Our walking schedule will take us from Haebangchon to the Yongsan area in Seoul. I’ve modeled the route on the course that I’ve walked in the past to play the AR mobile game Pokémon GO, to see through walls, and to digest dinner.
In my head, I have two maps: for a long walk and a shorter one. The long walk leads downward, traveling into the night. The shorter walk leads upward, heading into the day. This time, we’ll be taking the longer walk.
The reason for the different duration of my walking routes is because we have to go around the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison. If you look at the major Pokémon GO “landmarks” that appear on the route, they always center around this U.S. military base. The particular points where we stop may give a sense that this is a kind of “talking tour.” That’s because the things we want to look at in the neighborhood, the things that we can see and that we try not to see, all harbor some kind of trauma within them. Every city has its scars. Our dialogue begins not when we try to view those things, but when we leave them behind to pointlessly ramble. There is a certain shame that arises in those who turn their back on scars and simply walk away.
CASABLANCA SANDWICHERIE Located on the main road in Haebangchon, this long-standing Moroccan restaurant is also an important Pokémon GO PokéStop. The building next to it is a PokéStop too. It is called Gajja Ucheguk, which means “Fake post office”, as the Itaewon Post Office was once located there. These two nearby locations are convenient for playing games and neighborhood users often gather here for raids. These are places for two things that are important to me: meals and winning.
APARTMENT BUILDING, OFF SINHEUNG-RO This small apartment building was built in a location where the Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command headquarters can be seen. As recently as a year or two ago, police would watch over the street. Yet they haven’t been deployed here since the procedures began for the U.S. military base’s return to South Korean control.
GATE 21, YONGSAN GARRISON This is a stop on the Yongsan village bus route. It’s a setting for departures and arrivals. Buses bound for Yongsan District Office stop at Gate 21 of the Yongsan Garrison: “Gate 21” would really be a more appropriate name than the stop’s actual name, “Yongsan Hanshin Apt.”
ACCIDENT SPOT Here, we can see evidence of repairs to the wall after it was struck by a car around December 21, 2020. The opening in the wall remained for some time.
YONGSAN GARRISON OVERPASS This U.S. military-only overpass is something I see every time I go for a walk. It has a sign that points to the War Memorial. I sometimes see U.S. soldiers crossing over the road—it’s like they are floating in midair.
WAR MEMORIAL OF KOREA The War Memorial of Korea is a museum of Korean War history. Right outside the museum are many large scale outdoor exhibits. The artificial-looking paint jobs on the aircraft, tanks, and missiles detracts from the solemnity of the weapons. I usually go for walks here after dark. The nighttime takes away some of the shapes, filling them instead with mute spirits.
Visitors can climb up on some of the objects on display. I remember one day that I saw a sweet-looking couple kissing on top of a combat vehicle. As I watched them, I thought of something Father Joseph says in Romain Gary’s 1974 novel Gros-Câlin, about how it’s much easier to kill from a distance, where you can’t see who’s who, than to kill from up close. Fighter plane pilots who drop bombs feel less guilt because they’re looking at things from way up high, he says.
SAENAMTEO MARTYRS’ SHRINE Saenamteo was used as an execution ground where people were put to death for treason, including six government ministers in 1456. The Martyrs’ Shrine marks the site where, four centuries later, executions were carried out during the persecution of Roman Catholics in the late Joseon era. You can hear a heartbeat sound every time cars pass over the Ichon Overpass in front of it. It makes a “bump, bump” noise.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA The National Museum of Korea is a cultural institution that exhibits cultural relics from Korea and the rest of the world. As you emerge from the museum and take the escalator up, you can see the U.S. military base sprawl out before you. I often visited this location when I was working on my short film Graeae: A Stationed Idea (2020). When I switch on the game, I can see several of the PokéStops located within the base. There’s “Collier field house” to the left, the “Barber shop” at 35 degrees from the front, and the “Yongsan commissary” at the end to the right. I sneak a peek at the people walking. I imagine the places where they are arriving and exiting.
— YEOREUM JEONG