Korea, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, Urban Walking
Comments 13

Heart & Seoul: Walking the Cheonggyecheon

Howdy again. I’ve been a terrible blogger of late — I know it — but I start redeeming myself right here and right now. What’s it been since the last post, a week or so? Unforgivable — I was shooting for two or three posts per week, pre-computer breakdown.

The shocking truth is that I can’t even blame the breakdown. Two Fridays ago, after skipping school at lunchtime and enduring one of those bruising trawls through the shabby Busan backstreets that I do so well, just as I was admitting defeat and retreating to the subway, I chanced upon a sign, which led me to an exit, and then a stairway, and finally the nondescript office building housing the approved Apple service joint serving the Southeast. A few minutes with the just-barely English-speaking technician, an arcane configuration of fingers on keys — something out of an I.T. Karma Sutra — and this here laptop was purring like a phlegmatic kitten.

The diagnosis? Battery fine, something to do with PRAM or SMC or KGB or IUD…and I was fully equipped for blogging and coffee-house photo fun once more. MacBook’s working better than ever now — except for its latest passive-aggression, a refusal to charge its battery. I am once again a housebound blogger/photo editor. But at least it works. The void in my life has been plastered over.

So the good ship TGTW is sailing again. I have a ton of other crap going on that is the real reason for the recent absence…but all will be revealed. Let’s set sail for steamy Seoul — hope you enjoy my truancy from Hell Skool as much as I did…

*     *     *     *     *

I’ll probably never set foot in Seoul again — but if I do, I’ll start the same way I have on my three visits, by jumping on the subway when the bus pulls in, and heading straight downtown to the Cheonggyecheon.

Regular readers might recall my previous visits: the wintery day-trip last year, complete with snow and frostbitten fingers, which I talk about here, and the more leisurely ramble along its banks during my week of training the following Autumn, which is touched on (sans pictures) here. This time I arrived in the sprawling megalopolis typically unprepared; I needed something solid to grasp while I got my bearings, and Cheonggye Creek would do nicely.

Seoul’s subways are marvellously efficient. I even found a seat — practically unheard of in Busan — and was soon daydreaming through my stop, requiring a lengthy backtrack. Whatever, I still got out before lunchtime, scored a coffee, and got to the nearest access pont, the Supyogyo. Gyo means bridge, and the cheon in Cheonggyecheon means creek (not stream, surely, as it’s always translated — if it’s big or significant enough to earn a name, it ain’t no stream).

Starting point

I would make an awesome assassin

This is one of the 22 bridges traversing the five-mile stream creek. I set my coffee on the rail, posed for a picture with a rather forward tourist who apparently considered me part of the local colour, and at last descended to the walking path, already sweating in the sweltering heat that would only get more intense during that beautiful long weekend.

I found myself walking east…

woman & bridge seoul

..and my 22-bridge day would actually end up being closer to a 44-er, since I was going to walk the length of the waterway in both directions.

By God, it was hot. Cloudy at times, but consistently stinking hot. Oddly, I found myself enjoying the heat, and the sweat, and — oh, God, yes — the delicious fact that I was free, and alive, and above all not entertaining deadbeats in a godawful soul-destroying classroom. 

But it’s wrong to goat, Gloat gloat, Goat. Back to the mighty Cheonggye…

Correct walking attire is essential

Correct walking attire is essential in scorching weather

..for our tour of the underside of just about every bridge in inner Seoul.

Fellow Troll

Fellow Troll

I’ll say this about the good citizens of Seoul (the older ones anyway): they know how to find relief from the searing midday heat. It was two or three degrees hotter than home in Gyeongnam Province. What better place to seek refuge than the soothing underbelly of a creek-crossing bridge, with its shade and cool water?

Every bridge had its heat-dodging denizens, dipping their toes, drinking, eating, socialising or dozing in comfort. A troll’s oasis.

Bring the family!

Bring the family!

Until a few years ago, this was a dank, degraded waterway called the Gaecheon. The shantytowns that clogged its swampy banks post-Korean War had given way to concrete, cars and soulless overpasses. The restored version, complete with refashioned bridges, paths, plants, artworks, water features and human- (and wildlife-) friendly microclimates — 3.6 C cooler than the rest of Seoul — opened in 2005.

cheonggyecheon plaque seoul

Reminders of the creek’s role in the Seoul of old are everywhere:

stone woman statue seoul

I walked on into the blinding glare of afternoon. Seoul gets the best of both worlds: a dismal, protracted Winter and a brutal Summer. My town might lack the sophistication, entertainment and dining options, charm and vitality of Seoul, but it… Damn, it, no. It just lacks all that good stuff, okay?

Let’s change the topic.

Friday Afternoon Catch-Up

Friday Afternoon Catch-Up

Despite the brutal light, I persisted with attempts at wildlife photography. The creek banks were abuzz with birds and insects. Fish — slothful carp and darting smaller types — were abundant, too.

Life Beneath the Ruins

Life Beneath the Ruins

walking path & high bridge cheonggyecheon seoul

Bridge Geometry

Stalking the Shallows

Not far past this point, further than I’d gone previously, the landscaped section petered out, and I turned around for the long stroll back:

Thriving in the Shade

Thriving in the Shade

A homage to the former residents:

A Fragment of the Old

A Fragment of the Old

And another patch of welcome shade:

Refuge in Orange

Refuge in Orange

Thousands of hand-painted tiles on the “Wall of Hope”:

Did you ever see yourself in a painted tile?

Did you ever see yourself in a painted tile?

Somewhere around here I stopped for a beer. It was great to be alive and free. I know: you’ve read those words before on this blog. Well, it’s still great, lemme tell you.

Umbrella Weather

Umbrella Weather

orange lilies cheonggyecheon seoul

Like Koreans everywhere, Seoul-ites begin to shrivel and wilt if they’re disconnected from their “smart”-phones for more than a few minutes. Even under bridges:

Shady Dealings

Shady Dealings

Nearing the plaza, with its gigantic mollusc-sculpture, at the western terminus of the creek:

boy crossing cheonggyecheon seoul

water motion cheonggyecheon seoul

A “concert” was in progress: taped music, painfully over-amplified, the shrill, hysterical bleating of some throwaway K-pop…

watching k-pop group cheonggyecheon seoul

..to which a shapely gloop — I mean, group — of wannabe sensations were bending, flexing and contorting with great urgency.

It was essentially soft porn, but with an awful soundtrack. No place for an elderly person of good moral character to linger. I stayed barely an hour and split, tut-tutting furiously…

girl k-pop group cheongyecheon seoul

..to the subway, with (I realised again) no idea where I was going to spend the night.

I tried the environs of a famed palace I thought I might check out tomorrow, but it turned out to be right in the political heart of Seoul, and the streets were crawling with cops, soldiers, and various stern individuals with machine-guns. I was asked where I was going. I began to get paranoid.  Then I reached this spot…

Approved Photo Stop

Blue House: Approved Photo Stop

..one of the few where shots of the Blue House, official residence of the South Korean president, are permitted.

I bailed. No palace was worth this tension.

palace walls & flowers seoul

Decided on Acha-San, where I could hike a famed mountain in the morning. Was rejected by one vile, racist motel proprietor, and wound up in the cheapest, nastiest “love motel” I’ve ever stayed in. There were roaches, the manageress was a pig, there was no key or hot water, and the first room she showed me was still littered with the previous occupant’s dirty sheets and towels. I had to put up a fight to get my own roach-hovel.

Memories to Last a Lifetime

Memories to Last a Lifetime

$25 well spent. But I slept surprisingly well, secure in the knowledge that — surely — no act of love had ever transpired within these grimy walls, beneath these mouldy sheets…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. CRT television? Where’s all of the hi-tech stuff in Korea?! I’m not sure you should complain, as it appears your room came with a free coat hanger?

    I like the ‘Wall of Hope’. That would come in handy during my working week. At least your Korean sojourn is on a downhill run now?

    • The coathanger was actually an integral part of the TV, Greg.

      Living for my break from Korea in a few weeks, then there’s just four months or so to survive. Pretty crappy time of year for walking right now — just too damned hot — but early mornings and evenings are OK, I’ve been hanging out at the creekbank upstream where it’s nice, and a nightly beer kills some of the pain. But really looking forward to Autumn…

  2. Robert says

    I can vouch for your assessment of your town, having just returned to it from three weeks in Europe where you can’t move without falling over cities with all that good stuff you mention.

    • Will catch up soon and quiz you about the trip, Robert. I like aspects of this area but diversion, food and so on are not among its selling points. I’m kinda sick of it, in fact (again) and could definitely not do a third year here, even if the employers were insane enough to have me.

    • Yes! Great observations about the sidewalks! Korea has a long way to go with getting pedestrian-friendly. I would add that pedestrian crossings have almost no value as cars seldom stop — and cars often park right across them! The driver here, as elsewhere, has precedence. I have almost been hit many times while on zebra crossings. Even green “walk” lights have little value as drivers still try to sneak across — or fly across. Selfish bastards.

      As for cycling, I’ll get to the Han River in a couple of posts, and I found the cycling scene there to be pumping: thousands of riders of all ages flying along on good bike-dedicated roads,

  3. Darius Russell says

    Fascinating and interesting as always, Goat! Thank you!!

    Pathetically refreshing in seeing that Koreans are as awful as Americans at having their attention constantly focused on their “all-important” electronic devices.

    A few months back, around dusk, I was making my descent down the trail from the late Carl Sandburg’s favorite overlook, where he is said to have found hours of inspiration looking off into the surrounding mountains while daydreaming/thinking/writing on the expansive flat rock up there at his Connemara estate south of Asheville, NC. Anyways, when I just started the half hour trek down, I was nearly flattened by this guy whose attention was glued to the OH-SO-IMPORTANT messages/texts/whatever on his “Smart” Phone. He was meandering up the trail completely oblivious to his surroundings, walking and “Smart” Phoning, and I was just seething as he almost ran into me, zigzagging as he was while also walking on the trail.

    I didn’t say anything, but growled/grumbled under my breath as I thought: WHY BE OUTDOORS AND HIKING IF YOU CAN”T ENJOY ALL THAT”S AROUND YOU!??!!

    Anyway, cheers to your latest post (always appreciated with the flair and panache that only The Goat can give walkabout post.


    Agent 007
    **I have my own story about being in Seoul and dealing with their embarrassingly intrusive security, but that’s for another day!

    • Look forward to your Seoul story! Phone use here is ridiculous. I’m surprised Korean necks even swivel to the horizontal.

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