Almost none of the buildings around Airport Market Station are more than three or four stories tall, and this makes the wide Gonghang-daero (공항대로) just south of Exit 4 seem bigger than it already is. I used to live close to here – my first place in Seoul was south of the nearby Songjeong Station – but even though I obviously got out to other parts of the city I never really paid attention to the relative spaciousness until I recently returned.
The reason for the low buildings, of course, is the proximity of Gimpo Airport, which Gonghang-daero runs right up to at its west end. I started my visit by walking in the direction of my old neighborhood, taking in a clear view of the large three-legged sculpture that marks the airport’s entrance. It was a warm day and a lot of people were out, including a guy who had set up a row of about 50 yellow bins along the west wall of Songjeong Elementary School to sell all sorts of domestic odds and ends.
The east side of the station was a peaceful, family-oriented neighborhood, filled mostly with local shops and notable for its relative dearth of chain stores, particularly international ones. The expected red brick apartments lined the backstreets, and I watched for a bit as people headed to Banghwa-dong-ro (방화동로), the main street, to do shopping. Walking north on it, I was slowly trailed for a block by a Bongo truck creeping along and using the loudspeaker mounted on its roof to blare advertisements for the squid in its bed. There was nothing particularly special about the area, but it gave off good vibes, and felt to me more like a smaller, provincial city than part of Seoul.
I looped northwest for a bit, through an area that took me past auto service centers, hostess bars, restaurants, churches, and snack shops, before returning to Exit 1 to check out the actual Airport Market (공항시장).
Immediately outside the exit some old women were selling vegetables and legumes on the sidewalk, and as I walked past them an guy driving a flatbed cart attached to a small tractor motor went past, the loudest thing I had heard in the neighborhood.
I turned right into the market on Banghwa-dong-3-gil (방화동3길) and walked past a couple decrepit looking buildings, their paint all chipped and the canvas that had once formed overhangs now shredded and hanging forlornly from the skeletal steel beams. A few steps further on a neon sign (off) picturing a mug of beer and the word ‘HOF’ hung at a crazy angle from a lone loop of wire.
There were a few businesses that looked like they formed the link between raw material and product sold in the market, but approximately 80% of the businesses were closed. I first wondered if Saturday was just an off day for the market, but the longer I wandered around the more I became convinced that things were simply falling apart. Clumps of weeds grew out of cracks in the buildings and on roofs, and inside the passageways were lit by single bulbs, occasionally partly illuminating a shadowy figure walking through.
I wandered into the actual market building, where most places’ shutters were down. Judging by the amount of rust on them it was likely they hadn’t actually been opened for a long time. Life here seemed to have packed up and moved on.
Before doing so myself, however, I needed to sate my curiosity, so I ascended the concrete steps to the second floor. Amazingly, not everything up there was closed. A tailor shop was still open, the proprietress sitting inside and chatting with a friend, and, in doing so, leaving me baffled as to how one could manage to stay in business on the second floor of a building that was three-quarters abandoned inside a market that was three-quarters abandoned. There was also a bar up there, doing a fairly brisk business of old men, though this was easier to comprehend. Old guys like to drink and they especially like to drink on the cheap, and I doubted I could find many cheaper bars in Seoul.
Just before I went back down and returned to the subway, I walked to the south end of the building, past an old-fashioned sewing machine set along the wall in the hallway, and stepped into a room where sunlight poured in through the window. There was a desk on one side and a whiteboard calendar hanging on the wall opposite, and between them a lone navy and silver ottoman, sitting in the middle of the floor. I wondered how long ago whatever business that had been there had left, and how long it would be until all the others did. My guess was not long.
Airport Market (공항시장)
Right on Banghwa-dong-3-gil (방화동3길)