Financial Times correspondent in Seoul
October 7th 2006
I must say that I am surprised at your article in the FT, and its account of what has been happening in Bukchon and Kahoi-dong.
Naturally, you are free to form your own conclusions but - but as you will know from www.kahoidong.com, it was Xxx Xxx-Xx who attacked me in the street this February when I complained about his illegal demolition of the hanok that once stood at Kahoi-dong 31-37 - both the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Chongroguchung ruled that this was illegal and their documents announcing this are also on my web site.
This event was reported in the Joon Ang Ilbo, South China Morning Post, Korea Times and other publications, and in a number of TV programs, some of which you surely must have seen.
You quote the builder saying " . . . a hanok restoration boom etc etc. " If you look at his restorations, you will see the first stage is the total demolition of the hanok that stood on the site. In most lexicons, restoration involves the preservation and conservation of as much as possible from what has gone before. Where new work is needed, attention is usually given to the use of authentic materials and techniques. None of this is a feature of any of the work in kahoidong - as a simple inspection will show.
I am also astounded that you chose to interview my next door neighbour, XXXXXXXXX, and to ignore me. You know my e-mail address and phone numbers. You have, after all, been a guest at my hanok, which is now the only original hanok left standing in our tiny street. All the others have either been demolished or are awaiting demolition.
Kahoi-dong used to be the only district in Seoul where you could see a few streets of hanoks as they had originally been built from about 1910 - 1930. When the government announced its restoration project in 2001, their intention was to restore all of these while maintaining authenticity, and I have copies of their plans to do this. What has actually happened is government grants and low interest loans for restoration have, instead, been used to fund demolition and totally new construction work. Indeed, the grants have only been given where demolition takes place.
The new buildings might be elegant additions to many neighbourhoods in Seoul - but why destroy Seoul's last three streets of traditional hanoks to build them? Why do so in the name of "preservation and restoration" ? Why use public money to do this?
My own application for a restoration grant was rejected on the grounds that my plans would damage rare Chosun dynasty architectural features of my house, namely the balcony which I designed and had built about ten years ago, and where you were drinking Chablis a month or so ago. When I pointed this fact out, I was told it was irrelevant, that I was not going to be given a restoration grant under any circumstances, and that was that.
XXXXXXXXX of course received restoration grants, low interest loans, and a commercial licence for her own new building. The Hanok that one stood on her land, built a little later than my own, was of course totally demolished. All this is documented on my website the copies of the official documents.
You might also have looked into the unpleasant circumstances under which many former residents vacated their houses, and why they were in no way beneficiaries of the very rapid rise in land prices in Kahoi-dong. You might also have considered the tax advantages of owning a hanok to the many new residents who own properties elsewhere in Seoul. You might also have wondered why nearly all the new buildings are empty most of the week - where do the new owners actually live?
In my own work as a journalist over 20 years, where there was controversy, I always aimed to allow both sides to air their point of view, irrespective of whatever views I personally may have had. You have signally failed to do this and I consider that to be a disservice to journalism and, as a consequence, I think you have seriously misrepresented and misreported all that has been - and is - taking place.
. . . . . and from Anna Fifield
October 7th 2006
Dear David -- thank you for your feedback. I understand that you have a different view. Hope you have had a restful Chuseok.
Also: My letter to the Financial Times