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2016-11 28

[Culture]Global Community in Itaewon, Seoul

Itaewon refers to the roughly 1.4 km-stretch from Itaewon 1-dong to Hannam 2-dong in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. When you get off at Itaewon station, line number 6, signs of stores written in English, Chinese, and Japanese will catch your eyes. Just by walking along the streets, one will soon sense the exotic atmosphere that can only be felt in Itaewon. In fact, Itaewon is one of the most outlandish places in Seoul where people of different nationalities and cultures are clustered. As a 'foreign city', Itaewon is also the place where foreign residential districts and a number of foreign embassies are gathered. In 1997, Seoul designated Itaewon as the first ‘Special Tourism District’ for both foreigners and Korean citizens. There are more than 2000 stores that include shopping centers, restaurants, recreational facilities, trade firms, hotels and tourist bureaus. Hamilton Hotel is located at the center of Itaewon. (Photo courtesy of Hamilton Hotel Seoul) Stories behind its formation While the word 'Itaewon' originated from the Joseon Dynasty when it originally referred to a residence specifically for the Japanese, the current form of this global tourism site is more relevant to Korea’s modern history. After the Korean War (1950-1953), the American military base was established in Yongsan which was later followed by more residential zones and businesses for its soldiers. Itaewon was once called as the 'Las Vegas of Seoul', the recreation center for American soldiers. Soon, the place attracted more foreigners who started to spread their own cultures in the region. Only in Itaewon Itaewon Antique Furniture Street is close to Itaewon station Exit 4. (Photo courtesy of Visit Seoul) As mentioned, there are many different stores and restaurants that fascinate tourists. While there are high-end brand stores in Itaewon, big and small indie shops in street corners contribute more to the distinctive character of Itaewon. Fashion shops specialize in imported clothes, furs, handbags, shoes and antique furnitures that are hard to find in general Korean markets. Its price range is quite extensive- from being fairly affordable to being as expensive as designer brands. Dress shops are also more easily seen in Itaewon for foreigners who are more used to partying than Koreans. For foreigners with different body shapes, bigger sizes are also well-stocked in Itaewon shops. Cuisines from 30 different countries such as Korea, the US, the UK and India are also one main reason why people visit Itaewon. The 'World Food Street' located at the back of Hamilton Hotel is currently one of the most popular places to eat as it allows people to try exotic foods that are hard to experience without going overseas. Itaewon is the only place where people can find cuisines that are hard to find in other parts of Korea. It is said that Bulgarian and Uzbekistan restaurants can only be found in Itaewon. Moreover, the fact that a lot of foreign restaurants stick to their traditional or original recipes adds to their allure. The World Food Street of Itaewon. (Photo courtesy of Visit Seoul) The first Islamic mosque in Korea Behind the Itaewon fire station, another unfamiliar sight can be spotted along with the smell of pungent spices. It is Usadan-gil, or Islamic street, which manifests the harmonious blend of Seoul’s old landscape and Islamic culture. The first Islamic mosque in Korea, the Seoul Central Mosque, is located at the center of Usadan-gil. In the country where Christian crosses are more frequently found, twin minarets that tower around the mosque is a sure unique site to check out. To visit the mosque, people must abide by the Islamic law, which forbids wearing short-sleeved tops, skirts, and pants. To take a more constructive tour inside the mosque along with a guide, it is advised to make a reservation beforehand through the Seoul Central Mosque's official homepage. With 35 thousand Korean Muslims, there are a total of apporoximately 150 thousand Muslim devotees who attend the Itaewon Muslim Mosque. (Photo courtesy of Seoul City Tour) Itaewon is a place where different people from various cultures coexist. It is an important duty for all of its members, both Koreans and foreigners, to try their best to keep peace and security within its community while fostering its uniqueness in Korea's number one tourism district. Yun Ji-hyun uni27@hanyang.ac.kr