Coming out of Exit 8, Gunja presented a modest commercial intersection – a couple banks and a Starbucks on the corners, a trio of street stalls selling snacks and sending greasy vapors into the air. Just past those stalls I turned left onto a road bearing the same name as the station, Gunja-ro (군자로). Cutting southwest, it was a secondary commercial artery of the sort that’s so typical of Seoul neighborhoods: anchored to a main avenue at one end and surrounded on either side by back streets crammed with mid-rise red brick or stone apartments. The street was lined with the usual assortment of businesses: lots of independent restaurants (among them a place called Otter Taco), several real estate offices, some small supermarkets, a few bars, some clothing boutiques, and two or three hostess bars. Providing the smallest bit of differentiation was the back gate of Sejong University, where a few students who were still around campus during winter break drifted in and out, and across from which a new campus building was almost completed.
The area had the feel of a neighborhood I’d seen a hundred times before, and this particular area’s patterns – structural, architectural, economic – were repeated in most of the rest of Gunja so that as I wandered around it seemed to me that, were I without a map and my notes, I wouldn’t be able to say with certainty which part of Gunja I was in, so similar were things from one street to the next. This in turn made the Gunja area as a whole feel hazily anonymous, and I found myself slightly bored as I walked around, in a way I very seldom am.
This isn’t to say that Gunja lacks any variety, but what variety there is is pretty minimal and of the sort that’s not unique to Gunja alone. To the west, Dongil-ro (동일로), busy with traffic, paralleled the Jungnang Stream (중랑천) and was lined with grocery stores, restaurants, home repair stores, and auto body shops. Running south from the station, Neungdong-ro (능동로) was easily the liveliest, most developed part of Gunja, closest as it was to Sejong University, Children’s Grand Park, and Konkuk University. The sidewalks were busy with people, chain cafes lined the road, and posters for musicals and other theater performances were taped up alongside bus stops.
Just outside of Exit 6, a tall white sign on the corner of Neungdong-ro-36-gil (능동로36길) heralded the road as Neungmaru Taste Street (능마루맛의 거리), the sign’s LED screen flashing the name over and over. Despite its official title I was hard-pressed to see how this particular road was much different from Gunja-ro or other secondary commercial roads in the area. Yes, there were slightly more restaurants here, but they didn’t go much beyond a couple of blocks, and there wasn’t any distinct culinary link tying them together, unlike on many other designated food streets in Seoul, where a single dish takes precedence. Here there was just a bit of everything: gopchang, bossam, steamed monkfish, chicken and beer. Posters and cardboard cutouts of movie stars advertising beer and soju took their place alongside a large inflated Pororo that stood outside a phone shop.
The most distinct feature of the Gunja neighborhood, though, is its Jungok-dong Furniture Street (중곡동 가구거리), which runs, intermittently, from Dongil-ro in the west all the way to near Achasan Station in the east. East of the station, via Exits 4 and 5, the furniture stores exist in a lower concentration, broken up by gas stations, an ear clinic, a golf shop, and something called the Korea Professor Mutual Society (전국교수공재 회관). To the west, however, via Exits 1 and 8, nearly every business is a furniture store, many with large plate glass windows in their front to show off the merchandise in their showrooms, and some with building-length banners proclaiming amazing deals strung across their facades. A few places had also placed chairs and nightstands wrapped in plastic out on the sidewalk for inspection. For the most part, the furniture was in pretty good taste, something that’s not always the case on Seoul’s various furniture streets, though sometimes pieces, while not exactly tacky, were perhaps a bit too fanciful, like the clawfoot tub that occupied an outdoor display patio near Exit 1.
Neungmaru Taste Street (능마루맛의 거리)
Left on Neungdong-ro-36-gil (능동로36길)
Jungok-dong Furniture Street (중곡동 가구거리)
Exits 1, 4, 5, and 8