Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Hood: Walking, Hiking, Scooting

I live in Gwanakgu (관악구). As I have noted before, Gwanakgu is said to be the most populated district (구, "gu,") in Seoul. 2006 figures put the population at 535,217 people; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that well over 600,000 Koreans and immigrants live here now. It's home to two of Seoul's famous ghettos, Sillimdong (신림동) and Bongcheondong (봉천동). Gwanakgu has 21 neighborhoods (동). I live in Sillim-9-dong, now called Daehakdong (대학동). 대학 means "university" and 동 means "section" or "neighborhood"; so, I live in University Town, an area where many Seoul National University and Law students live. It's often called 고시-town (goshi-town) because of the many law students, study offices for them, and the various law tutorial schools that can be found on each Daehak street and alley. Ignored among the throngs of older students and other Koreans, are the immigrant laborers, mostly Chinese, who often work in Seoul's service industry in restaurants, cafes, and food stands. Finally, but not least, my neighborhood and it's surrounding neighborhoods are becoming more popular choices for Native Speaking English Teachers (NSETs) who teach in the many elementary, middle and high schools, as well as hagwon (학원), the many institutes and private academies in the area that cater to students after school and their parents throughout the day.

Not far from my one-room flat (원룸) is my school, Samseong High School, and only a little further down the road is Korea's most famous university, Seoul National University.

I enjoy my fifteen-minute walks to school each morning. Daehakdong is still bustling from the previous night's citizens' drinking and eating at 7:30am. A table or two of lingering customers remain in each restaurant sitting around cooling grills (철판, cheolpan) having finished their cooking and instead retired to contemplating the final shots of soju (소주) left in one of the five, six, or eight bottles in front of them. They smoke and chat. The ajumma (아줌마) and ajeoshi (아저씨) clean and wait for them to vacate so they can catch a little sleep before opening again in the afternoon. I walk quietly by the still-closed cafes, yearning for a real coffee and always settling for the powdered variety sold cheaply at one of the many convenience stores along the way.

As I approach my school, I'm often greeted from down alleys and the three or four streets near my campus by name. The girls and boys shout my name, 게리!, and I'm typically smiling and well-met by the time I find my way to my second-floor desk in the office (교무실, kyomushil). Now that I'm beginning language education at Seoul National, I'll be riding my scooter to work and then onto campus to study. I'll miss my walks.

One of my favorite things to do in Gwanakgu is to hike Gawanaksan and Samseongsan, the two peaks located between my school and Seoul National University. My favorite hike is Samseongsan to Samaksa Temple to Yeombul Temple and then down into Seoul's neighboring city, Ansan.

From 2008 (Seoul ROK)

Over the next week, I want to blog a little about where I live. Look for posts about Daehak, Gwanak, and photos.


Pree-oz said...

I love Gwanak-gu. Except the pushiness level is much higher here than anywhere.

Gary Norris said...

We should write a little post about pushiness levels of the various neighborhoods.

but you're right. when you mentioned it the other day, i thought about it. although sinchon around sinchonyeok is so busy and pushy, sillimyeok to sillim-9-dong is crazy pushy. esp the teen girls and grandmas. holy cow are the old ladies not going to make way for anybody. and why should they, is what i say.