[ Hello! Before Charlie commences the 101st station here, I wanted to introduce myself—I’m Meagan, the newest member of the Seoul Sub→urban team. I’ll be picking up where Liz left off as photographer (though certainly not replacing her, as nobody could). I was a fan and follower of this project long before I became a part of it, so I’m honored and humbled to make my first post here. I hope you guys enjoy this collection of photos and those to come. Check out my bio in the sidebar if you want to know more or get in touch. A big, big thank you to Liz, Charlie and all of you! – Meagan ]
I used to live out by Balsan, and further still, and several times a week I’d take the 5 Line into town from Songjeong Station and the train would run right past Magok, slowing down slightly as it ran through the station, before pulling into its first stop at Balsan. For a while I wondered why Magok Station wasn’t in use; I didn’t know of any other station in the city like that. Finally, one day I was on the bus or being driven somewhere by a co-teacher, I can’t recall exactly, and we went down Gonghang-ro (공항로) between Songjeong and Balsan, and on both sides of the road, surrounding the poles that marked the Magok Station exits, was an enormous, empty field. That answered one question – Why didn’t trains stop there? – but it raised two others: Why was there a station there at all? And why was there just a huge field between neighborhoods?
Trains now stop at the Magok station, though the huge field is still there, outside Exits 8 and 9. But along with the reeds and weeds there were now guys in hardhats standing around on fresh blacktop, and a dozen or so cranes near the far western side of the field. The twenty-foot high metal wall that ran along the sidewalk between Gangseo-ro (강서로) and the field, north of Exit 2, was covered with computerized images of the field’s future: a sprawling apartment complex, complete with shopping and an artificial wetland. Given the time that the area had been just a field, I wondered how long plans for the development had been in the works. However long it was, things were now getting started.
The Gonghang-ro and Gangseo-ro intersection was surrounded by restaurants, businesses, and a car dealership, and a walk east went past a relatively unremarkable collection of the same. The grays and browns of the buildings were broken up, however, by the tree-covered slopes of Ujang-san (우장산) to the southeast, its fall foliage lending a pop of red, yellow, and orange to the surroundings.
On the north side of Gonghang-ro, near Exits 3 and 4, a small grid of streets was filled with restaurants and a few drinking establishments, and on the other side of these was the large NC Department Store and Kim’s Club. Tents had been set up on the sidewalk outside to sell extra merchandise, including one (it was November 9) saying ‘Happy PeperoDay’ and offering all varieties of the tasteless snack.
There’s relatively little in the Balsan area that would be of interest to non-locals; the neighborhood very much moves to the rhythms of middle-class Korean life, with apartments on backstreets and grocers, phone shops, and restaurants out front, and everyone simply going about their business. They’re also run of the mill, but if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood and at a loss for what to do, the neighborhood’s north side does have a few small parks that provide the best option for killing time here.
Going out Exit 3, walking north on Gangseo-ro, turning right on Gangseo-ro-56-gil (강서로56길), and walking past the NC Department Store will bring you to the largest of these, Weondang Neighborhood Park (원당근린공원). Here you’ll find exercise equipment, a playground, and a foot massaging walking path. Turn left at NC instead of going straight and you’ll soon arrive at the tiny Saebeot Park (새벗공원), tucked in amongst apartment buildings. Aimed at the neighborhood’s kids, there’s a rubber-matted play area, and a small fountain that spouts up from another rubber mat, this one painted with three cartoon angelfish.
Pass Saebeot heading north, and after a block you’ll find Deungchonjae 2 Neighborhood Park (등촌제2근린공원). Larger than Saebeot, it has a bigger play set and more exercise equipment, a larger dirt playing field, and a walking oval around its edge. I paused here for a while to watch as an ajumma with an orange handbag spend several minutes laying into a group of ten middles school boys, one in particular, for throwing their trash on the ground. The boys didn’t say anything back, thinking it better to simply try to drift out of range and let the storm blow over.
Weondang Neighborhood Park (원당근린공원)
Straight on Gangseo-ro (강서로), Right on Gangseo-ro-56-gil (강서로56길)
Saebeot Park (새벗공원) and Deungchonjae 2 Neighborhood Park (등촌제2근린공원)
Straight on Gangseo-ro (강서로), Right on Gangseo-ro-56-gil (강서로56길), Left at NC Department Store