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David & Jade Kilburn
Kahoi Dong 31-79, Chongro-gu, Seoul 135-120


Mr. Lee Myung-Bak ,
Mayor of Seoul,
Seoul City Hall
Euljiro 1, Jung-gu
Seoul 100-744 

November 7th 2004


Dear Mayor Lee ,


The Future of Kahoi Dong


I would like to raise with you some questions and problems concerning the future of Kahoi Dong, a district that is home to many traditional hanok and where a great deal of new construction work is taking place.

Kahoi Dong is also home for my wife (Choi Keum-Ok) and me. We bought a hanok in 1988 and have lived there ever since. In fact we bought the house a few days after I saw a hanok for the first time. It was love at first sight.

When we bought our house, it was in good structural condition, but very little had ever been done to modernize it: there was no proper toilet, bathroom, or kitchen; nor was there a proper electricity supply; the ondol burnt coal briquettes and filled the courtyard with smoke and fumes.

This did not deter us. We put our best efforts and a great deal of our own money into bringing our house into the modern world whilst retaining its traditional Korean character. In the 1980’s it was quite hard and very expensive to find builders who would do work of this kind, and almost impossible to find craftsmen with the appropriate skills. This added to the expense and difficulty of the work.

Kahoi Dong, in those days, was a preservation area. Most of our neighbors protested and demonstrated against these restrictions on development. Generally, they wished to demolish the hanoks and create a residential area that resembled those you can see in South Seoul and benefit from the increased land values that would result.

We disagreed about these goals and argued quite strongly that the beauty of the area with its streets of hanok should be preserved as part of Korea ’s cultural heritage.

As an Englishman from London I knew how the culture and vitality of that city had been enriched by the preservation of many districts of old buildings – both residential buildings (e.g. Hampstead Garden Village) and commercial buildings (e.g. Covent Garden).

We used our own house to show people that it was possible to preserve the character of a hanok while making it suitable for modern life. We invited friends from other countries to visit and entertained scholars, architects, students, and tourists in Korea who passed by.

All Nippon Airways

In 1990, All Nippon Airways ( ANA), Japan ’s largest airline, asked me to write an article about our house and Kahoi Dong for their in-flight magazine, ‘Wingspan.’ This was distributed on all their flights worldwide in September 1990. I attach a photocopy of this article, which I also posted on my personal web site. This was the first time a lengthy article in English had been published about hanok in a general interest magazine. I attach a photocopy for your reference (Exhibit 1).

As a journalist, I spend a considerable amount of time traveling. In the past 40 years my work has taken me to the same number of countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, North, and South America. However these days I try to spend more time at home where I can receive visitors and friends from many places.

Tea Museum

My wife and I started a new company in Seoul, Tea Museum (Reg. No: 211-03-99555) in 2001. Originally based just in Apkujong, this now has three branches, including one near your office in the Lotte Department Store (B1) in Myong Dong. The goal of the Tea Museum is to introduce the culture and history associated with tea in other countries to Korea . We sustain this activity by importing and selling high quality teas and herbal infusions directly from growers in many countries.

We also work with growers in some countries to develop new kinds of Tea. This summer, we were in Sri Lanka where the tea industry honored my work by naming a new white tea after me, “Kilburn Imperial.” The government of Sri Lanka told the story of this on their official web site. In Exhibit 2 you can find some information about this.

In a similar manner, I am also working with people in a tea growing district in Korea to develop unique new teas and develop a cultural project in Korea .

Accordingly, we hoped this year to do some renovations and repairs to our house, again retaining the hanok spirit, to properly receive our many guests and visitors from Korea and other countries.

However this simple plan has proved impossible. We have been living in a nightmare for the last 8 months.

This terrible sequence of events began on April 11th this year when we were awoken early in the morning by crashes, bangs, and shouting on our roof, directly over our heads. Workmen had begun the demolition of the neighboring house, Kahoi Dong ##-## and had decided to use our roof as part of their working area, with no warning whatsoever and without making any request for our co-operation.

Mrs XX & the YY Construction Company

We telephoned the owner of ##-##, Mrs XX , and a meeting was swiftly arranged at our house on April 12th. Mrs XX came with her ___ husband, HH, her two teenage sons, and a Mr. L from YY, the company she had employed to build a new house.

We explained what had happened on April 11th. Mrs XX and her husband promised that nothing similar would ever happen again. Since the access to their site is difficult, we said that if there were ways in which we might be able to co-operate or assist them, then we would try to help. We also told them that we expected their contractors to respect our property.

We asked was there anything in their construction plans that might affect us or that they wished to discuss. We were told there was not and that they were giving Mr. L of YY (who was in the room during all of this conversation) strict instructions about this.

We also told Mrs XX that my wife, Choi Keum-Ok, was the legal owner of 31-79 and that she was the person to be contacted whenever there might be something to discuss. We provided our phone numbers and e-mail address to ensure this could always be done easily.

This meeting ended happily and on a very positive note.

However a few days later, YY demolished part of our wall on the north side of our property and continued to demolish the wall on the West side. Later they claimed these walls did not exist, however the foundations and the gutter that rested on the wall both remain.

YY also destroyed the drainage from our roof on the West side. As a result, during heavy rains, the water penetrates our building. The drainage was originally installed over 20 years ago, before we bought 31-79.

They continued their work to make very deep excavations on the West side for the basement of ##-##, and incorporated parts of our foundations into the new construction. As this work neared completion, they sprayed various chemicals on the concrete. The fumes from this work quickly spread into our own house and made us very ill.

We raised all these problems with the Chongroguchung since Mrs XXXX refused to discuss them wish us. Chongroguchung officials, including Mr. Kim In-Hee and Mr. Kim Chun-Ahn said there was nothing wrong with the construction activities on ##-##, that these were based on plans they had approved, and that all these activities were quite legal and proper.

YY claimed they had discussed this work with Oh Sea-Soon and that she had agreed to everything. This is a complete lie. In any case, YY know that the only person who can agree to anything that affects 31-79 is the legal owner Choi Keum-Ok.

Exhibit 3 shows photographs illustrating these points – many more photographs are also available for inspection. Exhibit 4 contains complaints to, and replies from, the Chongroguchung. Exhibit 8 contains complaints to the Police.

Health problems

The exposure to terrible chemical fumes, noise, dust, and dirt and the constant shocking discoveries of what was taking place had a negative effect on our health.

My wife’s mother, Oh Sea-Soon, who lives with us, is over 70 years old and in poor health. Her health problems have worsened since April .

Though I myself am in generally good health, I collapsed on a business trip to Japan on June 30th. I was rushed to the Hiro General Hospital by ambulance, and required out-patient treatment thereafter. Dr. F.I Shane , who treated me, concluded that the preceding events in Korea had caused these problems.

You can see the report from Dr. Shane and documents about Oh Sea-Soon’s condition in Exhibit 5.

Kim Ki-Duk

On June 24th we were approached by the film maker Kim Ki-Duk . He was looking for a hanok to film scenes of his new film, “Bin jip.’’ Mr. Kim explained the nature of his film to me, and said he was looking for a hanok in Kahoi Dong that captured the Korean spirit. He felt our house was the most suitable and I immediately agreed to co-operate fully with him.

In view of the construction work taking place at Kahoi Dong ##-##, we visited Chongroguchung with a representative of Kim Ki-Duk ’s production team to see if they might help in minimizing any problems the construction work might cause during the short period that filming would take place.

We met Mr. Kim In-Hee of the Chongroguchung again. He said that the Chongroguchung would take no action of any kind that might help the filming or delay any construction work. He said that we were wasting his time and should leave his office.

The construction noise and their scaffolding of the Kahoi Dong ##-## construction are easily heard and are easily visible from our house. These created problems. Even so, three parts of “Bin jip’’ were filmed in our house.

I read in the newspapers that the government wishes Seoul to become an important hub-city in Asia. The world’s major hubs have more to offer than modern airports, comfortable hotels, and high speed internet connections. They also have a rich cultural life that reflects both their historical traditions and their ability to relate this to the modern world.

In my opinion, Kim Ki-Duk is a man of outstanding creative talent. His films have already gained international recognition for their creativity and will gain much more applause.

I am truly amazed that a Mr. Kim In-Hee in his role as a public official of a government organization should be so unwilling to help a Korean creative artist whose films win major awards outside Korea and whose work helps develop an understanding of Seoul’s modern cultural power.

As you may know, Kim Ki-Duk won the Silver Lion for best director at the end of the 11-day Venice Film Festival this year for “Bin Jip.’’ He also took the same award at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Venice and Berlin, along with the Cannes Film Festival, are the world's three major film festivals.

It seems to me that Seoul will only achieve its goal of becoming a hub city when public officials have a greater understanding of what is involved in this than does Mr. Kim In-Hee .

Our Plans to renovate and restore our house are refused

This architect drawing in Exhibit 6 shows how we planned to renovate and restore our house at Kahoi Dong 31-79.

Through our architect, we applied to the Chongroguchung for approval of these plans and a requested a grant of ₩30,000,000 to support the estimated costs.

The Chongroguchung rejected the application saying “we would be destroying original Chosun dynasty architecture,” and that they would not make a grant for work on our house.

The Chosun features mentioned by the Chongroguchung were all features that we had introduced. None of them existed when photographs for the Wingspan article (Exhibit 1) were taken in 1990, as can be seen from the pictures that illustrate the article.

The Chongroguchung later told our architect and builder that if they would solve the problems of the damage to our property caused by YY, they would approve the plans and provide the grant. Otherwise, they said, it would be very difficult for us ever to restore Kahoi Dong 31-79.

On July 2nd at 5:30pm, Mr. Kim Chun-Ahn of the Chongroguchung telephoned my wife on her mobile phone to request she meet him late at night, away from his office, in some private place. He would not say what the subject of the meeting would be. My wife refused to do this since it sounded very suspicious behavior for a government official, especially as she had never given him her mobile number. Mr. Kim Chun-Ahn also made a similar call on July 5th.

We have been told that the construction project on Kahoi Dong ##-## was enabled by a Seoul City government grant of public money to cover part of the cost. This project not only involved the total demolition of a well-built old house. It also involves the deep excavation for concrete-lined basements and the use of reinforced concrete, neither of which are part of Chosun architecture.

We have no objections to the reconstruction and modernization of Kahoi Dong. We support this development. However, we cannot understand why our own project should not qualify for the support granted to other projects in the neighborhood by the Chongroguchung.

October 28th 2004

In the morning of October 28th we were drinking tea and enjoying conversation in our living room as usual when suddenly there were loud noises. Our house began to shake and cracks appeared in our walls.

We rushed outside and saw that the contractors for Kahoi Dong ##-## were excavating a deep hole that ran along the very walls of our own house and undercut our own foundations. Mr. L , of YY personally supervised this work, as you can see from the photographs in Exhibit 7.

Mr. L waved his hands and his employees began to shout “No Speak English” and laugh.

We telephoned the police. They refused to come.

We telephoned Chongroguchung. Their representative, Mr. Cho Yong-Suk came on October 29th. He said the situation was very dangerous for us, but it was best that YY continue with what they were doing.

Another representative of the Chongroguchung, Mr. Kim Chun-Ahn visited on October 30th to look at the damage. He said that the Chongroguchung had the power to stop this work, but once again they do not appear to have taken any action that would interfere with YY.

Once again, despite promises made to us on April 12th, Mr. L and YY embarked on major work that clearly would have some impact on our home without any prior consultation or warning.

Vision for Seoul

The city government’s web site describes three visions that will lead to the “Miracle of Seoul.” These include Compassionate Seoul, for the good of ordinary citizens; Lively Seoul with economic vitalization; Human Centred convenient Seoul. This is exactly the kind of city in which we wish to live.

We do not seek any special favor or privilege. We simply wish to live in peace and pursue our cultural activities, just as we have been able to do until April 11th this year.

We cannot understand why YY and the Chongroguchung should behave in this way. We cannot understand why officials of the Chongroguchung should work so hard to support, protect YY’s activities, and ignore not only our own rights as individual citizens but the customary practices that exist in societies where people respect each other’s rights.

Mr. Mayor, we would be most grateful if you would review these events. Our goals are simple:

1. to live in peace,
2. to have the damage to our house put right,
3. to renovate our house.

What should we do to achieve this?

Yours sincerely

David & Jade Kilburn

No reply was ever received to this or later letters- You can read a chronicle of this correspondance here