On a beautiful Sunday, Yangkyu and I woke up late, trying to catch on some sleep (although we weren't quite successful) and starting the day a little late. We had a lunch gathering with his late mother's side of the family and so we decided to rest until then and headed over on what was a relatively traffic-free ride (usually traffic is horrendous in Korea).
It was a sweet meeting for Yangkyu and just from hearing his childhood stories, I could see how much his aunts loved him and his brother and their late sister dearly. His oldest aunt said that she had asked for baby Yangkyu as a present when she got married. They are all so very close knit, which I loved seeing so much. I can see now where Yangkyu and his siblings get their closeness from. Yangkyu's oldest aunt and grandmother live about four hours away from Seoul, but they made the trip up to see Yangkyu as well.
After a delicious lunch and lots of laughs over stories from the past and also informative talk about the current political state and upcoming elections, Yangkyu and I headed over to where Seoul City Hall and Seoul Metropolitan Library are located. His aunts suggested we start our sightseeing from there and then walk a short distance over to Cheongyecheon Stream, where we had intended to start our tour.
Thinking back, I actually wished we had gone into the library but my short sighted reasoning back then was that I wouldn't be able to understand any of the books so why go in? Doh? Not quite the mindset of a book reader, eh?
Cheongyecheon ("gyecheon" means open stream in Korean) is a modern public recreation space in downtown Seoul. It was a massive urban renewal project, which I hear garnered public criticism but after its opening in 2005, had become very popular among people and tourists alike. The opposition to the renewal project had to do with the fear of gentrification of the nearby areas that are home to many shops and small businesses in the machine trade -- blue collar workers and laborers.
You know, the first time I had heard of Cheongyecheon was from a song back in early 2000? It was when I was involved in grassroots organizing and advocacy work and the only songs I listened to were folk songs, Korean and American alike. So the song wasn't anywhere near close to popular and was most likely only known by people in the activist circle. I will be super surprised if I meet anyone who also knew and listened to this song. If you're out there, please holler!
The song is called Cheongyecheon 8 ga ("pal" which is 8 in Korean and "ga" means street) by a group called CheonJiIn. They are a folk rock group that sang mainly songs that depicted the hardships and lives of laborers and workers in Korea. Anyway, the lyrics of Cheongyecheon 8 ga is just that -- the workers who work at Cheongyecheon 8 ga.
We enjoyed walking along the stream and many families, friends, couples were out and about enjoying the space - taking pictures, conversing, eating and laughing. It was a stark contrast to the busy weekday of people going to work and catching their buses and subway trains to get to where they need to go. Here, on a Sunday, it felt like time just stopped. It felt like a different Seoul than we we saw from previous days.
From Cheongyecheon, we planned on walking all the way down to Dongdaemun, which is a large commercial district, retail and wholesale alike. For people who don't like to walk, we probably won't recommend doing this, but Yangkyu and I like walking and so it was enjoyable to us (although at the very very end, it did get slightly tiring, but it was also because we had rushed a bit).
I brought up the song earlier because as we were making out way towards Dongdaemun, we passed by signs and streets that read Cheongyecheon 1 ga all the way to 8 ga and they were all filled with shops but not the kind of cute shops you would find at Itaewon or Insadong or Hongdae - these were shops where laborers and workers worked. I understood the song a bit more after passing these shops and understood a bit more about the fear of gentrification. It is my hope that the fear hasn't become too much of a reality for those who own shops there and work there.
This area of Seoul is so different from the ritzy place like let's say Gangnam. Needless to say, I enjoyed these sights more. It was unfortunate though that most of the shops were closed as it was a Sunday.
While walking along the stream, we also passed by the Seoul Bam Dokkebi Night Market (which means Seoul Night Goblin Market). It is basically little stalls where people sell handmade things such as jewlery and candles and where you can also eat at the endless line of food trucks that sell everything from tradition Korean food to fusion foods as well. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to eat at any of the food trucks or get to check out the stalls properly because we were pressed for time. We had planned on coming back here later on at night but that unfortunately didn't happen either. A little regretful but that's ok.
Another stop we made before arriving at Dongdaemun was the Dongdaemun Food Alley (Mukja Golmok) which was fantastic. But as it was with the night market, we didn't get to try anything here and just quickly did some sightseeing instead. I know! A very disappointing (but that's also ok because we ended up having dinner at a great BBQ place in Hongdae).
While a lot of the shops along the stream were closed, this food alley was busy and bustling with lots of residents and tourists. The smells and sights were incredible and we wish we had the type of stomachs that had a lot of room to keep on eating but we don't and since we had dinner plans with people, we made sure to just take it all in with our eyes instead.
I didn't get to take a lot of pictures of Dongdaemun and also the newly built Dongdaemun Plaza as we were busy trying to meet up with a couple of people we had only known through Instagram. They (@heeya1108 and @jungheonp - he's a back dancer for Big Bang by the way - *shy* I always feel like I have to disclose this pretty awesome info) were owners of a beautiful English Cocker Spaniel Win and she passed shortly after Piri crossed the rainbow bridge. We had remained supportive of each other and formed a friendship over our dogs and so it was a wonderful and tearful meeting. They showed us around some great places and we had dinner at a great restaurant in Hongdae (it's a place they go often and had taken their Win as well). We spent the night getting to know each other more sharing stories of our dogs.
After dinner and coffee at Hongdae, we ended the night with them at Han River. I am so amazed at all the wonderful outdoor spaces Korea has to offer, all of which are mostly dog friendly as well. It almost made me wish that we were there with Piri and Bartles so they can enjoy it. I think they would've loved it.
If we could have we would've probably spent the entire night and morning with Win's ma and pa, but Yangkyu and I got tired shortly after midnight and we had a super early flight to catch to Jeju Island. And so they drove us back home to Yangkyu's brother house where we quickly packed for our 2 night stay in Jeju and then promptly passed out.
Jeju Island was wonderful in every way. I can't wait to tell you all about it. Hope you'll join us for our next adventures.
// Travel Korea : DMZ Tours
// Travel Korea : Childhood Memories