"There are many ascending roads in my neighborhood/ Besides, they are shortcuts, always uphill/ Just like my life” (From ‘Pretty Calves of My Life’)
Poet Hwang In-sook described Haebangchon in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, as such in her ninth collection of poems entitled “Pretty Calves of My Life.” She moved to Haebangchon in 1986 to find cheap housing. Hwang now lives in a small rooftop loft. Her calves have thickened from going up and down the village every day with many uphill and steep alleys, but Hwang calls her thick calves “pretty.” “Going up and down the uphill in Haebangchon, you get to think about life,” Hwang said calmly in a telephone interview with The Dong-A Ilbo.
“Visitors born in an apartment building built on flatlands and come by the Haebangchon will never know. This uphill where an old man pulls a cart filled with wastepaper and a grocery store owner moves heavy boxes is full of life.”
The latest collection has come out three years since the poet published her collection entitled “In the evening on any day” in 2019. Hwang illustrated the backstreets of the Haebangchon in her latest collection of poems. After her encounter with an immigrant worker leaving work, the poet wrote, “Deep and dark brown/ was sitting like a specter” (from “Color of the Dark”). Seeing market vendors shouting aloud to sell their produce, Hwang writes, “There is a joy in wriggling / falling down like an overturned beetle” (from “Love of the Marketplace”).
Hwang debuted in 1984 with a poem “I will be born as a cat." The poet strolls the Haebangchon from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day and feed street cats. “After having walked around the village / on my way home I noticed / bowls for cats disappeared” (from “Spring’s Curse of the Waltz”).
“I feed almost 80 cats in this area. I will live here until I am driven out because I cannot pay my rent,” Hwang calmly said when asked how long she plans to live in the Haebangchon.