The Maoul Bus*


I walked up and down the street looking for the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. Where I was going was only four stops away in that direction, but I soon realised that the bus only went in the opposite direction, which left me a good fifteen stops away.

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I bit the bullet and crossed the street. Before long a stubby little green bus trundled up to the bus stop. The doors jerked open quickly like a trap and an assortment of people disembarked. Once the bus was empty I stepped on, found a seat, and sat there waiting for what appeared to be the moment when the bus was full enough to move on.

I thought at first there was an age limit, me being the youngest on board by a good thirty years at least. This notion was shot once a school girl got on and buried her face busily in the screen of her smartphone, her hair hanging down over her ears and face providing the perfect shield from the banal surroundings.

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As the bus pulled away a woman carrying her toddler waved it down and she got on, sitting just in front of me, the child’s face buried in the cosiness of her mothers neck. Occasionally the child would peek up at me, and I would smile back, and she would bury her face again in her mother’s neck.

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The bus moved on and stop after stop more people clambered on, the bus seemingly rocking from each additional weight. It felt like it would collapse with every groove and divot in the street the tyres met. It hauled itself around tight bends, up hills, and over speed ramps. All the time the standing passengers held on tightly to the precarious handrails dangling from the ceiling.

There were all-sorts on this bus. An elderly couple who bickered back over each comment shared between them. A primly dressed university student talking quietly on his phone. A short and gnarled man with a glowing winter weather beaten face dressed from head to toe in black. A lady, out of place it seemed, in a long beige coat of smooth wool with a faux mink stoal around her neck, earrings glitzing, and her sunglasses black as her well dressed hair standing out against her pale makeup adorned face.

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I sat there watching as the bus winded through so many alleys I forget. It groaned up a steep hill and slipped back down on the other side, revealing a panoramic view of Seoul and its river Han adorned with highrise dressings on its far bank.

These streets it wound through were narrow and a constant battle for space ensued. Cars slipped into every possible space, while men and women walked up and down next to the bus arms full of bags and the likes. The bus wove its way through expertly and without apparent complaint.

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These streets were full with businesses whose trade was only barely recognisable through the window trappings. People gazed in at mannequins fashioned the same way for twenty years. Proprietors stood on doorways and gazed out at the world going by. The bus moved on, up another hill or around another corner.

And then I arrived. I pulled myself through the throng of passengers, pushing the stop button on my way. The doors flung open again with a clatter and I jumped clear before the shut on me as I escaped. I turned and watched as the diesel engine spluttered exhaust fumes as it excelerated away full to bursting with bundled black silhouettes destined for somewhere else in the locale.

(* the maoul bus – 마을 버스 – is a local bus service which services neighbourhoods in the bigger towns and cities of Korea. This particular bus was located in Yongsan-gu, and serviced Hanam, Bogwang-dong, and Itaewon)

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013

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Yeongtong in November, Take 2


A while back I wrote how I had been enjoying what seemed to be an especially long autumn here in Yeongtong-dong. Over the past few weeks I’ve been gradually editing some of the pictures from this post, and this is what I’ve come up with.

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I’ve been trying to share these out on the Internet to gauge the quality of them, and it’s not easy. While I use flickr for many photographs, I get a lot of views this way, but little in the way of likes or comments. In comparison, I’ve been trying out the photography site 500px.com also, and while the appreciation levels can be quite high, less appreciated photographs seem to get little to no views at all. If anything I find myself chasing after a higher pulse score with every upload, and to be honest I find the lack of likes for some pictures I’m proud of quite disheartening. At least with flickr I can rely on a higher number of views, although I never really know who the viewers are.

So I’m not sure where I really stand. Are my photos actually good, or are they not, or are they just suffering for that eternal internet problem of being one more tiny pixel in a hundred billion others? I think I already know the answer.

Yangyang Traditional Market


Across Korea traditional markets are still a common feature. Taking place every five days in towns and even cities, the markets give a brief insight into an older part of Korea. For the most part these markets are straightforward occasions and possibly a bit like you could imagine in the so-called olden days, drawing in all the local populace for not only business but also social reasons.

Throughout you can see people meeting and doing business, while at the same time there is a good quantity of back slapping and hearty laughing by the stalls. There are rows and rows of people, mostly old women it has to be said, selling what is clearly the excess from their small gardens, and for them it seems to be as much a chance to get out and meet people, with the added benefit of actually making some money.

This is a K-Pop free zone. Not because of the age, but because of the distance it sits from the modern and vibrant image which K-Pop and Hallyu parades as Korean. There are no hanboks, palaces, models with plastic surgery, dramatic light shows, or indeed very many young people at all. Korea will be more like this, the majority of the population being between 30 and 50 years old, and this relatively young country will soon be an old one holding on to its past as much as its future pushes to break free.

These markets are not only rural occasions, as they function within every city, the most famous being Moran Market. Travel past the glitz of any main street and burried in its alleys and side streets this side of Korea persists, struggling against the tide fueled by a minority keen to present a new Korea to the world.

Talk will persist eternally about how to combine these two elements but one is always going to be a loser. I’m not trying to sound critical here, just to explain a reality which isn’t spoken of much. Too many distractions seem to occupy the imaginations of everyone invested in Korea with a voice, but still Korea carries on, some struggling, a few thriving, many taking what they can from the ride and hoping for the best in the end. It’s no denying what demographic the people thriving usually make up, and if you need it hint, it is rarely the vendors and patrons of places like Yangyang market.

Below is a selection of an extended set of photographs now available to view on flickr. Please click this link to see more!

November in Yeongtong


Just as I had my camera on the way home from work last week, I had it again yesterday as I walked to and from work. This time it was nice and bright out and ideal for catching the last of the autumn leaves.

In Korea you’ll never hear the end of the talk about the colours of the trees. And I won’t lie, often I forget how splendid it is. Now last year I may have been preoccupied with +1’s impending arrival, but I think this year Yeongtong is looking especially fine. The weather has been splendid, without the usual rain and occasional gale, so perhaps this is why we are being treated to this fine frieze of leaves.

Of course just as I all but finish this post it starts to rain.

I won’t bore you any further with my interpretations of this loveliness, and just get down to the photos. I haven’t tampered with them, except for the odd crop. I use a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm 1:1.8f DX lens (if you want to buy me a new fancy lens you’re more than welcome – its my birthday soon if you need an excuse).

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All photography copyright Conor O’Reilly 2013. If you’d to use any of these images please contact me

Days of Chuseok


The Chuseok holiday is ending slowly here. All that is left is the rest of the weekend, but that’s not really Chuseok. Most businesses will open up tomorrow in the hope of catching those desperate to restock their fridge and fill their belly with something other than Chuseok food.

Of course we suffer in Korea this year because Chuseok, a three day holiday, has fallen on a Thursday, so the three days around it also meld into Saturday and Sunday making it a nice rounded five day break. There will be a very slow and more unenthusiastic than usual start to work all around the country this Monday.

Myself, Herself, and +1 have been on the east coast since Tuesday. The town, as you may already know, is called Jumunjn (주문진) and it’s where Herself was born and grew up. Her parent’s house is a short walk from the beach, and to a certain extent it is within very short distance of some fairly nice countryside. If you’re fortunate enough to have a car then there’s a wealth of scenery and country well worth exploring.

As it’s kind of late at night and +1 seems to be more restless in the evenings (she’s just under 10 months old now) I’m going to share with you some photographs I’ve take over the past few days, rather than writing a long essay. Some are s little blurry as I’m still struggling with having the right amount of paetience to make this DSLR of mine work for me. Still, I hope you enjoy them.

If you’d like to read a little more about my experience celebrating Chuseok in my own home in Suwon, please follow the link.

Also be sure to check out Ben Haynes guest post Get Ready, Get Set…Chuseok

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Copyright all photographs Conor O’Reilly, September 2013. All rights reserved.