Gas Tanks Outside House Window

Residential Propane Tanks, Gangneung

Rubber hoses feed the propane/butane from the two tanks through a selector valve through a steel pipe into what is most likely the kitchen of a house near downtown Gangneung.

This is the sort of setup that I feel nervous walking past, but, on the other hand, provides such an interesting photo opportunity.

From the Archive: Self-Portrait

Hard at Work, 2006

Today was a national holiday celebrating the creation of the Korean alphabet in the middle of the 15th century by King Sejong the Great and his scholars. I suppose lots of children participated in writing activities (I have no idea, really), but I took the opportunity to go through photos on my hard drive and in my binders. I sorted photos from 2006 on my hard drive by subject instead of date, and I went through all my 8×10 prints to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. I kept less than half of my prints. Some of you are probably crying, “You should never throw away prints!”, but, believe me, some prints are just begging to be in the bin. I seem to have gone through some phases where I was printing everything at 8×10.

For the above photo, I set my Nikon FM3a on a tripod or a chair, set the timer, and then pretended to be asleep on the job.

Kodak Colorplus 200

I don’t know what camera I used to make these photographs, but it was either the Nikon F6 or the FM3a. I think it was probably the FM3a because I seem to remember focusing manually. When I got the scans back I also remember thinking that although the FM3a’s viewfinder only shows 93% of what will appear on the film, the lab seemed to send back scans that were only about 90% of what was on the film. This happens now and then and is one of the aggravations of using film. It didn’t matter that much for these photographs (except the scooter photo, maybe) – it’s just an annoyance.
It was an overcast day when I went out with the camera, so the colours are muted. But this cheap-o film produces some very nice colours. It’s a shame the large amount of grain prevents large prints.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy these glimpses of what the streets of Korea look like.

Alley Bicycle
Delivery Scooter
The Road to Geumhak Noodles
Must Not Miss This Sale!
Something That Does a Thing Converted to a Parking Space Saver
Alley Sunflowers

Portra 400 + FM3a

I would like to write that this is a photo essay about something something something, but it’s just a few photos from a roll of Portra 400 that I thought were good enough to share.
Sometimes the photo I make to remember the camera I used it at the end of the roll and sometimes it’s the first picture on the roll. In this case it was the first. As you can see (probably), this roll of film was in a Nikon FM3a and I used the Nikkor 45mm F2.8P for at least this photograph and probably more. Although the thin lens paired with the FM3a makes a compact camera kit, the lens can sometimes be a little awkward to use because the aperture and focus rings are so narrow. Also, the focus ring on this lens is quite stiff and it takes a while to focus. Maybe I should give it a second chance and hope it loosens up. Or only photograph stationary subjects. Anyway, it looks great. And that’s important to the people who collect end-of-an-era cameras like this.

Three of the five photos in this post were made on the way to, in, or on the way back from the town of Seongsan south of Gangneung. The town is not much to look at and its claim to fame is having some very good restaurants that people from Gangneung will drive to eat at. I don’t go to the restaurants on my bicycle rides to the town, but I usually stop at a convenience store at the far end of town. I thought this was a pleasant little scene and made the photo while having a tin of Coke. This Billingham bag was expensive, but it’s very good. I wanted the tan canvas version, but it wasn’t available. In fact, the canvas version doesn’t seem to be available in Korea at all. I don’t remember the name of the synthetic fibre this bag is made of, but it’s sturdy. The red and pink flowers in the background are oversaturated, but these colours seem to be difficult to reproduce well on both film and digital.
The first step of this stepping stone bridge is a long one. I wouldn’t try it with anything valuable in my hands. Like an FM3a.

On the way back home I took the short route over a hill and came across this curious three-wheeled motorcycle. Most three-wheelers I see are smaller than this and look like the pan was attached by “a friend of a friend who knows a guy whose middle school senior owns a welding shop now.” This one is quite long and it seems like it was designed to look like this from the beginning. Except for that seat, maybe. That’s quite a throne. Wait a minute, where’s the engine? In that box? That seems strange. Maybe it’s an electric vehicle?

Amice likes to attack my tripod legs when I move it. But when it stops he likes to lie down next to it. A cat I met at an historical site one time did the same thing.
That’s it for this post. The next film photos are a long way away, but I should have some digital photos to post in the near future. 

Black and White Cat Arse

Water Dish + Cat Arse = Art

Except for two out of focus photos of my students, this was the only picture on a roll of HP5+ worth keeping. My FM3a was new and I was eager to test it out. This was the first photo I made on the roll. Sometime later I went for a walk in bright light along a boring road and wasted some good film. My apologies to all involved in the film manufacturing, developing, and scanning processes.

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.