After the last couple stations proved to be rather on the dull side it was nice to be out around Namguro which, while not a showstopper, at least provided an interesting neighborhood with some interesting sights.
Exit 3 dropped me off on the west side of Gurodong-gil (구로동길) across from a row of seven hostess bars which were followed immediately by a church. Sin, repent, repeat.
Besides that curious little tableau the most immediately noticeable feature of the area was the preponderance of signs in Chinese, indicating that the area’s Chinese enclave was bigger than just what we had come across when visiting Daerim Station, about a kilometer to the northeast. In fact, there may have been an even higher concentration of businesses aimed at Chinese customers here – noraebangs, real estate offices, and, especially, restaurants. Walking around I picked up the scent of star anise, not something you see (or smell) much of in your average Korean neighborhood, and walked past a number of eateries offering dog meat, grilled lamb, catfish, and Szechuan hot pot.
In general, the neighborhood southwest of Gurodong-gil was rather grubby and filled with moderately dumpy pet stores, convenience stores, and salons, but if you follow the road south to Nambusunhwa-ro (남부순화로) it’s a different story. Here the avenue is lined with shiny new office towers, likely housing tech companies like the nearly identical towers a couple blocks further west, on the opposite side of Gasan Digital Complex Station.
Back near the station a cluster of a half dozen ajummas were sitting on a corner outside Exit 4 peeling garlic to sell alongside onions and some other veggies. More Chinese restaurants, cheap-o salons, fried chicken joints and noraebangs were here on the northern spur of Gurodong-gil.
Turning right on Gurodong-ro-8-gil (구로동로8길) I walked past the following scene: a shopping cart and suitcase leaning up against each other on the side of the street outside an apartment building, followed by a rusty bike chained to a suitcase, a rusty bike locked to a rustier clothes rack, and a rusty bike locked to a milk crate and toppled parking sign. Were they saving parking spaces? Just past this oddity I came to the Sehwa Day Care and its playground set in the shape of a giant chicken. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love walking around this city.
Though some parts of the neighborhood are rather grungy, Dorim-ro (도림로), the main street running along the station, has been sprucing itself up. The street was lined with trees and several bars and restaurants with wooden street-side patios, and a small decorative island of rocks and flower bushes sat outside Exit 5. From there I walked down Hambak-gil (함박길) into the neighborhood northwest of the station, a rather hilly area of brick homes and villa apartments, with sets of steep narrow stairs leading back down to the main drag. Tight alleys ran parallel to Dorim-ro, and a truck selling jjukkumi (쭈꾸미), mini octopi, drove past.
Almost at the end of the side street, just before it ran back into Gurodong-gil, I came to Guro Market (구로시장). A shadowy alley lined with clothing shops ran to my right (shadowy in that it was covered by a tarp, not that it was suspicious, though some of the prints on display may lead you to think otherwise), offering hanbok and other, everyday clothes, mostly of the garish off-the-market-rack variety that appeals so appallingly to the over-40 set: obnoxious floral patterns, clashing colors, sparkles, elastic waistbands, etc.
The alley came out on a portion of the market covered by an arced corrugated metal roof. There were no ceiling lights, only bare bulbs and fluorescent tubes hung over individual stalls by wires connected to the ceiling high above, so even though it was the middle of the afternoon and sunny out, the market remained dark.
The wings running east and west offered hats and housewares, while the north wing was lined with small restaurants on either side and food stalls down the center. Each food stall consisted of a linoleum countertop with wooden benches on one, two, or three sides, usually with a blanket or something on the seat to provide a bit of a cushion, held in place by packing tape. Small glass display cases on the countertops showed what was on offer, TVs were turned to baseball or a variety show, and in the center of each stall one or two women alternately cooked on small gas burners and gabbed with the clientele. Food tended to be of the distinctly un-fancy variety: chicken feet, clams, dog meat, squid, a pile of crabs, one still moving just a bit. The ad hoc electrical wiring and no frills makeup of the stalls strongly reminded me of those in the markets of somewhere like Vietnam or Laos, where you sit down for a meal with the bare minimum of amenities, the bare minimum of concern for health regulations, and usually end up getting a feed that’s maximally rewarding.
North and east from there the wet market spreads out, carrying everything you’d expect to find: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, different types of dry noodles wrapped in cylinders of butcher paper, the exact type of noodle scrawled in magic marker on the side. Past this and out in the sunlight again the market became more all-purpose and began including clothes, housewares, and plants as well. What was rather remarkable was that a market that had at first looked rather small seemed to keep expanding to cover even more space and contain even more things, until it became one of the biggest markets that we’ve come across in the course of the project. I kind of approached the market by the backdoor, but if you’re looking for it the easiest way to get there is to go out Exit 6 and hang a left at any of the next few streets you come to.
After spending a good while wandering through the market I went back to the station to check out the east side of Dorim-no. The area here, out Exits 1 and 2, is a slightly neater and flatter version of the neighborhood on the west side. Apartment towers sit beyond the small restaurants, shops, and villas that fill the area and make up a very average Korean neighborhood, the one anomaly being a small pocket of poorer homes tucked into the corner behind Dorim-ro and Jueun-gil (주은길).
Guro Market (구로시장)
Left on any of the first few side streets