Some neighbourhoods have recently been trying to brighten up their alleyways. Usually in areas where tourists are wandering away from the coffee shops and beaches to explore the narrow lanes. I often wander into the narrow streets and spaces between buildings to get away from the madding crowd.

Myeongju Neighbourhood

A downtown neighbourhood called Myeongju started its rejuvenation some years ago with the conversion of a church to a theatre and performance centre. Then came the remodelling of nearby old houses into coffee shops. Some private houses even tore down their high, crumbling garden walls and planted grass and flowers to brighten up the neighbourhood. Most recently, an area on the fringes of the neighbourhood painted parts of the alley walls in rainbow colours. The writing above says, “Myeongju Rainbow Covered Streets”. Out of frame are the names of the local residents who contributed to the project.

Myeongju Neighbourhood

This drain pipe is cleverly disguised as the centre of a flower. Loose stones around the alley are painted in bright colours.

I once joined a cult to paint walls in knackered neighbourhoods. Well, not exactly. I wrote it like that for fun and shock value. What happened was, I was in a supermarket trying to choose some tea when a lady approached me and asked if I spoke Korean. Then she asked if I would be interested in helping to brighten up some poorer neighbourhoods by painting alley walls. As a hater of the “grey is okay” city aesthetic, I certainly was interested and we exchanged contact information. Some time later the lady rang me and I met up with her and about a dozen other people in a neighbourhood not far from my house. It turned out that they were from the Shincheonji Church, a group previously mistrusted by the public and now reviled as the cult (a professor of religious studies at university once told our class that a cult is any group mainstream Christians don’t like) responsible for the first wave of covid infections in Korea. But I met them long before the covid business. Anyway, nobody mentioned God or Jesus to me and they were all very pleasant people. I enjoyed my time adding colour to the neighbourhood and I got a couple of free lunches out of it.

But I digress. Another neighbourhood dolling itself up for visitors to Gangneung is Anmok, probably the most famous tourist area in Gangneung because of its beaches and coffee shops that overlook the sea. Many of the alley walls were whitewashed and painted with scenes of fish several years ago, but in the last few months someone has painted the alley pavement.

Anmok

When I first came across these lines I thought that some businesses had put them there to lead customers to lodging houses or restaurants, but there were no signs explaining the colours and they didn’t seem to have any particular starting place or destination. I guess they are just there to look nice.

Downtown?

It’s great that some neighbourhoods are trying to spruce themselves up a bit. Even a simple coat of paint over breeze blocks and concrete can make alleys much nicer places to walk through. I can’t go around with a bucket of paint trying to beautify the city (unless I join another cult), but I try to make the lanes and ugly architecture at least pleasing to look at in photographs by careful framing. You might not think the curled wire photo above is interesting or good, but it’s probably not making you feel miserable like a walk through that alley might.

4 thoughts on “Alley Art

  1. A good read. It will be interesting to see how things look in 5 years, once the paintwork has faded and been chipped away. When I visited Venice about 20 years ago I was blown away by how beautifully the paintwork of the buildings had aged, but I’m not convinced the yellow, pink and blue on the Anmok alley pavements in will fare so well.

    Sounds like you might have dodged a bullet with ‘the cult’. I’ve heard similar things with some of the Churches here – they start off all friendly and supportive but then pressure is applied to ‘volunteer’ your time and energies to help Church activities. At least one story I’ve heard was quite disturbing.

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    1. I’m not sure if road marking paint was used or not. Regardless of what they used, it will fade after a while.
      Someone told me that the church I spent time with says nothing about religion or heavy time commitments until everyone is quite chummy. And then it’s too late to tell them to f-off, I guess. They didn’t ask me to do anything again later. Maybe they picked up on my godlessness.
      Ah! But a church almost got me in the late 90s. I think I’ll write it up and share here later this week.

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