The iconic and now disused Gangchon Station in Gangwon-do Korea, the destination of choice for weekending university students for decades. This train station was the arrival and departure point for many of these alcohol fueled weekends. Now disused and empty, the station stands waiting for who know’s what will happen to it next.
Gangchon has a special place in the memory of many, if not every, university student to have studied in Seoul. For decades the small town was the destination of choice for university students when they took the weekend excursions, either with friends or on faculty MT, or training weekends.
The small town on the banks of the River Han on the outskirts of Chuncheon is packed with noraebang, amusement arcades, scooter and ATV rentals, restaurants and bars. Its economy relies on the day trippers who have consistently made Gangchon the destination of choice for many years. Up until 2010 the point of arrival and departure had been Gangchon train station, a long covered station smeared with graffiti that hugged against the rocks high up above the river which had cut a long winding valley into the mountains. The train left from Cheongnyangni and snaked its way to Chuncheon, the famous home of dalkgalbi. Gangchon was one of the final stops along the way.
The thing about Gangchon was that it could only realistically be reached by train. Sure there are roads, but the train allowed for large numbers of people to cram in together and fill the large bucket seats, the whole while taking in the amazing scenery of eastern Gyeonggi-do as it approached Gangwon-do. For university students without access to cars and looking to spend the whole weekend drinking heavily, the train was ideal. Most of the time the train line followed the path of the Han, the river that can be said to define Korea as a nation.
Train journeys are always fun, and especially when you are leaving for a weekend trip, catching the train adds to the excitement and the romance. There is the rush to the station and the queuing at the booth, then the relief when the clerk hands you over freshly printed tickets with seat numbers for you and all your friends to all sit together. Boarding the train, you rush to find your seats and sink into them proudly. Without waiting for the train to pull from the station you begin to unwrap your provisions of snacks and beer. The train soon pulls out of the station and lurches off away from the city, through the suburbs and then the factories on the outskirts, until you finally reach large stretches of green countryside. Every so often, the train pulls into a small town and people get on and off, as you look out the window wondering what it is that makes these people need to disembark here, as you ask yourself why would anyone want to go anywhere else but where you are going? As the train nears your stop the excitement builds. You check your belongings and get your bags ready. As the train pulls into the station you watch from the windows the people on the platform and the scenery outside. In a half panic you push down the aisle towards the door hopping the driver won’t close it before you reach it. Stepping down from the steps and taking a deep breath, you look around and smile.
While this isn’t exactly how every person experience Gangchon Station, many surely did feel this way, and an equally large number probably had a close enough experience to this. But now, Gangchon Station has gone, replaced by a shiny new subway station on a flat piece of land on the outskirts of the small town.
The old station still stands covered in graffiti, some looks commissioned and others look like they were of the traditional, amateur inscribed variety. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of the green and colourful graffiti is quite new. When I was last at the station in 2006, the walls were all white but for the pen and marker writing where students of all ages had declared their allegiance to their schools or girlfriend/boyfriend (whom it is likely they had met that weekend!).
Gangchon Station is now a tomb for memories. I felt sad as I walked around it looking at this small place where I knew so many fond memories began and ended. The building is silent now. The tracks have been removed and all the stores have closed long ago. You can walk right in and onto the space that used to be where the tracks lay. There is very little to see, but it is worth a look. It’s a frozen scene. From the day the last train ran you get the idea that this is how Gangchon Station has looked – a stopped station where no trains will ever run past again.
Gangchon Station – 강촌역, a set on Flickr.