May 25, 2013

Escape from Trash Mountain - Nanjido

Take a low lying island located on a river in Seoul, add two decades worth of garbage generated during a period of rapid modernization never before seen in human history, and what are you left with? A 100 meter high mountain of trash, reeking so badly that people could smell it from the other side of the Han River. The dump site of Nanjido grew to cover an area of almost 3 million square meters, dwarfing the pyramids of Giza in scale.

Nanjido became a dangerous eyesore that oozed methane which frequently ignited, causing 1300 fires over the life span of the landfill. Millions of tons of industrial and household waste had piled up like the credit card debt of a Korean beauty's boyfriend. After one big blaze in 1984, the last of the inhabitants of the isle were relocated.

Seoul was selected as a host of the 2002 World Cup. The city's soccer stadium was located a corner kick away from this festering heap of rubbish, so the government decided to do something about the situation. They transformed the dump into a large green space, replete with parks, sculptures, trails, golf courses, and dazzling views of Seoul.

Ironically, there are barely any garbage cans on a mountain that once served as the city's wastebasket. Every time I came up on what looked to be a garbage can, it turned out to be a container for fire extinguishers. The extinguishers are a nice safety precaution, but perhaps a bit underpowered to put out a fire on a blazing mountain of methane. Smoking is prohibited on top of the park for this reason, as it could lead to spontaneous combustion. Despite the potential safety hazards, a visit to 'Trash Mountain' is certainly not a waste of time.


People say I'm extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage? ~ Imelda Marcos