Put on your varsity jacket and turn on your Vampire Weekend, we’re going back to school.
Quite obviously, Hanyang University Station serves the campus of Hanyang University (한양대학교). Founded in 1939 as the Dong-A Engineering Institute, Hanyang is one of Korea’s top schools and home to its most prestigious engineering program. Exit 1 will drop you near the university’s main gate, though Exit 2 is actually more convenient for getting you on campus, as you come out right on Hanyang Plaza.
The plaza is flanked to the east by the Administration Building, a four-story gray stone structure with columns and pediment, and to the north by another handsome stone building. I took a seat on a ledge at the edge of the plaza for a few minutes to chill out and take in the students strolling back and forth alone or in pairs, and to watch one small group cross the plaza clapping and carrying a cake as they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to their friend. It was a good time to be visiting, with the first chill of fall lending a nostalgic back-to-school feel to the scene, and as I watched the students in their September plaids and cardigans I felt a curious tension between the feeling that it really hadn’t been that long since I was lugging my bag across Library Mall, and the sensation that I was now very much removed from that time in my life and the time that the kids in front of me were going through.
One thing that perhaps let me feel at least not entirely disconnected was that, as anyone who’s spent time around a campus here has noticed, Korean university students dress much better than their Western counterparts. You won’t find many sweatpants here and you’ll find far more heels. Hanging out around Hanyang in the button-down I’d worn to work I fit right in, and it took me a full ten minutes to spot my first kid with hot pink hair and a guitar on his back.
In general, I thought that the campus lacked some of the vivacity that characterizes most American campuses, and it wasn’t until I went by the music building where a couple groups of students were hanging out, laughing, and jamming on beat up couches that I really felt some of that directionless energy I remember being so common when I was in school. Of course, the short time I spent there and my own nostalgia could be throwing off my judgment, but I do know that I couldn’t ever imagine my own school having set up speakers throughout campus to softly play classical music the way Hanyang had.
Hanyang’s other buildings aren’t as pretty as those on the plaza; they’re modern and not especially notable, but the campus is nice enough, with lots of trees and shady paths. Behind the Administration Building is a large sunken amphitheater where small groups of students sat spread out on the tiered half-circle of stone and grass seating. In the rear of the campus is a large dirt athletic field where a baseball team was practicing, two adjacent soccer games were taking place, and there was even an American football team holding a lazy practice, halfheartedly working on field goals, the kicker dinking the first one off the crossbar before making good on the next.
At least, I think the field is in the back. Hanyang’s campus is deceptively big and hilly, and it’s fairly easy to get lost as a newcomer, as I more or less did for the better part of an hour. I stumbled around for a while, going up and down hills, before finally coming close to getting my bearings and following an indicatively large flow of students out to the university’s main gate, which actually isn’t so much a gate as it is a plaza that funnels up into the school.
So where do all these bright young things live? Well, for those who don’t live with their parents, quite a few no doubt populate the neighborhood near Bit Plaza that we explored in our Wangsimni post; it’s just a 10-minute walk from Exit 1, a short ways past the main gate. Many more certainly live in the neighborhood across Wangsimni-gil (왕십리길) that connects to Exit 4 via pedestrian bridge. Tucked behind and next to a large middle school and high school, this neighborhood also has a surplus of goshiwons (고시원) and goshitels (고시텔), as well as hasuks (하숙), boarding houses similar to goshiwons, the difference being that hasuks are often run by ajummas who may offer boarders a daily meal or two, as well as take care of their laundry. Considerably less lively than the area near Bit Plaza, this neighborhood is devoid of bars, but does have a number of cheap restaurants and small convenience stores for ramen runs.
Although it helps, you don’t have to be a student to hang out around Hanyang. Simply go out Exit 3, alongside the rails as they prepare to go over the bridge crossing the Jungnyang Stream (중량천), and just before they do, take the stairs that go down to the street in front of the waterway. This wide stream, which empties into the Han just a kilometer southwest, is crisscrossed by highways and flanked by bicycle and walking paths, which you’ll likely see a fair number of people taking advantage of. The Jungnyang is also pleasingly flecked with rocks, giving the flow of water some texture.
Arriving at the stream, the first thing I noticed was a wide pedestrian bridge just off to the left, the first third stone, the rest concrete. This is the Salgoji Bridge (살곶이다리), at 76 meters the longest existing bridge from the Joseon Period. Constructed between 1420, the second year of King Sejong’s reign, and 1483, the 14th year of King Seongjong’s, it linked Seoul to points southeast. Despite the length of time devoted to its construction it’s a very modest structure; there are no rails or any other decorations. The bridge’s construction consists of horizontal stone racks placed across rows of four stone pillars set upright in the streambed. Parts of the bridge washed away in a 1920 flood, but the structure was repaired in 1972. By that time, however, the Jungnyang had widened so it was necessary to add the concrete extension. Historical Site No. 160, the bridge bears two names. Its Chinese name is the Jeongot Bridge (전곶교), Salgoji being the pure Korean one. According to the plaque near the bridge, the name Salgoji derives from an anecdote about an arrow that King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, shot, which hit the pillar of the hut where his son, the future King Taejong was staying ‘while the two were at odds,’ which is an awfully cordial way of putting what very nearly amounts to filicide.
Fortunately for visitors the bridge is still in use, and you’re free to have a stroll across, as many locals were doing when I visited. An old guy had even clambered down to a tiny islet part way across to set up six fishing poles in the stream, hoping to catch a bite.
East of the bridge is Salgoji Park (살곶이공원), tucked into the corner where the Cheonggye Stream (청계천) empties into the Jungnyang. The confluence is a migratory birds protection area, and there are small signs of various birds that you might spot in the area.
Between the bridge and the Cheonggye there is a small skate park where several rollerbladers and skateboarders were rather lackadaisically performing tricks, and an inline skating track where several teams of elementary school racers were practicing, most going around the oval in single-file lines, others working on their turns by skating in tight circles on the infield. Beyond those are a pair of adjacent soccer pitches, on one of which an amateur samulnori troupe was practicing, clanging up a pleasant ruckus in the fading light.
Hanyang University (한양대학교)
Campus and Hanyang Plaza
Jungnyang Stream (중량천), Salgoji Bridge (살곶이다리), and Salgoji Park (살곶이공원)
Straight on Wangsimni-gil (왕십리길), down stairs just before the bridge