When the first thing my eyes landed on after stepping out of Exit 1 was a sign for boshintang, I knew that was as good a tip as any that I was, by Seoul standards at least, out in the sticks. Dog meat restaurants and the signs advertising them are a vanishing breed in the capital, the areas where they can still be found almost always being older or isolated. Out on the edge of the city limits, Onsu was definitely the latter.
I’d stepped out Exit 1 because the station map indicated that an even more unusual creature could be found there. Outside, the only direction I could go, however, was across a small paved lot that led directly to Exit 2, twenty meters away, and I wondered what the point of the first exit was. Maybe the boshintang restaurateur was friendly with the station’s engineer. From the second exit I went left on Gyeongin-ro-3-gil (경인로3길), and a few meters up the street there it was, the Seoul Rugby Stadium (서울럭비구장), an actual rugby pitch with scoreboards and stands and goalposts and everything. It was even natural grass and not the synthetic turf of green plastic and tiny rubber pellets that usually make up the playing surface of any athletic field below the professional level in Korea. The only blemish was a circular patch of dirt in the middle where the grass had worn away. I didn’t know how much rugby the pitch actually saw, though, as soccer nets had been set up in front of the goalposts, at least temporarily.
Between the pitch and the road was a machine shop, and after I followed the street past some wild daisies, their petals hanging limp from the rain, I turned right on Gyeongin-ro (경인로) and came to some other businesses of the same type. There were other stores along the road and apartments behind them, but virtually no other pedestrians on the sidewalk, unsurprising as there wasn’t much of anywhere to walk to. I was in the car zone. I was in the burbs. Nearly all of the buses running past me were the mint and white ones linking Seoul to its satellite towns, and just in front of a technical high school I went under the broken Gate of Reliance/Dependence/Trust (신뢰의문) (Depending on which translation from my electronic dictionary you want to go with. I’ll go with that last one.), and before I knew it I was out of Seoul and in Bucheon, so I turned around and walked back to the station, making note on the way of what seemed like an unusually large number of small churches in the area. I passed a couple nuns too, and outside Exit 3 a man was handing out religious pamphlets, though there weren’t many people coming or going to take them. I also spotted what I’m pretty sure were the offices of a religious newspaper, titled the 내외일보, which, firing up the old dictionary again, could mean either the Interior and Exterior Daily or the Avoidance of the Opposite Sex Daily.
Back through the station and out Exit 8, two more ladies were handing out a church newspaper, and, after politely demurring, I crossed Buil-ro (부일로). On the other end of the crosswalk there was a large recycling yard, in which the workers had set up a small staff library, stereo, and satellite dish for themselves. Next to the lot I went up Buil-ro-7-gil (부일로7길), following it to a little playground where the equipment said ‘DOOLYNARA’ and was decorated with everyone’s favorite Korean cartoon dinosaur. On the rubber mat under the jungle gym was a large picture of a hare riding on a tortoise’s back, the rabbit apparently having figured out how to have his cake and eat it too.
Out Exit 5 and in the opposite direction down Buil-ro, I hung a right on Buil-ro-1-gil (부일로1길) and walked past a city bus parking lot where the advertisements for plastic surgery clinics on the sides of buses were almost comically at odds with the industrial surroundings. (Re-reading this before posting it to the blog, I’m changing my mind. Manufacturing.)
In fact, I had come this way expressly to find the Onsu Industrial Complex (온수공단). I followed Buil-ro-1-gil as it led uphill until after a couple hundred meters a construction site opened up in front of me on the left. Rusty beams and deep slate rebar poked up out of the ground like petrified crops, and the sound of hammering and circular saws rang out. As I paused to take in the scene and jot down some notes a young boy, maybe eight, rolled by pedaling his sister’s tiny pink tricycle while she rode on a small attached seat in back, a huge grin splayed across her face. The bike was far, far too small for big brother, though, his knees coming almost up to his chin, and as they headed for the main street he protested, ‘This really hurts!’ but he protested happily.
Beyond the construction site was a grouping of large gray and ivory buildings with small windows and blue roofs. That was the complex and I turned back towards Buil-ro to try to find a way over there. I turned onto Buil-ro-1-ga-gil (부일로1가길) and followed it a short ways until there was a sign over the road pointing to ‘Onsu Indus. Complex (서울온수산업단지)’. At the corner there was also a large street map of the complex’s layout and, overhead, a banner reading ‘기업의 성장! 나라의 발전!’ (‘Enterprise’s growth! The country’s development!).
The sky was overcast and heavy, ideal weather for walking through an industrial zone, and I began to wander up and down the roads between factories. The area was reminiscent of Mullae, but more centralized and more consistently active. Manufacturers here made metal, glass, springs, and mirrors; the smells of glue, chemicals, oil, and the bitter tang of hot metal filled the air; pulleys, winches, and front end loaders moved things from where they were to where they needed to be.
To provide ventilation, the doors of many of the factories were open and large electric fans pointed at the street, blowing fumes and hot air out. This meant that as I walked around I could often catch a glimpse of what was happening inside. Seeing what goes on within the confines of a factory is not something I have a chance to do very often, nor, I imagine, do most of us who don’t work in manufacturing, but it’s something that I always enjoy and that I always find surprising and a bit humbling. I have so many products, so many things, but almost no conception of how they come into being, no conscious recognition that my objects don’t simply show up at the store, but that a human being somewhere has to operate the machine that sticks the bristles into my toothbrush or makes the square chip of plastic that closes the bag around my loaf of bread.
But walking around Onsu I was able to catch a glimpse of how these things happen – through people simply working jobs, making things that need to be made. In one factory a woman made the blank plastic faces that go on department store mannequins. In another a man operated a pair of machines in adjacent rooms, one feeding a continuous strip of thin, foot-wide metal into the other, where it was cut into uniform pieces, its first step from material to product.
Seoul Rugby Stadium (서울럭비구장)
Left on Gyeongin-ro-3-gil (경인로3가길)
Onsu Industrial Complex (온수공단) Onsu Industrial Complex (온수공단)
Right on (부일로1길), Left on Buil-ro-1-ga-gil (부일로1가길), Right at sign for Onsu Indus. Complex (서울온수산업단지)