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Casablanca Sandwicherie, a small Moroccan restaurant in the Haebangchon area of the Yongsan district located just above Seoul’s Han River, is a popular destination for the city’s many Pokémon GO players. In this world of GPS-based augmented reality, the restaurant is a location where Pokémon players virtually congregate for raids. Here, not only can you eat freshly made tajine in the heart of Seoul, but reach multiple PokéStops and “hunt” animals all at the same time.

Although I still struggle to get my head around the game, the idea of otherworldly, augmented creatures residing in the neighborhood of Haebangchon seems plausible, appropriate even. After all, as its name suggests—haebang means “liberation”, and chon, “village”—the area became a settlement for Korean War refugees and a military base for the United States following Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, whose influence on the unique socio-cultural, and geopolitical landscape had rendered the district “an alien space.” Today, Haebangchon is home to many expats and minority communities who are prone to being alienated by the “one ethnic nation” attitude held by much of Korean society.

I am at the Casablanca to meet Yeoreum Jeong, a young artist and filmmaker whose latest work, the short film Graeae: A Stationed Idea (2020), gave inspiration for this journey, and Swan Park, a photographer who has generously agreed to accompany us to document the day-long trip. For Jeong, the village and the greater district of Yongsan is at once a familiar neighborhood and a site of interrogation. The artist began to conceptualize Graeae, a film constructed entirely out of found images and found footage, when she accidentally encountered virtual Pokémon GO monuments across the territory officially known as Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base covering some 600 acres of land which appears merely as a “green area” on civilian maps for security reasons. Guided by the questions about the actuality of place, the film follows the artist employing the virtual monuments (which are registered by and mapped onto existing real-world structures by game users) as entry points to access otherwise strictly forbidden, invisible parts of Seoul. Through the journey, Jeong succeeds in tracing the history of Yongsan as the site where foreign powers including Japan, and most recently the U.S., have maintained military bases and shaped the course of the nation’s modern history.

As the three of us set off towards Noksapyeong subway station, I can’t stop but obsess over the fact that our walk is being instantly marked, measured, and guided by the phone’s GPS system. Following in Yeoreum Jeong’s knowing footsteps, I wonder what the search result on what3words would be for our current location. This system encodes locations into three permanently fixed dictionary words and sometimes you can end up with surprisingly poetic, powerfully relevant combinations. Summer. Swim. Swan. I mull over these words as a possibility. In Korean phonetics “summer” is yeoreum and “swim”, sooyoung. Swan, real name Suhwan, has been going by his adopted name for many years for the sake of easy pronunciation. Today, then, we are not only travel companions, but encoded names and roaming coordinates.

Soon after our departure we reach our first destination: an unassuming, low-rise apartment tucked away in an alleyway adjacent to one corner of the Garrison. We sneak inside the building and climb up a few flights of stairs to gain a better view over the wall of the military base where the Combined Forces Command headquarters can be spotted. The place looks empty and deserted. Police would have watched over the street until procedures began for the relocation of the base to the city of Pyeongtaek in 2018, where the U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys is now the biggest U.S. military base in the world. As the relocation nears its completion, the future of the existing land in Yongsan still remains unknown. The latest news is that it might turn into a public memorial park. We gaze into the deserted site in silence through Jeong’s now activated Pokémon GO screen.

One of the unmissable features of the Garrison is its fortification: an endless stretch of brick wall which demarcates U.S. territory from Korean territory within the city of Seoul. But according to Jeong, these walls are not as robust as they appear. How does she know this? When we pass by the Yongsan Garrison’s Gate 21 she points to a wall, bearing a slightly different color from others. It’s a scar, left from a recent accident. Swan and I listen to Jeong recount the story of an accident which happened on one night in December 2020. A car accelerated into the brick wall in the pitch dark. Was the driver drunk? We don’t know. But a large hole was left open for several days before it was repaired. The exposed interior of the military base quickly became the talk of Haebangchon community’s Whatsapp group. The walls were so thin, so much more fragile than they looked; they were penetrable.

Continuing on our walk, we also notice other types of traces along the wall. Some of them even make us chuckle. A recurring Korean signpost for the U.S. military facility is a good example. It has one single letter blacked out with a spray, and now the sign reads “beauty facility.” An unknown graffiti interventionist has diligently sprayed over all of the nearby signposts. Now, the pedestrians are told strictly not to trespass on a fortified beauty facility. How threatening. But it is precisely this incongruity which poses fundamental questions about the absurd presence of the Garrison, leaving the three of us caught in our own thoughts.

On our way to the War Memorial of Korea, we dwell by a pedestrian overpass to the Yongsan Garrison. We look at the two ends of an otherwise ordinary footbridge running across a busy three-lane road. What’s peculiar is that the overpass’s stairways are situated behind brick walls, completely cut off from the regular pedestrians. The structure was essentially built just for the U.S. soldiers, not for citizens. But within the world of Pokémon GO, the enclosed site is just another battleground. In a matter of a few minutes Jeong manages to fight off her enemy Pokémons and claim victory.

Real battles are staged elsewhere. At the War Memorial of Korea, meticulously repainted missiles, tanks, and jets are triumphantly displayed outdoors. For Jeong, this is one of the many stops on her long night walks. As for me, I can’t remember the last time I was here. The scene is jarring. It seems to exist in a time warp, I suggest. The U.S. Garrison is just next door, a glaring testament to ongoing military tension; and here, the exhibits are prominently featured as memorials to the Korean War, as if it’s all in the past. Weaving through the troubling exhibits, our conversation jumps from drones to amnesia, and from Ukraine to monuments and guns.

The sun is gradually setting and we can feel the air cooling. Before rushing to our final destination, we decide to take a detour to Saenamteo Catholic Holy Place of the Martyrs. It’s a good forty-minute walk, and the eclectic collection of buildings we pass is a compelling snapshot of Yongsan. From one spot, you can see a modernist building erected during the 1988 Seoul Olympics; an empty parking lot ready to turn into high-rise luxury apartments; David Chipperfield’s iconic Amore Pacific HQ; and the futuristic Yongsan train station. The Saenamteo Martyrs’ Shrine is an interesting addition to the district’s architectural jumble. Completed in 1987 and designed in the style of traditional Korean Hanok, the building stands on a site which was formerly used for military training during the early Joseon period (1392-1897) and subsequently as execution ground where Catholic missionaries were put to death. Jeong and I exchange short conversations about our religious beliefs and the literary potential of holy scriptures, but we soon fall silent and watch people quietly reciting their prayers.

From here, we take a taxi and head to the National Museum of Korea (NMK). This imposing modernist style building opened in 2005 to permanently house the museum’s collection for the first time. The construction of NMK formed part of a series of gentrification projects initiated by Kim Young-sam, who served as South Korea’s first civilian president from 1993–1998, and was elected by a popular vote following a long period of military regimes. In order to distinguish his regime from his predecessors, Kim launched major projects across the capital city, including the demotion of the Japanese Government-General Building, and the restoration of the Gwanghwamun Gate. Built over the former U.S. Garrison’s golf course, NMK is also a perfect location to observe the remnants of the base. The three of us take the outdoor escalator up to the museum’s vast terrace. Jeong visited the location multiple times while working on Graeae. Pointing out PokéStops sprawling across the base one by one, we look through and above the augmented reality, wondering what remains visible or not, whether as facilities, monuments, scars, virtual or real battle grounds.

On that note, we slowly move on to end our day at a nearby café with an unforgettable name: the Hell Café. In a thankfully not-so-hellish place, we continue to chat, drink, and look through our photographs from the day, getting excited about sharing them soon with more people, like you.


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.