I’d been hoping for a bit more to be going on around Sangdo, given its relative proximity to Chung-Ang University (중앙대학교), and while it wasn’t an uninteresting neighborhood, it didn’t have any of the collegiate vibrancy that I’d thought it might. Much of the neighborhood, especially the areas outside Exits 2 and 3 was a typical Seoul landscape of businesses and restaurants on and near the main street, with apartment complexes a block or so removed. One of those businesses, down Sangdo-ro (상도로) a couple blocks from Exit 3, was a pet bird shop where parakeets, cockatiels, and a large chicken stood in cages just outside the door. Almost as if they were taunting their captive brethren, two pigeons strutted around on the pavement just outside the cages, pecking at the grain that had fallen on the wrong side of the bars.
I started my visit by walking down Sangdo-ro from Exit 1, though, passing several low one-story buildings with different shops occupying them: a butcher, an izakaya, an interiors shop with a couple dozen doors leaning against a wall out front, two Buddhist supply stores selling robes, little Buddha figurines, and a tiger statuette. Amid these was a rather large comic book café called Comic Cozzle. Next to its front door was an installation shaped like an oversize issue of the wildly popular Japanese manga ‘Drops of God’ (神の雫), intended to look as if it were coming through the window. Inside were a few teens bent over comic books at the café tables, shelves holding reading material, a pair of coin-operated toy dispensers, and a frilly pink and white dress on display in the window.
Turning right out of the same exit, I started southwest down Yangnyeong-ro (양녕로), soon passing through a traffic underpass with a daycare center perched on top. Once on the other side, a small alley to the left caught my eye and I started down it, into a partially hidden neighborhood of poor homes marked for redevelopment, huddled together in a small valley. I continued down the narrow little footpath to a spot where it started to climb uphill and I came to a point from which I could look out over the rooftops below, so close they practically touched one another. Several of the homes had their roofs covered in blue tarps, held down by tiles and bricks, much like those I’d seen in Geoyeo, but contrasting with the tarps quite a few of them also had satellite dishes latched to the eaves. On the ground next to me were three TVs lying screen-down next to a pile of branches someone had gathered together.
I couldn’t tell if anyone was still living in the area or if they’d all already moved out. Standing on the rise next to the TVs I spotted a teenage boy in a ball cap and backpack walking down some steps in an alley across the way, but he was the only person I saw and it was impossible to tell if he was going home or just passing through. Somewhere nearby a dog was barking and howling, but I couldn’t tell where it was or what it was barking at. I peeked in an open window on one home to see nothing but some rubble and papers scattered on the floor, but when I looked over the gate of a home nearer the station there were clothes hung on a drying rack and some shoes piled on a shelf.
North of the station, Exit 4, put me back on the busy eight-lane Yangnyeong-ro, lined with shops and cafes leading up to Sangdo Tunnel (상도터널). Here too there was another Buddhist supply shop, this one specializing in ceramic vessels and brassware. I walked up and looped around the top of the tunnel to see what kind of view I could get, the vista dominated by apartment buildings and the nude hilltop above the neighborhood marked for redevelopment.
Southeast down Sangdo-ro from Exit 5 I could see the huge silver tower of Soongsil University (숭실대학교) up ahead. There wasn’t anything of any particular interest on the main street, but a left on Sangdo-ro-47-gil (상도로47길) took me to Sangdo Market (상도시장), situated at the first little intersection and mostly occupying the street parallel to Sangdo-ro to the right. It was your typical little neighborhood market, with fresh tofu, little curlicues of pork, bags of grains, rubber bathroom shoes, boxes of bright red strawberries, and dried fish pinwheeled out on a woven tray. There were a pair of pojangmachas as well, the ajeosshi at one doing his best to lure in customers, bellowing ‘Odeng! Kimbap! Tteokbokki!’
Sangdo Market (상도시장)
Straight on Sangdo-ro (상도로), Left on Sangdo-ro-47-gil (상도로47길)