Category: Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top

Exploring Korean business, language and life from Ansan, Korea

Comparing Old and New Maps of the Ansan Area

I found this map section in a map of the Seoul area over at the Korean War Project. It shows Ansan from around 1950.

Old Ansan

Here's what the identical map section looks like today in Google Maps:

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Note how many of the location names in the map above correspond to neighborhorhoods in the new map (notwithstanding some spelling differences.) The comparison also shows just how much of the sea has been filled in to make room for the city today.

For reference, the subway line in the current map follows the rail line shown in the old map that was built during the Japanese colonial period to connect Incheon with Suweon. Both lines are shown in red in the comparison map below and some of that old line still remains along the tracks of the subway. 

Old Ansan

For more about the modern development of Ansan.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Korean New City Development Along the West Sea

We recently interviewed Dick Warmington on KoreaBusinessCentral.com. (Click here to listen and/or read the fascinating interview.) Dick is President of Chadwick International School in Songdo, Korea, which is a new city built entirely on reclaimed land in the West Sea south of Incheon. It’s a dramatic testament to the Korean drive to develop new living spaces on a peninsula with very high population density.

One member of KBC took exception to the development in Songdo, pointing out that it has destroyed a lot of the natural ecosystem in the area. His criticisms also extended to Chadwick, and I wanted to answer his concerns, because there’s no doubt that a lot of trade-offs are getting made in the process of the Korean economic miracle. (Click herehere and here for his comments.)

The following is my reply:

Vince – I’m surprised by your hostility toward Chadwick International (not Songdo International). There are international schools all over Korea and the world and have been for a long time, at costs roughly similar. Mainly the only thing Chadwick International is doing differently is to base their program in Songdo on the seventy-five years of history and expertise they’ve built back in California. Private schools like Chadwick are expensive everywhere.

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I understand Chadwick jumped into Korea only after other educators had abandoned plans to run an international school in Songdo, leaving the city high and dry (I’m not 100% certain so others can confirm whether I’m right about this fact). What’s notable is that Chadwick International has a higher proportion of Korean students than other international schools in Korea; this point is significant to me because it gives them more of a connection to Korean society at large than most of international schools, and a means to influence the education debate in Korea.

But even if you’re not impressed by this, your position on Chadwick still seems hard to understand and so I sense it stems mainly from misgivings about Songdo itself. Further, I’d say that these misgivings are actually based on a fundamental rejection of the Korean property development model in general, not simply that too many rich people live there or that they could have razed neighborhoods in older areas of Incheon instead of building out into the West Sea.

The reason I say this is that Songdo is different only in degree and timeline, not in kind, from other development that Korea’s been engaged in for at least thirty years. My town of Ansan is just down the road from Songdo and over 50% of it was built on reclaimed land from the West Sea. In fact, if you want to know how far the water line used to run in my neighborhood, read my post History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill to get the translation of the historical marker pictured above, and be sure to check out the map at the bottom of that post. Everything between the current waterline and the old waterline is reclaimed land!

Also, if you think beaches are being destroyed just for rich people, then hop in the car and drive a few minutes to Shihwa, which is halfway from Songdo to Ansan, This happens to be a working-class Songdo; dirty, small apartments, factories… and nearly 100% reclaimed land, just like Songdo.

As you know, Songdo’s not the end of the line either. They’re working on new city plans for Yongjongdo! Or should I say, half-next, since the airport’s there already. (I visited Yongjongdo back in 1994 when you had to take a boat to get there and it was still relatively unspoilt.) 

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So this is the runaway development you refer to. Fair enough; there is a certain irony in all the talk about being eco-friendly in Songdo and elsewhere when so much ecology was destroyed in the creation of these places (One of the mottos I’ve seen for Ansan lately is “Eco Ansan”….)

But if you take a step back and acknowledge that nice cities are being created where millions of people enjoy things like the 2011 Ansan International Street Arts Festival (Click here for photos of the event, all on reclaimed land!) or where we can relax with the beautiful parks and views (Click here for some recent views), then is it a bit easier to understand the trade-offs that Koreans have been making to develop the outer edges of the Seoul area, and to appreciate that it’s not just a monster out of control? And if they’re going to build a city like Songdo, don’t they deserve some credit for giving it a low carbon footprint?

Songdo’s only 1/3 finished so they’ve still got a ways to go before it’s done, but I’ve heard from Koreans who live there that it’s a great place to live already. To be honest, I’ve visited a couple times and not been terribly impressed, but maybe that was because I was seeing it in its 20% completion state and because I barely got out of the car. I’ve also heard from non-Koreans who live there that it lacks “vitality”, but to each his own. They probably wouldn’t like my Ansan either.

I’ll also also point out that these Korean new cities satisfy some mysterious Korean urge to try to build new utopias, but that’s a whole different chapter of whatever book I ever decide to write.

Since I don’t think Songdo itself is the problem, but that it’s the whole Korean approach that’s bothering you (and since I only have photos of Ansan, not Songdo), here are some links about the development of Ansan that you (and others) might find interesting, as well as a photo of the city from the top of our daily hiking course.

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Click here to read the rest of the discussion, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.

Online Source of Photos of Old Ansan

44773I'm always amazed to think of the growth and changes in Ansan since I first arrived almost 17 years ago. But that pales in comparison with the transformation of what used to be a sleepy fishing village into a city of 350,000 people when I arrived in 1993 (Current population is about 750,000 now.)

Here are links to some before/after photos of Ansan on my Seongpo-Dong blog this year:

DSCN7200 Recently, I came upon another source of old photos, which is the website of the City of Ansan. The general photo section is here: https://photo.iansan.net/ but for photos of old Ansan, they can be seen in the following categories:

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To see the photos in large size, you must be logged in (membership is free and easy, but basic Korean-language ability is necessary to get through the form) and be accessing through Internet Explorer (other browsers don't work.)

 

 

Nojeok Hill, My View from the Top – History of the Area Around Nojeok Hill

On the main intersection in Seongpo-Dong, across from Star Plaza and about a five minute walk from the base of Nojeok Hill is a historical marker:

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I've passed it many times but hadn't bothered to read what it said until recently. It's a fascinating story about the history of our neighborhood. Here are a couple photos of the marker, along with its translation:

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Seong Meori [Meaning Castle Head

(Seongpo Landing, Seong-Doo [Also meaning Castle Head])

Situated between Tae Hill of Gojan-Dong and Dokju Valley of Seongpo-Dong, this village in Gunnae-Myeon, Ansan-Gu was called Seong-Got-Po-Chon-Ri in Choseon times and renamed Seongpo-Ri at the end of the Choseon period. Fishermen used the area as their forward landing point along the zone running about 300 meters to the southwest and 400 meters to the south of where Star Plaza is currently located. The feng shui (Korean: "poong su") of this spot saw it as the head of a castle, thus it was called Seong Meori (Meaning "Castle Head"] Landing. Later, a boat landing was set up in Sadong Gura after the Korean War. But this blocked the water and prevented boats from coming and going to Seong Meori so the fishermen left for places like Gura (Currently: Sa-Dong) and Baeot (Currently: Bono-Dong) to carry out their livelihoods. 

The Seong Meori area became more suitable for farming, and the farming village which sprung up was the home of the Lees of Yeoju, the Shins of Yeongweon and the Yeoms of Paju; it had 76 residences. After the old neighborhood system was abolished in 1976, the area was transformed into what it is today, starting with construction of Artist Apartments, and then [Housing Corporation] Apartment Complex #9 and [Housing Corporation] Complex #10. Right up until the neighbornood system abolition, every year around January 15 on the lunar calendar, a festival was held partway up the slope of Nojeok Hill to wish for the well-being of the village.

As mentioned above, this is Star Plaza:

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Here's a map of the area. The red lines show the previous waterline around Seong Meori Landing:

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A Drive Around Nojeok Hill

11-26-2009 6-58-35 AMKorean portal site, Daum.net, offers a mapping service of Korea that is very similar to Google Maps. And just as Google has been unrolling their Street View across North America, so Daum is doing the same in South Korea with Road View. This is where 360-degree photos are taken by a camera strapped to the top of a specially-fitted vehicle as it drives down the road.

So far, Daum has covered the main roads in the main cities, including everywhere indicated in blue lines in this graphic. Just this week, the company announced it is going to extend coverage soon to every drivable road in Seoul.

I don’t know when they will get their camera cars out to the alleyways of Ansan, but they’ve already photographed the main roads here. And so I put together the following four minute video from those photos simulating a drive from the entrance of our apartment complex, out and around Nojeok Hill and then back home.

Because of the way the photos were taken, there is a good bit of reckless lane changing and driving on the wrong side of the road, but that is just part of the fun, I guess.

You should notice Nojeok Hill in the background during much of the video.

 

 

 

The following map shows the path taken in the video:

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Nojeok Hill: My View from the Top – McDonald’s 20-Minute Home Delivery Service

There are just two McDonald's outlets in Ansan and one is right at the foot of Nojeok Hill. It is located in the food court at Homeplus, which is the very successful Korean discount chain run by Tesco of the UK. We eat at Mickey D's occasionally, but not particularly often, mainly because there are way too many excellent Korean food options available.

11-14-2009 1-26-25 AMWhile McDonald's does a decent business in Korea, the stores near us are seldom packed. Getting to the restaurants can be a hassle too, especially if finding a parking place is hard and/or costs money.

Neither of the two McDonald's stores offers a drive-though, either. Indeed, it's only at Lotteria, a rapidly growing Korean competitor of McDonald's, where I can order, receive and eat my food in the car. And the Lotteria menu is remarkably creative; for example, I enjoyed a Shrimp/Avocado Burger there last week!

But McDonald's is experimenting with new ideas, too. They've started offering coffee and an Egg McMuffin for breakfast; something Koreans aren't used to. We've been a couple times in the morning and I think we were the only people in the store both times, so it's hard to say this has been a raging success.

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And some time back, McDonald's introduced a home delivery service through a national toll-free number (its 1600-5252, in case you're interested). When placing the first order, you give the operator your address, but after that, the system automatically links the address to the phone number and placing an order is as simple as dialing in and saying what you want. Takes all of 30 seconds… and within about 20 minutes, the food is brought by motorcycle delivery: cold food in one insulated pack and hot food in another. 

I was home alone today and rather than make lunch myself, I ordered by phone and this friendly chap brought it over. Since delivery is free (home food deliveries are ALWAYS free in Korea, it seems), it cost me W5,500 (about US$5)… pretty competitive, I'd say, but still, I don't know if many Koreans are ordering hamburgers from home.

 

In the news this week, I read that McDonald's is planning to open 1,000 new stores next year, including many in Asia. I wonder how many will be in Korea, though. (In fact, one McDonald's store in Ansan closed a few years ago.) With the competitive Korean market, I wouldn't be surprised if they are planning to take their investment dollars to more promising Asian countries.

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My $5 McDonald's lunch today was delivered in 20 minutes for free!

Indeed, Korea has been a tough market for many American corporations. Wal-Mart left in 2002 after suffering huge losses. In today's Jungang Daily (세계적 온라인 서비스, 한국선 왜 고전하나), there is a story about how Second Life and MySpace have given up in Korea, most Koreans don't seem to have heard of Facebook, and Google captures less than 10% of the search market. It's all the more difficult to understand when I look at the apparently weak Korean competition these online companies face. 

On the other hand, you can barely find a seat at a Starbucks in Korea in spite of the fact that Starbucks coffee prices here are reported to be the highest in the world and General Motors (of all companies!) is a big player in automobiles since their acquisition of Daewoo Motors over ten years ago.

I'm still working through the reasons why some foreign brands succeed, while others fail so miserably here. It's hard to make sense of sometimes. Meanwhile, I keep hoping that McDonald's will break a profit on this home delivery service so I can continue to enjoy it.