Itaewon Mosque

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I would say that I avoid going to Itaewon, except I don’t even have to. The nearest I ever come to it is on the expressway through Seoul that passes on the other side of the hill. Other than that, there’s no part of my routine that brings me to Itaewon.

When you cross the hill into Itaewon, you’re not really sure if you’re in Korea anymore. A nagging urge to check over your shoulder sets in, something I’ve grown accustomed to not doing in Korea. The locals seem different, the foreigners seem different. It’s almost like walking into a section of Bangkok you’d usually have no reason to go to.

Itaewon is mostly known as a hangout for US Army, and all the things that usually go with that… bars, prostitutes (not all female, but they might fool you!), etc…  The one reason I ever went to Itaewon was for food. It probably has the highest concentration anywhere in the country of very good foreign restaurants. Thai, India/Pakistani, Turkish, French, German, Italian, Mexican… that’s exactly what brought me back to Itaewon, actually three times over the past couple of weeks, and we actually enjoyed ourselves quite a bit!

An interesting part of Itaewon is its large Middle-Eastern, Pakistani, and African population. As soon as you go up the hill, you hardly see any Koreans at all. The streets are lined with Middle-Eastern grocers, selling beans, spices, and shishas. A Turkish bakery sells a dozen different kinds of baklava. On top of the hill is something you wouldn’t expect to see in Korea at all, a large, white Mosque. I came across it by chance a few years ago and thought EunBong would find it interesting, so we climbed the hill for a visit.

After visiting a few Mosques in India, I was less timid than the first time I’d come here. This time, I climbed the stairs to take a look inside. Something I learned in India is that, in a mosque, there’s no image to worship. As much as I enjoy imagery, it’s kind of nice to not have an image affecting your perception. I’m assuming the Muslim view of Allah as an outer entity would be similar the that of Christianity, but as I stood in the Mosque with the knowledge I’ve acquired of the outer also being within, I found it actually helped not having an image to impose a sense of duality. I sometimes struggle with my own small statue of Amita Buddha that sits facing me when I meditate. When it’s not there, I don’t miss it, but once I sent it down, I have struggle to remove it again…

view from the bus window, coming over the bridge

3 responses »

  1. Thanks for posting this Joseph! I’ve only ever been as far up the hill as the “world foods” store. (They have great Indian spices and lentils, etc.) I feel a bit sorry that devout people have to pass through such an area to visit their place of worship.

    The first time I went to Itaewon was after living in rual North Chong Chung province, and the hawkers calling out at passersby freaked me out a bit. They looked Korean, but the vibe was so different from the oridinary folks I met.

  2. I’ve only been to Itaewon one time – and only on the outskirts (I think). We went to eat at a wonderful Korean vegetarian restaurant that served “mountain greens cuisine” – or something like that. It was pretty exotic food, at least to me, but really wonderful!

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