[A short hello! from me, the newest photographer of the Sub→urban team. This is the first post for which I photographed and I really hope you enjoy what you see here as much as you enjoyed looking at Liz's and Meagan's shots. I would love to receive any feedback you may have on the photos you see here and in upcoming posts so please feel free to comment away. Cheers, Merissa]
The on-ramp leading from Hwarang-ro (화랑로) to the Bukbu Expressway (북부간선도로) rose directly above Sangwolgok Station’s Exit 4, and as I walked up the stairs it looked so low that I might bump my head on it. It’s a weird bit of road design, and on the narrow sidewalk outside the exit I could almost lean over the rail and slap the hubcaps of cars as they rolled up the incline.
Just a few steps down the street was the Wounded Veterans Memorial Hall (성북구 보훈회관) and I thought it might have some interesting displays, but it was closed on the Sunday that I was in the neighborhood so I couldn’t find out.
The next left led to the main entrance of the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) (한국과학기술연구원), the campus of which spreads all the way down to near Wolgok Station. Boxy gray buildings with large windows stood quietly behind the rolling gates of a stately black metal fence.
KIST took up the better part of that side of the neighborhood, so there wasn’t much to explore, and I was quickly coming up on Wolgok, so I swung a U-turn and retraced my steps, heading northeast. On the sidewalk between Exits 3 and 4 I came across an easy to overlook plaque marking the former site of Mareundaemi Hill – Seonghwangdang Tree – Puseok Mountain (마른대미고개 – 성황당나무 – 푸석산). According to the plaque, atop the hill that crossed from Sangwolgok-dong to Jangwi-dong (formerly called Daemi Hill (대미고개)) there once stood a pine tree that represented a guardian god. The tree ‘would protect the village from calamity and give birth to a boy if people wished.’
Just past the stone marker and also between the two exits, a bright green and brown sign traced the course of Straw Basket Health Village (삼태기 건강마을), a series of vegetable gardens and wall murals dotted among the neighborhood streets. Just a few steps down the street was the first mural: a picnicking family enjoying themselves near a pond filled with ducks and frogs, while nearby neighbors leaned out of their windows or over balconies and an extremely well-mustachioed ice cream truck driver passed by. In between murals, little strips of garden sat separated from the street by miniature white picket fences. Of course the gardens were barren in mid-winter, but if the pictures painted on small signs weren’t merely decoration, in the summer carrots and lettuce were grown there.
I hadn’t seen anything quite like this elsewhere in Seoul, but with urban farming gaining both adherents and a bit of respect in other countries it’s not unreasonable to think that we’ll start seeing more of it. At least I hope so. And why not? With so many Seoulites suffering from too much stress it might provide some with a bit of catharsis, a chance to forget about the office for a bit and feel the earth between their fingers.
The chain of gardens eventually brought me past the offices of the Seoul National Forest Station (서울국유림관리소), a handsome modern structure of dark gray stone and reflective glass, behind which the land was dotted with Korean pines of a deep army green.
Just beyond the forest station was Eoreushin Health Garden and Cheonjang Mountain Walking Path (어르신 건강마당, 천장산 산책로). Like many other parks, Eoreushin had several pieces of exercise equipment, but in an interesting twist some of the machines here were modeled on traditional village apparatuses, like one resembling a mortar for pounding rice or grain and another that looked like a wooden waterwheel you were supposed to turn with your feet. I think. That latter one I couldn’t quite figure out. Beyond the exercise equipment stairs led up into the mountain for a quiet walk between denuded trees and a thin layer of snow.
From the park I wandered through the backstreets for a bit and then headed back down to the main street. As I was nearing it a trio of elementary school kids, two boys and one girl, were passing in the other direction, chatting, before one of the boys decided to slip into a rendition of ‘Arirang,’ trying, without success, to get his friends to join him.
I emerged back on Hwarang-ro near a decrepit old building that sat, mostly abandoned, between a new church and a new apartment complex. One indication of how deeply it had fallen into disregard was the sign advertising no longer used 016, 018, and 019 cell phone codes that hung in the window of a shop selling cheap, ugly shoes. Apparently the shoe shop owner hadn’t felt it was worth his trouble to take down.
The building the shop was in had once housed the New Seokgwan Market (새석관시장), and there was still a sign above the central entrance announcing this, but from the looks of things the market had disappeared some time ago. Now there was only trash piled up inside, though this, peculiarly, was organized in orderly rows – piles of refuse arranged in square sections between aisles as the market stalls must have been at one point. The scene was lit by a single fluorescent light bulb tube and by the sunlight sneaking in from the doors and through the holes in the roof where the metal had rusted through. On the edge of the trash piles, next to a couple shops fronting the street that were still open, was an old man sitting in the semi-dark, alone at what appeared to be a makeshift tea shop.
On the opposite side of Hwarang-ro and at the end of Hwarang-ro-25-gil (화랑로25길) was Jangwi Traditional Market (장위통시장). Despite this market having the word ‘traditional’ in its name and Seokgwan modifying itself with the word ‘new,’ the reality couldn’t have been more reversed. Jangwi sported a brand new sign above its entrance, and the market was covered in a brand new green canopy. The shop signs along the walkway were all uniform and everything was remarkably clean and orderly; even the whole pigs hanging in one of the market’s butcher shops were wrapped in plastic. No doubt Jangwi had seen some considerable recent investment, perhaps from the city or national government as part of the public campaign to update and increase interest in Korea’s traditional markets. The result was a market for people who don’t like markets – (almost) all of the charm, (almost) none of the grime.
The market more or less occupied just the one long, very long aisle, and anything one could expect to find in a less polished market one could also find here, including the largest vats of yukgaejang and chueotang that I’d ever seen.
After several minutes of walking, the new green canopy ended, there was a short open section, and then I entered into an older part of the market that either had not been renovated yet or was simply being left alone. This section was more akin to the majority of Seoul neighborhood markets, with rusty beams holding up a corrugated metal roof, and a mish-mash of styles on the signs hanging above businesses. When I finally emerged at the market’s far end I was met with the sight of an ajeosshi selling big bunches of green onion from the back of a truck. Apparently quite popular, he had a dozen people gathered around, looking to buy.
Also on the north side of the neighborhood is a large park, which, on the station map is called Aegineungteo Park (애기능터공원), on a sign near the entrance, Wolgok Mountain Park (월곡산공원), and on Naver Maps, Odong Park (오동공원). Take your pick I guess. Because it’s the first one I saw and it’s the most fun to say, I’m going to stick with Aegineungteo. To reach it from the station, first go out Exit 1, U-turn, and hang the first left onto Hwarang-ro-17-gil (화랑로17길)/Jangwol-ro (장월로). To the left is a huge yellow wall with paintings of trees, butterflies, and a giant flower. Surrounding the painted butterflies, several dozen smaller butterflies, made of fabric, were attached to the wall, but because they were all black they seemed more pestilential that beautiful.
Not far past the wall I took the soft left onto Jangwol-ro-3-gil (장월로3길) where it and another street meet Hwarang-ro-17-gil in a V. I passed another wall mural, this one much brighter and depicting a starry-eyed Snoopy-like pooch and his adventures climbing a piano tree, with a digging mole, and with a flying pink whale. The inclined road eventually came to an elementary school, and I kept following it along the school’s left side as it continued, more steeply, uphill to one of the park’s entrances.
Within the park were a number of athletic and exercise facilities, as well as separate halmeoni and harabeoji resting spots, but the park’s marquee attraction is the actual Aegineungteo (애기능터) or Wide Rock (넓은 바위) (Naming things twice (or more) seemingly the thing to do around Sangwolgok.), a large rock face that juts out from the hillside, creating a natural lookout point. Accentuating things was a wooden pavilion built on top of the protruding rock. There was a small book café under the pavilion – basically a shelf with some books that park-goers could read – and some stairs that led up to its main platform, which two ajummas yelled at me for starting to go up with my shoes on.
You don’t actually need to climb the pavilion stairs to enjoy the view, though. Simply walking out onto the big stone face of Aegineungteo’s top provides views of Yongma Mountain (용마산), Cheonggye Mountain (청계산), Gwanak Mountain (관악산), and N Seoul Tower. Closer, the backs of Daehanbulgyo Jingakjong and the Dongduk Women’s University sign were clearly visible, as were hundreds of apartment rooftops and cars moving along the highway in miniature.
Wounded Veterans Memorial Hall (성북구 보훈회관)
Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) (한국과학기술연구원)
Left on Hwarang-ro-14-gil (화랑로14길)
Mareundaemi Hill – Seonghwangdang Tree – Puseok Mountain Plaque (마른대미고개 – 성황당나무 – 푸석산)
Straw Basket Health Village (삼태기 건강마을)
U-turn, Right on Hwarang-ro-18-gil (화랑로18길), Right on Hwarang-ro-18-ga-gil (화랑로18가길)
Seoul National Forest Station (서울국유림관리소)
U-turn, Right on Hwarang-ro-18-gil (화랑로18길), Right on Hwarang-ro-18-ga-gil (화랑로18가길)
New Seokgwan Market (새석관시장)
Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로)
Jangwi Traditional Market (장위통시장)
Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로), Left on Hwarang-ro-25-gil (화랑로25길)
Aegineungteo Park (애기능터공원)
U-turn, Left on Hwarang-ro-17-gil (화랑로17길)/Jangwol-ro (장월로), Left onto Kkumnamu-gil (꿈나무길)