Summer Trip to Seoul, Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

I was very comfortable in my hotel room thanks to a soft mattress and air conditioning, but I woke up very early on the second day of my trip. I think I woke up several times during the night as well. I’m not sure why, as the blinds kept out any city light and I can’t remember any noise coming from the street. Perhaps it was because I was sleeping in an unfamiliar place.
Whatever the reason, I was glad to wake up early because it meant I could take advantage of the morning light. I had my usual hotel room breakfast of pastries and milk purchased from a convenience store the night before. I packed up my bag and paid for a second night at the front desk. Then I went out to photograph the early morning streets and alleys of Seoul.

I don’t remember what sort of business this statue was welcoming customers to. It’s not a Korean figure. Maybe a Thai restaurant or something? I need to take better notes . . . .
An alley in Insadong, a tourist area in central Seoul. 
I don’t know how much of the explanation is readable, but the sign says that the alley was used by common people to avoid having to kowtow to aristocrats on the main streets. The name Pimatgol literally means ‘horse avoiding alley’. 
And here is the alley. Not much going on here except for a smoker in the distance. I would like to have Piyeongols installed in cities. ‘Smoke Avoiding Alleys’.

Photographing the streets and alleys near the hotel and Insadong wasn’t that interesting, and I was eager to get to the National Museum. I had seen on a map that there was a park with a pond on the grounds and I wanted to do some photography there while the light was still good. I flagged a taxi and off we went. The driver was quite nice. Soft spoken and informative. He has a friend who went to Canada twenty years ago to run a hotel in British Columbia. The driver said he will get there to visit ‘someday’.
He dropped me off at the front gate about 8:00 and I saw a sign that said the grounds open at 7 and the museums open at 10. Museums plural, because it turns out there is a hangeul museum in addition to the main museum. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet that was invented in the 15th century according to phonetic principles. It’s really quite impressive, and the scientific nature of the letters means that it can be learned very quickly. Just a day, if you put your mind to it.

This poorly composed photo shows just one part of the museum. 
This slightly better photo shows the stairs leading up to the entrance.

I would like to visit the hangeul museum someday, but my plan was to visit the National Museum and I didn’t think I would have the time/energy to do both. So I started walking around the park while waiting for the main museum to open.

This looked better in the viewfinder . . . . Anyway, a gardener trimming bushes.

My first impression of the park was that it is a nice oasis in the middle of a concrete desert. Unlike some other parks in Seoul (especially central Seoul), this one is not overrun with lowlifes (lowlives?) drinking, smoking, and spitting. Maybe because the park is located near residential areas. If you don’t mind battling traffic to get there, it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours relaxing.

This road leads to another gate, where there is a convenience store and a cafe.The cart in the foreground is owned by the hangeul museum. The cart in the background has a fridge built into it and the lady sells and delivers yoghourt and other dairy products.
Pavilion next to the park pond. You have to take off your shoes if you want to use it.
A view from the pavilion. The carp in the pond were being most uncooperative.
Almost the same view, but horizontal. And on film.
This view is from the other side of the pond. Lovely pine tree. 
A corner of the artificial pond. Or a separate small pond? I can’t remember now.
Changing film. I had been using Kodak Colorplus 200 but switched to the Kodak Ultramax 400 I bought the previous day.
Maintenance cart.

Although the sun was not blazing at that time in the morning, the air was humid and sapping my energy. So I went to the convenience store to have a tin of drink. The wide angle of my iPhone camera made this composition possible. Argh! Why did I forget my 28mm lens for the Fm3a . . . . The colours are a bit off in this photo because I was behind a window.

View from the National Museum side of the pond. It would be nice if that concrete pillar weren’t behind the pavilion, but I rather like this photo. Quite grainy, but I think a higher quality scan might help with that. The next time I visit I will probably bring Portra 400. Or use the digital camera.

I had seen what I wanted of the park so I headed to the National Museum building. Around the building were a number of stelae and monuments.

Dragon base stela. 
Pagoda
Another pagoda and the words of the royal announcement of the new Korean alphabet, hangeul. King Sejong explained that he wanted to create a pure Korean script because Chinese characters didn’t match the Korean language properly, only male aristocrats could learn them anyway, and literacy should be something for all the people of the nation. No surprise he’s known as King Sejong the Great!

After looking at the stelae and pagodas, I went to the huge sheltered staircase that separates the main building of the museum and the special exhibit building. It was nice and cool there, and I made several photos from my position near the top of the stairs.

Horizontal is nice.
Vertical a bit better?
iPhone for a wider view.
Primary school girls

About an hour before the museum opened, a few school girls showed up and sat on the steps. Then a few more. Then some boys. Then a horde. Hundreds of tweens were shouting and running about. Ah! I escaped the bums and smokers of the city centre but forgot about school trips. I escaped back to the convenience store to avoid the chaos. In the convenience store in the seat next to me was a guy having a hands-free telephone conversation. I thought he was. I noticed that he had no earpiece and was just pretending to be talking to someone. Well, whatever passes the time . . . .
I went back to the museum entrance around 10:15 to give the classes time to enter. I was surprised to see that everyone entering the museum has to go through security like in an airport. Checking for hammers that could be used to smash up statues? Some Christian groups have smashed up ancient Buddhist statues here and there and a maniac once burned down the great south gate of Seoul, a national treasure. So better safe than sorry, I guess. The museum is free, by the way. Very nice.
I’ve seen Korea’s ancient artefacts many times in my years in Korea, so I was mostly interested in going to the third floor and seeing the South Asia, Central Asia, China, and Japan exhibits. I didn’t make many photos in the museum. It might not be allowed and concentrating on photos distracts from appreciating the exhibits.

Statue from the Indian subcontinent
A reclining deity. Must be nice.
It’s not out of focus; check your eyes. This statue is from China.
Do you call this an atrium? Whatever it is, here is a photo of it.
Plants in a walkway
Hallway. Except for the kiddies, there were very few people at the museum on a Tuesday morning.
Pensive Bodhisattva. This Korean statue from the 7th century has a room to itself and there is a bench located in front of it to sit on. The figure is deep in thought, but is smiling slightly. This is my favourite statue anywhere, and is one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the museum again (I visited quite a few years ago). I have a small copy of this statue that sits on my desk at work.
On the way out I made this photo of the entrance hall.

After I finished looking around the museum I took a taxi back to Insadong where I went to a restaurant called The Road to India for the lunchtime buffet. It was packed, but I was lucky enough to get a seat because someone was just leaving. Most of the customers were South Asians and none of them looked angry so I figured the food was probably pretty good. It turned out that most of them were in Seoul for a conference or something. Interestingly, when they were speaking in groups of twos or threes they spoke a South Asian language. But often when talking in larger groups they spoke English. I guess they are from different areas of the subcontinent. Anyway, the buffet was only 13,000 Won and the quality was very good. There were only one or two meat dishes (chicken) but there were lots of different curries that were great. Also, a banana pudding for dessert. I thought that would be horrible, but it turned out to be banana and pistachio. Really good.
I don’t usually meet people when I travel, but I remembered that a friend of mine works at a Starbucks not far from my hotel. So I texted her and we met up an hour before her shift started. It was good to see her again and she’s doing well.

Some buildings near my friend’s coffee shop

I went back to the hotel, took a shower, and then went out to make a few photographs before looking for a decent fried chicken restaurant. It’s a sort of tradition for me to eat fried chicken when I make my solo trips. In front of a hotel television watching B movies on cable television. But I digress. Here are some of the photos I made late afternoon on Tuesday.

Alley
Farther down the alley. I like this photo so I’m going to get a 50MB scan done of the film frame.
Sometimes a man brings a pet rabbit to Insadong. I don’t know why. The sign behind the rabbit says, “An invitation to happiness.” Well, I felt happier after seeing the bunny. This is my desktop background photo now.
Selling traditional biscuits in Insadong
The stairs down to a basement shop. The sign in the upper right says, “Please come down.”
Another skinny alley photo. There is a famous dumpling restaurant down this alley. I was there a few years ago and it’s scrumptious.
A large intersection with Burger King. The building on the left is a language school. I studied Korean there for a few months about twenty years ago. I travelled two hours on the subway to get there and then another two hours back to my town. Four days a week. I must have been mad.
I couldn’t find any chicken restaurant that looked interesting, so I fell back on an old favourite. Pelicana Fried Chicken. I’ve been to this restaurant a number of times on my trips to Seoul. It’s a bit grubby, but the owners are friendly and the chicken is good.
The ceiling of the restaurant is covered in calligraphy. 

I brought my chicken back to my hotel room and started to watch a new Chinese film on Netflix called The Wandering Earth. Holy crap, avoid it like the plague. I like B movies, but this film was somewhere around a Z-. I couldn’t finish it.
After supper I called the missus, watched something forgettable on cable television, read, and went to bed.

Part 3 is here.

9 thoughts on “Summer Trip to Seoul, Part 2

  1. I guess your Seoul trip was meaningful. And bunny picture has a surprise meaning. I didn't know kkk and i will be happy because of your bunny photo. And it was great to know that you eat chicken when you traveled alone. When i read your blog, it feels like i am reading a novel. It was super great to read your part2 writing and i know your part3 will be nicer.

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  2. Thanks, Songmary. I'm glad you enjoyed Part 2. Sadly, Part 3 will be shorter and probably less interesting. It describes the morning of my third day in Seoul and I only went to one place. But maybe you'll see a photo or two that you like.

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  3. A full day in the city, Marcus. I enjoyed the read. And the shots. I liked the ones of the buildings near coffee shop, the entrance hall and the iPhone shot of the view from the museum towards the city. Those alleys look great too but crying out for the gritty Tri-x or HP5+ treatment 😉

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  4. Thanks Michael. Maybe I'll leave the vacation film at home next time and fill my bag with black and white film. I agree that the alleys would look nice in something grey and grainy. Or I could properly prepare the X-T3 and use both colour and black and white. ISO up on bust, of course, for the gritty look.

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  5. Now that was a good read and some great shots. I really liked a couple of the narrow alley ones. Looked a tad creepy, but that’s what alleys are for anyway 🙂
    I must agree with Michael though… I can hear them crying out for some slightly underexposed B&W high ISO film 😉

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