Last weekend I made my first trip down to the Southwestern corner of the country. What I found really impressed me. I had been reading a bit on the history of the area famous for its folk music, poets, and democratic spirit. A province left behind in many regards during Korea’s blitzkrieg development under Park Chung Hee. What I found matched an image, or ambiance I had hoped for. An area still maintaining (to some degree) the traditions of the past. In Jeonju, we hung around old hanok houses and watched pansori performances. Old men lounged on the north bridge listening to cassettes of samul nori music. People tooled around on bicycles and the whole atmosphere felt different than Seoul. I really enjoyed experiencing tradition beyond Insa-dong, and recommend an exploration of the area. Particularly Jeonju. Anyway, I will spare clumsy verbiage for some images of our few days in the quieter side.
Jeonju has the largest collection of traditional houses in the country. Some 800 hanok dot this neighborhood, which still maintains a lived in feel despite the encroaching insa-dong like commercialism that seems to be creeping in. We spent a few days wandering around here, sleeping in a traditional hanok house (owned by the grandson of the last Joseon king), and reading on the platform by the north bridge. It might have been the first time I felt genuinely relaxed since being in Korea.
One of the great things was the amount of old store fronts. Classic places that get eaten up pretty quick in most of Korea.
As a traditional hub, Jeonju still manages to feel more art-centric than a lot of Seoul (a fledgling world art center). Great murals and street art abounded. Cool little venues, and artist collectives dotted the city. I only saw a few suits the whole time, and may locals seemed to dress down in a stylish and elegant way using traditional Korean accoutrements.
The food is legendary. I won’t do it any disservice with words.
“Life is like a jungle sometimes…it makes me wonder…how I keep from going under”
Slick Rick put it well. Sometimes the urban routine can get you down. The metaphorical jungle that is a city can be a maelstrom. It can be a cold hard bitch at times (sorry ladies). I have been calling Seoul home for nearly a year, and in that time have found very little respite from the concrete. Most every weekend is spent navigating city streets by bicycle, or wandering clustered markets taking picutres. Thus all the more reason why I so enjoyed a recent trip to explore the nearby coast and mountains.
Vacation days are like magic pots of gold in Korea. Mythical and ever elusive. That’s why when my boss granted me four days off (a swelling euphoria filled me immediately in my office) Lauren and I knew we had to break the routine. Originally we thought Shanghai, but visa hassles deterred us and eventually we settled on Sokcho, a small fishing town at the foot of Seoraksan Mountain,
Seeing the ocean and open spaces broke the constant views of city sprawl, exploring the markets and derelict spaces in town was also photographically fulfilling. The food was excellent. Anyway, what follows are some scattered frames of the four days we spent in Sokcho and the surrounding mountains.
The crags of Seoraksan National Park, taken at dusk into the setting sun. I haven’t shot much landscape photography and know very little about it. But being we saw some spectacular views I felt like I had to try to convey what we saw. (nikon fe2, nikkor 24mm, fuji superia 200).
There was a Buddhist presence as the moutains of Korea have always been a refuge for temples and monks (especially during Joseon persecution). The quiet spaces ancient temples were a nice break from the neon crosses that light up most of the urban spaces in Korea.
There is a little hermitage on the way up to Ulsanbawi and this sweet grandmother invited us in for coffee while she giggled at us lambasted the Japanese in shirades (which didn’t seem very Buddhist). She let me take one frame of her and that was it.
The town of Sokcho was a cross between an industrialized fishing village and a seaside resort. Somehow the two combined to create an endearing mix of seascapes and decaying urbanity. Positively charming? I have strange taste.
The House Hostel in Sokcho. Seriously recommended. Very affordable, clean, with a great manager who goes out of his way to help.
Something about seeing the ocean again
infamous squid sausage of Abia village
some local color
Even in such a scenic place I couldn’t help myself being drawn to the urban scenes. Four days without shooting the street will have me finding any derelict alley or bus stop to snag a frame of.
A few Saturdays ago the newly minted bicycle/shutter crew took a leisurely ride across the urban expanse of Seoul. From concrete thickets to surrounding hills we filled viewfinders and exposed frames in between peddling. The expedition was a success. Here’s some of the documentation from the bottom of my tires and soles.
vivitar ultra wide and slim, superia 200, Han River Path
vivitar ultra wide and slim, somewhere near Sinseoldong
vivitar ultra wide and slim, Bukhansan foothills
vivitar ultra wide and slim, Cheongyecheon stream
Minolta Srt-100, Cheongyecheon reload
vivitar ultra wide and slim, junk seller’s alley
Minolta Srt-100, Ajosshis playing GO, Jongno
Minolta Srt 100, Overexposed Chi, Jongno
vivitar, ultra wide and slim, up a hill, Northern Seoul
vivitar ultra wide and slim, down a hill, Gyeongbok Palace
vivitar ultra wide and slim, Gyeongbuk Palace
vivitar ultra wide and slim, royal guard
vivitar ultra wide and slim, King Sejong
vivitar ultra wide and slim, being foreign
Minolta Srt 100, Cheongyecheon
viviatar, urban decay
vivitar, urban decay
Minolta Srt 100, dude, are you weird?
Minolta Srt 101, the remains of the day
Time eats itself and now I say goodbye to my love and board a plane for the East. I have 15 days to explore Korea before being saddled with classes. My stomach is ambivalent. My bags are packed and I’m sure I’ll be hungover at the 6 AM security check. Last minute exposures.
this page has been floating void due to a general ambivalence about my future and a sabbatical from staring at the computer screen. i’m boarding a plane sometime soon and trying to get back in the habit of keeping track. here are some things i will remember in korea.
1:30 am after arrival auctioned off in a Managua slum by the gypsy cab, strange whistles, arid landscapes, rice and beans, wailing offshore winds that blow everything away, ramshackle rum evenings, granada debauchery, sunrise on the shores, crossing the river for drinks. feral Al, jumping drunken from a taxi on the way to the airport, missing flights, 24 hours to ometepe, knowing where not to fall asleep, feeling physical at sea, the labyrinths of the mercado, impromptu softball matches, chicken buses, sketchy coke gringos and their knives, machetes, sandinista flags, red and black, mama shaina, a time that felt much longer, and countless other things
John Oliver from Bluefields
becoming a regular patron of dive bars, dogfishhead ipa, watching orange trees freeze, sending friends off to unknown places, eating proper tacos, living on a bicycle, only listening to furry lewis, pink anderson and ledbelly, missing people while enjoying the company of old friends, getting kimchi in the mail, sweaty house shows, eating real pizza, kombucha, strong coffee, losing memories and money, the ocean
It’s been a while since last time, huh. We just returned from back to back, weekend snowboard excursions up north and I’ve got a bevy of photos to unload on this here wordpress. The internet is out at our house so I am typing this up in between classes and holing up for a little while after work. Excuse the brevity or grammatical mistakes. We spent the last two weekends up in Gangwon-do province, on the slopes of the High 1 ski resort, and I’ll try to toss out some reflections of that experience,including the ridiculous 1:30 am bus ride, beginner studded hills, Woinski’s shred quotient, and other weekend happenings.
Due to our inconvenient departure time, like I said 1:30 am, it was pretty much impossible to get any type of decent sleep. Thus we decided the best course of action was to sit at Moe’s and drink until we were in the right state to pass out on a crowded bus with no leg room. This plan was botched by the fact that the buses didn’t have a toilet and we weren’t going to fill up gatorade bottles with urine and get arrested for breaking some obscenity law. So instead we nervously nursed our beers, and snuck soju shots at the basement until hopping a last minute cab and boarding that mid-night, northbound hearse.
So, the only way to get to Kangwon land (that we know) is to catch one of these absurdly late at night, cramped, travel agency buses, which have no bathroom, and arrive two and a half hours before the slopes even open. Leaving one to sleep on the ski-lodge floor, and eat a 10,000 won bowl of rice porridge or hangover soup. There is no coffee hut open before 9 am, and the line to pick up your lift ticket doesn’t even happen for some hour and a half after we arrive. This had us scratching out heads in befuddlement, but that’s Korea. What is even more insane is that most people only do a day trip, meaning that they leave the park at four, even though the park stays upon until 10 pm. We couldn’t justify that kind of behavior, so we each shelled out ten dollars for a small hotel room, and instead of packing into a bus home we spent the evening shralping the mountain, grilling meat and drinking. Fuck busses.
Luckily, I snuck into an empty back row and curled up into my secret ‘sleep anywhere’ position to catch a few hours as the bus driver manned the thing like a maniac. If I sat normal, my feet would fall asleep wedged underneath the seat in front. So I risked a neck sprain to attempt an innovative fetal roll, notice the hands tucked between the legs. The neck pillow is just there for support. I know it’s pink, but you cant see it when your sleeping so it doesn’t matter. Stop giving me shit.
So, the bus finally arrives and then you still get to wait hours before actually skiing. Woinski took the opportunity to catch some more ZZzZ’s as groups of Koreans gawked at the waygook curled up amongst our luggage. I literally saw a guy almost walk into a wall. Every person who walked by did a delayed double take- it is weird enough just being a foreigner here, forget curled up on the floor. You would think she was some kind of zoo animal/alien/pop-star the way people were investigating.
Even of you didn’t drink anything, after the bus you will feel like you chugged a toilet full of soju, so I advise you get some of this while you strain to keep your eyes upon waiting for the lift. Honestly, as stupid as the bus system was it was well worth it, and once we were swooped up for rentals, and on the lift being whipped by the icy wind, we had forgotten about the unfortunate morning. With the prices, we really didn’t have room to complain. First, we headed for a rental shop were we dropped 20 on gear for the weekend (boards, boots, googles, snow pants). And then we were boarding the lifts for a full day on the mountain. Yippee!
So this was Lauren’s second time snowboarding (the first being the weekend before), and I was pretty damn impressed. She was struck by the realization last week that she is indeed a goofy foot, joining a long-line of minority rippers, including both my father and I. By Saturday afternoon she was carving up the hill, careening down slopes, plowing through groups of Koreans, occasionally taking out a small child or two, and generally just being a bad ass. After a few hours of snow plowing she was heel siding back and forth across the hill. I swear by next time she will be ruling the terrain park. Check the video above and watch her patented ‘slow-down 180.’
There were a few steeper slopes, and the conditions were nice for carving. It had snowed all week, and there was a soft, fresh coat. I hadn’t boarded in a few years, but it came pretty quick. Last time I went snowboarding was four years ago while visiting the legendary ‘cRaZy Dave’ in Colorado, having snowboarded once before that maybe five years prior. The first night we arrived they were dragging us up the mountain in the dark. I tumbled down the whole thing and at the bottom the cops were waiting for us. Fucking up the snow the night before opening day. After two weekends on the slopes in Korea everything felt natural, the movements all so similar to surfing. At times I actually thought I was surfing, just carving back and forth on a snow bank. It wasn’t until I smashed into a five year old snow plow and ended with my face buried in the snow that I realized I was snowboarding in Korea.
The resort was lacking in food choices, only serving one or two meals depending on the time of day. Last week they only had fried pork cutlet so I was glad when strolling upon the cafeteria we found this pan-seared seafood thing that Woinski is shoveling into her mouth above. We hadn’t really thought to bring snacks and spent the day re-fueling at the mountain side espresso huts with coffee and strangely enough, churros, everyone’s favorite Mexican pastry? Before the night session we managed to find the beer. We had been searching the past two weeks. It seems the only place on the mountain that has beer is the pizza place at the bottom of the hill. We had a mondo-pitcher and snowboarded until they shut the slopes down. We played it smart the next day and stuffed tall boys into our snow gear.
Luckily this week we went the smarter route and decided not to shell out for the resort, and instead crammed into a little pension, where we all slept in the same room on a mat on the floor. It ended up a thousand times better. It was ten bucks a person, and the owner served as our personal chauffeur. Honestly, we weren’t at the hotel for more than an hour while awake. We were at the mountain until well past ten and then there to shower before blowing out for a late night galbi dinner. We woke up the next morning collected our stuff, and headed back to the slopes. The room was literally a floor, but we only used it for conching out after an exhausting day, and pounding a few beers in between showering.
The town was pretty dead. Just a resort and rental shops, one wonders what the hell goes on in off season. Luckily, we found a little strip, mostly quiet, but we happened across this galbi joint packed with younger, boarder types with tables full of beer and soju. This is such a fun way to eat, they bring out a platter of meat and you cook it while gradually draining soju bottles. You hang for a while, try not to burn your hand off, or start a fire, drink more, and then stumble out of the place royally finished. We got picked up by a taxi cab and hit the floor sleeping.
The next day we got our act together, checked out and nailed down an afternoon session before almost missing our bus. Jay somehow got us the deluxe bus back and we sat in the back row like kings presiding over the convey. We stretched out our legs, watched video from the trip, read, and eventually passed out. We rolled into rainy Busan a little after nine and unpacked our stuff before keeling over from exhaustion and melting into lifeless puddles of melted snow.
I somehow ended up waddling through Jalgachi two days in a row over Lunar New Year. I decided to bring along my camera and indulge in my delusions of myself as a lonely planet guidebook writer. The attempt at narration was a pure experiment, so please excuse the monotone rambling. Busanites: I know everyone is probably sick to death of hearing (seeing) things they already ‘know all about.’ But this is more a letter home, so don’t fret.
Even with the wreck of noise and flickery lights in the city one can still manage to get away into something more pristine. Morning hikes are nice, trips to the beach better, especially when the fickle sea knocks up a bit of surf like it did last week when I stumbled upon the SongJeong surf club, a 45-minute bus ride from my front door. There is a large cove with rock outcroppings and a long sandy beach, still littered with gaudy hotels, but less intense than Hauendae. I spent the day shivering through 2 foot closeouts with the glee of a child. I didn’t expect it. I was given some website info and swapped waves with a few locals until dark. I rode the bus back salty with my wetsuit wrapped in a towel. The ajummas eyed the soggy bulge suspiciously.
The club is housed out of a ramshackle beach hut crammed full of boards, wetsuits, and beach paraphernalia. The members, who pay annual dues to stash their equipment and use the club showers, mill around on the porch in their matching purple club sweatshirts after sessions. It seems a genuine, non-commercial surf scene, maybe something akin to the early days of surfing in the US and Australia. The surf in itself was better than I had expected, small but clean, zippy peelers racing into the sand. I ended up in the water for over seven hours, coming in for coffees at the beach hut cafes, dripping wet.
There were lefts funneling down the beach, light off shores holding them up before the inevitable closeout section. Climb and drop, race the tiny lines into the sand. On the other side of the cove was a right hand point break. I surfed it with a few others, dodging rocks and crap traps, scurrying outside for the occasional chest-high set. Some of the locals said the point broke better in the summer when the swell direction suited it. As my ice cubed toes and limp shoulders thawed out on the ratchety bus ride back through the gray city I felt consoled that only 45 minutes from the din of Busan I could be floating in a peaceful bay. If anyone else is interested in surfing here- holla.
I am still trying to discover a reliable surf report, so if anyone knows about surfing in Busan drop me a line. I would love to meet a group who wanted to explore the surf possibilities around here. Here is the club site, although I can’t seem to get the webcam to work. Get in touch with me if anyone can decipher a surf report.
I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been busy. The past two weeks a mess of travel, handling transitions at work with a new boss, ramyeon breakfasts, floating bar stools, a weekend in Gyeongju, and other distractions called life keeping me away from the computer. It’s been busy, but things are going well and we are settling into this new life in the East. Like I mentioned we have a new boss and a new direction at the school. We have to wear suits one day a week, which I am ambivalent about. But anyway, let me catch up- I have photos and video from the past weeks.
Here are some clips from our three day visa run excursion to Fukuoka, Japan. We had an incredible time. The three days ended up feeling much longer. We managed to keep moving and and saw most of the city.
It took me awhile to get around to editing these clips. The sound track is a mish-mash of street sounds, a flute concert and other random noise I acquired while in Japan. It is a bit weird still, but so be it.
We came into town on the Kobee ferry Sunday afternoon and grabbed some sushi before viewing this odd avante-garde flute performance which ended up being a mix of traditional flute, pitch-tone guitar filtered though a thousand peddles, and ambient gong filled percussion. This was all coupled with interpretive dance. It was interesting, but not what we had expected. The sound ended up suiting the clips, but give it an eerie quality. The performance was held in this modern building called the ACROS center which is an office building/symphony hall with terraced glass roofs and covered in foilage, you can walk up the side and see all of Fukuoka from the roof.
We dug Fukuoka and had oral daydreams about living in Japan. After the show we walked the streets and stumbled into an Irish bar for a birthday pint.
We continued on admiring the nocturnal shrine scene and the rows of Yatai food stalls.
The next day we took care of our visa obligations and ran into a group of teachers from up north who we met up with later in the evening. I warned them that I was going to put them on here, So here it is.
With the bureaucratic business wrapped we took off to explore some of the temple complexes. We wandered aimlessly through gardens and walked back into the city. The aesthetics were similar to the temples in Kyoto. I am amazed at the differences between the temple aesthetics from Korea and Japan, and in a way they say something about the differences between the two places. Just think Hyundai/Honda, or Samsung/Sony. Anyway, the places were wordlessly beautiful.
Tired and sore from all day walking we went back to the big pink monstrosity of a hotel and soaked in the sauna overlooking Wantanabe avenue. Later that night we met with our Visa friends for a night of bars and fussball, culminating in food stall debauchery.
The next day we ran back to the consulate and did some last minute souvenir shopping before boarding the rough seas back across the strait.
A string of clips from an old trip to Kyoto, Japan. The music is by Nabowa, who I had found playing on a street corner. They were selling their cd out of a violin case. It was 500 yen ($5). There are a few clips of them in the piece. All of the video was shot on my Olympus-350 digital photo camera. The footage is mostly downtown near the river, with a few shots on Nanzenji and Rytukugi. There are also a few bicycle shots near Heinian shrine.