Just outside Exits 3 and 4 at Gangbyeon Station there are signs of people on the move. A row of a half-dozen food stalls lines the sidewalk, pouring steam into the winter air, and in front of them smokers work their way through cigarettes, shoulders hunched against the cold, free hands gripping suitcase handles.
After they stub out the ends they turn and head into the massive white building behind them, the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (동서울종합버스터미날), and a few minutes after that they’re off, away from the city for a weekend.
Dong Seoul Terminal, also commonly known as East Seoul Terminal, primarily handles routes to the north and east of the city but buses from here run to every one of Korea’s provinces, Jeju excepted. Whether your plans are to hit the beach at Sokcho in Gangwon-do or to hike Jirisan in Gyeongsang-do, you can get there from here.
Inside the terminal ticket windows flank the central lobby where crowds of people come and go, from twenty-somethings carrying snowboard bags to monks in monochromatic gray robes and matching bag. A shoe-shiner had set himself up on a bench underneath the central escalators and was busy polishing away at a waiting ajumma’s black ankle-boots, while further in the back a couple dozen travelers sat on rows of yellow plastic chairs watching a replay of a Korean soccer game on the TV in front of them.
Around the corner, on the opposite side of the escalators, a few volunteers had set up a table and were collecting signatures in support of Pyeongchang’s bid to host the Winter Olympics.
The wings running off the main lobby are lined with shops supplying all the last-minute travel essentials: pharmacies, newspaper stands, shops for bags and clothes. There’s also, of course, an abundance of convenience stores.
These shops occupy cramped little storefronts and must also orient all their products outward to catch the eye of the passing traveler. The result is shops where merchandise is packed together so tightly that the shelves disappear – bags of chips and boxes of cookies stacked on and next to rice cakes and oranges, with dried squid and toy guns and microphones hanging in front of them.
If you have more time to kill take the stairs. In the basement you can find two restaurants, one Korean and one Chinese, a bar, a pool hall, and even a cigar shop. Upstairs, on the second through fourth floors, are more eateries as well as a bookstore, comics store and café, and an arcade filled with simple joystick-and-two-button games and a two-person noraebang booth where one song will cost you just 500 won.
At the far ends of some of the terminal’s wings, under dim lighting, sit banks of rusty old pay phones. In a country with over a 93 percent rate of cell phone ownership they might seem like an anachronism. But there’s one demographic for whom these old machines still play an important role. Your ordinary grunt in the Korean army is not permitted to have a mobile phone on base, so when they go on leave and need to arrange to be picked up by their family or girlfriend they head to a pay phone. We watched one private, just off the bus and still in fatigues, plugging coins into one of the phones, dialing and redialing until finally getting through on the fifth try.
For those of us who aren’t enlisted all of our technology wishes, cell phone and otherwise, are fulfilled across the street at Techno Mart. Connected to Exits 1 and 2 of Gangbyeon Station, Techno Mart is much like Yongsan Electronics Mart, though here everything is contained within the same building. Floor B2 houses a LotteMart, while on B1 and the first floor you’ll find clothing, jewelry, shoes, and sunglasses.
When you arrive at the second floor the ‘techno’ part of the mall finally kicks in. The second and third floors sell domestic electronic goods, from ovens to TVs to massaging chairs, while the fourth and fifth floors offer imports. Again the merchandise was quite diverse, and we found lamps, irons, cameras, and, in case you’re feeling sadistic, slide projectors.
Phones and computers take up the bulk of the sixth and seventh floors, respectively, and on the eighth you’ll find computer accessories and video game supplies. Take the central, glass-enclosed elevator up for a bird’s-eye view of it all.
On the tenth and uppermost floor of Techno Mart is the Gangbyeon CGV, which was the very first multiplex cinema to open in Korea. While waiting for your film you can pop into the adjoining arcade or have your fortune told by one of the tarot card readers seated at five adjacent lamp-lit booths in the lobby. Then again, knowing the ending takes the fun out of it.
If you need a break after shopping or fancy a pre-movie dinner, the ninth floor of Techno Mart hosts a variety of restaurants and cafes. It’s also where you can find Sky Park, a large open-air terrace looking out over the Han River. Gangbyeon means ‘riverside,’ and an elevated viewing platform here offers excellent views of the river and Jamsil and Olympic Bridges, with their eponymous neighborhoods just beyond them. The day we went, however, had started with flurries and by now had turned into a full-blown snowstorm, and as we stood in Sky Park all we could see beyond the near bank was a screen of white. The bridges slowly faded out before disappearing from view completely about halfway across the river, and it was as if the south side of town didn’t exist at all.
Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (동서울종합버스터미날)
Exit 3 or 4
– Hours: 5:30 – 24:00
– Address: Seoul, Gwangjin-gu, Guui-dong 546-1
– Phone: 02-453-7710 (Korean only); 1330 (Information Help Line – English assistance)
Exit 1 or 2
– Hours: 9F (Restaurants): 10:00am – 10:00pm
2F – 8F: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Weekdays 1F – 8F: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Weekdays & Holidays B1 – 1F: 10:00am – 9:00pm
Closed every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month
– Address: Seoul, Gwangjin-gu, Guui-dong 546-4
– Phone: 02-3424-0114
– Web: www.tm21.com