Anyangcheon Stream lies in one of those boroughs in Seoul, just like many other rivers do. It joins the Han River to cut Seoul into two, the north and the south, much like the DMZ, except for the fact that bridges connect the two regions. Every afternoon, when I was eleven, something beautiful occurred on this stream – mallards leisurely floated by the river current, sometimes with their beaks in the water looking for small prey. Schools of carp enjoyed their spring journey, with some of the curious breaking out of the group, following humans walking around the stream, hoping that they would get some snacks.
Tracing the borderlines of Yangcheon-gu borough, the stream was a five-minute walk from my house. I left my apartment with a warning of monsters from cousins who’d rather play video games with me. I ignored them as I descended the U-shaped bike road next to the stairs. Then, I’d turn right to pass by Ginkgo trees lined up among tessellated bluish green precast pavers. I’d turn left after fifty metres to enter a small gate and cycle pass by Yang Chung Middle School; the white square-shaped pavers sometimes out of shape, without any trees, marked the transition between the two areas. I crossed the road, two lanes on one side and three lanes on the other, and there rushed the stream.
Online images of Anyangcheon Stream would always have a luxurious green color. The image of the place that I remember, however, was of humble yellow. Yellow plants, yellow soil. There wasn’t that much to see. People always walked there, mainly women, jogging back and forth. Most of them wore a matching color of caps and hiking vests. The most common colors that could be found included fluorescent yellow, orange, and sometimes even purple. Men sporting polarized sunglasses cycled on their bikes. There descended a vacuum of noise, however. The only sounds that could be heard were the barely audible conversations of women passing by, only heard clearly when I stood right next to them, or people on bikes ringing their bells for the others’ safety. Sometimes birds cried from far distances. The stream was peaceful; there are no other words to describe it. I liked that humility, that quietude. I could empty my mind while I continued my journey, and nothing abrupt existed to distract me.
The part about the stream that I loved the most was the entrance to the cycle lane. I had to pull my bike up a long, quite steep slope, to reach an even longer downhill, where my bike now pulled me down in return of my hard efforts. I didn’t hold on to the brakes while I entrusted my body on the bike. I lost control of myself. I wanted to lose control. I felt the breeze sweeping through my clothes, under my shirt, around the hair, the fluttering sound. I guess at that time this experience best showed the proportional relationship between hard work and high rewards, also one of the most common Korean phrases ‘You reap what you sow’, as emphatically stated by my grandparents every Chinese New Year as well-wishing remarks.
I would keep pedaling along the cycle lane until I encountered a field of galdae, tall, stalks like those of the spring onion, only thicker, with cottony flowers that resembled fern. Then, the smokestacks of factories became dauntingly close. They would start shining and bursting orange at twilight. At that point I would slow down and stop, like a soccer ball stop spinning once kicked into the goal, and gaze at the galdae executing simple harmonic motion – move to the left, slow down, to the right, slow down, back to the left. I wanted to jump in there, walk through them and hide myself. I was too timid to do that, too shy to express myself. I feared that someone would swiftly steal my bike while I wandered around in my own maze. I lost my first bike because of laziness that stopped me from turning the dials on my four-dial-lock by more than one number. I didn’t want to risk losing my second bike because of my laziness, my instincts again.
A flat grey bridge connected the district I was living in, Yangcheon-gu, to some other district, separated from each other by the stream. To go across posed a risk for me. Despite the perfectly same scenery on the opposite side of the stream, the green grass surrounding a trail for walkers and cyclists, all under a road with parked white, grey, and black cars, I always considered that side a completely new place. Only recently did I realize that the other district was Yeongdeungpo-gu, my first real home in Korea, when I randomly searched up a map of Seoul on Google while procrastinating. Whenever I dared crossing that bridge, I always made sure that I went through the very center of the bridge, for I feared that I would fall from my bike, into the river.
A couple of days ago I saw a video of pink galdae swaying under an azure sky. That reminded me of Anyangcheon. But from the way the tall grass swayed, came a foreboding. One summer night on Naver, Anyangcheon Stream appeared as one of the ten highest trending search words. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link, finding articles and reviews by bloggers of the new water park opening there. It was mainly a place for children, utilizing the empty space near the parking lot to add in pools and fountains and showers. But trees were cut down. Galdae were weeded out. Dirt has been replaced with manufactured pieces of monotonously equal, grey rock to sustain the water in the pools. Videos showed that the humble noises of birds and bicycle bells were now non-existent, but replaced by frivolous laughter of kids and columns of water hitting the ground. Yellow was a color obviously absent, but instead a spectrum of colors, starting from bright neon green to dark black with an orange touch, from the tents and cars populating the area.
I still think of the stream at times. Sometimes I dream of an old man on a bike, whizzing past the reed that clung to the mud, followed by a small boy with a blue helmet in a blue tricycle. This is the only image of Anyangcheon I want to remember.
Mingoo Kwon is a senior student at International School Manila. He loves to play video games and listen to early 2000s music at home, or spend his time outside with his friends. He loves writing about nature, his surroundings, and relationships. His poems and writings have been recognized by Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.