When I first moved to Seoul to teach, my work set me up in a small but nice one-room apartment, a bachelor. Okay, it was really a two & a half room apartment as the bathroom was, of course, in a separate room and there was an enclosed balcony/sunroom which was really a laundry room. But the main room was my kitchen, my living room and my bedroom. These bachelor or studio apartments are very common in Korea. And while it was weird going to sleep to the sound of my fridge at first, after a while it just became soothing white noise.
Having my academy arrange my accommodations took a lot of pressure and worry off my shoulders about moving to a new country where I didn’t speak the language well. I had previously lived in other countries but both Scotland and the U.S. speak English so communicating was never an issue. Not having to worry about finding a place to live was great. I had already lived in Korea for a year at that point – in Ulsan, a city on the southeast coast of Korea which is often known as the Detroit of Korea as it has several large car factories and the world’s largest ship-building yard. But I was home visiting my family when I signed the contract for my Seoul teaching job so I loved the fact that everything was arranged for me, I just had to show up at the academy. For those of you that don’t know, most English teaching jobs in Korea come with an apartment as one of the employment benefits, although some come with an apartment allowance instead.
I loved my two years in Seoul (I renewed my original one year contract because I was at a great academy and had some fabulous students that made teaching fun and challenging) for many reasons but one of them was because of the neighbourhood I lived in. And now we get to the reason for this post, an introduction to my favourite neighbourhood in Seoul – although there are lots of other good ones too.
Where did I live?
I lived in Bangi-dong, a great neighbourhood in Songpa-gu. “Bangi” is the name of the place and “dong” indicates that the place is a neighbourhood. Correspondingly, “Songpa” is a place-name and “gu” indicates that it is a district. Districts – “gu” – are made up of several neighbourhoods – “dong”. To give you an example from Toronto, Parkdale (where I now live) is a neighbourhood and North York (where I was born) would be considered a district.
Why did I love Bangi-dong?
First, one of the streets that ran through it was a market street so I was able to go grocery shopping (and other kinds of shopping) whenever I wanted. The Bangi market (방이 시장) had some of the friendliest people too. The ajumma (아줌마) who I bought all my fruit from was always super kind to me and gently corrected my Korean when I made a mistake ordering fruit. Over the two years I lived in Bangi-dong, I became friends or at least friendly (people would wave or say “hi” to me often) with most of the shopkeepers in the market. Unfortunately, many of them asked me to speak English to them so they could practice which meant I couldn’t practice my Korean but I often got free or extra things in return. And I made some great friends. It’s was a wonderful feeling to be greeted by name when I entered a restaurant or shop, they made me feel like I was a part of the community – not just a foreigner.
The second reason I loved Bangi-dong was because of its location. It’s the perfect place for someone who loves walking and running as much as I do. There are two great parks very close to Bangi-dong which are both fabulous for walkers and good for runners: Olympic Park (올림픽 공원) and Seokchon Lake (석촌호수). Olympic Park is actually in Bangi-dong and was only a 10 minute walk from my apartment or less than 5 minutes from my work. It’s a product of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, hence the name. Not only was it a great place for a walk but you could also go skating there in the winter and the often hold concerts there. I saw Big Bang once!! <3 I would definitely recommend checking it out if you are in Seoul, plus there’s some historical stuff there too!
Seokchon Lake was about a 15 minute walk north of my apartment and was my favourite place to both walk and run. I’m pretty sure the lake is man-made and there is a walking/running path that goes all around it. If I remember correctly it’s about 2.5 km around. It can get really busy on a nice Sunday afternoon and one of the cool things is it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night you want to use it, there will always be other people walking and/or running. Plus it was on my way to Jamsil Station (잠실역) and Lotte World. Which reminds me, in the middle of the north half of the lake is the outdoor portion of Lotte World and that brings us to the next reason.
Reason #3: Jamsil Station and Lotte World were only a 20 minute walk away (or 5 minutes by bus). Why was this a good thing? Jamsil Station and Lotte World have basically everything I could ever need – with the possible exception of a club – in one spot. I spent a lot of time here. Jamsil Station is a subway station on the green line (line 2) and on the pink line (line 8) and the green line took me to almost all of the places I regularly visited – Hongdae, Gangnam, Dongdaemun – and was a convenient transfer to the others. There was higher end shopping at Lotte Department Store and regular shopping at the underground shopping mall. There was a fabulous manicure spot that I was a regular customer at and numerous shops that I often frequented. Plus Lotte World is an indoor (with a part outdoor on Seokchon Lake) amusement park that includes a skating rink, a bowling alley, and much more. So if my friends and I were bored, there was always something to do. There were also a wide variety of restaurants too although I didn’t eat there much.
The fourth and final reason I loved living in Bangi-dong was there were several great restaurants. I love food and one of the first parts of Korean culture I feel in love with was Korean food and the Korean custom of eating out together often. No matter what my friends, co-workers and I were in the mood for – there was a restaurant in the neighbourhood that served it. From my favourite Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) on the corner where I often ate lunch to the fabulous Shabu Shabu restaurant close to Olympic Park to the place that did the best dwegi-galbi (돼지갈비) in Seoul (in my opinion), there was something for everyone. There were also some good Korean fried chicken & beer places, a friendly so-galbi (쇠갈비) place and a good samgyeopsal (삼겹살) restaurant. And of course, several bakeries, a Baskin Robbins and a Dunkin Donuts for your sweet tooth. If it was fast food you were looking for, there was a Lotteria (Korean fast food restaurant) and several convenience stores.
I miss Bangi-dong for all of the above reasons but mostly I miss the wonderful friendships I made while I was there. Do you like the neighbourhood you live in? I would love to hear why (or why not)!
Have you been to Bangi-dong? Have you been to any of the places I mentioned? What did you think?
P.S. Pictures are coming soon 🙂