Posts Tagged ‘seoul’

Images of the city & a few notes

Views of Chunggyecheon, Downtown Seoul (click on image for larger view):

Cheonggyecheon 17*

Cheonggyecheon 10*

Cheonggyecheon 7*

Cheonggyecheon 20*

Cheonggyecheon 23*

View from the terrace at the Insa Art Center:



As hectic as this city can be, it does offer some very beautiful scenes. The confluence of nature and urbanity strikes a kind of balance in certain spots, making for moments to breathe and contemplate and just be. As I go from place to place searching for research materials I’m lucky enough to stumble upon some of these moments…

Ch’useok has passed. This is often referred to as the “Korean Thanksgiving,” but really the background of this day shares little in common with the American holiday. It is the full moon harvest celebration and Koreans pay respects to their ancestors, visiting their ancestral burial grounds and offering food from the harvest. There are no endangered colonizers being saved by the colonized, just the story of a weaving contest during the Silla Dynasty. I spent the day with my Uncle and his family and enjoying the company of the little ones.

Last weekend I ventured to Daegu, where many members of my extended family reside. It was a wonderful reunion after fifteen years. Seeing them was profound, like recovering some lost part of myself. Beyond language and culture, family connection can be so strongly felt…


10 2009

images from the week…

insa1 North Insa-dong


subway6 on the train….



Things are slowly progressing. Language courses begin next week, thank God. And I will begin attending a course taught by Aeju Lee (이애주) at Seoul National:


Last week I met with Dr. Choong Soon Kim, a former professor of anthropology and now President of Korea Digital University. A man with an interesting experience of migration and cultural border crossing. He left Korea in ’65 for the US, subsequently raised a family, received his Masters & PhD, then began teaching and conducting fieldwork in Tennessee and other parts of the US South. He worked with the Choctaw Indians as well as with poor pulpwood workers. He did not return to Korea until ’81, and describes this journey back to his native land as one of profound alienation – the country had changed so drastically in during all of that time, and some family members were very ambivalent about how to receive him. In the years to follow he did end up returning to do fieldwork in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, writing an ethnography on Korean family dispersal and the televised reunions on KBS. In 2001 he came back to Korea ‘for good’, accepting the Presidential position at KDU. His books are published in the US, and I highly recommend them.

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09 2009

Art & Seoul

Made it to the National Museum of Contemporary Art today. It was a little bit of an arduous task, but once I sweat my way through the trek, it proved to be well worth it. The museum is situated within Seoul Grand Park, a vast expanse of nature in the city, which also houses a zoo and various children’s rides. It was so beautiful and serene, surrounded by green mountains – I felt like I was somewhere outside of the city far away from the subway I had just exited.

seoul grand park 06*

There was an amazing array of work from Korean artists of the 19th-21st cent, largely little or unknown in the U.S. I am still processing all of the work that I saw today. To see pieces created in the last 100 years of Korea, through Japanese occupation and the Korean War was really profound:


Artist: 이형록 [Hyong-rok Lee] – circa 1950-ish

On special exhibition were works by video & installation artist Ik-Joong Kang, who also collaborated closely with Nam June Paik, as well as the 2009 artist of the year, Suh Yong-sun, and an overview of works of the “Korean Diaspora” – specifically artists who have immigrated to Japan, China, & the Commonwealth of Independent States (fascinating).

Here is a little preview of what I saw (from Ik-joong Kang/except for 1st image – Kang & Nam June Paik):


The lower rung of the video tower.



NMCA 020*

There is much more that I wish I could post right now, but I am realizing that I need to spend the next few days just processing all the media I have been collecting…. video soon to come.

Time to dive into the editing!


Oh yeah, just as a side note, I successfully found a shortcut to my subway station. It cuts the time in half, and a much more enjoyable path – through a series of quiet residential streets. Still trying to navigate the subway system, which is fairly user-friendly except if you get on the platform going in the wrong direction. Then life may suck for a moment, especially in rush hour, as you try to find the path to the right platform. I’m used to the MTA in NYC, which has been notorious for making transit hell, so this really shouldn’t be a problem!….

There is some weird feedback going on in my camera here. This is not what the sky actually looked like today.

On my way home. (There is some weird feedback going on in my camera here. Not the way the sky looked.)


08 2009

Ewha before dusk

ewha 081509_03 small

Outside of the ECC building. Ewha Womans Univeristy. After the “Beautiful Dream Concert”  – the benefit for North Korean defector youth, which was very well attended on Kwang Bok Jeol (more on this later).

ewha 081509_02 small


08 2009

In the heat

Ventured out today to find the subway station and explore the streets around my apartment.

Things around here generally feel calm, even when there’s a lot of traffic from both people and cars. Maybe it’s the summer haze casting a filter between me and the world, or perhaps I lived in NYC too long. The humidity here is pretty intense right now, but everyday I try to get out and record some audio or take photos or video.

A side street:


Near Hapjeong station:

mapogu street 1 small

The culture shock is not nearly as intense as I was anticipating. Hopefully I do not speak too soon. Of course, this is based on the last time I was here, fifteen years ago, a teenager with absolutely no knowledge of the language, very little knowledge of the culture, with pink streaks in my hair and beat up clothes bought at vintage stores (or ‘the flea market’ as Mom always fondly says). In 1994, to the average Korean, I looked like an alien, a crazy homeless girl, or Japanese. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word kyopo (ethnic Korean born outside of Korea), much less the complexities of what it meant to be kyopo from America in a country that harbored very mixed and sometimes hostile attitudes toward America. I never really got over the culture shock on that trip.

Things are very different now, both with me and within the sociocultural attitudes here. Exactly how they are different with the latter is one of the things I am curious to find out more about…


08 2009

Waking up in Seoul

Well, I made it.

A 24 hour journey beginning in the heartland, then to L.A., from where I flew over the Pacific. My row companions on the plane were a young Vietnamese man in his early twenties, living in the US, and a jovial and very talkative middle aged Korean woman who was returning to Korea after 14 years to go on a missionary trip with her church group. She’s headed to Mongolia, and then to Japan to do some converting.

I was pleasantly surprised when the first meal they served on the plane had Bi Bim Bap as an option, which I gladly accepted, having feared the worst of the usual airplane fare. It actually wasn’t half bad, and it came complete with a side of kimchi. The Korean lady insisted on guiding the young man through his first Bi Bim Bap experience. And he seemed pretty happy for it. We all ate merrily, snug in our little airplane seats.

Then came the landing in Incheon. It was raining, and when we arrived around 7pm local time, there was only another hour of daylight or so left, so by the time I got through immigration, baggage claim, and customs it was totally dark and wet outside. A man dispatched from the Fulbright office was waiting for me. He spoke little to no English, which is just about as much Korean as I speak at this point. Through my travel-wearied daze I tried to sloggishly patch together a few sentences in Korean, and to my surprise he actually understood what I was asking, and I even understood what he answered! – A glimmer of hope. – But for the most part we drove in silence, and I told myself to just be patient and comfortable with the discomfort of not being able to communicate and connect with people. For a while.

After the 40 minute drive of silence, I was delivered to my apartment, which is modest but cozy. A studio, with a bathroom Asian style, i.e. -  the entire room is a shower, on a quiet side street in Seogyo-dong. Being August in Korea, the humidity level outside is quite suffocating, but of course everything, including appliances, is in Korean, so though I tried to translate the various labels on the thing that I thought was an air conditioner, I could not crack the code. (Turns out it just regulates the tempurature for the bath water. The AC is on another wall in the room. Who knew?) So instead, all windows were open, which allowed for the summer rainy wind to blow in. I managed to stay up long enough to skype Mom & Dad, take a shower & completely crash out to the sound of the rain…

Which is also the sound I woke up to, as well as the sound of my cell phone dying around 6 in the morning. I do love waking up in a new place after arriving there in the darkness of the night before. That feeling of strangeness & newness in a foreign place I always find kind of awe-inspiring, and the mind is empty and clear so you’re just absorbing the things around you. Those first moments of displacement and discovery seem to stay so fresh in the mind -  they become visceral memory. The pounding of the rain outside, the greyness of light pushing through the windows and onto the objects in the room, the stillness of the space. A nice morning.

Aunt and Uncle Chang arrived, and they really saved me today, bringing many essential cooking & living items, helping me figure out which appliance is the air conditioner, as well as several other Korean mysteries. This evening I found a small grocery store and managed to buy a full load of items without having to say, “Han goong mal jok-um hay-o. Mi-an ham ni da” (I speak very little Korean. I’m sorry.)

(Though right now i actually have to figure out how to light the stove.  – Always an adventure waiting.)

All in all a very productive first 24 hours in Seoul.

But so much ground to cover here… I look forward to getting myself settled enough so that I can really begin the work I have set out to do.

In the meantime, I am very aware of just being present and open, and taking it all in.

It does feel good to be here, and I am excited about the things to come.

seoul apt 1 small

seoul apt 2 small


08 2009

The Countdown Begins…

Very soon I will be leaving the calm and stillness of the Midwest,

and entering into this:



08 2009