Most subway stations in Seoul lie above or below a neat four-way intersection, leaving navigating the area a straightforward affair. Seokgye, however, has one line below ground and one above ground and is wedged between streams, rail tracks, and highways, making a walk around the neighborhood a bit convoluted.
I started out from Exit 2, where the Line 6 tracks created a wall dead ahead that traffic found its way around via a tunnel off to the left and a highway overhead. Tucked into the traffic island underneath were a florist and pojangmacha. Almost immediately I had to turn right onto Hwarang-ro-45-gil (화랑로45길), and I followed the small street north, between the subway tracks to my left and apartment complexes to my right. After a couple hundred meters a Hyundai warehouse complex forced the street to the right, where it then ran past an enormous Hansol Paper building. Some sort of tanker truck passed me, the third one in the last five minutes, and as I kept following the road around another bend, thinking it might loop back towards the station through the adjacent apartment complex, I saw the gigantic white and mustard cylindrical towers of Dongyang Concrete up ahead, and I presumed that the trucks were heading either there or to the Hansol plant.
A smaller road running by the apartments off to the right was blocked from the road I was currently on by a row of trees and a gulley, but eventually I found an improvised slash of dirt and stones through the trees and I scurried down. I headed back in the general direction of the station, which took me past a garden and a small apartment block market where local ajummas sold produce and legumes to other local ajummas.
Back at the station I went east from Exit 3, past apartment towers and a woman selling steamed corn from a street stall, and after about 500 meters I reached the Jungnang Stream (중랑천). I have to admit, the Jungnang is probably my least favorite stream in the city; in most places there are no facilities, save exercise equipment and a bike path, and it’s buffeted on both sides by highways for virtually its entire length through the city.
Two groups had no qualms with this, though. One was the bikers, enough of whom zipped up and down the path here that a guy had set up a table under the bridge, selling biking equipment out of the back of his van to passing riders. The other was the wading birds. I spotted at least a dozen snow white herons and a couple of egrets in the water.
Most of the birds were grouped near where the Jungang received the Woo-i Stream (우이천), which is easily accessed from Exit 4. Along its final stretch the Woo-i is lovingly tended to, with lush beds of vegetation, a bike path, a boardwalk, and stepping stones. Near its end it widens to a broad serene plane before it reaches a U-shaped dip and tumbles over a small ledge before its last, short stretch into the Jungnang.
Above the Woo-i the station map pointed out the Seoul Civil Defense Training Center (서울특별시민방위교육장), which I thought might be full of badass obstacle courses and firing ranges where citizens could go to practice fending off a North Korean invasion. The actuality was a lot less Hollywood. I’d gone on Liberation Day (광복절) and, predictably, the center was closed, but from the outside it was pretty unexciting, looking to be full of classrooms where there might be dry lectures about ducking under your desk when the air-raid siren goes off.
To get to the neighborhood’s west side I went through the traffic tunnel under the Line 6 tracks, where someone had put up nine graffiti stencils of a chimp pointing a gun and someone else (or the same person?) had written ‘HANDS ↑’ in pale green chalk.
Straight ahead from Exit 7 was a curving street lined with restaurants, shops, and a few bars that formed a small arc of nightlife through a residential neighborhood. At the entrance to the street a guy was restocking a coin-operated vending machine outside a 7-11, filling it from the pile of toys, foldable LED lights, plush dolls, and whatever else was in the pile in the back of his minivan that served as a mobile warehouse.
A greater amount of available nightlife was just a bit further north. Exit 1 empties onto a little plaza surrounded by restaurants, pojangmachas, shops, and newsstands, at which previous winning lottery numbers were written up on a whiteboard. Across Seokgye-ro (석계로) from the exit square was Seokgye Station Culture Park (석계역문화공원), where benches sat under shady trellises and replicas of old Korean water clocks and sundials flanked a C-shaped clock sculpture, marking the park entrance. North of the park, Seokgye-ro and its side streets branching off to the west were full of restaurants and noraebangs, and although it was fairly quiet on a Thursday afternoon, it wasn’t hard to imagine a lively scene here once the sun went down.
The Culture Park doglegged to the left, and at the bend there was a colorful heart sculpture, beyond which the park also held an outdoor stage and a pavilion. Past those was a grouping of concentric circle sections that were covered in tile mosaics. This was described on the park map as being a ‘maze,’ but there wasn’t any start or finish and anyone not tall enough to see over the walls probably couldn’t walk either, so as a maze it was quite ineffective, but at least its undersea-themed murals were cute. After the maze, the last thing in the park was a drum wall, which was exactly that: a wall with several built-in plastic drums that kids could hit. Fortunately there weren’t any doing so when I passed by.
The Woo-i Stream, which I’d been tracing upstream from its mouth a short time earlier, disappears under the pavement around the station, only to reappear just west of the park, albeit in a much more homely guise. Whereas near the Jungnang it was placid and inviting, here it was simply a grim urban watercourse flowing between concrete walls, making me hope that this upstream section soon got the same refurbishment that its final stretch had received.
Jungnang Stream (중랑천)
Straight on Hwarang-ro (화랑로)
Woo-i Stream (우이천)
Seokgye Station Culture Park (석계역문화공원)
Exit 1, Cross Seokgye-ro (석계로)