On the north side of Heogi Station, maeul buses were pulling up and people in suits and fancy dresses were piling out, heading to the several wedding halls nearby. Most of them crossed through the station to Exit 2, where, past a row of pojangmachas, guys in red jackets waved batons to direct cars out of a buffet parking garage. Other invitees made their way into a particularly grotesque wedding hall where golden onion domes were paired with conical tower roofs dotted in square specks of color and capped with metal pennants, like a 64-bit version of a castle made real.
I walked to the end of the street, past a trio of girls singing along with the K-pop song coming out of one of their phones, and then hung a right onto Mang-u-ro (망우로), walking past a crafts shop where several chunks of wood had been carved into penis shapes and put in the window display. In front of other shops, their keepers swept yellow ginkgo leaves off the sidewalk.
I walked down the street for a bit before doubling back and heading east, to Jungnang Bridge (중랑교) and the Jungnang Stream (중랑천). Partway across the bridge a small set of stairs led down to the water. There’s not much here, and the Jungnang, at least here, is barren compared to other streams in the capital. The watercourse flows briskly, but there’s little separating it from the adjacent highway and little in the way of amenities. Bike paths flank either side, and a short ways to the north is an inline skating oval, its lanes faded out, but the extent of facilities was a snack stall under the bridge where a woman sold ramen, chips, and beer to resting bicyclists.
Also on the south side of the station, about equidistant from Hoegi and Cheongnyangni Stations, is the University of Seoul (서울시립대학교), whose test for admissions may simply be finding the place. Coming from the station, at the corner of Mang-u-ro-21-gil (망우로21길) and Mang-u-ro, cross the street, turn right, and take Mang-u-ro-16-gil (망우로16길), the diagonal street leading past several small restaurants. At the small three-way intersection, next to a shop called Beauty Avenue, turn left (still Mang-u-ro-16-gil). Walk to the end, where you’ll come up to a school. Turn right, then an immediate left onto Mang-u-ro-18-ra-gil (망우로18라길). Follow it uphill and around to the right. At its end, the rear gate to the university is on your left. Alternatively, after turning left at Beauty Avenue, turn right at Café Brown and Cocopop boutique. Naver maps tells me this is Mang-u-ro-18-ga-gil (망우로18가길). Follow this for a while until you see 한우 장터 and the bakery케익 이벤트 (Cake Event), where you should turn left, onto Mang-u-ro-18-na-gil (망우로18나길), before taking your first right, putting you back on Mang-u-ro-18-ga-gil. Take that straight up to the rear gate.
Got that? Didn’t think so.
The University of Seoul, founded in 1918 as Kyung Sung Public Agricultural College (경성공립농업학교), is one of the country’s highest-rated schools and, not surprisingly, has close ties to the city government. Unlike many city campuses, U of S is surrounded by residential areas. A cluster of cafes, cheap eateries, and convenience stores sit outside its main gate, but there’s relatively little to tip one off to the presence of a college of 15,000-plus students.
Inside the front gate is a stylized sculpture of the university’s logo, looking a bit like piano keys, and a bit further in the bronze figure of a hawk, the school’s mascot, perches atop a high pedestal. The leafy campus is particularly pretty in fall, and several senior citizens were taking their exercise by strolling along the pathways. At the very rear of campus is Sky Pond (하늘못), filled with small fish and the occasional carp, which swim around the pond’s little island and loiter underneath the footbridge.
While the U of S can be found on the south side of Hoegi Station, on the north side, via Exit 1, is Kyung Hee University (경희대학교). Getting there is much simpler. Turn left out of the exit, follow Hoegi-ro (회기로) to Kyung Hee-dae-ro (경희대로); turn right and walk up to the main gate.
The stretch from the station to the university is much more typical of a college neighborhood than the U of Seoul’s is, filled with the usual assortments of bars, restaurants, cafes, clothing boutiques, shoe shops, smoothie joints, accessory stores, nail salons, and the like. Students crowd the sidewalks and you’re likely to hear snippets of Chinese interspersed with Korean. Along with all the more usual university neighborhood businesses, you’ll likely notice an uncommonly high number of pharmacies here, particularly near the front gate. The Kyung Hee grounds are also home to the Kyung Hee Medical Center (경희의료원), and the school is particularly well-known for its oriental medicine program, which, among other achievements, in 1972 successfully performed the world’s first drug-free anesthesia, using only acupuncture.
Past the handsome gray stone arch that marks the main entrance, the layout of Kyung Hee is similar to many other Korean universities, with a central drive leading up to a monument – in this case the University Motto Tower (교시탑), a white pillar topped by a world map and laurel wreath – and continuing to the university’s main building (본관). Kyung Hee’s is a massive four-story structure with a large central pediment flanked by two smaller ones, each decorated with friezes and hanging over columned porticos.
On either side of the stairs leading up to the door are stone lions, the university’s mascot. In front of the building is a circular pool with a central statue of three figures holding up a globe, beneath which a trio of thinkers study and contemplate. Immediately behind the main building is a lovely and quiet pond, the surface of which was starred with crimson leaves from the trees on the surrounding hillside when I visited.
East of the main building is the Central Library and Central Museum (중앙도서관/중앙박물관), another imposing gray stone structure with arched windows on the fourth floor and a battlement along its top like on an English castle.
Perhaps the most noticeable building on campus is the Grand Peace Hall (평화의 전당), north of the museum and occupying one of the campus’ highest points. It cops a fair bit of its design from French Gothic styles but also has stained glass windows depicting Boticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and what I think was a detail from his ‘Primavera,’ though I could be wrong on that one. There’s also a window with the school’s lion mascot. The whole thing’s a bit of a mess, but it does offer some great views, and you can make out N Seoul Tower far away to the southwest.
The bulk of the school’s facilities are east of these buildings. Students played baseball on a large dirt athletic field ringed by crude concrete bleachers. Tennis courts occupied the basin of an amphitheater that looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. Between the stage and the courts a small garden was walled off, holding almost as many mishit tennis balls as vegetables. Surrounding these are many of the college’s class buildings, the most distinct of these being the Crown Concert Hall (크라운관), designed to look like, yes, a crown. On a wall in front of it are depicted the Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Seven Wonders of Korea, which, according to…someone, include the Kyung Hee Diamond Garden and Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대).
The area south and west of Kyung Hee has a contemplative, heady atmosphere, thanks to the proximity of the university, two of the country’s most highly esteemed institutes of higher learning – Korea University and KAIST – and several research institutes and think tanks. If, instead of turning onto Kyung Hee-dae-ro, you follow Hoegi-ro as it snakes around to the left, you’ll pass some of these, as well as more independent cafes and clothing boutiques ranging from vintage to toddler.
After a ways you’ll come to Hoegi-ro-10-gil (회기로10길), and if you turn left here the street will eventually bring you to an entrance to Hongneung Park (홍릉공원). The park is rather large, but there’s actually not all that much that’s accessible to visitors, as most of it is covered by woods that spread out over a number of ravines. While there may not be all that much to do as a result, it makes for an excellent place to escape from the city and stroll along its shady walking paths.
The park grounds are also home to a little-known historical site, though this is only accessible from a separate entrance. To reach it, continue on Hoegi-ro until you come to Hongneung-ro (홍릉로). Turn left there, continue past the Korean Film Council (KOFIK) (영화진흥위원회), and after a block the entrance to Yeonghwiwon and Sunginwon (영휘원과 숭인원) will be on your left.
Historical Site No. 361, these two tombs are the burial sites of Lady Eom (1854-1911) and Yi Jin, respectively. Lady Eom, or Soonheon Hwang-Gwibi (순헌황귀비) was a favored concubine of Emperor Gojong. She entered the palace when she was only five, eventually becoming a lady of the royal guard to Queen Myeongseong. She remained in the palace until she was 32, when the queen, in a fit of rage, threw her out after ‘she had a chance to serve King Gojong at night,’ as the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea’s website preciously phrases it. Nine years on, however, Empress Myeongseong was murdered by Japanese assassins, and a mere five days later Lady Eom returned to the palace. (Incidentally, the tomb of the empress was originally located near here, before being moved to Namyangju in 1919.) She made good by helping Gojong escape to the Russian legation. Following this, and prior to official Japanese annexation of Korea, Lady Eom acted on her interest in Western education by founding the Yangjeong School (양정의숙) in 1905 and the Jinmyeong Girls’ School (진명여학교) the following year. She also later donated a large sum of money to found Sookmyung Girls’ School (숙명여학교).
Sadly, there’s far less to say about Yi Jin, Lady Eom’s grandson by her son Uimin, who was the last Joseon imperial crown prince. Uimin was taken hostage and sent to Japan at the age of 11 under the pretext of ‘studying abroad,’ which has to be some of the greatest political spin of all time. In 1920, in an arranged marriage he wedded Japanese Princess Masako Nashimoto, who gave birth to Jin the following year. Nine months later, however, during a visit to Korea, their first-born died under what are often referred to as suspicious circumstances. King Sunjong, Uimin’s elder brother, declared that Sunginwon should be built as a resting place for the deceased infant.
After entering and passing a handy display of the Joseon Dynasty royal family tree, Sunginwon is the first of the tombs you come to. A wooden gate frames a stone path leading up to a squat wood memorial hall. Half-moon-shaped wooden aprons hang down from the roof on the front and sides, the one on the north side the only one that still retained much of its vivid burgundy paint. Nothing was inside the hall, only washed-out roof beams and black stone tiles on the floor like those leading up to the structure. A pavilion south of the hall held a stele. Behind the two structures was a mound, which flattened out at the top. On this flat area was a smaller burial mound surrounded by stone lanterns, stone animal and human guardians, and a brick wall. The steepness of the hill meant that the only way to get even a partial view was to back way up.
The area between Sunginwon and Yeonghwiwon was filled with Korean honey locusts and other trees, including a red hawthorn that is Natural Monument No. 506. Estimated to be 150 years old, its twisted branches twine around each other, dozens of berries still clinging to them in the late autumn cold.
Yeonghwiwon had a similar setup to Sunginwon, but was slightly bigger and in better shape, its paint sharper and less faded, and with a wider and less steep hill. Like Sunginwon, there was a pavilion holding a stele to the south, its outer edge also serving as a hangout for seven old women, bundled up against the cold, and a lone man in a wheelchair who was resolutely not paying attention to the women’s gossip. Unlike the other memorial, however, this hall was not empty, instead having several tables inside. A sign noted that a memorial ceremony (기신제) is held here every April 13.
Finally, any visit to Hoegi, and particularly one in winter, should culminate with a trip to Pajeon Alley (파전골목), back near the station. Just before Hoegi-ro’s intersection with Imun-ro (이문로) is Hoegi-ro-28-gil (회기로28길), to your left. The alley runs past eleven pajeon restaurants before turning into a low tunnel running under the train tracks. I had to duck as I walked, but I watched two moped deliverymen who knew their height exactly zip through, their helmets not more than an inch or two from the ceiling.
A friend and I picked one of the restaurants more or less at random, trying out 이모네 왕 파전, which is open 24 hours. The place was already busy at 5:00 on a Saturday evening, slightly raucous and full of students from the nearby universities. We were ushered into its warren-like interior, one of the ajummas literally pushing me in my back (in a not unfriendly way) to guide me to where she wanted us to sit. The floor was hot from the ondol, and I stripped down to just my t-shirt, which felt wonderful after coming in from the cold. The walls of the restaurant were covered in a plain cream wallpaper that had been turned into a public sketch pad. Graffiti and doodles – caricatures of people, drawings of bunnies and scheming pandas, birthday wishes declarations of love or of what menu item someone ordered – covered the walls. [Disclaimer: Meagan's photos were taken at another restaurant, 낙서 파전.]
Feeling hungry and, it turned out, too optimistic, my friend and I ordered Set B – pajeon, fried meatballs (동그랑땡), gochu twigim (고추튀김), tteokbokki, and corn (옥수수콘) – along with a bottle of makkeolli. When the pajeon came it was deep and stuffed to excess with green onions and octopus, the pajeon equivalent of a Chicago deep dish. The other fried foods were crisp, hot, satisfying, and plentiful, and the lesson we learned was that a set for just two people is a mistake. Best bring at least three. I wound up having leftovers for dinner for the next two days. While over-ordering may pain your stomach, it most definitely won’t pain your wallet. For the set and makkeolli, we paid only 25,000 won; a pajeon alone is only 7,000, much cheaper than you’ll get it for at most other places. The prices mean you don’t need to worry about passing a long while here, and as Seoul loiters in its deep winter chill there are few better ways to wait for spring than sitting on a hot floor with heavy, satisfying food and the kindling of warm friends and warm conversation.
Jungnang Stream (중랑천)
Straight on Mang-u-ro-21-gil (망우로21길), Left on Mang-u-ro (망우로)
University of Seoul (서울시립대학교)
Straight on Mang-u-ro-21-gil (망우로21길), Right on Mang-u-ro (망우로), Left on Mang-u-ro-16-gil (망우로16길), Keep Left onto Mang-u-ro-16-gil, Right on Mang-u-ro-18-ga-gil (망우로18가길), Left on Mang-u-ro-18-na-gil (망우로18나길), Right on Mang-u-ro-18-ga-gil
Kyung Hee University (경희대학교) and Kyung Hee Medical Center (경희의료원)
Left onto Hoegi-ro (회기로), Right on Kyung Hee-dae-ro (경희대로)
Hongneung Park (홍릉공원)
Left onto Hoegi-ro (회기로), Left on Hoegi-ro-10-gil (회기로10길)
Yeonghwiwon and Sunginwon (영휘원과 숭인원)
Left onto Hoegi-ro (회기로), Left on Hongneung-ro (홍릉로)
Hours | February – May 9:00 – 18:00, June – August 9:00 – 18:30, September – October 9:00 – 18:00, November – January 9:00 – 17:30; Closed Mondays
Admission | Adults 1,000원, Children 7-18 500원
Phone | 02) 962-0556
Website | eureung.cha.go.kr
Pajeon Alley (파전골목)
Left on Hoegi-ro (회기로), Left on Hoegi-ro-28-gil (회기로28길)