When I first came to teach in Korea, I was really scared because all I knew was that I would be placed in Seoul. After arriving here, I started asking around where is Gangdong and unfortunately for me, no one had heard of this area. I really started freaking out and I even thought about quitting. However, I am glad I decided to stay because living in Gangdong has been one of the highlights of my teach abroad experience.
Seoul is divided into ‘gu (districts)’ and within each ‘gu’ there is a ‘dong (neighborhood)’. This can be a bit confusing upon first arriving, but after living here for awhile, it all starts to make sense. For instance I live in Cheonho-dong, Gangdong-gu. Gangdong means ‘east of the Han River’ and it is in the far eastern edge of Seoul. I am lucky because although it is at the edge of the city, two subway lines connect my area (line 5 &8) to the more famous places in Seoul. Many parts of my district are quiet, however I ended up living on a ‘Rodeo’ which is basically a party place every night filled with bars, restaurants, and shopping. Hyundai Department Store and E-Mart are among the top spots where people go shopping in this location. Also, Cheonho is famous for Jjukkumi (spicy baby octopus). An entire alley is devoted to this delicious dish across from the Lotte Cinema.
My ChungDahm branch of Gangdong is 3 subway stops away from my home, but many of us teachers like to walk to and from work because it is really fast (maybe 20 minutes). The neighborhood I work in is fairly quiet but we are surrounded by different academies from math, music, and science.
One of the highlights about living here is that my home is next to the Han River. Many people, including myself, take advantage of the basketball courts, running and biking lanes, and exercise equipment all located on the Han River. During the summer time, a lot of us teachers like to go camping on the river.
Across the river, 1 stop away, are two famous places located here in Seoul. One is Mt. Acha (Achasan) which gives you a great view of the Gwangjin District. Many people will take advantage of hiking trails that run through Achasan and there is even another trail that connects Achasan to Yongmasan. This place is very special to me because this is where I started to develop my love for hiking. I never realized how good it felt to be out in the wilderness and get some fresh air. Since living in Korea, I have climbed over 10 mountains and the majority of them are near the Seoul area.
At the base of Achasan, is my old nemesis. His name is The Walker Hill Casino. This is one of the 3 casinos in the Seoul area (the others are owned by Paradise Casinos). Walker Hill has been around for a long time and to this day, it can only be accessed by foreigners. However, if gambling is not your thing one of the nicest (and unfortunately very expensive) bars in Seoul is the Woo Bar located on the premises. This bar overlooks the Han River and its centerpiece is a life size chess board inside. Be prepared to drop around 20,000 won for a drink here but the scenery is very beautiful.
Also, at the base of Achasan is Children’s Grand Park. This is one of the largest parks in the Seoul area and trust me, it is not only for Children. Every few weeks I like to run from my home to this park (the other being Olympic Park) to see what kind of activities are going on. The Park has a zoo, botanical garden, and amusement park. Many of the activities at this park are free or have a minimal fee to get into it. It is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon because there are so many things to see and do there. Furthermore, during the winter time, they offer sledding which made for a great field trip so I could bond with my students.
Hopefully, the next time a teacher asks, ‘Where is Gangdong?’ they will know why this is such a great area to live in!
After working for five years in banking, Marc decided that it was time for a change before he got too old. He left the stress from his 9-5 job to do something new and different. After coming to Korea with a group of buddies, he landed in the Gangdong Branch in Eastern Seoul. When he's not teaching and doing head instructor duties, he is out about traveling Korea, looking for the new, old, and undiscovered places to visit. Follow him on Twitter @geonmakku and on Instagram @geonmakku for the latest happenings in South Korea.