An anomaly in the Seoul subway system, the Line 4 station and Line 7 station in this neighborhood that marks the dividing line between Dongjak-gu and Seocho-gu actually bear different names, despite being a transfer point. The Line 4 station is called Chongshin University, while the connecting Line 7 station is Isu. I’m not privy to why this is exactly, so if any readers could enlighten us we’d be grateful.
If you arrive via the 7 there’s a good chance you’ll pass by a rather large plaza-like area at the station’s east end, and if you do you’ll likely see young b-boys honing their skills to the beats pouring out of a nearby boom box. About a half-dozen middle schoolers were gathered there on a recent Sunday, switching from toprock to downrock and back again. Nearby, in another open space, a separate group of young enthusiasts were honing their yo-yo skills.
My exploration started from Exit 5 on a crystal clear day, traffic busy around the large intersection. A stroll east took me past a concrete plaza with a dormant fountain, a batting cage, and a king crab restaurant where dozens of the bumpy crustaceans sat in bubbling outdoor tanks. The area southeast of the station was quite quiet, with a larger than normal percentage of businesses closed for the day when compared to other neighborhoods. The most intriguing thing in the area (admittedly, not saying much) was a huge lot that had been fenced off for redevelopment.
Sitting just a half-block away from the main drag of Dongjak-daero (동작대로) and easily visible from it when walking south from Exit 6, the lot covered several square blocks, but what it was intended for was rather inscrutable as it consisted of just piles of rubble and dirt paths. Much better was the view due south: the mountain ridges of Gwanak-san (관악산) at the city’s southern edge.
I next looped through the area southwest of the station, which was more of what I’d already seen – smaller apartment buildings beneath a webbing of power lines – before going north across Sadang-ro (사당로). Hanging the first right from Exit 10, Sadang-ro-29-gil (사당로29길), I came to a man working with a power drill outside a shop on the first corner, taking apart and fixing appliances. A big stack of all manner of appliances loomed next to him – fans on top of rice cookers on top of refrigerators, microwaves and TVs and anything else you could plug in.
A bit deeper into the neighborhood nine old guys squatted and hunched around a janggi (장기) board, and past them about a dozen parents stood waiting for their kids outside a hagwon. The area was hillier than it had been south of Sadang-ro, with stairs often linking parallel streets running north-south. It was only marginally less sleepy, but just when I was starting to think that absolutely nothing was happening here I turned the corner onto the cobblestoned Dongjak-daero-27-gil (동작대로27길), where apparently everyone in the neighborhood was hanging out.
Sitting behind the Taepyeong Department Store (태평백화점), the streets around Dongjak-daero-27-gil form a very lively entertainment area filled with restaurants, shops, and bars. There are big chains like Rotiboy and Tous les Jours, but also handmade burger joints, Italian and Japanese curry restaurants, bars with floor-to-ceiling windows, and trendy boutiques playing Thievery Corporation. You can also try out the Jet Rider (제트 라이더) 4D virtual rollercoaster if you fancy.
With everywhere else I’d walked around so far having been hushed and devoid of much life, this area came as a bit of a jolt, albeit a pleasant one. Brimming with families and young couples out enjoying the summer afternoon, it seemed like most everyone in the neighborhood had turned out there, looking to shake off the somnolence hanging over the rest of the area. To get there go our Exit 13, u-turn and head down the first side street.
There was some action going on a block further north, on Dongjak-daero-29-gil (동작대로29길), at the Namseong Market (남성시장), though, as you might have guessed, that attracted a significantly older crowd. An even mix of small stalls and proper storefronts expanding out onto the street, it ran the usual gamut of produce, housewares, cosmetics, and clothing. A side street running north skewed more towards foodstuffs. One uniqueness that set this market apart just a tiny bit from all the others in the city was the presence of a man selling, alongside fish and eels, live turtles, which he let crawl along the floor of his small shop.
The market is most easily reached by making a u-turn out of Exit 14; it’ll be on the side street directly in front of you. Also accessible from Exit 14, or Exit 1, is the ‘furniture street’ running along both sides of Dongjak-daero north of the station. Like similar streets in Nonhyeon, Ahyeon, and Euljiro, the road here is lined almost exclusively with furniture stores, most here of the unfussy home and office type. About half of the shops were closed on a recent Sunday, and those that were open generally may as well have been closed, as business was slow. Many had tarps draped over the wares sitting on the sidewalk, in anticipation of what looked like rain.
Taepyeong Department Store (태평백화점) and Dongjak-daero-27-gil (동작대로27길)
For Dongjak-daero-27-gil, u-turn and take the first left
Namseong Market (남성시장)
U-turn, take the first right
Exit 1 or 14