“EXILED TO Songdo.” An inside joke that Korea University students use to make fun of Yonsei freshmen, who are obligated to live in “the barren land” for the first year of college. It is quite childish and immature, but also not completely false. The thing is, when you are a freshman in Songdo, you tend to stick to the usual route: Songdo Central Park, Triple Street, Hyundai Premium Outlet, Campus Town. It is a dull cycle that we are all too familiar with. However, this is not all that there is to Songdo. Only about twenty minutes away from the Campus Town subway station is Soraepogu, a place definitely worth visiting at least once while residing in the Yonsei International Campus (YIC). The following is dedicated to all our readers living in Songdo in hopes that this will spice up your repetitious life in the YIC.
Remnants of a long history: Jangdo Battery Site
On a bright Saturday afternoon, my parents and I took the subway to Soraepogu Station. After we stepped out of the station, the first place we headed towards was Jangdo Battery Site, which is listed as Incheon Cultural Material No.19. From a distance, the battery site looked more like a traditional Korean royal tomb because of its grass mound. Approaching it, however, we saw that there were two old cannons each placed in its own enclosed compartment, pointing towards small rectangular openings in the walls. According to an information sign nearby, a historic map called the Hwa-do-jin-do explains that there once used to be three gun carriages. One seemed to have mysteriously disappeared over time, with only two left today. The sign further explained that this site was built as part of a coastal defense base during the 16th year of King Gojong’s* reign to prevent foreign ships from entering Incheon. Although it was a little unfortunate that we could not enter the chambers, we could feel its history in the atmosphere just the same.
As we were leaving the battery site, our gaze was unintentionally directed towards a small group of people climbing a series of wooden stairs. A cursory glance told us that the stairs did not lead to anything worthwhile, but curiosity got the best of us. Following the short trail upwards, we found that the stairs led to the top of a mountain called Mt. Daenggu. Were it not for the information sign, we would have easily mistaken it as an unspecified, random mound because the walk uphill was incredibly short. Despite its elevation of 40 meters, Mt. Daenggu provides a splendid view. The hill’s lookout point has a noticeably relaxed and airy feel, an impression aided by its open sea view. From the top, you can see the Sorae Fish Market, the Sorae History Museum, and the old railroad that stopped operating in 1995. Although Soraepogu is most famous for its fish market, I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes looking around the historical remnants in the area. Not only is this place a good opportunity to lightly brush up on your Korean history, but it also has a decent view of the ocean and of Sorae port.
Sorae Port Fish Market
Properly formed in the 1960s, Sorae Port Fish Market is now a famous tourist attraction because of its reasonable prices and regional proximity to Seoul. However, Soraepogu used to be a bleak and lifeless fishing village before the Korean War. People from the North who had lost their homes to the war came downwards to live in Soraepogu because it is geographically close to both the capital of South Korea, Seoul, and North Korea, their homeland. Although it is now a busy marketplace filled with lush life and much laughter, Sorae Port Fish Market has a painful history behind its bustling fish stands.
Despite the potent fishy smell that filled our nostrils, our mouths watered as we walked down the numerous fish stands that trailed along the street. All types of fresh, vibrant seafood were swimming around in tubs of various sizes and colors, waiting to be plucked straight out of the basin. The market stands also offered myriads of other menus such as deep fried vegetables and seafood, grilled fish, and salted fermented seafood also known as jeot-gal in Korean cuisine. So if you are on a budget or simply prefer cooked food to raw dishes, there are plenty of alternatives for you.
As we followed the bustling crowds through the intertwining streets, owners of fish stands were strolling around in their wellingtons, calling out prices to passersby. It is quite easy, especially for first-timers, to succumb to the pressure of the seafood vendors. However, if you want to enjoy a meal here, my personal tip is to take your time choosing which restaurant you want to go to. Take an attentive walk around the entire market, eye each stand closely, and compare prices before you start bargaining. At the very least, the merchants will throw in a couple more dishes as a treat simply out of their hearty services.
Sorae Marsh Ecological Park
Sorae Marsh Ecological Park is located five minutes away from the fish market. The 50-minute long walking trail in the park circles around beautiful fields, allowing you take in the brisk spring breeze and reconnect yourself with nature. It is not as crowded as some of the famous parks in Seoul, so it is a perfect place for a peaceful long walk by yourself or with your loved ones. The three windmills in one of the vast plains is also an ideal spot to take photogenic pictures at. Lush trees lining the dirt path twisting along the vast green meadows all set the mood for a blissful spring walk.
Before being established as an official park, Sorae Marsh Ecological Park used to be Korea’s largest and most active salt field in the 1970s. Although it closed in 1997 for urban redevelopment purposes, a small part of the salt field and an old traditional salt warehouse is still preserved in the eco-park for tourists. An exhibition hall in front of the field explains the history of the Sorae Salt Fields, where you can learn all there is to know about it. Furthermore, in the spring and summer, you can enjoy first-hand experience gathering salt in the old warehouse and fishing for seafood in the mud flat field.
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This spring, take advantage of living on YIC and explore the many tourist spots scattered around Soraepogu Station. It is time to stretch out those muscles that have been cooped up during the winter and be inspired to go out. Do yourself a favor by taking a mini-vacation in the small but splendid Sorae Fishing Village. Breathe in the salty sea breeze and immerse yourself in Sorae, a place that provides everything from rich culture and history to fresh seafood and ocean scenery.
*King Gojong (reigned 1863~1907): The 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty and the first Emperor of the Korean Empire.