Tancheon (탄천, 炭川, charcoal.stream) is a stream beginning in the city of Yongin in Gyeonggi-do and flowing through Seongnam and then into the districts of Songpa-gu and Gangnam-gu in Seoul before entering the Han River. It has a total length of 35.6 kilometres.
With it winding itself through the district of Bundang, the stream is one of the widely recognized symbols of the burrow. All streams in the Bundang area flow towards the Tancheon. The area also serves as a large park and there are paths for both walkers and cyclists on each bank with occasional foot bridges joining the two sides in addition to the bridges built for vehicle traffic. Along the paths there are a large number of benches as well as exercise equipment. The whole area is extremely popular among residents of the area.
The Tancheon has been known by many other names, such as Gaumcheon (검천, 儉川), Haumcheon (험천, 險川), Maune (머내), Cheonhocheon (천호천, 穿呼川), and Jancheon (잔천, 鵲川). The word Tancheon (탄천, 炭川), itself, is composed of the Chinese characters for charcoal and stream, so in English we could call this body of water, the stream of charcoal. In pure Korean it would be pronounced Sunnae (숯내->순내), another name the stream has gone by. The origins of this name, can be found in Korean folklore.
The Tancheon’s name, is believed to be connected to Dong Bang-sak (동방삭, 東方朔), about whom many legends have come down to Korea via China. He lived during the time of Chinese emperor Han Wudi (156 BC – 87 BC), the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty. Because Dong Bang-sak received the love and attention of the emperor for his great wit and his ability to make good decisions, he was awarded with a high government post. Perhaps, though, more so than these talents, he was most famous for the fact that according to legend he had lived more than 3,000 lifetimes (180,000 years).
It is believed that his long life came from picking and eating peaches at the stream of Seo Wong-mo (서왕모, 西王母), the Chinese goddess of immortality. For this, he became blessed with unnaturally long life. Some say, however, that the fact he lived a 3000 thousand lifetimes was an exaggeration caused by the slip of a brushstroke. He may have actually only lived 30 lifetimes. At one point, the Chinese characters for thirty (三十) may have accidentally come to be read as three thousand (三千), by someone adding one extra stroke to the top of ten, making it appear as one thousand. Of course, we cannot say for sure.
Nevertheless Dong Bang-sak, with his long life, proved to be an irritation to the spiritual world. In the eyes of many spirits from the underworld, he had cheated death once too many times. So eager were they to catch him, and bring his soul with them to the afterlife, that they searched everywhere for him. However, as he was quick of wit and a man of immeasurably great wisdom, their efforts were always in vain. In fact, on many occasions he would even receive the spirits who managed to track him down, as guests in his home. After a short period of entertaining them, he was able to send them on their way without even so much as a struggle. So skilled was he at persuasion, that in no time he had the spirits believing they had mistaken him for someone else. They would then go off again searching, never the wiser as to this man’s true identity.
One spirit, who was determined to be fooled no longer, thought about the problem seriously. After deep contemplation, he came up with a cunning plan that would surely allow him to capture Dong Bang-sak once and for all. As it happened, Dong Bang-sak was one day passing over the Tancheon. There, he came upon someone washing clothes in the stream water with a piece of charcoal. It was, in fact, the spirit disguised as a human. Unable to resist this unusual sight, Dong Bang-sak asked, “Why are you using that charcoal to wash your clothes?”
The spirit replied, “Because charcoal gets them whiter, of course!”
Upon hearing this Dong Bang-sak burst out into a ferocious laughter and said, “Ha! My boy, I have lived 180 millennia, but never have I heard of someone making clothes whiter by washing them with charcoal!”
With this slip of the tongue, the illusive Dong Bang-sak had given himself away. The spirit at once knew that he had at long last found the man whom he had been looking for. He then quickly apprehended Dong Bang-sak and took him to the underworld, bringing to a close the life of this long lived man of wit and deception. From this, though, we have the name for this well-known body of water in Bundang, the Tancheon: The Stream of Charcoal.
Along the approxmately 25 kilometer stretch of the Tancheon that passes through the Seongnam area, there are five water parks open to the public. They are free of charge and wonderful for families to take their young children. The Tancheon water parks (탄천물놀이장) are open every year from July 1st to August 31st, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. At the parks there are changing rooms available as well as lots of chairs and tables to enjoy a picnic on. They can be found at: