Sitting at the foot of Namsan, Dongguk University Station is of course the jumping off point for Dongguk University (동국대학교), one of Korea’s most prestigious Buddhist-affiliated universities. Just after riding the escalator up to Exit 6 you’ll spot a second escalator that leads up to the school. It drops you off on a small plaza with a statue of the venerable monk Samyeong (사명대사), robes and long beard flowing, his right hand holding a staff and his left one placed over his heart. Samyeong is most renowned for assembling a militia of fighting monks to combat Japanese invaders during the Imjin War, instigated by the theft of one of Buddha’s teeth from Geonbongsa, the temple for which Samyeong served as head priest. After the war, Samyeong traveled to Japan as an envoy of the Korean government, at which time Tokugawa Ieyasu, the ruling Japanese Shogun, granted the monk’s request and returned the tooth, along with 3,500 Korean prisoners, which, it must be said, is not a bad day’s work.
Dong-dae was predictably quiet on the recent Sunday that I visited, which made for a pleasant walk beneath the campus’ abundant trees, whose leaves had felt the bite of autumn and had just begun to turn. Many of the university’s buildings were rather old and had chipping paint, dull in a 1960s kind of style, but there were a few slick new ones that had either gone up or were in the process of being constructed.
The prettiest, most stately building is of course Dong-dae’s main one, a long, three-story gray stone building with a central tower that forms one side of the campus’ main plaza. In the middle of the plaza is a gray-green statue of a standing Buddha, surrounded by decorative black metal latticework. Facing both the Buddha and the main building are three statues depicting a family of elephants mid-stride. Three stone pagodas are also located on the plaza, as well as several trees, below one of which a young girl was scooping up fallen gold leaves and tossing them in the air before letting them fall over her.
The most significant Buddhist marker on campus is not located on the central plaza, however, and this is the Sungjeongjeon Hall of Gyeonghui Palace (경희궁숭정전). Built between 1617 and 1620, Sungjeongjeon was a royal audience chamber of Gyeongdeok Palace (경덕궁). The area that the hall was located in was destroyed by the Japanese to build a middle school in 1910, and the hall was moved to Jogye Temple (조계사) before being moved to its present location in 1976. It’s now used as Dongguk University’s sermon hall and called Jeonggakwon.
The stairway up to the hall is flanked by a pair of stone lanterns, and when you make it up to the top you’re able to see the fading and chipping that time has wrought on the intricate painting decorating the underside of the roof and the supporting beams. This wear and tear contrasts with the immaculate inside where, a buffed wood floor and paper lotus lanterns hanging from the ceiling frame a gilded seated Buddha that gazes out across a dirt athletic field.
Also outside of Exit 6 is Jangchung Park (장충공원), a relatively new and remarkably lovely park. In the northeast corner is a small pond that collects the water from a man-made stream that runs alongside the park’s eastern edge, under small wooden bridges and trees leaning over the water, over a series of little cascades, around a small circular island, and past thick bunches of tawny reeds with wispy gray tops. It also passes below the 27.5-meter granite Supyo Bridge (수표교), which, according to the plaque nearby means ‘water mark observation balloon bridge.’ Supyo Bridge was constructed during the reigns of Kings Taejong and Sejong, originally spanning the Cheonggye Stream (청계천). When the Cheonggye underwent its postwar redevelopment the bridge was moved, then moved again to its present location in 1965. If you’re planning on heading up Namsan you can cross the bridge, as there’s a stop for the N Seoul Tower bus right there.
The park is a popular place for the elderly to gather, and also for families with kids to hang out. In addition to pavilions and walking paths, the south end of the park also hosts a teahouse, in front of which is a courtyard where you can play tuho (투호), the game where you try to throw an arrow into a trio of tall cylinders, and gulsoe (굴쇠), using a prod to roll a metal ring.
Also within the confines of the park are a number of commemorative memorials and statues. Occupying an open space in the center is the Jangchungdanbi (장충단비), a stone that was erected by Emperor Gojong in 1905 to soothe the spirits of those victimized during the Eulmi Sabyeon, the period in 1895 during which Empress Myeongseong was assassinated and many soldiers were killed fighting the Japanese. Of course the stone was removed when Japan annexed Korea in 1910, only to be replaced after the war, in 1945, at the current site of the Shilla Hotel (just across Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)), before ultimately being brought to its present location in 1969. Located behind it are a stele and two stone lanterns.
On the park’s west side a trio of monuments are lined up. From the station, the first you come to is the Monument of the Korean Confucian Scholars’ Independence Movement of Long Letter to Paris, which is, above all else, a mouthful. The letter in question was sent to the Paris Peace Conference around the time of the March 1, 1919 independence movement, asking for the conference’s support. Signed by 137 Confucian scholars, it was delivered by 김규식 (Kim Gyu-sik), a delegate of the provisional government in Shanghai.
Several meters south is the Statue of Patriot 일성 Lee Jun (일성이준열사동상). Born in 1858, 이 was a member of the Independence Association, and in 1907 received an order from Emperor Gwangmu to participate in the International Peace Conference being held in The Hague. Unable to enter due to Japanese obstruction, 이 sought recourse by going to the press, appealing to them to recognize the Eulsa Treaty, which deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty, as void and to denounce the Japanese invasion. Though the plaque in front of the statue says that the press was sympathetic, world powers ignored 이’s case. Despairing, he committed suicide by disembowelment. 이 posthumously received the Republic of Korea Medal in the Order of Merit for National Foundation in 1962, and his remains were transferred and buried in Suyuri Cemetery the following year.
이 is depicted standing, feet firmly planted at shoulder-width, a scroll clutched in his left hand, but the statue fails to project any sort of gravitas as its execution is remarkably cartoon-like. There is almost no detailing, and even the proportions seem to depict the man as he might be depicted in an educational video shown to elementary students.
Finally, at the far southern end of the park, you’ll find the Lee Han-eung Memorial (이한응선생기념비), There was no information on site, and I couldn’t turn up anything online, so if anyone knows anything about the man or the memorial, please feel free to share in the comments.
Across the street from the south edge of the park is the Jangchung Little Baseball Field (장충리틀야구장). Despite the fact that the entire surface is synthetic, even the dirt (it’s just brown astroturf), it’s the nicest facility that I’ve seen for youth baseball teams. Most of the time athletic fields for anything below the professional level are extremely modest affairs, even for university teams, frequently just patches of dirt, but the Jangchung field was fitted out with covered stands running along either baseline and even lights for night games. A youth team was holding practice when I happened by, shagging fly balls and taking grounders.
The road that runs south, Jangchungdan-gil, skirts the eastern side of Mount Namsan, running past yet more monuments. Across from the ballpark is a statue of 유관순 (Yu Gwan-soon) rushing forward, torch held aloft. 유, a student activist and independence agitator, is one of Korea’s most famous martyrs. Following March 1st protests that she helped organize, she was arrested, imprisoned in Seodaemun Prison, tortured, and killed at the age of 17.
A few dozen meters more and you’ll find the Commemorative Monument Tower of March 1 Korean Independence Declaration (3.1 독립운동기념탑). 19.19 meters tall, for the year of the declaration, the large stone tower comes to a sharp point at the top, a bit like a weaponized fountain pen. There’s necessarily a certain amount of aggression inherent in any declaration of independence, but, to my mind at least, that aggression comes across a bit too (and I tried to avoid this word and the ensuing pun, but it’s apt) pointedly. Plus, I think it’s kind of ugly. Behind the tower are a bas relief and two groupings of statues. The west side of the tower’s base also bears an English translation of the declaration.
Across the street from the monument tower is the current home of the 107-year-old Seoul Club, the National Unification Advisory Council (민주평화통일자문회의), and, perhaps most interestingly, the Club E0E4 Drive-in Theater, where you can pull in and watch a flick from the comfort and privacy of your own car, exactly like your folks did back in the ‘50s; just substitute Kias and Hyundais for Fords and Chevys. Exit 5 is the most straightforward way of getting to these.
Opposite that trio, just past the tower, are the grounds of the National Theater of Korea (국립극장), where you’ll also find the Performing Arts Museum (공연예술박물관). The theater was opened in 1950, making it the first national theater in Asia, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. Today it’s the home of the National Orchestra, National Dance Company, National Drama Company, and the National Changgeuk Company, which performs the eponymous traditional Korean opera form that incorporates pansori.
A long, wide set of stairs leads up to the imposing main building, the Haeoreum Theater (해오름극장), giving it an appropriately grand feel, magnified by its prime setting on the slope of Namsan. In front of the theater is a large open plaza where, on the day I dropped by, a number of families were out taking advantage of the Indian summer: a young boy was skateboarding and a father was kicking a soccer ball back and forth with his toddler.
If you come out Exit 5, before you get to the Seoul Club or the drive-in, you’ll be close to a couple other locations of note. By turning right and walking under the traditional-style gate you’ll arrive at the Shilla Hotel. Even closer, practically right outside the exit, is the Jangchung Gymnasium (장충제육관). This silver-roofed building was Korea’s first domed gymnasium, built in 1963. Judo and taekwondo competitions were held here during the 1988 Summer Olympics, and today it hosts basketball, handball, wrestling, and ssireum competitions.
Professionally, Jangchung is home to the Seoul teams that play in Korea’s national volleyball leagues, the Dream 6 men’s team and the GS Caltex Seoul KIXX women’s team. The women’s team actually had a game going on when I happened by, and the lampposts on the stretch of Dongho-ro east of the station were decorated with banners of the various players.
Just a couple hundred meters from the same exit (and signs point the way) is a section of the old city wall and the Seoul Fortress Trail (서울성곽길). You can now walk the path of the wall around its former circumference, though of course not all of the wall remains. Here it, or at least a restoration, is in place, and a stone path and boardwalk trace its outer side. I walked along it for a few minutes as it started to get dark and the lights in the apartment towers to the east came on like an electric checker board.
The Jangchung section of the wall was also apparently where a scene from Winter Sonata was filmed, as a sign near the trail’s entrance points out in Korean, English, and Japanese. Follow it and you’ll find a photo spot where you can stick your head in a cutout of the female lead and nuzzle your nose against 배용준’s (Bae Yong Jun). Dreamy.
If you’re looking for a postgame or post-hike nosh, head across to the north side of Dongho-ro. Just outside Exit 2, across from a small manicured pond and plaza, is the Tae Keuk Dang Bakery Shop. This Chinese bakery, open since 1946, is stocked with bags of sweets and glass cylinders full of snacks and biscuits. Up ahead is a strip with lots of restaurants, noraebangs, and bars, and as I kept walking north I even spotted a couple places with signs in Cyrillic, hinting at the Central Asian neighborhood that lay up ahead nearer to Dongdaemun.
For a more serious feed go out Exit 3. Along this stretch of Jangchungdan-gil running north from the station is a string of jokbal restaurants; it’s one of the most well-known places for pig’s trotters in the city. There are about eight places in a row here, almost all of them bearing either the word ‘original’ or ‘halmoni’ in the title, and in this instance at least, they’re not misnomers. Most of the eateries here have been around for a long time, and many of them are in fact run by grandmothers who are often either manning the door or are out on the sidewalk trying to hustle for customers. Judging by how busy the places were, it seemed like most people didn’t need much convincing.
Dongguk University (동국대학교) and Sungjeongjeon Hall of Gyeonghui Palace (경희궁숭정전)
Go up the escalator outside the exit
Jangchung Park (장충공원)
Supyo Bridge (수표교), Jangchungdanbi (장충단비)
N Seoul Tower Bus Stop
U-turn, right on Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)
Jangchung Little Baseball Field (장충리틀야구장)
Statue of 유관순
Commemorative Monument Tower of March 1 Korean Independence Declaration (3.1 독립운동기념탑)
U-turn, right on Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)
E0E4 Drive-in Theater
U-turn, left on Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)
National Theater of Korea (국립극장)
Performing Arts Museum (공연예술박물관)
U-turn, right on Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)
Jangchung Gymnasium (장충제육관)
Seoul Fortress Trail (서울성곽길)
Straight approximately 200 meters
Straight on Jangchungdan-gil (장충단길)