Songtan is in the northern end of PyeongtaekGyeonggi-doSouth Korea. Songtan achieved city status in its own right in 1981, five years earlier than Pyeongtaek, but merged with Pyeongtaek County into Pyeongtaek City in May 1995. [1] Most residents still consider it to have an identity separate from the rest of Pyeongtaek City. To appease some discontent at the merger, Pyeongtaek City officials decided to keep the Songtan City Hall intact and convert it into a Pyeongtak City Hall branch office, where Songtan residents can still go for city-provided services. At consolidation, Songtan had over 110,000 residents, slightly less than the population of pre-consolidation Pyeongtaek City. The district has an administrative office that formerly served as Songtan City Hall. Songtan’s best-known feature is Osan Air Base, a United States Air Force base that spawned the area’s growth and is a significant factor in the district’s economy.

Songtan Station and Seojeong-ri Station serve Songtan and connect Songtan to Seoul and other cities like CheonanOsanSuwon, and Anyang via the Seoul Metropolitan Subway on Seoul Subway Line 1 . In addition to regular subway trains, Seojeong-ri Station features some Korail trains and Seoul Subway Line 1 Express subway trains. Pyeongtaek Station is two stops south of Seojeong-ri Station on Seoul Subway Line 1 and has a larger Korail Station.

Administration History

  • 1914 – Songtan Township (myeon) formed as part of Jinwi County (gun)
  • 1924 – Jinwi County, renamed Pyeongtaek County
  • 1963 – Songtan Township was promoted to Songtan Town (eup)
  • 1981 – Songtan Town was promoted to Songtan City (shi), absorbing Seojong Township
  • 1995 – Songtan City, Pyeongtaek County, and Pyeongtaek City merge into Pyeongtaek City

Osan Air Base

Osan Air Base is a forward-deployed base of the United States Air Force. Osan City lies ten miles north of Songtan but was the closest settlement of appreciable size when the base was built in 1951–52. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Osan was chosen as the name because the names of nearby hamlets were challenging to pronounce (Seojong-ri was the closest town that existed at the time, two miles south). Osan hosts U.S. Air Force and Republic of Korea Air Force units.

Outside The Base

Songtan continues to grow southward and eastward from the base and is now a significant bedroom community for Seoul and Suwon workers. Hundreds of sizeable multi-story apartment buildings house these commuters.

Farther away from the base, Songtan appears as any other city in Gyeonggi-do, with high-rise apartments stretching to the south. Cityscape gives way to rural farmlands immediately west and about two miles east of the base. Buses run from the downtown bus station to Seoul, roughly 45 minutes north. In 2005 the subway/train line from Seoul connected to Cheonan, with a station in Songtan. Songtan connects to many other cities: OsanSuwon, and Seoul to the north, and PyeongtaekCheonan, and Daejeon to the south.

There is a sizable foreign population; American military, Filipino, and, before 9/11, Russians reside near the base with an increasing Chinese presence of small merchants.

Sinjang Shopping Mall

Immediately outside the base is a district with many bars, dance clubs, small shops, relator’s offices, and restaurants. Foreigners commonly refer to this area as “downtown” or “the Ville,” but it is officially known as Sinjang-dong Shopping Mall.

On weekends the streets are crowded with residents, tourists, shoppers, military members (U.S and R.O.K.), and general partiers clogging the streets and enjoying the “festive” atmosphere. Famous for “Juicy Girls” hostesses, who supply drinks to the customers, most downtown bars feature pools, darts, loud American music (mainly hip-hop, rock, and classic rock), and hookahs as the main attractions. Dart and pool leagues are somewhat popular among the military population. There is a growing music scene at bars, with local bands playing on weekend nights.

Small shops are a large part of the Shinjang area. In 1996 a portion of the main street leading off Osan AB was remade into a pedestrian mall, the Shinjang Shopping Mall. Some Americans are eager to buy custom-made clothing at lower prices than in the U.S. from the skilled artisans who line the mall. There are also leather workers and painters, hanji, traditional Korean souvenirs, and blanket shops that cater to the Americans. Customers may haggle with the shop owners to obtain the best deal, and the shop owners are usually willing to do the same.

Some of the businesses are well-known food chains like McDonald’s,[2] Popeyes[3], and Baskin-Robbins;[4] however, most are small, individually owned shops, restaurants, and bars. Lining the middle of the pedestrian mall and streets are pojangmacha (small tents and carts) offering traditional Korean street foods such as hotteoktteokbokkimandu, and dakkochi (skewered chicken), better known in the area as chicken-on-a-stick. There are also small vendor tables selling colorful socks, hats, masks, tee-shirts, and other items and ‘gray-market’ tents selling copied DVDs.

Sinjang-dong Shopping Mall is unique from many shopping strips in Korea because of its relatively large American/foreign presence. Thus, most stores, restaurants, and establishments are bilingual (English/Korean); many accept U.S. dollars and South Korean won.

Before June 2013, Sinjang-dong Shopping Mall was known as a seedy collection of “Juicy” bars that catered exclusively to the American military. It was filled with Filipina and, in smaller numbers, Russian and Korean “Juicy” girls who worked as hostesses or dancers in bars to provide company and, in some cases, sexual services to patrons in exchange for the patron buying the girl juice drinks priced 10,000 won and higher. [5][6] Following a crack-down by United States Forces Korea (USFK) officials, those establishments that got out of the juicy bar business have remade themselves into dance clubs and sports bars. Some are thriving, but some have closed as the 140 bars in Songtan battle for the patronage of area service members.

Those that chose to remain in the Juicy bar business have been placed off limits to military personnel. [7][8] The military authorities have no jurisdiction over the private companies off base. However, they can order the service members under their jurisdiction to refrain from doing business with those not meeting particular standards. Being put off limits can mean a business loses nearly all its customers, so many owners begrudgingly comply with the base’s requirements. Many owners have complained that this essentially gives the U.S. military de facto authority over Korean businesses.

Song’s Plaques and Coins shop in the Sinjang Shopping Mall supplies many challenge coins used throughout the U.S. military.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Main Menu