The Best Stream In The City
The weather is starting to change. The mornings come with a slight chill and a light sweater is necessary on the evenings out. Every year about this time I begin to think I need to be outside as much as possible to soak up the last rays of sunshine and heat in order to stay warm all winter. This week I decided to walk the 50 minutes to and from one of my jobs along my nearby stream the Hongjecheon. I’ve lived near this stream for almost six years now and it’s gone through quite the pleasant transformation in that time. As I enjoyed my walk, I thought about what it used to be like and how nice it now is. I wonder what the other streams in the city are like, but I also like mine so much I’m not pushing myself to get out and see any of the many others jutting off of the Han River.
The Hongjecheon begins in Hongje-dong and flows south to the Han River and comes out just west of the Seongsan Bridge and the Mapo public swimming pool. A couple years ago the paths on either side of the stream were redone and outfitted with a wonderful soft green running lane and a brown paved biking lane. This was especially nice as it was a clear indication to all as to where the walkers and joggers should be and where the bikers should be resulting in fewer collisions. Yes, I saw quite a few of those before these paths were put in. As many foreigners will contest, walking on the right side of the hallway in the subway, a building on the sidewalk and anywhere for that matter is not a social rule in Korea and people will just walk wherever they feel like ignoring arrows often ending up right in front of an oncoming person and both people seem just as surprised that it happened. It’s a conundrum. I welcomed the clear lanes, as it made my explanations to oncoming people much easier, now I can just point at the signs.
After the lanes were installed, rocks and shrubbery was added. This was extremely important as there are a number of different species of birds that come to this particular stream in the spring to lay their eggs. The ducks come early and find places for their nests in the tall grasses lining the water and soon after white ducklings, speckled ducklings and brown ducklings are swimming everywhere. Cranes come along about the same time and though I haven’t seen their nests, I imagine they must be nearby because the baby cranes start wading through the waters just after the ducklings appear. Fish swim back and forth beneath the water. Tall grasses, flowering hedges and rock gardens line the paths.
One of the best parts of this stream, that some may consider a detriment, is that a two lane highway runs over it. Yes, there are ugly grey pillars that sit every so often in the center of the stream, but this highway gives some much needed shade in the hot hot summer. There is always at least one side of the stream that is shaded throughout the day making it the perfect place to run. You can choose to be in the sun or not. After the paths were done and the foliage was added some city planner must have realized how unsightly the cement pillars were and decided to add a little class to the river. Monet and Renoir paintings were hung on the pillars from Hongje to Hongnam Bridge. If you can read the Korean signs they are labeled with the name and the artist and on the path itself is a sign with some history of each painting. Along with the classical art there is also some classical music that is played over speakers that line the stream. It’s very much an outdoor museum.
There is a waterfall on the stream and stepping stones that lead across the stream to the foot of Ansan Mountain. It’s the perfect place to start or end a hike. After the paintings come to an end the path opens a bit and there are basketball hoops and courts used for the Korean ajjushi favorite kick volleyball (I don’t really know what this game is, but that’s what it looks like.). There is outdoor exercise equipment every so often and drinking fountains and fountains in the stream for water shows. For all of these reasons, it is by far my favorite stream in the city, but I am definitely bias.
For those people interested in hidden tunnels the stream doesn’t really seem to end in Hongje-dong. All of the reconstruction has ended there, but the stream continues and the though the “path” ends, there is a path that goes into a tunnel. I’ve never gone in, but it seems like it could be a good adventure.