Gyeongdong Herbal Markets

I went to these markets where the majority of stalls are selling products with innate medicinal or health giving benefits. An incredible array of stuff. You’ve got your usual mammoth selection of various ginseng roots, mushrooms harder than concrete and as big as grapefruits, then there’s bark and twigs and branches of every conceivable kind for as long as you can walk.

A few days later I went to see a ‘Hanisa’ (Oriental Doctor) and in assessing me, he made me put my thumb and third finger together and then he tried to pull them apart. When he put a massive chunk of Korean ginseng in the other hand for my to firmly grasp, he simply couldn’t do it. When he put some other medicinal artifact in my palm, he could pull apart my fingers with minimal effort.

Published in: on Monday, August 28, 2006 at 1:35 am  Comments (10)  

Seoul International Zen Center

I went to the Seoul International Zen Center. It was beautiful. Really old temples, I watched several ceremonies and people bowing to buddhist shrines in smaller sized temples. There was a really lovely air about the place. It was also adjacent to a host of national parks, yet still up in the hills not too far from a subway station.

I went there for Sunday Dharma, which included 2 hours of meditation and a talk by one of the Zen Priests. I lasted about 9 minutes of the meditation, but had to sit out the first half hour before I could leave. And the talk was really unexpected. The priest was an East European with a strong Polish accent who ranted and raved about the war in the middle east, 9/11 and the Vietnam War! Quite interesting though.

Simultaneously, I was a little disillusioned with the visit. Seeing people bowing and praying and chanting to an ‘other’ sorta made me realise that buddhism in this form – with the robes, the chanting, all the trappings, bells and whistles – is just like any other religion. Might as well be bloody Christianity.

Anyhow I went home and bought my favourite book on buddhism “Buddism: Plain and Simple” on eBay. 🙂

Overall it was a really lovely excursion. I recommend it.

Published in: on Monday, August 7, 2006 at 3:28 am  Comments (2)  

The Soundtrack of Seoul

I had iTunes on random, and it happened upon a close-to-perfect playlist when it played Dr. Dre, followed by They Might Be Giants.

Here’s the precise song order:

1. Dr Dre – Bitch Niggaz
2. They Might Be Giants – I am a Grocery Bag

I found it sorta fitting I was in Korea when this happened.

Published in: on Friday, July 28, 2006 at 10:06 pm  Comments (4)  

Korea and Japan

For anyone having trouble making the distinction between people from different countries within Asia…

Published in: on Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 4:11 am  Comments (4)  

Pifan Film Festival

I went to see some new Asian cinema at the Pifan International Fantastic Film Festival. All the volunteers got a real kick out of seeing a whitey at their cute little event. They were in clumps of six or seven around the district, and one would say something in Korean. I do the natural thing and say “Annyong Hasseyo”, hello in Korean, only to be met with wails of laughter.

Anyhow I survived. There was a NZ section of films, an Audrey Hepburn section as well as an Italian 60s horror special! On this day I got to see a special press Q & A for “Wicked Flowers”, a new Japanese indie film, with the director (who looked like the main star!) and the two main cast.

One of the organisers who helped me with directions over the phone came up to me afterwards to chat, and ended up driving me to the next event which was a screening of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” set to a live accompaniment of a Korean electronic and singong artist. At first I thought, oh Jesus, he’s just playing a NIN CD! But as the sounds twisted and turned, his voice sounding like a power tool industrial instrument, I realised I was witnessing something pretty fucking amazing.

Published in: on Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 3:54 am  Comments (3)  

Take Away

Many dudes here whizz around the streets on motorcycles and scooters. A few ride with just the one hand, in the other they hold  a large metal box by the handle.

I’ve always wondered what they were. Well, sitting in a bar in Hondae a couple of nights ago, one of these guys parks his scooter outside the bar and waltzes in with his large silver box and precedes to unload 2 ceramic plates of fried rice covered with glad wrap, followed by maybe 6 or 7 of the ubiquitous side dishes.

Turns out they’re Chinese take-away delivery guys. He’ll return in just under 2 hours to collect the plates. and all this for two for about W8000 (maybe $11.80).

Service!

My boss lighting up a ciggie during my job interview.

Stunning looking subway ads.

Dinner in Gwangheungchang.

Published in: on Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 8:48 pm  Comments (5)  

Hondae

About 9 minutes walk from the shiny bars, restaurants, DVD and PC bangs and 4 to 8 story buildings and bright neon of Shinchon is the far more understated ‘Hondae’.

Filled with tiny espresso and wine bars, excellent exhibition spaces and an equal amount of sidewalk restaurants and street food stalls, the streets that peel off from the main drags are full of these places that are instantly affordable, relaxed and groovy.

Iri Cafe

There are also many streets of clothes and tshirt shops as well as the ubiquitous ‘market’ (junk) fare I feel confident comes from the same suppliers as the QV Markets. I’m a little disappointed in the t-shirt situation though. I’ve seen millions of t-shirts with smart ass writing – my fave is a picture of a gnarly cat staring at you with the caption “If you want a friend… get a dog.” – but people here I think are so in love with the exoticness of the English language that I’ve not seen Korean hangul on a single t-shirt.

Exhibition & Street Art:

I recently saw an article in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining the 100 most expensive cities on the globe and Seoul came in second. I can only assume they weren’t spending much time in these districts. Cheapest Vs cheapest, this place is on an equal footing to Melbourne, if anything slightly cheaper.

A friend recently took me on an ‘exhibition crawl” through some of Hondae’s best galleries; click the screen-grab below to see a short video summary of my favourite at Zandari Gallery.

Published in: on Thursday, June 29, 2006 at 9:30 pm  Comments (3)  

City Hall

This is where I watched Australia Vs Brazil.

This is where I watched Korea Vs France. Click on it to see more.

Published in: on Saturday, June 24, 2006 at 8:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shinchon


I’ve moved into a hasook in Shinchon.

1) A hasook is a block of apartments (medium sized rooms) where the landlord cooks you breakfast and dinner all inclusive. Still can’t quite face kimchi at 7:30am yet, though.

2) Sinchon is unreal. It sorta encompasses the Shinchon, Hongik and Hondae Districts. There’s hundreds of cafes, bars, restaurants, pubs, as well as independent & second hand clothes stores, coffee houses (mainly Hongik/Hondae), clubs, band venues, you understand by now. A really convivial, carnivale-esque vibration. I was out the other night and there’s people everywhere. A couple were playing badminton in the city centre. It’s a great district and I will post some photos and even a short virtual wander through in a week or so.

My place is about 150 metres away from the nucleus of Shinchon. Which is perfect, because even though you can see everything just down the road, up here feels like a little quiet block.

I just got back from the local milk bar. I bought another icecream and sat nearby to a couple of locals – the milk bar owner having a break and perhaps his mother. They’re just sitting watching people pass. They invited me to sit in between them, which I did, and I started reading aloud the Korean signs around us… Only she insisted reading them before I get a chance to finish. How am I supposed to learn the language like that! 🙂

We sat back and watched people pass, it was a balmy but not uncomfortable evening.

Tonight I’m heading out to City Hall at 4am to watch Korea crush France. Right after we have beaten Brazil(!?) Weird, huh? Me and sport. Even bought a t-shirt for the night. But between Australia going mad with soccer, Korea fucking insane with it, and watching the last game when Korea beat Tago and finding myself yelling at the top of my voice as Korea won each goal – I think I’ve been swept up in the soccer tidal wave with everyone else.

Published in: on Monday, June 19, 2006 at 1:35 am  Comments (29)  

Too Much

The city is overwhelming. The size of the city. Another city around each corner. All of those mulit-storey neon-light-streets postcards coming to life right in front of you in every direction for as long as you walk. Awesome, but initially just too much. Not knowing where to start or where to go breeds anxiousness, then irritation, then depression. Flat.

Then you let go.

Seoul is just awesome. All of the small things and all the big things. A mega metropolis of 10.7 million people. Asia’s best kept secret. Millions of groups of people out every night, smiling, laughing, walking amongst the neon, bars 2 levels below ground and eight storeys above, restaurants whose tables spill onto the road, diners having their menu choices cooked for them at their table, clusters of Seoulites crowded around street vendors selling fried snacks. Scooters and cars edging past one another, pedestrians instinctively moving out of the way at the last moment without even looking, teenagers watching movies on their hand-held devices walking through the subway as they pass elderly women selling rinsed lettuce leaves on large tea-towels. A city so massive but with pockets of personal and intimacy everywhere you look.

It’s such an amazing energy, it’s intoxicating.

People always go on about how great Asian food is. Here’s an example: We went to a local cafe in the Hongik district. I ordered Mackerel, my friend ordered congee. Which we got… along with 11 other dishes. Small bowls, each a different condiment, each exquisite. And mine cost W5000 ($7). 

And the condiments aren’t exclusive to meals. You almost won’t need dinner when you order a beer; the condiments don’t stop! And different wherever you go: once I got prawn flavour stick-chips, another time a 3-part bowl of stringy white squid chew things, coconut chili peanuts and sweet seaweed sticks, but my favourite was at an art space bar: With my beer, I was served 4 sao crackers and 6 piping hot steamed green beans, all neatly arranged in a line.

Other fave things about Seoul: vending machines for toiletries, others for 45cent coffee (didn’t taste that one); motorcyclists who ride with their phone sticking out of their helmet so they can still talk while riding; icecreams at milk bars are 70 cents; bars with names like ‘Beatles’, ‘The Doors’, ‘The Velvet Underground’ and ‘Judas and Slayer’; and my favourite bar in Sinchon: it’s underground, a cat and its kitten are usually sauntering up and down the bar, you have to get your beer from the fridge and open it with a bottle opener yourself, and the guy always plays cool music – he even played “A Ghost Devotion”!

Published in: on Monday, June 19, 2006 at 1:32 am  Comments (4)