Searching Seoul

My very first video on Afield. I set the camera to shoot the intersection below our hotel, went to bed, and this is what I had in the morning. I am accepting suggestions on which music to add to it.

This past summer, long before the Siberian winds started keeping me indoors for days at a time, we made a quick weekend trip to Seoul, South Korea for some shopping and a little dose of the western world (and Mexican food). Blondie, being the family travel agent, made the reservations and bought the tickets well ahead of the trip, but, unbeknownst to her, at around the same time some cosmic jackhole didn’t wash his hands and brought a terrifying infectious disease (MERS, also known as Camel Flu) to one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world. The fallout and general madness that followed the outbreak gave us a little pause – should we be like the 100,000+ other tourists who said “f__k that!” and cancel our plans or should we just go and see what happens?

That guy seems to be giving our arriving plane an extra wide berth.

That guy seems to be giving our arriving plane an extra wide berth.

Obviously, we went. When we arrived at Seoul Incheon Airport the wave-crest of the outbreak had broken so businesses and schools were starting to open back up. The tourism trade, however, didn’t recover as quickly so during our short weekend in Seoul we never had to wait in a line, for a table, or crowd into a busy afternoon train. At one point we were in one of the most popular bars in Gangnam and had the entire place to ourselves, which was made even cooler by the fact that we had a personal bartender (named Austin, sure it was buddy) and that they were projecting Charlie Chaplin movies on the wall directly in front of us, which, I might add, get exponentially funnier with each drink so by the time we stumbled out of there we were straight donkey.

Graffiti a la Bukchong Village.

Graffiti a la Bukchon Hanok Village.

Since we were only in town for a few days we narrowed our daily must-sees down to a day of shopping and gluttony in Itaewon, the area near the huge army base that sits directly in the center of the city, and then a day walking around Bukchon Hanok Village and Gyeongbokgung Palace, which also includes the National Folk Museum.

Itaewon is probably the most “American” area due to its proximity to the military base and it is also where we managed to find some righteous Mexican food (Vatos Urban Taco!). However, there are a lot of bars there and when bars and young American militarians get all mixed up I get a little jumpy – most likely a result of a few run-ins with Army Rangers during my days at S.C.A.D..  We kept a pretty low profile while in the neighborhood and didn’t take any pictures, but there wasn’t much that I wanted to shoot anyways. Apparently, however, there is an area called Hooker Hill that sounded interesting, but Blondie, nor I, could think of a good reason to be ambling around there late at night – we will save that for the next trip.

Everything was so damned tidy in Seoul. I am sure there are seedy bit but even the alleyways we saw were...inviting.

Everything was so damned tidy in Seoul. I am sure there are seedy bits but even the alleyways we saw were…inviting.

The Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional neighborhood separated by quaint alley ways and traditional houses near the palace complex. It is truly a photographers dream, but because we have a tendency to sleep late we were there at noon when the light was crap and it was hot as balls. We managed to walk around most of the village though and even got to peek in on the set of a movie production. Also, there was some sort of Conservative Christian protest going on in the area so every street corner had a group of bored/sweating police officers decked out in full riot gear. We got an iced coffee at a local cafe with a third floor roof deck and hung out for a while to see if the Man was going to unload on some Christian skulls but nothing ever came of it.

The general aesthetics of Bukchong are very attractive to me. Everything is ridiculously pretty.

The general aesthetics of Bukchon are very attractive to me. Everything is ridiculously pretty. I want to go into that house, kick off my shoes, and drink all the tea.

There are a lot of Christians in Seoul and therefore a lot of churches.

There are a lot of Christians in Seoul and therefore a lot of churches. Also, you can get a New York steak for about $8 USD.

The Gyeongbokgung Palace and Folk Museum grounds were amazing. Originally built in the late 1300s by the Joseon Dynasty, the palace has undergone a series of fires, abandonments, and a near complete destruction by Imperial Japan. Since WWII it has been restored to its original form and it is incredible to look at. I imagine that during the full tourist rush of the summer the place would be packed with school groups and sweaty tourists, but, yet again, there weren’t many people in town so we had much of it to ourselves – even gaining access to some of the paid portions free of charge.

The National Museum Grounds are exactly what I thought all of Asia was supposed to look like before I moved to China.

The National Museum Grounds are exactly what I thought all of Asia was supposed to look like before I moved to China and learned the truth.

There are a lot of peculiar statues at the National Museum representing various deities and dignitaries. Not sure which one this represents but it pleases me,

There are a lot of peculiar statues at the Folk Museum representing various deities and dignitaries. Not sure which one this represents but it pleases me,

For me, putting that beautiful building up there atop all of those steps and then banning folks from walking up is a major rip off.

For me, putting that beautiful building up there atop all of those steps and then banning folks from walking up was a major rip off. Also, I am pretty amazed at how the little building to the right and the mountain in the background are perfectly balanced from this viewpoint – that is the sign of a good architect.

I was very intrigued by these fellows and never fully understood what they were.

I was very intrigued by these fellows and never fully understood what they were. Are they supposed to be scary or funny or neither?

The gates of Gyeongbokgung - the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty.

The gates of Gyeongbokgung plus someone who didn’t want their photo taken.

A little architectural wonder at...

A little architectural wonder at Gyeongbokgung. These were the quarters of lesser officials, which still seem to be pretty fancy.

Another architectural detail. Every little thing was just perfectly painted - this place was truly worthy of the word awesome.

Another architectural detail. Every little thing was just perfectly painted – this place was truly worthy of the word awesome.

I wouldn't mind shacking up here for a few years.

I wouldn’t mind shacking up here for a few years.

The main throne room at Gyeongbokgung (side view). Those old kings had style.

The main throne room at Gyeongbokgung (side view). Those old kings had style.

The rest of our trip wasn’t nearly as visually interesting as the village or palace grounds, but we managed to have a great time anyways – even when it rained that sort of rain that skips your shoes and goes directly to your socks. All in all, our first venture into Seoul was a good one and we cannot wait to get back for some more exploring and a plate full of fish tacos and one of those margaritas with the bottle of beer tipped into it – I love those things. Check back next week for some more travel/photo-related goodness.

 

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2016. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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