With Mr. Lee, one of my colleague architects, I got off at the Samkajji trolley station. The tram was a single car painted with faded dark green below the window sill and also faded yellowish paint on the top half including the window frames. It made a lot of noises coming from the rattling rolling stocks on the poorly laid rails and cracking sounds with sparking single trolley to get plus electricity from the air wire.
In the morning rush hour, the city’s trams were always full of standing passengers. A brave man was suspended outside the tram door holding handrail with one hand, dangling his briefcase with the other. It resembled a scene in San Francisco.
Those passengers who had get off at Samkajji station were mostly headed to the Gate #1 (now Gate #16) located along the Hangang Boulevard. All Korean employees at the Yongsan Garrison showed their IDs lined up at the guard post on the concrete sidewalk. They must get to their offices in the North Post before 8 o’clock.
On that particular morning, the guard at the guard house was a tall and plump US Army soldier with a gun holster hanging on his waist. I handed him my wallet where the Provost Marshall issued my ID was inserted. For a while the soldier fiddled with it and slid back through small window. I grabbed it, walked passing the gate and headed to my office in the Building 1510 located on the northern hill of the North Post. As I felt suspicious, I opened the wallet and found my $10 bill for my lunch money was missing.
I stopped, turned around, to get my money back from the soldier. He was busy with his duty inside the guard post. Then I realized it will be a heated and humiliating exchange of “You did, I didn’t.” I decided to forget about my $10.
In the office, I told my friends about the incident and everyone laughed, except Mr. Lee who had get off at the Samkajji station with me. He raised his brown leather satchel, an expensive looking bag that not everyone could afford it, high above his head. It showed a 6” vertical trace of razor cut on the side. “Look, someone picked my bag in the tram and my wallet is gone!” “You guys should skip lunch today,” someone said, and laughter became louder. That pretty sack dressed Miss Ahn was covering her mouth with her hand. That was sometime in the late spring of 1959 and I had forgotten about it for a longtime.
One spring day after 55 springs had passed since the incidents, the retired Korean Army MSgt. Kim Chun-soo, now known as a Yongsan historian, Mr. Mike Kim of Dragon Hill Lodge and Mr. Zacco Zwetsloot and I walked around the Building 1510 and the Post Engineer’s office near the Gate #1. Ah, that gate post and that tall soldier, the surrounding fences and the chain-link gates, the sidewalk, and the stream behind, all of which are just about the same as I had seen when I was a debutant 28 years old architect/engineer.
The fond memories of the Gate #1 would soon become a mirage of retrospect as the Garrison will disappear from the Dragon Hill, Seoul.
P.S. I’ve casually met one day in 1966 that Mr. Lee of Samkajji in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel at the dock of Saigon River, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. “Since then I decided not carry around expensive items,” he said and showed me his cheap Seiko watch.
By Nam Sang-so, retired architect/engineer from the Building 1510, Yongsan Garrison, one spring day in 2017.