As with so many of the stations that ring Seoul’s outer edges, Danggogae sits in the shadow of the nearby mountains, in this case Buramsan (불암산) to the southeast and Suraksan (수락산) to the north, and just outside of Exit 1 you’ll find a large map that outlines the local hiking trails, which a fair number of brightly-clad Seoulites were either on their way to or from when I stopped by.
Of course, the furthest that my own expedition was taking me was just the immediate neighborhood, but even if you limit your local trip to the same you won’t be deprived of the mountains’ charms. The air here is less congested than in other parts of Seoul, and as I followed Sanggye-ro (상계로) around its bend from Exit 1 I was presented with a lovely view of Buramsan’s forested peak rising up ahead, its large bald northwestern face sticking out like the bare strip cut by a razor through a thick beard.
Danggogae is a Sunday neighborhood, even on Saturdays. Maybe it’s the mountains’ mellowing influence or maybe it’s just being on the edge of the city, but the area is rather sleepy. It’s quiet there. A few people are out doing the shopping or snacking at local fast food stalls, but no one seems in much of a rush to get anywhere, not unlike the fish that I saw drying out front of a local restaurant. They’d been tied up with string through their mouths, a half-dozen of them, and then hung from a pipe that was balanced between two plastic chairs, waiting for the sun to do its slow work.
The most interesting area around Danggogae Station is just across from Exits 1 and 2. South of the tracks is a jumble of poor homes, many with tarps on their roofs held down with bricks or roof tiles like those we first came across in Geoyeo, though the neighborhood here isn’t in such a bad state. Some homes also had pumpkins growing on the roofs, and others had spread out blankets or mats in front of their doors to dry vegetables. One home had repurposed a clothes rack by slinging a reed mat across it and spreading out zucchini slices. A couple kids dashed by, but like in similar neighborhoods, most of the people around were seniors, including a trio of old men killing time on plastic stools outside of a convenience store.
Walking around, I could hear the arriving and departing trains and the bells and announcements drifting over from the station; it was a cheerful sound in the late afternoon light, but was likely an annoyance or worse for the residents, who heard it every couple minutes from dawn until nearly midnight. In addition to the noise, another problem that the residents will soon have to deal with, once again, is the cold. It’s likely that few, if any, of the homes have modern heating systems, their heat provided instead by old-fashioned charcoal briquettes. On one of the main streets in the area I came across a yeontan (연탄) hut, where hundreds of charcoal cylinders were stacked up, ready for winter. Hung on the front of the hut was a small whiteboard on which someone had written a phone number for orders.
Among the homes you’ll also notice a number of places with red Buddhist swastikas, often accompanied by paper lotus lanterns and red and white flags. In Geoyeo it was tiny churches that dotted the neighborhood and, presumably, provided spiritual succor; in Danggogae it’s these fortune tellers.
In contrast to the scene across the street, near Exit 3 Danggogae sports one of the more kitted out neighborhood parks we’ve come across. Besides basketball, badminton, and jokku (족구) courts, Danggogae Park (당고개공원) sports a couple of features that really set it apart. One is the artificial waterfall across from the main entrance. The main cascade, flanked by two smaller ones, tumbles about four into a small pool, kicking up a very fine mist. Above the waterfall is a small wooden pavilion that a group of boys had commandeered and turned into a fort, and behind that are some stone steps leading that mark the beginning of a path into the foot of Suraksan.
In the opposite corner of the park is a very large climbing wall that you’ll likely first spot on the train in. About 20 climbers were hanging around taking turns climbing, acting as spotters, and relaxing on mats and lawn chairs around the edge of the padded base.
More leisurely recreation was being pursued back on a traffic median running alongside the station. There, sitting on park benches or just standing around, several groups of old guys had congregated. A couple of these, numbering about a dozen each, were either participating in or watching competitive games of yutnori (윷놀이). Others were taking in games of Go and janggi (장기), while one group had dispensed with the pretense altogether and was just sitting around drinking.
If instead of Exit 3 you go out Exit 4, a short little alley will pop you right into a small market that runs parallel to the rail tracks. The market wasn’t marked on the station map, so I don’t know what its name is; based on its everydayness – banchan, vegetables, dried peppers, clothing – we’ll just call in Danggogae Market (당고개시장). If you’re up for a bit of a walk, you can follow the signs in the market a kilometer up the slopes of Suraksan to Haklim Temple (학림사).
Danggogae Park (당고개공원)
Danggogae Market (당고개시장)