Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Wolgye Warrens, or A Walk In The Dong

We live in Wolgye-dong (월계동) in Nowon-gu, on the north side of Seoul. Wolgye means, as best I can translate, "Moon Creek," while Nowon means "Field of Reeds." As a commuter hub, Nowon is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, chock full of 15-story apartment buildings.

But Wolgye also retains a holdover from older-style Korean life. I'm sure it has a name in Korean - the best analog I can think of is the "hutong," the traditional Chinese neighborhoods of Beijing. It is a maze of Korean flat-roofed courtyard homes which I suspect may, in the not-too-distant-future, become a thing of the past in Seoul.

(Sample Korean older-skool house, with sample Korean huge apartment towers in the background. Note flat roofs, which seriously confuse those of us who come from the land of the ice and snow. Note outdoor staircase, which probably confuses everybody. Seriously, I have no idea why it's designed like that. Maybe the second floor belongs to a different family?).

The Wolgye Warrens have a special place in my heart, because it's the only place in the world where I can navigate more effectively than Justin. He's got spectacular compass navigation but is completely unable to remember which turns dead-end and which ones go through, and in which parts you have to go backward in order to go forward (you'd think, as a Pittsburgher, he'd be good at this, but no!). So while Justin was in Shanghai, I took a camera with me and documented my walking path to school. Follow along!

This is the bakery where we wait for the bus. The Korean name is "Moong Ma Cake House." According to our Korean teacher Emily, this is the mangled Konglaise (Korean + Francaise) spelling of "Monmartre."

Parts of the Warrens are quite starkly gray, but you will start to see peeks of color in the spring. Flat-topped roofs, for instance, can support vegetable gardens...

... potted plants...

... or a cascade of flowers:

"Say," you may be thinking, as you look at these pictures. "How did those cars get there on that skinny little street? More importantly, how do they get back out again?" (You're a very observant reader!) Well, if you take a closer look in the front window of one of those cars, you might see something like this:

Each car has the cell phone number of the owner displayed on the dash. If the car is parking you in, whip out your phone and call them to move it! What happens if the person is asleep, or in the shower, or otherwise occupied? No idea. It's a 90% solution (scroll about 1/2 down), a specialty of Korea.

You emerge from the Warrens at Induk Institute of Technology. See what I mean about the giant apartment towers?

Here's the crosswalk, with its countdown arrows. Unlike in the U.S., the second the last arrow goes, the traffic light turns green, so you better get your little foreign butt out of the intersection posthasete.

The green pill-shaped bus in this picture is the 1160, the bus I usually take to school because I'm too lazy to walk. This is a rare shot of Seoul dominated by green. I also risked my life to take it, so you better be darn sure it's going on the blog.

Then it's a right turn up the hill, where earlier this spring, the city ripped up all the leafy sycamores and replaced them with scrubby cherry tree saplings. Yeah, it'll be nice for one week in the spring, but sycamores are better for shade and air quality. I don't really think it's worth it. This is not the first time I have disagreed with Korean environmental practices.

Bleeding hearts on the side of the building:

Then there's a sharp left turn, and you go up this wind-y path skirting the edge of a hillside.

This is probably the only Korean picture in the history of time when I can read every Korean word in it. It says, "School entrance. Slow." Woo-hoo!

To get to the school in question, you must pass the church (note mountains in the distance, v. confusing for Ohioan):

Then you will find the school, apparently painted in 1950s army surplus. Notice that their soccer field is, like ours, just a big pile of sand:

This is Wolgye Middle School. We see these kids on the bus all the time. You can pick them out because a) they're the ones with Burberry plaid as their uniform skirt and b) they won't give their seats up to the elderly. Not that anybody is good at that here.

And at the bottom of the hill, you'll come to our main gate, and the APIS main building! Hurray!

And now you know how to get from my house to the school. Wasn't that fun?

1 comment:

Bryan said...


I have been following your blog for some time now. I have some questions about APIS (as my kids may be going there next year) but did not want to put you on the spot while you were still at the school. If you don't mind, I would appreciate it if I could send you an email with some questions.

My email address is

bryan dot millard at uop dot com

Thanks and I have enjoyed reading your blog!