Break Time

In early July I went downtown to make some photos early in the morning while the light was still good and most people were in their homes getting ready for work. Despite the uncrowded streets and the not-too-contrasty light, I wasn’t getting any photos that I liked. I decided to stop into a convenience store for a tin of sugary, milky coffee to cool off and think about where I wanted to go next.
From where I sat in the store I could see just the handlebars of my electric bicycle in the gap between the blinds and the counter. If it’s not art, it’s at least graphic, I thought to myself.

Electric Bicycle Handlebars

I chose to make the photo in black and white to make a simple composition even simpler. And, to tell the truth, the colours were nothing to gasp at anyway.

Encouraged by these results, I tried making several more ‘through-the-blinds’ photos. Most were failures, but with patience and timing I snapped this young woman walking past the store while looking at her phone.
Woman Walking with Phone
I did some dodging on the small shingle roof behind the woman’s head to make her hair stand out from the background. The woman is slightly blurry because of her movement but I think that might be forgivable in a street photograph? Let’s say it is. I think the timing makes up for it. A split second either way and her phone or her back would have been covered by the poster or the blind.

Summer Trip to Seoul, Part 3

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

I slept better my second night in the hotel. Maybe because I was used to the room. I don’t remember what time I got up, but I was out and about before eight o’clock.
I only planned originally to visit the Seoul Arts Centre south of the river before eating lunch and then getting a bus back to Gangngeung. But I noticed on a map that very close to the hotel was Jongmyo, the Confucian shrine dedicated to the kings and queens of Korea. I thought that might be interesting to have a look at while waiting for the Arts Centre to open so I made my way over.

This is obviously a very busy Chinese restaurant. Eleven scooters for deliveries! Or maybe this is a normal number in a big city?
This is one of the walls that encloses Jongmyo.
A little further along the wall. This is a moto-chariot traditionally used by kings and queens when going into battle. Maybe . . . .
Hanging in front of a shop shutter were two onion bags of drying fish heads. I guess fish head soup is on the menu. 
The front gate to Jongmyo. This is all you’ll get to see of the huge grounds because you can only go in as part of a guided tour. Individuals can go in on some Saturdays.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t photograph the royal shrine, but I thought I would go to the Arts Centre early and make some photos of the building. In a taxi and off I went.
I thought the Arts Centre would open at ten o’clock like most other places, but it turns out opening time is eleven o’clock. so I had two hours to kill . . .

Vending machines in front of the Opera Hall.
More vending machines.

I thought I could do a little collection of the vending machines around the Arts Centre, but it turned out there were only two places with the machines. I did find some food caravans, though.

Not open. So hungry . . . . but not hungry enough to eat octopus balls.
I had a look around for something else of interest.
What’s this?
Getting closer . . .
Ahhhhh! Too close! And that’s not his hand on his bottom.

I was a little overheated from all the nude art, so I went into the basement to find a convenience store.

Convenience store in the Seoul Arts Centre

The convenience store in the Arts Centre has a wine section and listening stations where you can hear classical music, opera, and jazz while having a coffee or whatever. The convenience store near my apartment has a place to eat cup noodles . . . .

On the left, Greek Treasures Exhibition. On the right, a Bernard Buffet exhibtiion.
Another banner advertising the Buffet exhibition.

I still had lots of time before the exhibits opened, so I decided to make a few photos of the architecture.

Opera House
Trees with Opera House entrance in the background.
Judging by the posters around this stage, this is where childrens’ shows are held. Oh no, it isn’t. Oh yes, it is!
View from the top of a staircase.
Photography is thirsty work, so I got a drink from one of the vending machines.

When it got close to 11:00 I went into the exhibition hall to buy a ticket. Not cheap! But it was worth the price. There were pots, amphorae, statues, and so on from ancient Greece to the time of Alexander. Especially impressive were the works of art from the Minoan civilisation, which seemed to be ahead of its time in technique and beauty.
I didn’t make any photos inside the exhibition. Partly because I wanted to concentrate on the art and not on my camera. And partly because there were lots of serious-looking young women watching visitors. These docent (I guess they are called) were more security guards than guides. I heard them warn curious fingers several times not to touch anything. Yikes. I did make a couple photos of statues near the ticket office.

Javelin athlete? 
I can’t remember who this is supposed to be.

The exhibition was great, though there were very few artefacts from Alexander’s time. Oh well, it was worth the price of admission just to see the Minoan stuff.
I took a taxi to the express bus terminal and ate a sad and not at all cheap pork cutlet at a restaurant there. I bought a ticket for Gangneung and at 1:00 I was on my way home.
Overall I had a very good trip. I wish I had made more and better photographs, but the humidity really does on in. Perhaps next winter I’ll make another trip to Seoul to visit some more museums and galleries and spend a lot more time doing careful photography.
I hope you enjoyed my poor journal of this summer’s trip to Seoul. At least you got to see a side of Korea not featured in K-Pop videos.

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. 
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.

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.

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.

The Student Experience

I always seem to notice this statue more during exam periods. Perhaps because the facial expressions match those of the students walking past it.
I wonder if these three figures are so glum because student life is difficult, or because the pleasant little wooded path behind them (not in the photo) is congested with smokers like every other rest area at the university, or because the Arts College was chopped several years ago along with the College of Humanities. Poor little stone orphans . . . . .
For those of you who are interested, this photo was made using my Fujifilm X-T3 and I set the film simulation to Classic Chrome. I brightened it slightly using a tone curve and then levelled it, because my head seems to be set not quite straight on my head. 150th sec at f13, ISO 320. The lens was the very short and portable Fujinon F2.8 27mm pancake lens. Great for walkabouts.

Cat and Chesterfield

I received some encouraging comments and an email about carrying on with posting photos here. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write. I went to Seoul for a few days and enjoyed using a few rolls of film as well as getting my X-T3 fixed. This morning I went downtown and made a few photos while waiting for the post office to open. I made a few that might be keepers, so perhaps I am coming out of my slump.
The photos I made in Seoul and the pictures I took this morning will appear here later, but, in the meantime, here are a couple photos of my cat. Meow.

Amice lying on the arm of the living room chesterfield. You can see he marked his territory by scratching up the back rest. We bought a cheap chesterfield because we knew this would happen . . . .
A dog is a man’s best friend. My wife is Amice’s best friend. Whenever she lies down, he appears and demands to have space made for him to snuggle up.

I sent my film from the Seoul trip off to the lab this morning. I should probably get the scans tomorrow and the negatives the day after that. I’m looking forward to seeing how badly I screwed them up. I hope the FM3a made up for my deficiencies . . . .