Seoul Long, Winter Vacation

The time has come for vacation to end and the new semester to begin. Classes don’t begin until March 4th, but I need to go to school to prepare my classes, organise my desk, figure out the university’s buggy new portfolio system, sharpen my pencils, and so on. Yesterday was my last unofficial day of vacation so I decided to make a day trip to Seoul to visit a few places and practise my ‘tourist photography’.
   Although millions of tourists make millions upon millions of decent travel photos every day, it seems quite a challenge to do well. The lighting is often poor because of the time of day or building shadows, I worry about annoying the locals or market vendors, and I wonder how I can summarise a location in a few photographs. I would like to introduce Korean sights and sites to friends and family overseas, so making good travel photos is a skill I would like to improve.
   Good or not, I hope you enjoy the photos I made in Seoul on Thursday. There are quite a few of them, so I hope you’ve got a full cup of tea next to you.

This isn’t Seoul. The weather is quite mild in Gangneung, but the bus passes through the mountains on the way to Seoul and the weather is quite different up there. It was chilly and there is some snow on the ground. I made this photo mostly because I like the colour of the tractor.

My first stop in Seoul was a camera store near the Namdaemun Market. The store on the left is called Hyoseong Camera and I have spent millions of Won there over the years. Sometimes in person and sometimes through their website. I needed a spare battery for the Fujifilm X-T3 because one battery only gets you through a day of photography if you are very careful. And sometimes not even then. There are many small camera shops along this street. Some sell just one camera brand (see the Canon store on the right), some sell any sort of digital camera, some sell mostly used film cameras, and some shops specialise in lighting equipment and so on. Hyoseong didn’t have Fujifilm batteries, but the worker rang someone up and said, “Need a battery for an X-T3.” Then he told me to wait a minute, ran out of the store and down the street, and came back in a minute with the battery I needed.

Here is the inside of Hyoseong Camera. One corner of it, anyway. Everything is densely packed. Maybe all camera stores in the world are like this?

This is the window display of a different camera shop. Lots of interesting stuff on the second shelf.

After I dragged myself away from the camera shops, I entered the Namdaemun Market, which is a famous market for tourists. You’re as likely to hear people speaking Chinese or Japanese as you are to hear someone speaking Korean. Many shops have signs in several different languages and a woman selling make-up or inviting customers into her restaurant will switch from language to language depending on who is walking by.

Many stores in the market sell cheap clothes.

Scarves. The yellow sign says Inquire About Wholesale

If you do buy wholesale for your shop or business, it’s likely that the clothes will be delivered to you on the back of one of these scooters. You can seem them all over Seoul, weaving in and out of traffic with the most amazing amount of cargo tied to the backs.

Several more shops selling clothes, luggage, and cheap tat.

Lots of Indonesians come to Korea and they love shopping at the markets. You can see a few Indonesian ladies in the bottom right of the frame.

Being a market, there are naturally lots of things to eat. This market sells a lot of dried fruit. I bought a bag of dried mangoes. Nice and chewy without too much sugar. Maybe not at all, actually. Good stuff. I wish I could find some in Gangneung.

For those interested in staying healthy, there are a lot of ginseng products for sale. Ginseng tea, ginseng capsules, fresh ginseng, ginseng extract, ginseng everything.

But not these jars of ginseng in alcohol. Not in this display, anyway. Maybe they sell some inside.

I stopped by this shop to make some photos of the buns and doughnuts. I didn’t feel comfortable just standing around and making photos, so I bought one ‘fish-paste kebab’ so that the ladies wouldn’t complain if I started making photos.

“Boiled Fish Paste Cakes on a Stick” doesn’t very appetising, but it’s really delicious. They are kept in a hot bath of seasoned broth and you brush on soy sauce just before eating. Very nice in winter. After you eat the kebab you can have a cup of the broth.

Stuffed buns and dumplings. Another winter favourite. The buns on the right appear to be made with black rice.

These deep fried doughnuts are made of rice flour. They’s sprinkled with sugar. They are very greasy and chewy. They’re okay, but not my favourite. Usually very cheap, though.

Fancy some trotters boiled in soy sauce? Again, doesn’t sound very appetising, but very delicious.

If the boiled feet of dead pigs doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe these deep-fried fish-paste kebabs and corn dogs will appeal to you. On the far right you can see corn dogs that have a french fry coating. Genius! Again, I didn’t want to bother the workers with my camera, so I bought a corn dog and then made some photos. These corn dogs seemed to be very popular amongst young Japanese women.

If you’re in the mood for something more than a snack, you can drop by one of these restaurants that have actual plates of food wrapped in plastic as their menu. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can probably see that the labels are in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. The blue sign above says that this restaurant specialises in fried cutlassfish. I have no idea what a cutlassfish looks like. Well, like a cutlass, I guess . . . .

Every market in Seoul seems to have a Jesus freak attached to it. This lady spoke mostly in Korean, but whenever I passed by she would say in English, “Welcome to Korea. Welcome to Namedaemun Market. Jesus loves you. Please believe in Jesus.”

Here is Namdaemun, the large gate after which the market is named. Namdaemun means Great South Gate. It was torched and completely destroyed some years ago by a maniac with some sort of grudge against the government. Quite a tragedy. Luckily, the government had the gate so well studied and mapped out that they were able to make an exact replica. It’s dwarfed by the huge buildings behind it, but they don’t come close to being as impressive and beautiful.

Here is another neighbourhood survivor, of sorts. This small building with a wooden facing is surrounded by large office buildings. The first floor has a convenience store and the upper floors are used by a Japanese restaurant. I think the wooden facing is new, because I don’t remember the building looking this nice the last time I was in Seoul.

My next stop in Seoul was a neighbourhood inhabited by many people from Central Asia. There are grocery stores, travel agencies, phone shops, shipping companies, and restaurants catering to people from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other countries.

My first stop was a very small store run by a Central Asian woman. There was a very loud, older Korean man in the shop while I was there, talking into his phone at someone.

This is one whole wall of the shop. There were a few items on the opposite wall and cooler at the end. I bought a loaf of dark rye bread and a bottle of Russian beer for my wife. She liked the beer a lot, though I thought it was worse than most beer. But I don’t like beer, so I’m no judge. The bread is delicious, especially with a generous portion of butter spread on it.

It was getting close to dinner time so I looked around for a restaurant. There were quite a few with menus outside, but this place seemed the most promising.

It was even visited by spittle-lipped, drooling celebrities from a television show. So you know it must be good. This sign was at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the restaurant.

The menu had many pages, so it was difficult to choose. Everything looked appetising.

While I was waiting for my order, I ate a few of these spicy croutons. There was a little basket of them on every table. Are they meant to be appetisers? Are they to put in soup if you order it? I wasn’t sure what to do with them. The Russian(?) lady at the table next to me seemed to ignore them.

The first thing to appear on the table was this carrot salad. It had some slightly spicy dressing and was quite good.

Next was a Central Asian samsa, a kind of dumpling stuffed with beef, lamb,and onions and cooked in a tandoor oven. I liked the flavour, but the shell was very tough and difficult to cut. Again, I wasn’t sure what to do. Are you supposed to eat it with your hands and tear it apart with your teeth? Are you supposed to cut it up like I was trying to do? Which method would make me look more foolish? I carried on with knife and fork when I thought the woman next to me and the staff weren’t looking.

The main course was lamb chopped with onion and potatoes. The lamb was very tender and delicious. The potatoes were soft, but not too soft. A bit of flat bread would have sopped up the juice in the plate quite nicely, but I didn’t think about it at the time.

The counter at the front of the restaurant. There were a few wines and many varieties of vodka. Possibly they aren’t all vodka.

The young Russian(?) lady I was so self-conscious about while barbarously taking apart the samsa and eating croutons.

 The television was set to Youtube and was playing Central Asian music. Nice idea. The food was good in this restaurant and the staff were friendly. I want to go again because there were so many things on the menu I want to try.

My last stop in the neighbourhood was this grocery store and bakery. A much better place than the first store I visited.

Various dumplings and pastries. They looked good, but I was full and I was worried they would get squashed up in my bag on the way home if I bought some for later.

I wish this store was in Gangneung. I bought a load of the dark rye bread and a flat bread.

In a refrigerated display case at the back of the store (where there were some tables and chairs) were some things like sausages and cheese. I wanted to get some sausage, but I was worried about them being out of the fridge for so long before I got home. Though maybe that’s not really a worry for sausage. Especially in winter. Anyway, I was running out of room in my bag. Also in the display case were small plastic tubs of the carrot salad I had in the restaurant. I bought some because I figured my wife might like to try it.

A shelf of assorted goods in the store. I bought some strong black tea, a couple of Kinder eggs with Cyrillic labelling, and some chocolate. Yum yum.

My next destination was Dongmyo Flea Market, which was just a thirty minute walk from the Central Asian Neighbourhood. I figured it would take half an hour to find a taxi and then sit in the back while the driver fought his way to the market, so I decided to walk. I made a couple of photographs on the way.

I like bums.

This is a bit of interesting 3-D art. It says “Miracle Again!”, but I’m not sure what the first miracle was. Obviously something to do with football. Maybe it was Korea getting to the quarter finals in the 2002 World Cup? I don’t think they got as far before or after. Wait. Is that picture about football? That looks more like a volleyball and the player appears to be throwing with his hands. Okay, I don’t know what this is about at all.

This was near the entrance to flea market, and this lady was selling everything from tins of baked beans, to belts, to back massagers, to coffee mix, to fly spray, to hair dye, to tubs of microwavable rice porridge. All for reasonable prices! Probably . . . .

In the background is Dongmyo (Eastern Shrine), which is dedicated to the 3rd Century Chinese general Guan Yu, who was worshipped as a deity by the Chinese. The Japanese invasion of 1592 was repelled with the aid of the Chinese, who then ‘persuaded’ the Koreans they should set up shrines to famous Chinese general/deities. At least they paid for it. Anyway, that’s not what I came to see, though, in hindsight, I would have been better off spending some time photographing the shrine rather than continuing up the market street. The woman with the dog was walking down the street, realised she was in front of my camera and tried to beat a hasty retreat. I pressed the shutter button just as she was turning around.

There were a couple of used book book stores on the street. Literally, on the street. The books were overflowing on to the sidewalks and then into baskets on the side of the road. I’m not sure how you find anything, but maybe the owner knows where everything is.

This guy was selling a bit of everything. Old stereos, a Korean typewriter, sewing machines, tools, and so on.

This being the Year of the Golden Pig, it was tempted to buy this golden (bronze) pig. No idea how I would get it home, though. Or where to put it.

This market is popular with old people, and haircuts here are very cheap. Most barber shops these days charge 12,000 Won for a men’s haircut, but these places are all charging 5,000 Won. You can get your hair coloured for the same price. Maybe they save money by buying their hair dye from the lady in the first market photo.

There were many interesting things to see in this street market, but the chaotic crowd was more than I could handle. There were motorcycles going back and forth and some arsehole drove his BMW down the street while hanging his hand out the window with a lit cigarette in it. This trip to the market did me in, and I escaped the area instead of going back through to make more photos.

My final destination of the day was Deoksu Palace near City Hall. I wanted to visit this palace because I read that it had some modern and western buildings along with the traditional Korean halls. This is the front gate where you buy tickets to enter. Tickets are only 1,000 Won.

The city hires people (or they are volunteers?) to dress up as Joseon Dynasty guards. The man in back was fixing his paste-on moustache.

On top of many Korean buildings are there figures. Someone told me each one has a special meaning, but I didn’t bother to find out.

One of the halls in the palace complex. Although the buildings are very nice, there don’t seem to be that many of them. There’s a lot of empty space in the palace grounds, but perhaps the space was once used for ceremonies?

This building was built by a Russian when Korea still had a king just before the Japanese colonisation. It’s quite interesting because although it’s a Russian building, there are many Korean touches that are quite nice.

The carvings on this pillar are Korean in nature. I really like the colours.

I’ve seen the deer and tree design in other places in Korea. These carvings are very impressive and I can’t imagine how long it took to do enough to surround the whole building.

The building is open and just had these tables and chairs. I don’t know what might have been there originally. It was used as a cafeteria by the Japanese during the occupation.

Here is the other western building on the palace grounds. Quite a contrast, isn’t it? This one was done by a British architect. It’s now under renovation inside, but is the palace museum.

It’s a shame that more historical artefacts are not in the palace buildings because they look very empty and lifeless. Maybe the artefacts can’t be sufficiently protected from the public if they are in these halls. Most traditional Korean doors can be folded and then hung from the ceiling, as you can see in this photo. Very useful in summer.

Two scenes inside the palace grounds. It’s a shame more buildings are made like this these days. Traditional Korean architecture is quite graceful and gives one a sense of peace.

I made this photo of a palace wall and a Chicago pizza restaurant as I was leaving. The building is decorated quite well, but it’s a big contrast with the stone wall.
   The palace was nice to visit, but I was a bit disappointed. It had a very empty feeling to it. Maybe it feels more alive in the warm months when there are exhibitions and ceremonies and more people.

It was good to be in Seoul for one last trip before the semester, but I’ll do things differently the next time I go. I’ll only visit one place for photography, and I’ll be sure to avoid anywhere like the flea market. I really think it ruined the rest of the day for me and possibly made me too tired to appreciate the palace. Maybe next time I’ll spend the morning travelling to Seoul and then go somewhere interesting for dinner. Then I’ll go to my one chosen destination and spend a couple of hours looking around for interesting things but not making any photos. When the light gets decent in the late afternoon I’ll start making photos. Then I’ll have supper and take a bus back to Gangneung. I didn’t have supper in Seoul on this trip because I was just desperate to get out of the city. Well, lesson learned.

If you think this post would have better divided into smaller parts, please let me know in the comments. This one was a bit long.

4 thoughts on “Seoul Long, Winter Vacation

  1. Brilliant – that was really fascinating Marcus – the chaos seems everywhere but I tell you – you don't get this in Lonely Planet guides – it's boots on the ground – a true picture.You got me chuckling too with this:Though maybe that's not really a worry for sausage. Especially in winter. Wonderful!P

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  2. Thanks very much. Too much detail kills tourism, but I think that's true for any city. My wife and I visited a few tourist places in Toronto some years ago, but in general she thought the city looked pretty run down and disappointing.The next time I visit the Central Asian neighbourhood I'm going to bring a bigger bag for shopping. The bread is really good and I'm keen to try the sausage.

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  3. Fascinating indeed, Marcus and a very enjoyable read. The variety of food is amazing. But…I would never get past that s/h camera store. I could empty my ‘photography gear’ bank account several times over there.

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  4. Those places are really tempting. And there is a whole row of those stores. Luckily, I visited Seoul before payday so I was too skint to indulge. Anyway, used cameras are quite expensive here, depending on the model.

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