In a development almost as exciting for the blog as last post’s discovery of Naksan Naengmyeon, we were joined for this excursion by John Glionna, the Los Angeles Times’ Seoul Bureau Chief, as he prepared a story on Seoul Sub→urban for the paper. (Greetings Angelenos! Send tacos!) So prior to our weekend’s jaunt through Garibong-dong (가리봉동) around Gasan Digital Complex Station, the three of us sat down over coffee to discuss the project and to try and postpone stepping out into the 30 degree heat as long as possible.
Now, theoretical: You’re heading to a subway station with the words ‘digital complex’ in its name. What product would be the primary motivation for your visit? Well, if you’re heading to this particular ‘digital complex’ station the answer would be clothing. And a whole lot of it.
Thirty or so years ago, during Korea’s great developmental push, the Guro Industrial Complex was built in the area around Guro- and Garibong-dongs, and a major part of this consisted of clothing factories. Eventually stores started showing up here too, many connected directly to the factories and mostly selling surplus or defective merchandise at discounted prices. As these found success more shops and outlets opened up, and when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in the late Nineties the area’s status as a reliable place to get quality clothing at low prices cemented Garibong-dong as a fashion destination. With Korea’s continued economic growth the factories are long gone, mostly having moved overseas, but the neighborhood remains Seoul’s largest shopping area dedicated solely to clothing.
The heart of Geumcheon Fashion Town (금천패션타운) is southeast of the station, accessible from Exit 4. Right outside the station workers in bright orange vests were handing out flyers for Mario Outlet, one of the neighborhood’s largest malls. (There are actually three Mario Outlets.) The first place we came across was the bright fuchsia façade of the Fashion Island outlet, where racks and racks of discounted suits were set up on the sidewalk out front, interspersed with portable changing rooms. The obligatory K-pop – T-ara’s 처음처럼 for those keeping score at home – fizzed out of speakers. Inside was a very standard selection of mid-range clothing: brands like Polham, Ask Enquired, and Andew.
Continuing to follow Cherry Blossom Mile Street (벗꽃십리길) and its parallel Line 1 tracks south brought us to the collection of Mario outlets, where signs advertised 30-60% off Zara, Calvin Klein, and Buckaroo merchandise. There was a squat two-story pastel pink building tucked in between outlets that looked like it was probably once one of the clothing factories that used to be so prevalent in the area. Now it looked mostly abandoned; the only sign of life inside a lone worker scooping scraps of paper from a pile on the floor into a trash bag. From the main street a crooked walkway lined with racks of t-shirts, pants, and dresses led back to a small plaza nestled between the various Mario outlets. A café was set up on one side of the plaza, and in the middle of the café’s tables was a rough-hewn wooden canoe resting on a wheeled frame. A couple of small signs – one in Korean and English, one in Japanese – were also posted, noting where a Christmas scene from the drama ‘Winter Sonata’ was filmed.
At Rodeo Intersection at the corner of Digital Complex Road (디지털단지로) and Fashion Complex Street (패션단지길) hulks the original Mario Outlet. A delightful Circus Peanut orange it’s a big box with small windows attached to a big cylinder with small windows. It’s ugly, but there are clothes inside.
Across Digital Complex Road from Mario is yet another outlet, W-Mall, recognizable by the huge diamond-hashed silver parallelogram on its side. Quite thoughtfully the mall had a table set up out front where a man cut up free slices of watermelon for shoppers and the occasional freeloading blogger.
We walked east across Fashion Complex Street and under an arch proclaiming ‘Digital Valley – Seoul, Geumcheon-gu’ that marked the boundary between Geumcheon-gu, which we’d just left, and Yeongdeungpo-gu, which we were temporarily walking into. More outlet stores in what looked like converted clothing factories continued to line the street. After a couple blocks these eventually gave way to a collection of motels and restaurants around the Nambusunhwan Highway (남부순환로), where we turned back towards the station.
On the west side of the station, out of Exits 5, 6, or 7 a couple roads run parallel to Cherry Blossom Mile Street. These roads are lined with tall glass tower after tall glass tower housing a panoply of IT companies, and it’s this cluster that gives Gasan Digital Complex Station its name. When the electronics assembly and clothing and factories moved out, IT companies moved in and there are now upwards of 8,000 in the area, employing more than 100,000 workers – their work ranging from digital content to semiconductors – making it the country’s largest concentration.
That’s all sort of interesting from an economic kind of perspective, but it doesn’t make for very intriguing wandering around. If the area feels just a bit too corporate for you or if you happen to be a salaryman out on your lunch break, a two block stroll straight west down Gasan Digital 1 Road (가산다지털1로) from either Exit 5 or 6 will bring you to a pedestrian bridge leading over the Seobu Expressway (서부간선도로) to a bike and walking path running along Anyang Stream (안양천). Across the stream Seoul ends and the city of Gwangmyeong (광명시) begins. A wonderful breeze that didn’t touch us amidst the clothing outlets and office towers was blowing down the channel. A number of bikers zipping up and down the path were enjoying it, and so was a heron that we spotted standing in the slow-moving shallow water near the far bank.
Geumcheon Fashion Town (금천패션타운)
South on Cherry Blossom Mile Street (벗꽃십리길)
Exits 5, 6, or 7
Anyang Stream (안양천)
Exits 5 or 6
West on Gasan Digital 1 Road (가산다지털1로)