few private students to meet — as usual time has slipped painlessly away, so absorbing are my explorations and excavations.
I trot down to the creek, past this paradoxically swanky vehicle…
..and jump the stepping stones — well, boulders, really; I don’t know how people in wheelchairs survive this place — across the Daecheong, aiming at the bustling, dusty heart of downtown Jangyu.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote