Seoul National University is just about 60 years old. The history of the school is written on a number of books and papers but it also reveals itself within the modernized campus. With watchful eyes, and a mixture of curiosity and interest, history could be discovered and experienced everywhere.
Antique within non-antique; the modern Kkangtong cafeterias
How comfortable it is to find nice cafeterias at every corner in the campus, considering those days when there were less equipped facilities inside the school. The watery jjajangmyun our seniors used to eat for its’ cheap price has been raised to 1,500 won. The 1,000 won jjajangmyun, the trademark of the Kkangtong cafeterias has now become a legend.
Kkangtong cafeteria was affectionately named by students of Seoul National University out of the characteristics of the temporary building with tin-plate walls which was shaped like a can. The cafeteria has been a place of nourishment for people of Seoul national university for sixteen years since 1993. Now there are two KKangtong cafeterias; one in front of the College of Engineering and another in the presence of the College of Education. The increase of the seats in the KKangtong near the College of Engineering shows the continuing popularity of the cafeteria as it grew from 72 seats in 1995 to 120 seats in 2006.
Familiarity and reasonable price are the original charms of Kkangtong cafeteria. You should never expect gorgeous interior designs or various fusion menus in this unique dining hall. Rather, a meal is served by an aunty-like employee with kindhearted amount of cooked noodles or rice which is mainly priced between one or two thousand won. For many alumni of this school, Kkangtong cafeteria is the place that brings out the melancholy memory of university life; this is the place where they had filled their growling tummies with warm yet reasonably priced food.
However, Kkangtong cafeteria also shows the fact that nothing is eternal. The KKangtong cafeterias, contrary to their names, do not resemble a tin can anymore. The cafeterias have been under construction and added new menus and are charging higher prices which could give a bitter feeling to some older students who came for the reminiscent taste. Most of the freshmen however, have no recollection of the old KKangs. Still, the KKangtongs are still operating for every hungry student within the campus and both the historical and practical value of these cafeterias is for many students in SNU, priceless.
Jahayeon and Ohjak-kyo
Everyone knows Jahayeon. Located at the very center of the campus, the pond is a hard sight to miss, whether the cherry blossoms are falling gently on its waters or the trees are eerily illuminated by decorative lamps. It is such a familiar presence that hundreds of people pass it on their way to class each day without so much as giving a second thought, let alone another glance.
But Jahayeon as students know it today has not been around for very long. Not many years ago, there used to be a bridge cutting across the pond. A plain concrete arch, the bridge had generally been considered unsightly and its name – Ohjak-kyo(烏鵲橋), an allusion to the bridge of crows and magpies mentioned in one Korean folklore – was more often interpreted as 誤作橋, or a <>. Its awkward presence had inspired many utterly bizarre and wholly unfounded rumors over the years, ranging from the usual “couples who walk across the bridge together will break up” to “the bridge will collapse if a virgin walks across it past midnight.”
Ohjak-kyo was torn down by the university in 2003, following the unfortunate deaths of two students who drowned in the pond, despite claims by some students that the bridge had collapsed on its own.
The Origin of Nokdu Street
For students in Gwanak campus, Nokdu Street would be the place most frequently spoke of, along with Naksungdae and Seoul National University Entrance. Nokdu is home to many students with its numerous studio apartments and has a distinctive characteristic due to a large number of private institutes, bookstores, restaurants and bars. Because of the name Nokdu, which is a Korean word for “mung-beans,” there had been many assumptions that the origin of the street would somehow be related to this plant. The name of the street, Nokdu, however, is actually from a bar called “Nokdujip(which means Nokdu house).” Nokdujip was on the current Nokdu Street in the 1980s and served dongdongju(a traditional Korean wine). Nokdujip became popular among students for its low prices and eventually, the street was named after it.
When high school or perhaps middle school students dream about university life, the first difference they might anticipate or in some cases, dread of, would be the fact that in universities, school uniforms do not exist. Unlike in Korean middle schools and high schools, in universities there is no one to scold you and to impose severe restrictions on your hair and clothing. After wearing monotone uniforms for six years on the average, freshmen tend to change their style completely, with much expectation towards university life.
This, however, could not have been possible in the 1950s, because there used to be a uniform in SNU then. The uniform of SNU was decided and made on March 2nd, 1947. The uniform consisted of a school hat, which was a beret and a jacket with a lengthwise zipper as a pocket and the SNU mark(the sha mark) embroidered on the arm. The SNU uniform seems to have been worn occasionally in the 1950s and in photos of school entrance ceremonies all the students are wearing the indigo-color uniform. After 50 years, the scenes have completely changed. Students in colorful garments are standing in the auditorium, but the expression of anticipation lingering on the faces is consistent as always.
The Master of Shoes of SNU
Along the roadside starting from the library to the student center building, where the golden bell in full blossom captures the eyes of passerby, there lays a cozy tin-roofed house where an old man fixes shoes.
Ha Yong-jin, 76, had a bullet wound from the Korean War he had entered in his early twenties. After the war, Ha became a person of national merit, and the government introduced a workplace in Seoul National University as a shoe repairman which became his ongoing job.
Working in SNU campus for more than fifty years, Ha talks about how the life in campus changed significantly in several decades. During the years, the school has even changed its location. "Those days were tough. Passing through one of the most revolutionary eras of our history, students were on the one hand, always down-and-out but on the other, full of good ambition." Along with that, Ha depicts modern students in the campus as the happy-generation living in the time of abundance.
People who drop by Ha's repair shop might glimpse that through an old man's proficient hand skill in handling shoes, deepened wrinkles in chances of smiles, benevolent tone of voice, the long history of Seoul National University could be found. The history is living underneath the ordinary and the SNU “master of shoes” is waiting to help the youth troubled by their shoes regardless of time or weather.
written by: Kim Sunjung, Helen Kim, Yum Sooyun