The reason we were on such a tight budget was that Eunji had decidedto quit her job at the university and devote herself full time to painting.Privately, I was less than enthusiastic about her decision. It was wonderful for her to be following her heart, and she was obviously talented, butI had no confidence that she had what it would take to ensure successin the fickle and irrational world of art. Even if things worked out forher eventually, our situation in the meantime would be precarious. Myjob at the logistics company paid barely enough to furnish our currentlifestyle, and then there was the matter of the child we were trying toconceive.
Despite my reservations about Eunji’s decision, I was determined tobe supportive and make things work. And luckily, with some loans fromour families, we were able to scrounge up enough to put down a depositon a modest two-bedroom unit in the Golden River Mountain Apartments. It was not such a bad place. Despite its grim utilitarian appearance and overall state of disrepair, it was conveniently located withinwalking distance of Jamsil Station, the confluence of two subway linesand the heart of Seoul’s affluent Songpa ward. And so we optimisticallyrushed headlong into our new life.
We soon learned that the Golden River Mountain Apartments weremore aptly named than we had originally suspected. Our neighborhoodhad once been a floodplain. Each summer, engorged by the monsoonrains, the Han River would sweep in and reclaim the region. So it hadbeen until the mid-1970s, when dictator-president Park Chung-hee hadforeseen in this damp and forgotten riverbank a cure to the capital’sreal estate shortage. He had launched an ambitious land readjustmentprogram that involved filling in the floodplain with earth appropriatedfrom a nearby mountain. In the most literal sense, the Golden RiverMountain Apartments were situated atop the remains of both a riverand a mountain.
The reclamation of Jamsil, like most of Park’s initiatives, was a swiftbut superficial success. By the time we moved in, the area had becomeone of the most desirable in Seoul, and many of the original buildingshad been replaced with newer luxury towers with facades of glass ratherthan concrete and crowned with neon-rimmed helicopter pads. Yetsome had begun to worry that the district was literally sinking underthe burden of its frenetic development, too flimsy to accommodate theweight of the half million residents who now occupied it. The foundations were weak, and some of the buildings were beginning to list like