Summer Trip to Seoul, Part 1

While in Seoul for my end-of-semester trip at the beginning of July, I made a lot of photos and I took a lot of notes. My plan before the trip was to write a travel journal and add photographs for illustration. But I couldn’t find any sort of theme in my notes to tie my writing together and the photos I made weren’t particularly tightly connected to what I had written. So I decided that it would be best to share my best photographs here along with a loose narrative and detailed notes on some pictures.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so people say. It actually begins with a bus ticket and a wait at the station. There is a bullet train with a first-class car from Gangneung to Seoul, but I decided to take a bus because the travel time isn’t that much different, first-class buses are quite comfortable, I like the stop at the highway rest area halfway through the trip, and I didn’t want to be tied to a schedule by reserving a train ticket. There are buses to Seoul every ten minutes or so, and you don’t have to wait long even if you ask for a first-class bus. I showed up at the bus station and ten minutes later was on my way to the Big City.

Gangneung Express Bus Terminal
A new addition to the bus service is this transportation magazine. I flicked through it, but it seems to be published for drivers and car enthusiasts rather than travellers.

I left Gangneung at seven in the morning and arrived in Seoul at a quarter to ten. A two and a half hour drive plus a fifteen minute break at a highway services area. One of the nice things about living in Gangneung is that it’s a straight shot west along an expressway to Seoul, so day trips for shopping or enjoying a bit of culture are possible.
My first stop in Seoul was the Fujifilm Service Centre in Apgujeong. I planned on taking a taxi there, but, like the last time I visited the capital, there were no taxis in front of the Express Bus Terminal and there was a very long line of people waiting for one. So I took the subway, which wasn’t too crowded because it was ten in the morning and because the lines from there to Apgujeong are not especially busy. But back to the service centre. My X-T3 had been crashing frequently in the past couple of months. Sometimes the viewfinder would display large purple pixels and not write a photo to the SD card. Sometimes it would write the photo to the card but the viewfinder would freeze up and a message would tell me to turn the camera off and on again. The crashes were happening more and more often so I decided to bring it to Fujifilm since I was going to Seoul anyway.
I stumbled through an explanation of the problem to the technician who told me he had never heard of this problem before. Oh, great. He typed up a description of the problem along with my contact information and told me that he would ring me after testing the camera.

One of his test photos as I described the problem. The camera wouldn’t crash when I needed it to . . . . (photograph copyright 2019 by unknown Fujiman)

I figured I might not see my camera for weeks as large groups of repair personnel gathered around it in wonder at this hitherto unknown malfunction. BUT! Hats off to the Fujifilm service centre. Just after one o’clock I received a phone call from them telling me that the problem was the shutter and that they had replaced it. I was in Chungmu-ro buying film and dropping off negatives to be scanned at my favourite lab when I got the call, so I finished my business, jumped in a taxi, and zipped off to Apgujeong again. I hadn’t registered the camera at the Fujifilm site, but the repair was still free. The X-T3 was only released late last year, so there’s not really a need to prove that the camera is still under warranty.  Anyway, I was a happy boy.
BUT! I hadn’t expected to see my digital camera for a couple of weeks and didn’t bring an extra battery or my zoom lens. All I had were the fumes from the battery in the camera and a 27mm pancake lens on the camera (a slightly wide normal lens on the X-T3). I couldn’t use my digital camera for the trip, but I did bring my Nikon FM3a with a few rolls of film and . . . . a single 50mm lens. I was in the bus on my way to Seoul when I realised I had forgotten to pack my 28mm. Idiot. Well, it didn’t matter because 50mm is the focal length I use most of the time anyway. During the trip I used the X-T3 and iPhone when they were more convenient than film.

The Nikon FM3a with 50mm F1.8 lens attached. The lens is cheap and excellent. It’s small and light, and the glass is set so far back in the lens that you don’t need a lens hood. It also goes to f22, for when you need a little extra depth of field.

With cameras sorted and film in pocket (bag), I stepped into another taxi and went to central Seoul north of the river to visit Kyobo Bookstore, one of the biggest in the country. As an aside, Seoul has an excellent subway system and goes everywhere, but it can get very crowded at certain times of the day. Also, it’s underground (duh) and I like seeing the city as a I travel from place to place. Taxis are much more expensive, but I wasn’t counting pennies on holiday. Back to the bookstore. Almost as soon as I got out of the taxi, I was approached by a South Asian neatly dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt. He said, “Hello! You have such a happy forehead!” What? He then went on a little spiel about my past experiences (as he imagined them) and, of course, that I was going to have good luck in the next month. He could tell from my forehead! Then he did a little magic trick where he wrote down my answers to “What is your favourite flower?” and “Choose a number between 1 and 5” before I actually said them. Or so he made me believe. Very clever, anyway. Then he took out his wallet and showed me a photo of orphans in his village. “Ah ha,” I thought. “Here it comes.” He told me that for his fortune telling and for the orphans I could could put whatever amount of money I wanted into his wallet. He said, “50, or 100, or 150 Dollars is okay.” I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t afford anything like that because I was on a budget. I left him and, I have to say, his forehead was decidedly unhappy.
I looked around the bookstore and it’s improved in the last few years. Soft lighting and lots of wood instead of ugly flourescent lights and a general grey tone. The English book section seems to have shrunk, though. I didn’t buy any books because I’m reading on my iPad these days. I did have a decent bowl of bibimbap at the food court, though.

This is the only photo of my meals that I made. iPhone.

After visiting the bookstore, I found a hotel by walking around the streets. It wasn’t on Naver Maps so it must be pretty new. The staff spoke good English and the room wasn’t that expensive. Probably because it was a weekday. Most of the guests appeared to be from other countries. The room was smallish, but no problem for a single traveller.

The photo on top is digital and the photo on the bottom is from Kodak Colorplus 200 film. Pretty similar at this size, eh? The biggest difference is in the background. The 50mm lens of the film camera draws in the background buildings in a nicer way than the slightly wider lens on the X-T3. Not much of a view, is it? It didn’t matter because during the day I was out and at night I closed the curtains anyway. A hotel with a good view in Seoul probably costs more money than I make in a week.
After taking a shower and relaxing for a while on the very comfortable bed, I went outside to make a few photos and look for supper. I used the X-T3 because I wanted to make sure it was working okay.

A typical street stall selling gimbap (sushi roll?), gimchi pancake, vermicelli blood sausage, rice cake in sweet and spicy sauce, and deep-fried veg.
Another street stall selling mostly the same things.
The street stalls have plastic tables and stools for people to eat at. The food is usually pretty good at these places, but it’s not a fine dining experience. 
Many downtown streets look like this in Korea. You can’t see the buildings for the gaudy signs. Here you can see signs advertising a Chinese restaurant (very cheap prices!), a fried chicken place, and a bar/club/coffee shop with a DJ where you can make requests. They seem to be big on vinyl LPs.

I ended up buying a garlic and bacon cheeseburger with chips and buffalo wings at a restaurant across the street from the hotel. It was very good. One of the best hamburgers I’ve had in Korea, for sure. I got it wrapped and ate in my hotel room while watching a film on Netflix.

A section of the wall in the hamburger restaurant. I’m not sure if the coat hanger is really for hanging up coats or just part of the interior design.

Being in the heat for most of the day really tired me out. I wrote notes about the day, called the missus, and did some reading. I went to bed fairly early.

Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.

8 thoughts on “Summer Trip to Seoul, Part 1”

  1. Great post Marcus. I need to re-read it. Enjoyed the snaps, too. Your lunch looks great btw. I was interested in your 50mm lens on the FM3a…it’s an AF one? I love my FM3a – super build quality and it packs a mighty punch in a tiny footprint. I do wish the shutter was a wee bit quieter though – it has quite a loud metallic clang compared to the whisper on the OM1 (which I much prefer).

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  2. Nice post Marcus – can't wait for part 2.I've got an old Ai-S 50mm 1.8 Nikkor and it is an incredibly sharp lens. The 27mm Fuji is no slouch either – very nice character to that lens.As for shutterclack, you guys haven't lived till you've tried a Pentax 67.On Nikon shutters, my quietest are the F2 and F – the F3 is super-clacky, whereas the old guys just go kerchunk!

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  3. Thanks Michael. I'm glad you like it. The 50mm is indeed the AF version. I thought about getting the MF version, but I also wanted to use it on the D810 and F6. I have the 45mm 2.8P that comes with the camera as a set but I find the focus ring to be very stiff and the lens in general a bit awkward to use. Maybe I just need practice? Focusing with the 50mm 1.8 AF is not ideal, but it's okay if I'm not in a hurry. Depending on the price, it might be worth getting a MF version of the lens. I was surprised to learn some time ago that Nikon still makes manual focus lenses.The shutter is quite clunkety, isn't it? A Leica it isn't . . . I've never tried an OM1.

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  4. Part 2 should be ready in a day or two, Herr Sheephouse. Thanks for reading.If you include more modern cameras, the F80 is fairly quiet. The best shutter I've ever heard is the F6. Beautiful.I'm hoping to read about your experiences with the 27mm Fuji and the Fuji in the near future.

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  5. Wow.. i can't wait to see part 2 of your Seoul trip! Your story is amazing i felt like i traveled Seoul. And i really really wonder hamburger you like in Seoul. I was interested in the first thing you did in Seoul is fixing your precious camera. I agree with you ���� i enjoyed your trip diary. Thanks ��������

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  6. Hi Marcus – Part 2 is the reason you should carry on – you're an explorer in your own wee way and it works – fascinating – had no idea about the language . . as for the bunny – hope it is not deep fried on a stick somewhere . . .

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