Political realities may restrict the possibilities of Korean rail travel, but what the domestic railroad suffers in its geographical limitations, it compensates for in its quality and wonderful station.
Er… make that two stations.
The new Seoul Station… and the old
The new Seoul Station is everything you’d want in a modern terminus: an open space with shops, food court, exhibition space, and an attached department store. It’s a perfect place to start or end a trip, but you’ll want to linger in its older incarnation, a beauty of a thing. The old Seoul Station looks the way a train station is supposed to look, with thick stone slabs and reddish-pink bricks below a Byzantine dome.
While trains may no longer run from the old station, it has fortunately been brought back from a period of neglect with an extensive refurbishment and reimagining. Rechristened Culture Station Seoul 284, it’s been turned into an exhibition space, and just last month underwent its full reopening.
As interesting as the artworks is the restored station itself. Thick granite columns line the foyer, there are fireplaces and candelabras, and the guide notes where the Ladies’ Waiting Room and the Barber Shop used to be.
To the station’s west you’ll find the Sohn Kee-Chung Athletic Park, dedicated to the marathoner who was one of Korea’s all-time greatest athletes and perhaps the one with the most conflicted story.
Born in 1914, Sohn’s talents landed him in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but he was forced to compete under the Japanese colonial flag. In the marathon, he outran everyone, setting an Olympic record in the process. It was a bittersweet victory, and on the medal stand Sohn used the pin oak sapling he had received as victor to cover up the Japanese sun on his chest.
In addition to numerous athletic facilities, there are also two sculptures of Sohn, one of which captures the runner in an iconic pose. The bib on his chest identifies him as racer number 382, the number he wore in Berlin. He is midstride, his head cocked at a peculiar angle, straining to outrun the other athletes and, just as surely, the shame and burden he was made to carry.
Culture Station Seoul 284
Hours: Tue—Fri: 11am—7pm; Weekends: 11am—8pm; closed Mondays, Jan 1, and Seollal
T. (02) 3407-3500
Sohn Kee-Chung Athletic Park
Exit 4 (West side exit)
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