Thursday, 17 January 2013

Seorae Village - Seoul's French Quarter

Last weekend my friend Angela and I paid a visit to one of Seoul's lesser known sights: the French Quarter. I was surprised when I found out that such a place exists, especially considering the fact that Seoul is not particularly known for its diversity of cultures or expat enclaves (despite having a large, established Chinese population, the city doesn't even have a Chinatown). But a little place called Seorae Village has in recent years become home to around 600 French people, roughly 40% of Korea's total French population, namely due to the establishment of a French international school in the 1980s.

Me, excited to see a French sign in Seoul.
Of course, if you go to Seorae Village expecting to find quaint, cobblestoned alleys lined with tabacs, cafés and croissant-scented boulangeries, you may be a little disappointed. This "French Quarter" looks more or less like any other district in Seoul. The main difference is that some of the shops have signs written in French, and there are a bunch of European restaurants as well as the aforementioned French school. You might also hear the occasional person speaking in French. But it's hardly as if a chunk of Provence was picked up and dropped in the middle of Seoul.

The main thoroughfare of Seorae Village.
Having said that, I had gone so long without seeing French, or indeed any language apart from Seoul's big four (Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese), that it was great getting to explore the district with a fellow Francophile as we practiced our French and browsed the various restaurant and shop windows. We'd even heard that there was a store nearby that sold French cheeses and breads, which we were looking forward to sampling, but hélas, we couldn't find it. Maybe next time we'll be luckier.

The first French sign I saw in Seoul, after nearly three months living here. 

This is the entrance to the Lycée Français de Séoul, the international French school which helped turn Seorae Village into the centre of French culture in Seoul today.
The walls of the school were covered in French photos and quotes. 

There were even some roadsigns in French.
Angela standing underneath an Eiffel Tower sign as we entered Montmartre Park.

The view from the top of the hill didn't seem quite as iconic as the view from the real Montmartre, but it was not without its own (decidedly Korean) charm.

Some hikers gathering by a bridge.
Here the park dropped off into nearby Express Bus Terminal, where our little détournement français came to an end.
If you're interested in visiting the French Quarter yourself, the best way to get there is via Express Bus Terminal metro station. Go out of Exit 5, and follow the road signs to Seorae Village, or just get a taxi there from the station, as it's pretty cheap (less than 4000 won).

And I should end by saying this may not be the last we see of "La Belle France" during my year in Korea. Outside Seoul, in the mountains of Gyeonggi Province, there supposedly lies an alpine-style resort known as Petite France. Angela and I are already planning a visit, so expect a blog entry on it sometime soon.

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