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[Korea jeonju tour] Along the Old Roads of Jeonju Wall

Tour experts write in their blogs and social media that Jeonju is a comfortable city where tradition and modernity are well harmonized. Jeonju has its own prestige with its historical sites such as Gyeonggi-jeon or Gaeksa, but there are also narrow alleys with their own stories behind the prestige.
Why don’t you take a walk along the old path of the ancient Jeonju Wall and see the sights of modern times or enjoy beer in one of the cafes on the UNESCO Creative Beer Street.


Gaeksa and Pungnammun

Strong walls give pride and dignity to a city.
Jeonju was one of the three main cities of the Joseon Dynasty. It had four gates and their own towers at each corner. In the past, with Gaeksa, which has a signboard that reads ‘Pungpaejigwan’ written in cursive style, at the center, there was the city hall on the left and the provincial office on the right in the shape of ‘品’. Inside the wall there lived noble class landlords and permanent employees, but part-time employees and non-regular members lived across the Jeonju River.

Jeonju was an information-based city. Book concerts were held in which drummers competed, wielding fans made at the Public Fan Factory. Jeonju verion books, called wanpanbon, were also published.
Both General Jeon Bongjun and Lee Mongryong of Chunhyang-jeon with his mapae hidden (a medal with horses for high officials’ business trips) mounted on Pungnammun. The price of rice in Joseon was decided in front of this gate. Pungnammun plaza was the place where Catholics were persecuted. There was the North Gate at Ogeori Plaza (five way intersection), which is located at the entrance of the Film Street and less than 1 km away from the South Gate (Pungnammun).
During the Gabo Peasant Revolution, the chance to win the war was lost when the peasant army walked out through this gate.

At that time, Hyeonmu, the guardian of the North Gate, disappeared, too. Of the four original gates of Jeonju City, only Pungnammun remains. In 1907, starting with Seomun(Paeseomun, west gate), their towers were demolished and their walls were taken to be used for the roads. It was an elaborate tactic of the Japanese to set up infrastructure for grain transportation. The railroad was laid from Jeonju to Iksan, and, so, traditional cities got to experience modernity.

Jil-ok and Bakda-ok Jeonju is a traditional city, but there are many modern and
contemporary buildings here and there that we should be concerned about. When Chinese workers were building Jeondong Cathedral by the southern gate (Pungnammun) and western style buildings were being built by missionaries outside the west gate, Japanese merchants began to dig into the wall from the west gate with industrial products. “Bakda-ok”, located in Wedding Street elicits an uncomfortable feeling. The parties held in this classical western-style building were like the wonderful party scenes in the Chinese romance movie, In the Mood for Love (2000) to colonists, but they were like the luxurious lights of the Chinese historical drama, A City of Sadness (1989) to Koreans. Inside the wall, big roads and banks were constructed.
There was Siksan Bank built at the site of the present KDB Bank, and the Cooperative Credit Society built at the site of the present Seongak-sa or in front of Waeneejip around Dongmun Sageori(Dongmun intersection). Just like the saying, “money is the root of all evil,” those who couldn’t borrow money from banks could not help using ‘Jil-ok’. Today, it is a pawnshop. If you walk 20 steps westwards, you’ll see ‘Haengwon’, a high-class restaurant on the right, and the aforementioned pawnshop is on the left. It was called “Jeonju’s Jil-ok for public interest”. Now, it is a guesthouse called ‘Yeongbingwan’. There is a baduk (go in Japanese) club, called ‘Seolgiwon’, in the alley in front of ‘Seongmidang’, a well-known bibimbap restaurant. The watch shop of Lee Changho Guksu, the top-ranking baduk player, the real life inspiration for Choi Taek, the baduk prodigy who appeared in Reply, 1988, is still running in Wedding Street across from the store. Youngsters don’t know that the watch store was once a gem store. When Lee Changho, the grandson of the watch store owner, couldn’t find a rival or a mentor, he went into the house of Jo Hunhyeon, a master of baduk, and learned theories and formulas while boarding and lodging at
Jo’s. Beginning from a “corner” called Seolgiwon, he proceeded into the “center”. Jo Hunhyeon, of baduk, the very formula for success in baduk.


Alleys of Antiques and Actors

While bloggers find good places on the main streets, texters use their mobile phones to send messages, about the restaurants and cafes they discover hidden away in alleys. The alley of antiques is west of Pungnammun. It is also called the alley of blue jeans, or that of Yankees. There are lots of hanbok stores and repair shops scattered about. For those who want simple beauty, there are lots of objects to be photographed. A big ginkgo tree stands in the street between Jeonju Digital Independent Cinema and Ilpumhyang, a dumpling store.

In a valley near the tree, there was a theater which was called ‘Jegukgwan’ in the Japanese ruling era and‘Jeonju Theater’ after liberation. There is no trace left behind of the theater for which Lee Eungno painted movie posters. The alley connecting the theater to Hanseong Motel, was crowded with Korean traditional theater actors and sori artists. Citizens were very excited when Lim Chunaeng appeared on the stage.
The alley beneath the tree to Myeongdong Sauna, headed towards Jeonju Stream, was called Actors’Alley. In the 1960s, actors and staff stayed at Gyeonggi Motel which had a very large yard. It was a famous accommodation where Kim Il and Cheon Gyudeok, professional wrestlers, and even JP(former prime minister Kim Jongpil) stayed. It’s been said that the actor, Park Nosik, stayed in the motel and never forgot to the eat hangover soup made by a foul-tongued old lady. Later he would drop by Wanggung Tea House to enjoy a cup of coffee before starting his day.

Female refugees would visit Gyeonggi Motel to sew blankets and would also sell cosmetics, braziers and stockings that they got from Yankee market to the actors in the motel alley. The alley is called Hanyang Bulgogi Alley now. For those who learn architecture, Gaeksa and Pungnammun are must sees. Modern buildings like Jil-ok and Bakda-ok are like advanced courses for graduate students. Now the stars in those old films cannot respond, but the loyal fans visiting the Jeonju International Film Festival take pictures as if they were actors or actresses like Suji in Architecture while walking through the alleys of Jeonju.


Written by Shin Guibaek (movie critic)
Shin Guibaek is a member of the Jeonbuk Branch of the Writers Association of Korea and Korea Movie Critics Association. He is also an author and writes prose and reviews for literature and movies. His How to Use Movies , written from a critic’s perspective, has sold many copies. While releasing his feature-length documentary Sorry, Tell Them , he often enjoyed being called a director. Recently, he published a unique book called Favoritism of Jeonju , through which he meets his readers and talks about the traces of modern and contemporary Jeonju that people don’t know well.


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