Sunday, September 27, 2009
Hidden within the sprawling city of Seoul just south of the Han River is a tiny French village where almost half of the French population of the country lives - 560 are in Seorae Maeul (서래마을, also known as Montmartre), so that would make 1400 in total throughout the country. Taking a look at this map you can see (if you can read Korean) why this location has so many people from France:
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That building in the centre there is the only French school in the city, and thus is the place where the children of many TGV employees go while they work overseas in Korea, as the high-speed train here (the KTX) is based on the TGV. Apparently the average stay in this area is about two to three years, which makes it a bit more long-term than your average English teacher but not as long term as many less economically mobile populations (Southeast Asia for example) that tend to stay for much longer.
We went to the French village a few weeks back and I took a few pictures. The overall feel is a bit subtle at first and you wouldn't know you were in a French village unless you looked around and noticed that quite a few shops had signs in French, but after continuing onwards for a bit (the street begins to go up a hill now) you'll notice French and Korean flags hung together on poles along the street and eventually the French school itself with a few hundred kids waiting outside, which is when it becomes obvious that this isn't your average street in Seoul. The government here has recently announced that it would be spending quite a bit (5 billion won, so around $4.2 million) of money to renovate the area with wider walkways and narrower roads. An article here gives some details and for some reason gives it a negative spin even though only a single resident is quoted in the article for proof.
I didn't take a great many pictures while there but here are eight:
That's a street sign. Banpo 4-dong refers to the part of the city where the village is located. Within Seoul are large sections called gu, and within those are smaller sections called dong (vowel sound rhymes with own, not long) that are then further split up into a number of smaller sections. Here we've got a 반포4동 주민센터 / Centre communal des services de Banpo 4 / Banpo 4-dong Community Service Center / 盤浦四洞居民中心. Everything else in the picture is Korean.
No text here but we do have the flags of France and Korea together. That mart in the background has the text Fresh Mart, not Marché Fraîche.
This picture didn't work out the way it should have. In front of Tom N Toms Coffee there is a towing sign which has elèvement du véhicule in addition to the Korean 견인지역. You can see a real estate agency on the left though with Agence Immobilière written on it.
Edit: found a page here with some pictures including the elèvement du véhicule sign.
That's the school. Lycée Français de Séoul / 서울 프랑스 학교 / French School of Seoul can be seen on the front. This was the afternoon and there was a huge swath of students starting from the front door there and going up the hill as they waited for the bus.
Here's another real estate agent - Sylvie Agence Immobilière.
This is the standard map one sees on the streets of Seoul now where the older maps have been replaced, and it has Korean, English, French and Japanese. You won't see French on signs in other locations throughout the city.
The largest site (I think) for the French community in Korea is this one, with a forum here. Another map of the area can be seen here and if you zoom out on the first map in the post you can get an idea of the size of the area.