A short ways from Sinchon Rotary, Daeheung Station serves Sogang University (서강대학교) and the surrounding neighborhood. One of Korea’s most highly-esteemed universities, Sogang is a small Jesuit college, its undergraduate student population standing at around 11,000.
Sogang’s front gate is about a ten-minute walk up Sogang-ro (서강로) from Exit 1. Because I arrived there just a week before Christmas, the campus was decorated for the season, including with a Korean-style nativity scene just inside the entrance. Statues of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and company had been set in a thatch-roofed hut of the kind that you see in folk villages and occasionally even out in the countryside. While livestock and an angel watched over the newborn Christ, strings of garlic, peppers, and soybean paste hung drying from the roof. It was a unique take on the traditional scene, but one that I found rather charming.
Behind the manger is a circular plaza with Sogang’s ‘Albatross’ monument: a pyramidal structure with the Latin inscription ‘Obedire Veritasi’ written across it, in front of which a metal arrow lodges in the university crest at the pyramid’s base.
Sogang sits on a hilly patch of land, and after a short walk up, past a slanted artificial soccer pitch, I came to a statue of Father Theodor Geppert, S.J., who helped found the university in 1960 at the behest of Pope Pius XII. Despite the Roman collar, he looked more like a TV detective about to explain a whodunit: long coat reaching his knees, right hand stuffed in his pocket, the left held out palm up as if to demonstrate a point that should have been obvious all along.
Consistent with its small student body, Sogang doesn’t have a very large campus, and it was quite quiet when I explored, unsurprising given that it was a Saturday and exams had just ended. Apart from a soccer game being played on a pitch in the back and what looked like a get-together of 40- or 50-year-old alumni laughing and drinking instant coffee, there wasn’t much happening. That subdued atmosphere, however, creates a good opportunity for a stroll along the hilly walking paths that wind between trees in one corner of campus.
En route to Sogang, I passed a gem of a café that I’d heard about before and had made a mental note to visit when I found myself in these parts. About halfway between Exit 1 and the university’s main gate, Soom Island (숨도) is easily recognizable by the black and white vertical zigzags on its exterior. There’s also a giant, rather inscrutable, stuffed bear peering out and waving from behind the window next to the door.
Soom is divided into three sections. In the middle is the café, called by a separate name, Café CITA, just to confuse things. The coffee was good, and my companion and I shared a nice Lintzer Tart. What makes Soom special, however, are the sections at either end of the establishment.
To the left is the Book Theater, where shelves of books (a handful of them in English) line the walls, with dozens of titles available for reading, lit up by a mobile of glowing fish, like a school that had been frozen and lifted into the air. Many more books occupied shelves on a small balcony, but there didn’t seem to be a ladder or any way to get up there, though a large, stuffed green lizard had somehow found his way, leaning over the balcony, open book in hand as he was. But maybe the nicest thing about the Book Theater are its rules: no talking on your phone, no using your computer, and 스펙쌓기 금지, or no stacking up your spec, as the obsessive accumulation of resume-padding accomplishments is known. The theater is for reading and reading only.
On the opposite side of the café is a small gallery space where rotating exhibitions are displayed. The current one was a whimsical showing by way studio. The work ranged from a slide show to story books to posters to a collection of small sketches and trinkets, all touching on the intersection of humans and animals, sometimes real, sometimes in cartoon form.
In the opposite direction from the station, out Exit 2, I passed a few small hostess bars on the main drag, most of them with pink signs, and one with tube lights casually arranged on the door in the shape of a heart. Mid-afternoon, they were closed up, but I’ve taken a bus past them at night on several occasions, when their dim pink light seeps out past the bodies leaning in the doorframes.
Beyond those, and about halfway to Gongdeok Station, is the handsome stone façade of Dongdo Middle School (동도중학교), which dates from 1955. Completely different from your average Korean middle school, it looks much more like a university building, its central tower flanked by three-story wings lined with slender windows, those on the third floor meeting in small peaked arches.
Nearer the station, the Mapo Art Center (마포아트센터) hosts shows and performances, as well as a swimming pool, in a modern glass facility that sticks out among the older buildings surrounding it and contrasts sharply with the brick homes you can see terraced on the hill up ahead as you walk towards it. More representative of the majority of the area are the dozens of small business spread about – pet stores, cafes, restaurants, and fruit sellers, at one of which an old woman sat wrapped up in blankets and huddled next to a space heater as she waited for customers to arrive.
Sogang University (서강대학교)
Straight on Sogang-ro (서강로)
Soom Island (숨도)
Straight on Sogang-ro (서강로)
Café Hours: M – F 8:00 – 23:00, Sa – S 9:00 – 23:00; Book Theater and Gallery: M – Sa 11:00 – 22:00
Dongdo Middle School (동도중학교)
Straight on Sogang-ro (서강로)
Mapo Art Center (마포아트센터)
U-turn, right on Daeheung-ro (대흥로), right on Daeheung-ro-20-gil (대흥로20길)