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YouTuber ‘iGoBart’ and his mission to explore all 467 neighborhoods of Seoul

Nov. 18, 2023 - 16:00 By Amber Anne Roos
Source: iGoBart's Instagram account (@igobart_)

In labyrinthine Seoul, a multitude of hidden places often go unnoticed by both Seoulites and visitors. Social media has recently become a cornucopia of travel content, and Dutch YouTuber Bart van Genugten, also known as "iGoBart," has leveraged that to the best of his ability to offer a fresh perspective on Seoul’s layers beneath its shiny surface. In his daring new project, "Welcome To My Dong (WTMD)," iGoBart embarks on a journey to visit all of Seoul's 467 neighborhoods.

Before the YouTuber’s first big hit with a documentary series on his trip to North Korea, most of his viewers tuned in for his “international couple” content, featuring the everyday lives of him and his Korean wife here. But as he gradually shifted to Korean travel series content and new subscribers rolled in, he began to notice a divergence in viewer expectations.

“It was so horrible having to think about what video I should make every week and then hoping it would catch on with the people. Some followed me for North Korea, others for the Korean War veterans and others still for the international couple content,” he told The Korea Herald in an interview for “Life In Korea.”

“I wanted to give them more clarity, but also myself, and that's how I started doing this series," he explained.

Biking as a blessing

Leading up to his decision to start the WTMD project, iGoBart experienced a significant amount of emotional turmoil. A lack of direction on his YouTube channel coupled with unstable personal finances led him to question his career as a YouTuber. As a last resort to gain financial stability, he took on a job to deliver food by bike, which ultimately turned out to be a disastrous experience.

“I remember my first order, I picked up the food and jumped on my bike. In my hurry, I forgot to secure my phone to the handlebars. My phone fell to the ground and with both my front and back wheel, I rode over my phone. It was just broken, almost cut in half, I couldn’t look on my phone to see where these people lived. I arrived 1 hour late, half in tears, with cold food. That was such a rotten moment in my life, that I quit everything for six months," he said.

Then upon his wife’s suggestion, iGoBart went on a 2,000-kilometer cycling trip across South Korea, creating videos along the way. He told himself that if the videos performed well, it would be his sign to continue on YouTube.

Beyond his shocking discovery of a lack of decent bike trails, nightly battles with mosquitos and the rainstorms, the bike trip proved to be a remarkable success, motivating the creator to continue developing his new series.

“I was on a bicycle for two months, and every so often I would make a video, and it was just so pure, so raw. With that I was able to create a connection with the people again. That series slowly but surely gave me courage and hope again, that maybe I should give it another chance,” iGoBart elaborated.

Source: iGoBart's Instagram account (@igobart_)

Hidden stories

iGoBart drew inspiration for his "Welcome To My Dong" project from a visit to a small market in Gajwa-dong. There, he and his wife discovered an unexpected aspect of the neighborhood: a street lined with adult bars euphemistically referred to as "teahouses." He then realized that, despite having explored many locations in Korea, he remained unaware of numerous hidden places and unheard stories even within his own neighborhood.

In the WTMD series, iGoBart presents distinctive features of Seoul's neighborhoods, including their underexplored histories and local cultures hidden from the predominant ways Korea is portrayed to outsiders. He aims to provide a more comprehensive picture of Korea beyond the well-known "Ks" -- namely K-pop, K-dramas and K-food -- which typically attract the majority of visitors initially.

“That is not to say that the Ks are bad, because those are just as much Korea as anything else. I feel that Korea very much wants to control how it is seen by the outside world,” he noted.

However, he explained that his series allows viewers to see certain other realities that are not readily presented to tourists, yet nonetheless might be just as interesting.

Unearthing local perspectives

To gather information, iGoBart relies on websites like Namuwiki, the Korean version of Wikipedia, and search engine Naver. However, for more specific and unique insights, he prefers communicating with local residents. Foreign national residents often provide the most insightful perspectives on their own neighborhoods, he noted.

While some neighborhoods contain more exciting stories than others, none of the 58 neighborhoods he has currently crossed off his list have been disappointing.

“Unbelievable! You can send me to the most boring neighborhood, the smallest neighborhood with just three buildings, and there will be a fun story to tell,” iGoBart said.

While doing research for his series, iGoBart realized that many who don't speak Korean might have trouble obtaining useful information online, as many English websites provide only basic statistics and general descriptions.

“If you want to know about Korea in English, you're bound to end up on tourist websites, and you will quickly notice that all the information they provide is copied from each other, word for word. You’ll go on one website and read this and that about Gyeongbokgung, then you go to the next website and you'll find the exact same story.”

Fortunately, iGoBart has taken it upon himself to fill this void of online content for those who lack the capacity to go out and discover all the neighborhoods themselves.

iGoBart has also recently released his debut book -- currently available only in Korean -- in which he shares frankly about his experiences during a trip to North Korea in 2018. He delivers his narrative in a lighthearted, slightly sarcastic tone – in a way only a Dutchman could write it.

To learn more about iGoBart and his journey in South Korea, check out “Life In Korea” on The Korea Herald YouTube channel.