events

Gongju City 공주시, Chungcheongnam-do

Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.

 East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I'm off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There's a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don't think it needs to. I don't know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense. 

Gongju bus station is right in the middle of town. Now there are two bus stations, I got dropped off at Singwan (신관), but there's another station closer to the museums and the city walls (where I wanted to go) at Sanseong (산성). Now I know. 

First stop after the bus terminal, a walk along the river on the way to cross Geumgang river. Gongju is one of typical towns built along the banks of an important river back when cars don't exist. North part of the city is the newer bits (very typical Korean small town), and southern banks (the rive gauche of Gongju!) is where the historical parts are. I can't comment on the lack of activities, it is after all Tuesday afternoon and in the middle of summer. It could be normal that you could take a nap in the middle of the main road and not get run over. 

Crossing the river at Geumgang Bridge (금강교) is probably a good idea. Half of the bridge is one of those old style iron trussed bridge with one lane for cars to cross in one direction and two smaller lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, and the occasional delivery motorcycles. Bring a wide angle 35mm or wider.  

Crossing Geumgang Bridge. There's a two direction pedestrian/2wheeler lanes, and one lane for cars. The fort walls are visible on the left perched on the hill.

Right when you get to the southern side of the river, the fortress wall is unmistakable. It's a hot day, and I've had my share of fortress walls this week so I will give this one a miss. But it's there. And I think it can be covered in an hour. 

For lunch, I walked into a shop and they asked if I wanted Gongju gukbab. Why not. I was thinking of cold noodles, but fine. Preserved vegetables, slices of beef and leek in a broth that you usually get as side soup in a beef place. Slightly spicy but not too much, more salty than spicy. Good kimchi too, but I can't say it's artisanal. I'd say average. 7 years in Korea has made me into a kimchi expert. I promise no food pictures here. 

 I did a small detour along the village roads and came across this new-old-stock (NOS) patio in the middle of nowhere. 

I did a small detour along the village roads and came across this new-old-stock (NOS) patio in the middle of nowhere. 

 It is common to see loudspeakers all over the Korean countryside. Sirens do go off sometimes, but I probably see more emergency broadcast SMS nowadays than loudspeakers. 

It is common to see loudspeakers all over the Korean countryside. Sirens do go off sometimes, but I probably see more emergency broadcast SMS nowadays than loudspeakers. 

The walk from town to King Munryeong's tomb is a bit of a hike. Ok for those that regularly do 5-10km runs in the morning. Other mortals I recommend the bus. 101 seems to go there and they all seem to take Cashbee, a system of NFC payment that is used outside Seoul, but T-money that you have from Seoul should work on it too. Tap on, tap off - no need for conversation. 

Anyway I'm on foot. So I can't comment on the bus. Took time to go into any small roads to look at the village accommodations. There are b&b minbaks almost everywhere. No fear of not finding place to sleep. 

First museum I encounter is King Muryeong's tomb fronted by a museum with a small exhibit and most importantly air conditioning. And elevator brings visitors up to the large hilly park where the tombs are. It appears to be free. 

There are two ways to the Gongju National Museum, about 500m away. I know because I went using the main road and back through the mountains that involves steep roads and emerging at the higher end of King Muryeong's tomb where you can go back down to the tomb entrance and more air conditioning. 

 Inside the Hanok village. Not really visible here, but entrance to each door is by NFC keycard. Nice. 

Inside the Hanok village. Not really visible here, but entrance to each door is by NFC keycard. Nice. 

Just outside the National Museum is a Hanok Village. There's a reception so I'm guessing you rent small apartments and stay there with traditional under floor ondol heating (one could see piles of firewood outside behind the apartments and a small hole to chuck the wood into). The Hanok village is for future research. 

I must be the only tourist on this hot day. Temperature is 34°C outdoors and walking will just make you sweat yourself silly. Bring plenty of water. I recommend cargo pants like 5.11 Tactical's shorts that pack easily 4 bottles of 750ml water with space left for phone and other stuff. 

The museum (air conditioned no less, and free entry) is partly closed when I was there. Only the bottom floor where the King's history and artifact, including reconstructed coffin and stuff from the tombs are exhibited. Let's say it's a combination of Chinese and Japanese style items. What? You want to give it a miss? Come on, at least pretend to feel more in touch with history when you see it.  

I didn't spend much time at the tombs. Asian royal tombs are generally just a mound. Bigger the fella, the bigger the mound. Largest one I've seen belongs to Chinese emperors. Anyway the walk is in the open, obviously, and can't blame me for preferring air conditioning. I've gone through 4 bottles of water by now. Even my Leica feels hot as hell. Case for plastic cameras in the future. 

No clue what this is. it is in between the tombs and the museum. Thought it was funny to a see a wrapped up building. 

What I like about Korea? The UNESCO sites are dirt cheap or free to enter. In China it would be the most expensive spots to visit. 

Going back to the idea of having an electric scooter next time I travel, it took more than one hour to walk to the museum. Don't really regret it too much, but that means half a day is gone by the time I took my time with the exhibits. There is no time left for the fort and it is time to go back to Seoul. But I've seen enough walls. And so that's it... Day trip it is.

 Bus #101 from the museum to the bus terminal. 

Bus #101 from the museum to the bus terminal. 

Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit

The first time I visited the walls was right at the start of my posting to this country back in 2010. That's 7 years ago! I remember it was a foggy cloudy day then. Suwon is close enough to Seoul it could be done within a day including walking the entire wall. In my first trip I came by metro and then local bus. This time, I'm taking bus #1007 from Jamsil Lotte World underground bus terminal right to the northern tip of the wall (장안문) where there is a ticket office. Tickets cost 1,000 won (2017) and you get a map and a round sticker that needs to be shown so that you don't get charged more at other ticket offices around the wall. 

 GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel.

GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel.

Let me try to describe the wall. The steepest part is in the east on Paldangsan, and the rest of the walls are pretty flat. There are watch towers along the perimeter and the patio type are open and makes for good resting places (for your sandwich, for naps, etc). 

Instead of making this post too wordy, I'll make it more gallery centric. Enjoy.

Lisbon, Portugal

This is my first time to Lisbon. It was part of a business trip, so as can be expected, it is mainly airport, hotel, meetings and then back to the airport. However, I planned to have an evening out in town on the last evening before flying out. Travelled light as I was not sure about security in the city (it felt safe, but take standard precautions). Packed a Leica M2, Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE as I wanted maximum sharpness at f1.4 and brought along 2 rolls of 400TX film which I will push to 800 ISO to get acceptable exposure. Walked around down town and here are the results. Another thing to add is how cheap it felt to be in Lisbon - after being used to the cost of cities like Paris. A taxi from the airport to town cost less than 10 Euros, and cocktails in bars are 3 Euros each. Makes for a case for a return visit in the future. 

 Marques de Pombal Metro Station

Marques de Pombal Metro Station

 Baixa-Chiado Station

Baixa-Chiado Station

 Chiado at night

Chiado at night

 Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos

Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos

 Buy canned sardines for souvenirs. It keeps forever and makes good emergency food. 

Buy canned sardines for souvenirs. It keeps forever and makes good emergency food. 

 Ministry of Justice building at Comércio Square

Ministry of Justice building at Comércio Square

 Arco da Rua Augusta

Arco da Rua Augusta

 Santa Justa Elevator, connecting street level with upper streets. 

Santa Justa Elevator, connecting street level with upper streets. 

 Fountain at Rossio Square

Fountain at Rossio Square

Oh, and don't forget to buy the egg tarts. They rock!

Seoul - Dongdaemun on Sunday

Out of the markets in Seoul, the one I like the most is Dongdaemun. You can find anything you want there. I'm not talking about consumer stuff, of course you can find anything you want there if the market is big enough, but parts of this market has industrial stuff as well, and that makes for great photo opportunities. With black & white film, some parts of this market can have that classic vintage look to the photos.  

The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map

So what happens on Sundays. First of all, in that area that is marked in English as "Sallim-dong" on the map above, most of the shops are closed. There are some workshops that are still open on Sunday - but it looks like the only reason is to catch up on the backlogged work. You can safely say that it is generally closed on Sunday. So there are all these alleyways that are devoid of human beings, but you can still get a sense of the spirit of the market. So over a few Sundays I made my way there, walked around, got lost a few times, and once I do, I just walk straight and eventually I'll hit a metro station and I'll find my bearings again. 

Here is are some of the photos taken during the survey. They're all taken with Leica Ms and I believe a majority of them were with 24mm, which I prefer in tight places and it retains a rectilinear look unlike something wider. Enjoy and leave comments if you wish.  

These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet. 

Walking into the small alleys, here's the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.  

One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes. 

 ... And sometimes there are the more discrete fuel-saving ones too...

Or these ones that look like those human transporter in smaller towns in China.

Here's a hybrid Daelim.

Or a human powered pull-carts. I guess they just leave them on Sundays since no one will steal them.

Motor envy

Stairway to nowhere

Lets have a look at the alleys. There are the occasional pedestrian or dogs and cats, but otherwise it is quiet as hell

I believe that this restaurant was opened when I passed by. Usually places like these have the best food, but I was not hungry at the time. 

I think I know what they make here...

Here's one area with a jumble of signboards

I took this obligatory bokeh shot. The 24mm Elmarit ASPH does a nice job at it. In the background, some sign of humanity. 

I like machine shops. They bring the feeling of being in the industrial age. That could be the reason I almost always look for them to photograph

Discarded machine parts litter this alley way close to the stream up north of the original map on this post. They could be spare parts. 

 More parts...

More parts...

Here's a guy that's working overtime in his workshop.

The deeper you go into the alleys, the more one-man workshop you will find. I don't know what this one does, it looks like a jewellery workbench. 

I think I'll end right here. There are no real order to the photos, I just put them all here. I will probably have enough photos to do an essay one day, but the trickiest part is to think of a topic to write about. Dongdaemun...  

From Seoul Land to Jamsil, the hard way

The route is simple. The easy way is to take the subway, and according to an online calculator, it takes 30mins and 1250Won and you feel lethargic and unhealthy after the trip. Let me show you another way, about 6 hours, free apart from some bananas, powerbars and 2 litres of water and plenty of patience. In return you will get some nice sceneries and fresh air. With all the nice mountains around Seoul, there's no excuse not to do it the old fashion way. ​

​Other more reputable sites will tell you what is in Seoul Land. I've only been to the zoo and only because it was free that day. Will it be a surprise if I said there are animals there? In confined spaces. With plenty of noisy kids. Discovering that there are no birds to fling on catapults. So collect yourself at the carpark, run up Cheonggyesan 청계산 due east, come down where Dallaenae-ro 달래내로 meets the expressway, and then crossing some shops and farms, proceed up the second mountain Inneungsan 인릉산 and end up somewhere in Seongnam, close to the airbase and then run along the river up north to Jamsil. 

For this trip, I took a backpack with some emergency kit and wore a Suunto Ambit. The screenshot above is what was recorded for the trip. The plots are quite rough but it should be able to hack together a plan for the trip. I find that the best map to use if you had a phone with you would be Daum or Naver since they have the map of the trails. Be aware that the maps are not entirely accurate, sometimes there are sub-path along the way that was created recently. Sometimes they are parallel paths and sometimes it looks like a whole mob went for a shit together and created a new path. 

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Preview for Tromsø, Norway: 1-12 March 2013

Hints of Aurora Borealis in Laksvatn to the east of Tromsø, Norway. 

For a little more than a week in March, I made the trip up north, way up north to Tromsø, Norway to catch the aurora activity during this year's solar max. What a trip it turned out to be. There was no CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) during that two weeks and I spent most of the time caught in a snow storm, but it was a trip to remember for a lifetime, maybe not as I have plans to go back there in the future. Anyway, while I work on my "opus", enjoy this photo. 

Bohyeonsan Observatory, Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do

​The idea for this place came about one day while I was browsing the contents of Korean Airline's inflight magazine and I read about a small village north of Yeongcheon very close to the large city of Daegu. This town decided they needed an identity and a signature dish. And it so happens that there is an observatory right on top of Bohyeonsan 부현산 and apparently they nicked-name the village "Star City" for us English-inclined speakers, and since there seems to be quite a number of Korean parsley growers, they started making a fuss out of grilled pork belly 삼겹살 and parsley 미나리. 

And as it always goes with me, time to check it out. Interesting combination. Stars and parsley. I recall the time I was in turkey close to the Syrian border where every meal seems to have a large side serving of parsley and how I loved it. 

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Jeonju, Jeollabuk, South Korea: Bibimbap Town

Directly south of Seoul, is the small town of Jeonju. There is plenty of history in this town, I’m sure, but this trip is not about history but about eating. No, I have not sold out yet, it is still a travel site, and not another “foodie blog”. Back to the topic at hand… Jeonju is just 3 hours away from Seoul, enough to get there in the morning, have lunch and dinner and then come back before midnight, which is what I’m going to do.

At the Express Bus Terminal, the bus leaves from Central City terminal about every 10 minutes. There are two classes of bus, but I’d go for the more expensive service that cost 17,900W one way. According to the map, it is just about 200km away, but as usual, traffic jam plus heavy rain means that the trip took 3 hours. There will be a break half way to Jeonju, and the rest stop i surprisingly well equipped. There is a small supermarket, and plenty of shops selling sit down meals or korean junk food. They even have toebokki and sundae (korean blood sausage, not ice cream).

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Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines' inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So... mind made up, and ready to go.

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Patagonia: Civil Strife in Puerto Natales & Evacuation

12 January 2011: The road to Puerto Natales

It was supposed to be a simple day, we were suppose to drive to Punta Arenas today, and I would split up with the group and go alone by bus to Ushuaia. But the last few days there were some rumours about a civil strife in this part of Chile, mainly in Magellanes region over the rise of heating fuel. The whole region was supposed to go into a protest mode and they showed their displeasure by trying to hurt the economy of their own region, and in this place it means shutting down the tourist machine. At this point we were not too sure about what that means, there were police at the hotel this morning in Las Torres but they didn't know what the latest status was. All we heard is that at Punta Arenas, the road to the city was blocked by protestors and tourists will have to walk the whole distance. 

The choices then was either to drive back to Argentina to escape the blockade, or continue the drive to Punta Arenas, and have the option to spend the night at Puerto Natales if the situation was not favourable. Even the drive to Argentina was not guaranteed as the protestors could block the border too. 

It was basically plenty of unknowns and at worst case it was a regional lock down. 

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