Social Issues

The Memories of Hannam

About ‘Hannam’

‘Hannam(한남)’ is the name of a living quarter in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, where 20,422 people live. It is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Gangbuk. Throughout the neighborhood, there are high-class apartments and luxurious houses with many celebrities and the upper class who live there. It seems like a rich village at first glance, but it’s not the complete image of Hannam.

This neighborhood has an exclusive atmosphere, formed by people from various classes, such as rich people, foreigners from Itaewon, the young from other districts, and finally, the poor. In the center of Hannam, we have Seoul’s poorest neighborhood, filled with shabby houses and senior citizens. In Hannam, one can find the wealthiest area and the poorest area at the same time. 

We call that kind of slum ‘Dal-Dong-Nae(달동네)’, which means ‘A neighborhood close to the moon’. Unlike the other countries in Europe, in Korea, the poor area tends to be formed in the top of the region. Therefore, the poorer it gets, the closer it gets to the moon. It’s quite a romantic name, but the reality isn’t. 

After the chaotic Korean war (1950-1953), all the poor, sex workers, artists and foreigners gathered in the top of the region, where it is nothing but a wasteland. Even during the rapid development of most of Seoul, this area was completely neglected. Now, only the old remain who have no place to stand in the competitive society below. Seen from a distance, this area looks like an island surrounded by apartments.


The Beauty of 'Hannam'

The ‘Dal-dong-nae of Hannam’ is old, dirty, and abandoned. However, it has its irreplaceable beauty, ironically, because it was neglected for a long time. While all the other areas in Seoul try to eliminate their shameful past to develop, only the slum in Hannam has kept the old traditional look without any change. There is life, love, people, and history, even though it is the poorest neighborhood in the region. 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government now wants to proceed with the redevelopment of this neighborhood. Old houses to fancy apartments, bumpy roads to paved roads, dirty streets to clean streets. It is welcome news. Most of the original residents would receive benefits thanks to the redevelopment. However, the neighborhood would disappear. We can’t feel the warm, familiar, humane atmosphere of Hannam anymore. The long-time preserved landscapes would disappear. The loss of the neighborhood is thus the loss of history.

Change is unstoppable, but at least we can record. This video was produced to archive today’s Hannam, with all the various people, animals, and places. We hope the history of Hannam will remain forever by this record.

Lynn L.

December 17, 2021

‘Hannam(한남) - It is also called ‘Hannam-Dong(한남동)’ in the Korean language. ‘Dong’ is a small unit of administrative divisions, which can be translated into ‘neighborhood’.

Gangbuk - A district north of the Han river.

Itaewon - A neighborhood next to Hannam, famous as a foreigner section in South Korea.

Give it a look