Special thanks to Jordan Redmond for inviting us to Hanti and showing us around his neighborhood. Jordan writes a food blog about his neighborhood, and to find out what’s good in the area we suggest you visit him at Daechi Dining.
There were ten different schools of one type or another listed on Hanti Station’s area map, which should give you some idea of what the neighborhood’s like. Another clue: Jordan told us that a bum once asked him for a dollar as he was walking by. In English. Clearly this is a well-educated part of town.
Hanti mostly conformed to my pre-trip expectations: well-off, gentrified, family-oriented. The intersection above the station hosted a large Lotte Department Store and was surrounded by a lot of new apartment towers. To the northeast, as you walk down Dogok-ro (도곡로) from Exit 2 or 3 you’ll pass a multitude of hagwons. Some of them are on the backstreets and have playful statues that look like monkeys and giraffes in red fur coats, and others are in their own office towers on the main avenue, their names in two-story-high billboards on their sides. The concentration of academies turns the sidewalks into streams of four-foot textbook porters around ten o’clock every night, but if you’re there during the day, as we were, you might notice the no smoking signs that have been placed on the pavement, designating several blocks of the area smoke-free zones in another gesture signaling the kid-friendliness of Hanti.
Besides new apartment blocks and after-school academies, another recurring architectural feature of the neighborhood is churches, particularly large and not infrequently ugly ones. One that we passed had an enormous stone sculpture of an open Bible, its pages a good three centimeters thick, and another, particularly garish one sat right on the main drag in what looked like a pale yellow airplane hangar that had been sawed in half.
Like in many other neighborhoods, Hanti’s back streets are often filled with five- or six-story brick or stone apartment buildings, but the ones here looked newer and generally spiccer-and-spanner than those elsewhere. One of these buildings had been given the name ‘One Mans Village (sic),’ but several of the letters had fallen off the façade and it was now ‘O e Mans Age’ instead. Interspersed with the apartment buildings were small neighborhood parks and schools, almost always with kids running around outside.
Occasionally something would break up the orderly residential façade and remind us that it wasn’t just an upper-middle class soundstage that we were walking through, like the graffiti on a wall southeast of the station. Someone had stenciled pictures of a buck, a woman with a majestic afro, and a spray paint can, to which someone else had written ‘Whoever you are, I love your works,’ in response, to which someone else, presumably the stenciller, had replied, ‘Thank you! You give me reason to spray more.’ Nearby there were also stencils of Audrey Hepburn, a crow, and a seagull, next to which, in stylized script, ‘Seagull 갈매기’ was written, perhaps the stencillers’ tag.
A few other things gave some texture to the neighborhood. Most prominently were the rather baffling Eunma Town Apartments northeast of the station: a huge complex of identical white towers, 31 in all, that looked like they’d been stamped out by a giant mold. The buildings were dingy and desperately in need of a paint job at the very least; some of them had tape over cracks in the windows or refuse piled up at the end of hallways as well, and playground areas were in need of some tending, but Jordan also said that his students had told him that the apartments were rather expensive. Maybe they were nice inside, or maybe, with the educational opportunities nearby, parents were just paying for the location. In any case, the cars in the parking spaces were nice ones and the people walking around all looked fairly well off, and the mixed signals left me imagining that Eunma was what you would have gotten if Singapore had gone Communist.
Although many Gangnam neighborhoods look like they’ve only gone up in the past ten years, their backstreets will often host buildings or markets that put paid to first impressions, and Hanti was no different. Turning left on Seolleung-ro (선릉로) from Exit 8 and then left again on Seolleung-ro-63-gil (선릉로63길) brought us to Dogok Market (도곡시장). A banner was strung above the entrance, encouraging visitors to use their produce (‘우리 농산물을 이용합니다.’), and beyond this was a small market that didn’t extend beyond that street and didn’t go for more than a couple blocks, but that had all the essentials and added an older wrinkle to the neighborhood. Ladies were selling banchan in Styrofoam trays; there were burgundy eggplants, dried fish, figs, and twigim; and between several older buildings a lone pigeon was hanging out on a power line, surveying the scene below.
Hanti is very family-focused, but there is a bit of nightlife to be had on the streets behind the Lotte Department Store, out Exit 1 or 2, where restaurants, bars, and cafes are clustered. The opportunity for a truly wild night out is limited, but if you work hard enough, to the point that you can’t drive your BMW or Audi home, you should have no trouble snagging a taxi. Just outside of Exits 7 and 8 is a parking lot for a gisa sikdang (기사식당), or taxi driver restaurant. On one side of the lot is an old mint green corrugated metal wall with the word 스낵카 (with ‘SNACKCAR’ spray painted in a small white font next to it) painted on it, next to which is a picture of a family, seemingly modeled on the Pringles man, eating ramen. The restaurant on the opposite side is truly a snack car in a sense, as an old green and white school bus had been converted and attached to the restaurant where the drivers grabbed a meal in between fares.
Dogok Market (도곡시장)
Left on Seolleung-ro (선릉로), Left on Seolleung-ro-63-gil (선릉로63길)