Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bucheon City Wonmi-dong

On Tuesday mornings I work at a couple of kindergartens in Wonmi-dong. I used the opportunity to take some pictures of the area, which is a confluence of hill, apartment complex, and nice old hillside neighborhood, the good kind. I particularly like the streets in this neighborhood, which are short and twisty, and led to interesting house designs. We start our walk up the hill, which we can see in the background of this picture, by passing the "Great General" grilled pork restaurant on the left and a car garage - beauty parlor - mom and pop shop strip on the right.

This is what I mean by twisty little roads with cool architecture. I love these old Korean houses, with balconies, gates and stairways latched onto their breadbox bodies like ivy. I tried very hard to find a stairway that actually incorporates the front gate into its design, but this was the best I could do.

This neighborhood is wedged between two apartment blocks. The one in the background here is to the north. Somehow people here respond to empty space in one of two ways, bleak parking spaces or flowering trees.

I know I am not the first or last person, and not even the only one this spring to take a picture of a snow white acacia magnolia against the cloudless sky, but dammit this is my picture of snow white acacias magnolias against a cloudless sky.

Look at this little wedge of a building, with a blue flatbed to the right and a red and cream motorcycle to the right. The store in the building is called the 'Princess Supermarket'. Think for a moment about that sweet time when the owner of the store called up the sign maker and proudly told him the name he wanted, maybe looking down at his smiling daughter of beloved wife. That is so precious. In the background, houses where people live sweet lives too, but where's the heart (정)?

Nothing significant here, I just really like those stairs.

After about a ten minute walk the neighborhood comes to a dead stop and we are confronted with a tunnel under a highway.

We come out on the other end and find ourself at the base of Wonmi mountain. To the left there's a little junk yard of some kind, but on such a beautiful morning you can't let that get you down.

Up a stairway and we can look back down on the neighborhood we just crossed through and the highway we were just tunneling under. One more blue flatbed, too. The skyline in the back is defined by the new We've The State development that I've discussed before.

Turning to the right to look back down on the tunnel that we came through, an open air amphitheater that I imagine has never been used. That is not the same blue flatbed, by the way.

I didn't have enough time to go up the mountain, that'll have to wait for next time. coming back down through the tunnel I ran into a crew of hiking ajummas, wearing their masks because the previous day had been a particularly serious yellow dust day. This day, however, was clear as crystal.

Full disclosure: I wear a mask on yellow dust days too.

Coming back down: count the stairways.

I found myself up on a retaining wall that gave a really pretty view of some houses, with their faux-traditional (fauxditional?) roofs and flowers in bloom.

More acacias magnolias, now with HOF!

If you don't know, these flowers have the weirdest petals imaginable. They're heavy and thick, and it's like a flower made of banana leaves. Stepping on these flowers is similar in sensation, I imagine, to stepping on a piece of raw bacon. Also tonight my students told me that these flowers are both edible and delicious. I'll be sure to try them out as soon as possible.
(update: In fact my students told me that acacias are sweet and delicious, and I assumed that these were acacias when in fact the flowers in question are magnolias. Magnolias, incidentally, taste like that pink pickled ginger that you get with your sushi.

Now we're out of the neighborhood, in the interstices between the apartment block and the neighborhood. It's a bit of an ugliness watershed, for whatever reason.

After crossing the ugly road I find myself at the gates of Wonmi Market. The white sign says "Fire Prevention done together, bright tomorrow where we laugh together." I am glad I am not a professional translator.

I still don't have the gall to just take pictures of total strangers at work, so my pictures from inside the market are conspicuously unpopulated. That and it is only around ten in the morning. The markets really don't get hopping until late in the morning.

The motorcycle in this picture just buzzed past this lady and me. I am anesthetized to this sort of thing, and the lady in front of me paid it no mind. But you, with your luxurious civic institutions of common courtesy, would be red-faced with anger. On the right: a rice cake (떡) shop.

Coming out of the covered part of the market, but it's still pretty mercsntile.

This is how apartment dwellers raised on going to the market get by: they stick the whole market into a building. It's garish, but incredibly convenient.

Here's a house gone Buddhist temple. Notice the swastikas and lotus lamps.

Here's a house turned preschool. That's where I'm headed for an hour of kindy.

I've been teaching these guys for over a year, but only once a week. That means they remember almost nothing that I teach them. But I still like them.

Here's the next gig, this one in one of the administrative buildings within the apartment complex converted into a kindergarten.

These guys I only see for twenty minutes twice a month. They don't even have a name for me, I'm just the nameless English teacher who makes them do the coconut dance to the song "Do the Monkey".

On my way across town, I decided to finally get a picture of Bucheon's own Kenny-G Coffee and Hof. I know they say the Kenny-G Coffee and Hof in Manhattan is the best one, but I think this one holds its own.

I would love for someone to tell me who the people in this sign are supposed to be. I think they are Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy, if all of them were unfrozen cavemen.

Here you can get a general Idea of where Bucheon is. The pink area is the downtown area of Seoul, the yellow area is Seoul, and the burgundy bubble points to Bucheon station. The grey splotch on the left is Incheon.

I looked out the window while having lunch and caught sight of where they park the street stalls during the day. It's awesome to me to think that something so humble can be unfurled into a sort of cultural ark every night.

Now I'm off at my steady job. This is my first class of the day there. These guys are a smart bunch of first graders who are pretty good at English, by their neighborhood's standards. Like in most such English schools, we give our kids English names. From left: Steve, Simon, Craig, Manny, Judy, Lisa (rear), Helen, and Penny.

Corn Ice Cream isn't the only great corn product in Korea. Here's roast corn tea, or as I like to call it, popcorn juice.

On my way home I caught these kids frolicking in the steam from this king crab restaurant's outdoor steamer. It smelled amazing.

What could be better before going home for the night than illuminated mobile fruit. Doesn't that look delicious? Deliciously convenient. Hanging from the left rear corner of the truck are the plastic bags they wrap up the fruit in for the customers. This truck trolls the street playing a recording of what they have in stock. "honey apples, three for five thousand, honey apples, three for five thousand, chamwe melons, two for three thousand." If you happen to not want to buy fruit, however, this is likely to be an unwelcome aural intrusion into your home at the TV hour, but if you've lived here long enough, you're inured to it.


KristinKC said...

Thanks for sharing your day in pictures/captions. It reminds me of the good old days. And I love me some fruit truck too.

I wish I'd taken more walks on the mountain behind Kkachimaeul when we lived there. It was pretty nice.

stat said...

came here via link from popular gusts. what a great post, though i never lived near seoul, it really brought small(!)-town korea back to me. really felt drawn into your day, too.

good postin', particularily liked your princess analysis :-)

want to go back now :'-(

Bucheon bound said...

loved your pictures and comments...i stumbled upon your blog randomly while doing some crash course research on bucheon, i'm moving there in a month to teach english for the first time and im so you have any more posts about your experience there?? i've read some other blogs where the people didn't seem to enjoy hoping that the experience is what you make of it.. my sister is in seoul, how long does it take to get there by subway?? (to the seoul city center)

john said...

Travel is my hobby. Thanks for sharing. I like clay shooting mostly. I was lastly visit to Afghanistan and there I play this game. Its very interesting.