A much-loved former coworker invited me to his wedding, and of course I showed up. Hansoo started as an intern, before being promoted to a more serious position, with the offer of making him a real reporter dangled before him. It didn't pan out and he moved on to a better job, but not before we had an adventure or two together.
I've learned long ago (well, back at SKKU around 2014) that the most competent workers in any office are the interns. They are young and energetic and not yet disillusioned or soured by experience. Hansoo was a classic example of this, and while he worked for us he was popular among the foreign copy editors, not just for being a good guy but also for not making the usual mistakes senior reporters make.
His wedding was unusual, in that it was held in a big hall where everyone was seated at tables, where after the proceedings food would be brought directly to them. Probably more expensive than the usual model. I only ever heard three or four words from the bride but she also seemed to be an anglophone like her husband. I was late so I ended up sitting in a separate room with Ko Dong-hwan, as well as another former intern and her new boyfriend, a reporter at our rival paper where she now works. Scandalous!
1 April 2018
Dong Cult Park
Morgan called me up for some Mongolian food, and I joined him, only to discover it was just the two of us, he brought flowers, and it was a date of sorts. Or maybe I'm just not remembering properly; it was 49 days ago.
I took a taxi there which dropped me off at a different corner, and I got to see all sorts of signs advertising the area I'd never noticed before. Here's the funny thing though: almost all the foot traffic coming here arrives from the north, where there are no signs, and the signs I saw were to the southeast, so even people arriving from nearby exit 5 wouldn't see them.
It seemed like someone wanted these signs, and someone else wanted them in a place where nobody would see them.
1 April 2018
April Fool Cats
My favourite holiday of the year was upon us, and I celebrated by getting my cats high.
My main (only?) joke this year was a hoax article I submitted to Unite Asia. History worked out very conveniently, as a delegation of 200 South Koreans was in Pyongyang that exact day for concerts. All I had to do was expand on the publicly revealed list of acts.
On reading an article earlier in the week, I discovered that Ali was one of the main acts, and it wasn't much of a leap for me to decide which Ali this really meant. The quote in the article is legit from Ali.
I invented a few other bands, such as hardcore band Find Your Face which is actually taken from the last Broke titled "What's your Korean hardcore punk band name?" There's also black metal band Brutal Health, pogo punks Spike Island, and speedpunk band Dead Friends. And I'm very proud of the name Manujeol 1st of April Stadium. By the way, I struggled with pictures to use, not wanting to accidentally out any Koreans in any way; the feature image is of a Japanese musician performing at last year's Ska Fest, figuring he faces no repercussions. I have about five hilarious photoshopped images of South Korean punks in North Korea I probably won't share.
After submitting this, site owner Riz messaged my alias account, asking if this was an April Fool's Day joke; he only published it after I confirmed it was, and I later told him it was me. Unite Asia sort of seems like an open door, but it is still scrupulously curated by one guy who cares enough to promote scenes all across Asia, not just his own backyard.
We'll see what I can get away with, and where, next year.
31 March 2018
I went to GBN in Mullae for a concert featuring several bands I hadn't seen before, including Pakk, Organic Beer, and Modsdive, as well as Graham's one-man band Victim Kit. The opening band was Pigibit5, one band I uncharacteristically enjoy a great deal, and which is coincidentally playing on my computer right now, but everyone inside was seated along the walls, like some junior high dance. It is hard for me to do my kind of photography in this kind of atmosphere.
30 March 2018
Yongsan War Memorial
I headed to Yongsan War Memoral to review an exhibit by historian Kim Chun-soo, a guy I managed to meet through Yongsan Legacy which is sort of connected to this exhibit. Anyway, it was for an article.
This exhibit may reappear in other venues in the future.
30 March 2018
Just a couple street scenes in Huam-dong and Gyeongnidan.
Decades ago my grandmother used to take us out for fancy meals to buffet restaurants. We'd wear our nicest clothes and go to these places that were much more popular with lower-class people who at best didn't give a shit that I was wearing a dress shirt or whatever. They'd be named "Uncle Willy's" or "Foody Goody," and sometimes they'd give us some pretty serious food poisoning.
Actually I just checked and Foody Goody may have been a Chinese restaurant, possibly a buffet, that was notorious for some of Edmonton's worst health code violations. We're talking rancid meat dripping onto vegetables, maggots, and butchered dogs. Anyway, here's Foody Goody in Korea!
27 March 2018
Matt Van's RASKB Lecture
Matt Van, as I'm trying to get in the habit of calling him, gave a lecture on government suppression of Korean youth culture in the 1970s, something he's written about for my paper and something that has lasting consequences in Korea to this day.
25 March 2018
Slight variations of this image appear around Seoul Station. There are four in total that I know of, with one of these being covered up and another being across the street that I didn't pass.
I'm going to embarrass myself by admitting I don't know who he is. I initially thought he was Guan Yu but that seems wrong.
24 March 2018
There was a show at Strange Fruit, put on by Angle Magazine. Of particular note was Say Sue Me, who were about to set off to the UK and follow their destiny of becoming one of Korea's greatest international acts, despite being totally apart from Hallyu and K-pop.
24 March 2018
I was at a concert at Strange Fruit when the promoter realised he didn't have earplugs. Me not having anything to do and hating the tension prior to a concert starting, I volunteered to go out and buy some. I headed to the nearest Daiso, taking me on a pretty routine jaunt through Hongdae but also exposing me to some of the latest gentrification horrors of the area.
Most notably, I came across an abandoned building overlooking the former Danginri Line Tracks. I snuck in, finding an otherwise unremarkable building with some flooding. From the roof, I could overlook the many people gathered to watch the free, unspectacular street performers below, who perhaps should be seen as in direct competition with real concerts like the one I was late returning to.
24 March 2018
I returned to Margarita's former home, catching it probably just prior to its own demolition. So much of the region is gone now, and it's clear it's not just Yeomni-dong but also parts of Ahyeon-dong stretching toward the market that are going. The market itself, which had relied on through traffic of local residents, is also fading, and eviction seems to have advanced accordingly.
We took one wrong turn and found ourselves facing about half a dozen people: police, workers, and one elderly woman lying in the alley at their feet. Unsure what we witnessed, we backed off and made a quick retreat.
17 March 2018
After the tour, everyone got dropped off at the airport, but I delayed my return by a couple hours so I could stop by Magpie Jeju and have a few beers with my old friend Tyler. I ended up bringing along Brenda, who dragged out her husband Jan. Brenda told me I should meet Joey, a local resident heavily studying Jeju shamanism. Turns out, Tyler had already invited him to meet us. Small world. It was a benevolent end to a disturbing journey into Korea's most famous resort island.
I somehow did not take any pictures at Magpie though.
17 March 2018
Jeju Jin A-young's Home
Our next stop was this village on Jeju's western coast, an interesting place where cacti grow naturally close to the sea. As in, imagine going to the beach, and as you come out of the water you climb up on some rocks to sun off and cut yourself on a cactus.
This is where Jin A-young lived. During the Jeju Massacre, she had her lower jaw shot off, and she lived the rest of her life with her face in a bandage, refusing to ever eat in front of other people out of self-consciousness. In either a blessing or a curse, she lived to an old age until dying in 2004. Now, her old home is preserved in her memory.
17 March 2018
We all pretty well agreed, on a tour of graves and massacre sites, this was the worst part: a very touristy, very crowded tea museum.
We stopped for lunch at a decent restaurant. Turns out, the other table decided to try some Jeju makgeolli.
17 March 2018
Jeju Seodal Oreum
Of all the locations we visited, this is the one I'd want to return to the most. The landscape here was beautiful, and it hid a horrific story of a wartime massacre. From the ridge where I'm standing to take this picture, people were executed and their bodies would fall down into the pit below. It actually reminds me of a scene from Attack on Titan, where members of an oppressed people would be pushed off a wall to a horrific fate below. Weird reference, yes, and sort of a spoiler.
Anyway, our hike up over the hill, where we saw some ruins of Japanese installations, led to a beautiful view of the coast.
Jeju Hotel Roof
Of course I went up on the roof in the morning, taking pictures of the area. I'd been up there the night before but knew I should come back after sunrise, even if it meant skipping breakfast. I did manage to fit in some breakfast, but more importantly I saw this.
16 March 2018
Jeju Super Doopub
They put us up in a Ramada for the night, and while many of the journalists went promptly to sleep, there were those of us who would not.
I found a quaint bar right outside the hotel that offered craft beer, and we crammed as many alcoholic journalists into this tiny building as we could. Turns out the owner was from Seoul and used to own a vinyl bar in Hongdae, before striking out and opening this place here.
16 March 2018
After Bukchon, our day 1 itinerary was finished and we went to a restaurant, where we met local NGO members who basically made this tour happen. It was Jeju so it was a fantastic meal.
16 March 2018
Jeju Bukchon Village
We piled into a community center where we heard 80-year-old massacre survivor Ko Wan-soon speak about her experiences. The PA system didn't work properly but it turned out she didn't need it. Note the flag behind her: this is a common prerequisite at all related sites, to explicitly state the people raising awareness of this atrocity are not enemies of South Korea.
16 March 2018
We walked through a wetland to get to the Seonheul Doteul cave, where villagers hid from the massacre. If I remember correctly, at one point several villagers were caught in this cave. Jeju is full of caves, and while they are suitable hiding places, they could quickly become tombs if discovered.
We learned the Jeju islanders had a complicated relationship with the forests, which served both as protectors but also were the site where they lost many loved ones.
16 March 2018
Jeju Peace Park
One of the reasons I've taken so long to update the site is because the next big update would be a big one, as I went on an expenses-paid media tour of Jeju Island massacre sites.
A friend connected me with the organiser, and then I discovered not one but three Korea Times contributors were already part of it: one reporter and two columnists. I got to go for free and wouldn't miss any work, so nobody at the office could turn me down. I decided to go as the photographer for our reporter. You can see what we published here.
Our arrival was during fierce cold weather, which made it unbearable to be outside. The outdoor area was mostly notable for a graveyard for all the people who went missing during the massacre.
One night I was heading home when I saw the night sky and I decided to head upwards to get some pictures. I think I got some pretty intense pictures, anyway.
11 March 2018
Walking to Work
I hate walking, especially in the morning. But this is what I see on my walk to work.
10 March 2018
The Red Stripes
I've begun a personal research project, looking at the history of the Hongdae area. Maybe "begun" is the wrong word, as I've been closely studying it since I first arrived in December 2003.
Anyway, through the RAS, I offered a walking tour of Hongdae, and then we had a meal at Duriban then went to Prism Live Hall for a reggae and ska show. I led a pretty large group, mostly people older than me. This was my third time leading this particular tour, second for the RASKB. First for an ambassador.
Anyway, I'm getting ready to release some interesting stuff about the Hongdae area.
Also, the Red Stripes were like everything I could ever want in a ska band. It turned out it was made up of a bunch of guys who remember the two-tone era, but it came together when Cam Otto joined. Turns out Cam spent some time in my hometown, Edmonton, and was familiar with my ska musician friends back home.
8 March 2018
I showed up for her welcoming party off a hoeshik, so by the time I got here I was pretty intoxicated. I'm not self-aware enough to decide if I ruined the party, barging in and telling them about the #MeToo case I had just plummetted into.
But after some high-quality food, I managed to line everyone up for this very attractive group photo that flatters every single person in it, except the most famous person. Oh crap, I just realised as I'm writing this, I'm listening to his music.
5 March 2018
Michael was all skin and bones when I met up with him. We went to Coyote Saloon on Seoullo 7017 for a last meal, before he would jump on an airplane and head back to America.
A little further below, I referred to my best friends. Verv's record puts him within the top two, but Michael was the most recent one. Over the last half year we were definitely on best-friend level. So that puts him within the top 5. The other two people probably know who they are.
3 March 2018
One of the great things about Huam-dong is the many large-scale wall murals showing views of the city. I photographed this one late one night, which shows the National Museum of Korea just north of the river, then basically a row of urban fabric behind it, then Namsan. This is especially weird because it basically snubs Yongsan Garrison. I get doing that for legal reasons, but this is an especially interesting case, basically making up shit to pretend there's nothing to see here.
3 March 2018
After we were done with the first place, we wandered over to Guryong Village, where the vacancy rate is still creeping up, as is the skyline of Gangnam to the north over this old moon village. We participated in some amateur psychogeography, or in other words we followed a woman up into the neighbourhood attempting to find the right paths to get around. Due to new construction nearby, suddenly Samsung Tower Palace isn't the only sight dominating the skyline. It actually has made a huge impact on the view from here.
3 March 2018
I met up with Amos, a guy I met through Stephen Epstein who suggested we talk about underground music scenes. Amos was doing hip-hop and I was doing punk, and I think we may have both given each other some insight.
Anyway, then we decided to hang out, which ended up meaning hitting a pretty serious section of Gangnam where they're tearing down a large amount of apartments. So that's just what we did.
2 March 2018
The end is in sight. Michael has been threatening he's going to leave, and now here he is leaving. These two pictures were taken at the galmaegi restaurant right next to my home, which is open from like 4pm to sunrise. This restaurant is a great place to stop and build memories, and then erase them.
I just walked by, at Monday morning 12:30am, and it was closed. Odd.
1 March 2018
The way I see it, I've had two great best friends my entire life. And amazingly, both got to meet each other a little over 10 years ago in Hongdae Playground.
Verv has now graduated from Kyung Hee University with a master's degree in philosophy or something, with a strong point of view about nationalism and Buddhism or something like that.
We remain good friends, bonded from over a decade of shared experience, but cautious due to his alt-right leanings. It is a confusing time, but also a benefit of our friendship has been in giving me a chance to mediate between my political outrage against what he promotes and my personal like for the guy. And as far as I know, he has probably used his familiarity with me to figure out better ways to argue against atheists and non-Americans.
My first time meeting Henny was a couple years earlier, when I was with a former boss from a previous job. We showed up at an RASKB after party, by which time my boss was completely sauced having slammed at least six martinis. I'd told him the Czech ambassador would be there, so when we walked in my boss nudged me and said "Where is the Czech ambassador?" I said he was right behind us, and my boss marched right up to Henny, shaking his hand vigorously and giving a long speech about how nice it was to meet him, only mentioning about 30 seconds in he highly respected relations with the Czech Republic, at which point Henny said, "I think you want to talk to that guy behind you."
Years later, I can confirm Henny is a fun guy to hang out with late into the night, as his topic of maps about Korea should imply.
26 February 2018
Seoul Monitors Program
Just a couple years ago, I was teasing Chance about his position on a City Hall board aimed at solving problems foreign residents of Seoul face. Then I went ahead and joined another program, giving myself a chance to monitor city stuff and submit two reports per month. I've already submitted four:
problems with building heating in winter
building emergency evacuation
Korean religious cults that run rampant without any information from Korean authorities
difficulties with the government website we use to submit these
I'm not saying it'll lead to any changes, but my complaints combined with my whole newspaper job thing could lead to actual reporting on why there haven't been changes.
26 February 2018
I've been trying to get to know my neighbourhood better. Not through history or walking tours, but just through walking in and entering a consumer relationship with people. Huam Market doesn't show it but it is becoming a little gentrified. Time for me to get in everyone's face about that.
21 February 2018
The Rooftopping Olympics
So there was the Olympics and the Paralympics (okay both have long since passed by the time I got around to writing this update), but did you know about the Rooftopping Olympics? Considering a couple shootings ago, the one in Las Vegas, it is quite surprising I was able to get onto a roof overlooking the Gangneung Olympic venues. Hell, it was easier than getting inside; at least I didn't need to go through a scalper to get up here.
I figured I owed it to my many loyal followers -- who refresh this page every day waiting for my daily updates, who've signed up for the newsletter, who add me in their RSS feed, or whatever is done these days -- to actually attend the Olympics while they were in Korea. So I headed out, figuring I could get tickets to a curling event. That's one event that wouldn't sell out -- it was a Wednesday -- and hey, they had women's curling the same day, in case men's was crowded. What could possibly go wrong with my plan?
So...yeah, I had to settle for a less popular event, men's hockey, and dodged a long line thanks to a scalper with tickets to US vs Czech. Fortunately the seat was in a non-American section, and I found myself sitting in front of two British Columbians.
After the game, I went to Canada Olympic House looking forward to Canadian beer on tap...only to discover they were all out and were selling Coors instead.
I caught a train back in the evening, making this a day trip.
18 February 2018
Whenever people ask me where to find abandonments, I should just tell them: "get to know your neighbourhood a little better." Chances are, wherever you live in Seoul, there are a few abandoned places. In one part of my neighbourhood is Centennial Christian School International, which closed in 2016 for admissions irregularities. No, I haven't been inside; the building still seems cared for, like it could open any day.
18 February 2018
So it was still a day of the supposed Seollal meetup, but I was tired of planning things for people.
Instead, I turned to religion. Or at least, an abandoned military religious retreat. I'd been aware of it for a while, scouting it from outside and approaching the front gate, and finally determined it is unsupervised. The fence is still pretty secure, despite some fallen trees compromising it, I'd say better secured than some of the abandoned actual military bases I've visited.
The interior is nothing special. The buildings look like they could open tomorrow with no problem. I did not try any doors or get close to any windows, just in case there were alarms.
17 February 2018
Our adventuring this day took us to Hongdae, where we hit a few roofs and fantasised about hitting some cranes one final time before they disappear.
15 February 2018
Dong Cult Park
A long and adventure-filled day ended up in Dongdaemun, a place I like to visit once every major holiday while the migrant workers flow into Gwanghee-dong.
We hit a roof, where I got vertigo but endured waiting for blue hour, which paid off.
Then we went for Uzbek food, which is always a good time, but especially so on the holidays.
After that, we bought some store beers and went to sit under a bridge where we spent way too much time watching and cheering on a couple of ducks that clearly wanted to fuck each other.
From there we got a little separated as I found a washroom, the others went behind the bushes, and MO'D wandered off looking for a hotel.
Somehow after all that we came back together and had some late-night budae jjigae, which was a good choice.
15 February 2018
The Cat Houses of 588
See those colourful blankets down there? Those are shelters for cats. One security guard overseeing this area seems to have some district office support to improve the lives of cats in this area, providing food and shelter and even carrying out a trap-neuter-release program it seems.
After my previous visits, security has gotten a lot tighter. But never have I met a nobler human being working in the security industry. When he caught us I told him we were here to help cats, and he gave us this whirlwind tour of the area, showing us all the places where he'd left out food and built cat shelters.
I've never been so glad to be caught by security, let alone in a red-light district.
15 February 2018
For the first official meetup day, we went to a reliable abandoned neighbourhood I've been visiting a lot lately. I met up with Niall from Gwangju, who's probably the most prolific explorer in Korea I've seen.
We entered a demolition area, which just as I predicted had no workers during the long weekend, and got some fun up-close shots of old abandoned buildings dwarfed under big apartments under construction.
I try to carry cat food with me at all times now, but because it was the holiday I especially had cat food, and I left this neighbourhood with none left. I fed a very pregnant tortoiseshell living on a roof, and then I ran into an old tomcat just sitting on the ground among smashed bricks, looking like he'd given up, but I had no cat food left.
The heartbreaking thing about feeding stray cats here is it probably doesn't help much, just delaying the inevitable. Sometimes all I can do is give a cat its last meal, and make it a feast.
14 February 2018
It was Valentine's Day, on the eve of Lunar New Year. I wanted to make sure my meetup plans were in good shape -- oh, and I had lost a lenscap on my previous visit -- so I drove up to check for updates. There is one large part of this area facing active demolition, but it has always had workers. I figured the long weekend would be the perfect time to enter when the workers are gone, and it looked like everything was lined up.
Except there was one hitch: on my way up, I found an abandoned house at the side of the road.
After an RASKB lecture, we wandered through Jogyesa, I think on the way to another place to drink.
3 February 2018
I returned to the most recent abandoned neighbourhood, and this time I fixated on the section that had been mostly demolished, which left a pretty spectacular view of some remaining houses at the foot of some very tall new highrises.
During this visit we disturbed a squatter, found what I'm jokingly calling a druid's house, and saw some stuff from the Olympics.
2 February 2018
A magazine asked me for pictures of Seun Sangga and then once I provided them, it stopped replying to my emails. So Vice all over again. These pictures are divided a little odd, as the first bunch are ones I took pretty easily, and the second bunch are ones I more carefully edited.
2 February 2018
I went up to northern Seoul to visit an abandoned neighbourhood I'd heard about. One section was almost totally demolished, another was relatively untouched with people still moving out, and a third area was an old Hanok village I'd visited years earlier.
1 February 2018
Not the one you're thinking of. This building was somewhere secretive, no longer in use but still somewhat hidden. The assassin of Kim Gu apparently spent time here.
1 February 2018
I've been in contact with Rachel online ever since this story, but she contacted me out of the blue one time telling me she had a lead on another incendiary story. This time, the Pokemon Korea League was banning foreigners from competing, which has all the right elements for a viral news article: it's a little weird, it's about foreigners and Koreans, and it's very easy to sympathise with one side. In the end, foreign players were allowed to compete, but were ineligible for prizes and placements to represent the country in global tournaments. In a rare case, I think the paper did right by them. Rachel came to our office and I took some portraits which we never ended up using. Enclosed are two I like and two outtakes.
31 January 2018
As I exclaimed on Facebook, this is the most extreme solar eclipse I've ever experienced.
Okay, granted, I've experienced a pretty extreme solar eclipse back in 2010, and it was actually during the daytime, but it was a pretty good joke. This time, within one month we got to see a pretty badass moon followed by a lunar eclipse.
31 January 2018
Ned has become a fixture at the RAS, which I don't see anyone complaining about. He may have stumbled into his fate, as his grandfather had a major role in the Hungnam Evacuation, but he is a US Marine who has also made time to honour his ancestor.
He also runs a website that has mentioned me a few times.
I knew about the statue but I hadn't ever really noticed it before now, but this one time on my way home I took a moment to pay it some attention. Dr. Hyun and Ned's grandfather basically teamed up to save hundreds of millions of lives, possibly more.
One more reason, as tenuous as it may be to the original incident, to visit the area by my office.
30 January 2018
That's about all I can say. As I walked out back of my building, I looked up the street and managed to get this image. It was a beautiful scene and this image doesn't do it justice. Though I could have waited around and tried to recapture it from a better angle.
27 January 2018
So, Samia's back. Apparently New York was starting to suck as soon as it realised its most successful slumlord had been elected president of the whole country. I mean fair enough, but Trump is more likely to nuke Korea than Manhattan.
She came back and had another great concert at Leo's, after which she apparently went off to a drag show somewhere. When I followed her half an hour later, I ended up getting lost inside Korea's LGBTQ community, which is a good place to lose oneself.
20 January 2018
Note 7 in Gwangju
After my DSLR died, I had two decisions: die or start photographing everything on my phone, which considering I have a Note 7 may also lead to death.
We walked through Gwangju guided by an explorer I'd been hoping to meet for years, visiting a couple abandoned buildings and a pretty impressive rooftop. Then we went to Alleyway, a restaurant that serves high-quality beer and foreign food all in one location in a convenient package surrounded by a community that would be diluted if done the same in Seoul. After that, we went to a metal show at Bohemian. Gwangju might not have a lot of live music, but it has enough that is worth scrutiny and would make a big difference to anyone living down there.
20 January 2018
So while I was inside a Trump-branded prison cell theme room, I had the TV on and at first it showed a porn video with masked people boning, but then when I started paying attention I switched channels until I got to a channel showing a movie of Koreans resisting a tyrannical government. Around that time, I got a message from a contact that we would be meeting the very next day in the same place where I was watching Korean civilans getting gunned down for looking sideways at the military dictatorship. It evoked an emotion that can't be properly expressed without using that cliche "han" I still cling to.
We met up at this square in the city, where we totally randomly happened to run into Isaac, a friend from the Seoul hardcore music scene, there with his dad, who turned out to be a former Canadian diplomat on vacation visiting his son. Anyway, synchronicity is a friend of the urban explorer, and we did some exploring with the Isaacs until they had to catch a train back to Seoul.
This first gallery covers my D750 coverage until its battery died, shortly after emerging from our first abandonment. We hit an abandoned colatec which I wish I could have spent more time down in photographing stuff. But I worked very economically knowing my camera was about to die.
19 January 2018
Previously I've seen a Hilton Motel, and I've stayed in a Warkerhill Motel, and I could name numerous other businesses infringing on the brand of famous international companies. But out of the blue I figured there must be Trump motels in Korea, so I did a search, which brought me to Trump Muintel in Naju. This place was newly opened last year, and actually looked very nice. The fact it was branded "Trump" and had prison cell theme rooms, though, that was a little nuts. And that meant I had to go see for myself.
19 January 2018
Cheong Wa Dae
Part of what brought me down here was the knowledge I could visit a full Cheong Wa Dae replica. This has been on a to-do list, but finally I had enough of a reason to do a full presidential tour of southern Korea.
19 January 2018
Hapcheon Image Theme Park
So in a way, I went to sleep in the Bando Motel, and the next morning I woke up and found myself at the Bando Hotel, in occupation-era Kyungsung. This theme park collects old movie sets after they're finished and basically reconstructed a geographically imperfect Seoul, where you can move from Joseon through imperial era into the modern era by walking down the street. Not easy to get to but worth a visit for the right person.
18 January 2018
On a Thursday after work I set off across the country, hell-bent for Hapcheon County, a remote part of South Gyeongsang Province I'd never come anywhere near.
Amusingly enough, I found right next door to the podunk bus station, and literally a podunk bus station judging by the Korean names they use here, the closest possible motel was a Bando Motel.
Remarkable considering what I was here in this town to see.
Also, totally randomly, "bando" is a kind of millennial term for abandonments apparently.
17 January 2018
Someone disposed of cat litter wrong. It first appeared in this untied yellow garbage bag, and then the garbage collectors rejected it and stamped this message on it, warning of a 1 million won fine. The bag stayed there as is for a while, and some of the litter got out. Interesting to see what happens. In my 14 years here I've never seen any consequences of improper garbage disposal. As Kim Jong-un taught me last year, I had been doing things wrong, but it is safe to err on the side of regular disposal.
After I shared this image on a relevant Facebook group, many of us learned there actually is a special bag for cat litter. There apparently is a 50L bag for non-burnable trash we should be using, but they are not easy to find.
This all dates back over a year, to a ceremony in 2016 when I was awarded for a torch design suggestion with a big fat novelty cheque and an offer for either free Olympic event tickets or the chance to carry the torch.
A bunch of political stuff. The Korea Times publishes "shit" on the cover for probably the first time. Elderly people with flags of Korea, America, and Israel protest "communism." Unnecessary English words.
Ned has a very interesting story, having come to Korea only to find people still remembered his grandfather who played a major role in the Hungnam Evacuation, which saw 205,000 soldiers and civilians evacuated from northeastern Korea during the war. This wasn't some small-time Dunkirk-type operation. The Hungnam Evacuation may be a good part of the reason why the US didn't go nuclear in 1950, and there are an estimated 1 million people alive today because of it, including President Moon.
After I introduced Matt to The Korea Times, we ended up teaming up to take on a different kind of subject (for me): a restaurant that dabbled in some imagery teasing the US. You can read what we came up with here, but long story short, we concluded there wasn't much depth to any particular anti-American ideas there. The word "Me Cook" does seem to bother some advanced learners of Korean from America, but not all. This is a little less blatant than if, let's say, some Canadians opened a restaurant called "Murica."
6 January 2018
After we were done with the Monkey House, we went into town to visit the Ville. This one in particular has more life than the other one I've been visiting, and a rejuvenation project has resulted in some very striking street art. Also, we ran into an American Chinese restaurant. It was not great quality, but that in itself added a bit of authenticity. A lot of the food they seemed to just aim for the appearance rather than the flavour, resulting in a noodles dish that was just udon noodles deep fried. But the chicken dish we got was still pretty good.
6 January 2018
One site I learned about a few months ago was the Monkey House, but it's a long trip by Seoul Metro and honestly not a very exciting structure visually. What it actually is is pretty horrific, a place where they sent Korean prostitutes serving US soldiers when they got STDs. They would basically be imprisoned and given painful injections to cure their infections, and their screams inspired the nickname. I have no reason to believe this was the only one, and may just be the only known surviving abandoned one.
One word of advice, it's not worth going to Dongdaemun Mansion's roof. It's open but there are cameras everywhere and a worker who will respond quickly. He only was cooperative with me when I explained my reason for being there, something I wouldn't get away with normally.
4 January 2018
Matt is back in Korea, having completed his MA in Korean studies at the University of Washington. He's only here for a couple months, but I'm trying to lure him into being a columnist at work.
31 December 2017
New Year's Eve
I had to work New Year's Eve until second deadline, which came early because everyone wanted to get out of there. After, I met up with the Chinese and Taebaek tourists and we followed Morgan and Bomi and other guests up Naksan.
It was a very weird coincidence, as earlier just that day I got some news about something interesting happening in that exact area you'll hear about on this site in a couple weeks. Spoilers, there's going to be fire.
Anyway, our usual New Year's Eve fireworks fun was ruined by the sudden increased CCTV and a disembodied voice telling us to stop doing what we were doing, from climbing on the wall to lighting fireworks. Possibly next year we'll be forced to consider going somewhere else.
30 December 2017
Mullae Metal Show
Apparently earlier this year, Michael was travelling through Japan, and so was Jericho at the same time. So they met up and he took her to a Japanese metal-visual kei show. It's kind of his scene, so he wanted to show it off while she was here. I was interested to go along too so I also headed to GBN, a venue I have frequented, about as much as anywhere considering how often I go to shows anymore.
It was strange being there and being a complete stranger to all the bands (except Huqueymsaw). People generally saw me as the strange punk version of Michael who'd strayed over into a different room than he'd usually be in. It's probably the closest I can get to experiencing what it's like to be new in the Korean punk scene these days.
People on this side are generally the same as the punk-hardcore side, though probably a little less spontaneous. I've always been interested in knowing more about the metal scene, and my interview with HarryBigButton a few days later was maybe slightly related.
29 December 2017
Gongdeok Jokbal Market
Jericho told me there was one particular Korean food she'd had in LA Koreatown which she was curious to find. After hearing her describe it a bit I immediately knew she meant bossam, one of my favourite Korean foods. There's no shortage of restaurants around serving it, and despite how it generally looks, it's considered a low-class food in Korea. When figuring out where to go to get it, first I suggested a newly opened restaurant near my work. Then I thought better and suggested we try the pigs' feet market near Gongdeok Station. Pig feet restaurants generally also serve bossam.
Fortunately, it turns out Chinese people also have a concept that the more run-down the restaurant, the better the food. The market itself is quite a sight to behold, anyway.
25 December 2017
Abandoned Army Base
I brought back a few friends to see the abandoned base, figuring there was safety in numbers. This time there were no wild boars sighted, but we saw at least one deer running away from us through the brush.
There have been a few changes since last visit, as it appears OCN has been filming a TV show here, and for no discernible reason someone's been putting up fences along the main road to discourage vehicles approaching some of the buildings. Also, we almost got locked inside.
25 December 2017
It's been a busy year for Santa, who only had time for a brief appearance in the tunnel on December 23. We caught up with him while he was waiting for a ride and had a chance for some Chinese tourists, who normally wouldn't be visited by Santa, to sit on his lap.
24 December 2017
I was asked where we could see Christmas lights in Seoul. It's not quite like the West, but the best thing I could come up with was Cheonggyecheon, which was crowded for some festival. We were able to avoid the crowd and get pictures, and then after we headed to Ikseon-dong for food and drinks.
23 December 2017
Santa Wars: The Last Host
I liked the latest Star Wars movie, except for that one scene where the hero escapes and runs down the stairwell, only to get to the ground level and discover an impassable door, so he retraces his steps a few levels and finds himself in a totally closed luxury department store with no way out. Oh wait, that happened to me in real life after I saw the movie at Lotte Cinema Avenuel in Myeongdong.
Anyway, the porgs die. Leia dies. Chewie dies. Ben Solo dies. Everyone who ever existed dies. Especially those born a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I mean what, did Poe Dameron make it to 1 million years old? Were you expecting to wander into the Sarlacc pit in Yongsan? It may feel like it sometimes, but that thing is a life form that is long since dead. No need for teasers.
Except if you click on this gallery showing our Christmas adventure. I was less drunk when I wrote it and I know I said a bunch of spoilery things about Star Wars.
17 December 2017
Just a few pictures taken while driving around whenever.
Please remember that these photos are all copyrighted to me. If you want to use
them in any way, there's a 90 per cent chance I'll give you my permission, and be able to
give you a copy with a higher DPI.