Hwaseong Again

I’ve been living in and around Suwon for over four years, and without doubt one of the most interesting places to visit is Hwaseong Fortress at the centre of the city. I’ve written about it before I believe, and I think if you spend two minutes with a Google search you’ll find ample information on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only from your typical Korean government websites praising all that is wonderful about Hwaseong, but also a shovel full or two of blogs in English by other visitors (if I could suggest somewhere to start, I’d suggest taking a walk with the Qi Ranger).

But me being who I am have grown a little used to the fortress and can only explore so much of its windy wall. It’s always enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but what I find more worthwhile is a wander in between the many streets which snake in and out on either side of the 300 year old (or thereabouts) fortification. This space is old Suwon. It is where the city sprung from, and from the busy markets of Paldalmun to the laziness of the pretty much everywhere else, there is a maze worth getting lost in.

I think I’ve had a look at about 5% of what this area has to see, but regardless each step on a familiar pathway still intrigues. There’s something about the unspoilt ugliness of these narrow, often poorly maintained streets. And while they create this impression, the closer you look the more you see that they are in fact well looked after, just not by the city, but by the people who live there. It’s a bit of a paradox I suppose, but again, that’s probably why I find it interesting.

On Sunday (November 24th) I was wandering around with Herself, her folks, and of course +1. It was a dreary afternoon, a day that only Hwaseong’s surrounding area could only look well in. We took our time strolling around trying to find a restaurant which didn’t specialise in either fried chicken of boiled pig’s feet, both of which I adore, and needless to say I took a few pictures.

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Of late I’ve been experimenting with editing. Previously, I have just taken pictures and posted them here as I consider getting as many pictures taken as possible and then sharing them to be my main objective. I’ve also attempted to use editing software and failed royally, mainly due to my own impaetience.

A good friend in Korea put me on to an easy way of editing quickly and effectively, and I’ve been doing it regularly of late. It’s a simple as this. I use the Snapseed app on my ipad to edit quickly photos which I can now transfer to my photo album simply through dropbox, or indeed directly off my memory card thanks to a simple card reading device which I picked up for a very reasonable price. I’ve always thought that Snapseed was a good app, although not having the ease to upload and edit photos quickly seemed to turn me off using it (I am realising that I must be very impartient with technology and my use of it). Over the past few weeks though, I’ve been enjoying editing my photos, especially touching up the colours, shading, light, and some moderately effective sharpening. The success I’ve had with my photos is encouraging me to challange myself again and learn how to use photo editing software.

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All in all though, photography has been keeping me quite busy of late, and if you pop over to my flickr page you’ll see some of my many uploads, some edited and some not, including some late uploads from holidays in 2012 to both Thailand and Malaysia.

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All photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013. All rights reserved.

Finding Haenggung Road

The traffic on the way in was as hectic as expected for a Saturday afternoon. We eventually managed to park the car, and then we wandered out into the afternoon.

In front of the old palace that sat in the centre of the city fortress, stalls had been set up for some occasion that were mostly selling snacks and bric-a-brac, or were flaunting some flyers for some form of a healthier lifestyle. We picked our way through it, stretching our necks to see what all the fuss was over at certain stalls and helping ourselves to free samples, but all the time veering to the shadier side of aisles in between the lines of white canopied stalls.

Generally unimpressed, we left and made our way away from the large plaza in front of high wooden palace gate. On the ground close to the gate was a large copper embossed plate fitted into the paving that  showed a landscape and lettering that read “PHOTO ZONE” in red. I looked up and tried to frame this scene the tile was hoping that photographers would be inspired by.

Of course it was a very nice angle to photograph that particular corner of the place wall against the forty-five degree like rugged slope of the mountain with its look-out post silhouetting behind it, especially with the bulbous white and grey clouds and sun shining through them in the background at that particular moment. But the thought of encouraging lines of people to queue up for an ideally angled portrayal of this unique attraction without any aerials or high-rise apartments interfering got to me. I think that photography, whether amateur or professional, should be an entirely personal experience, and having a ‘photo zone’ takes away from this.

Fortunately, there were not lines of tourists and, in fact, there was nobody at all lining up as they were all presumably busy wrestling in between the stalls with each other, or following their tour guides yellow flag diligently around the palace and fortress wall. That was enough palace for me for one day.

We left the neatly arranged plaza to its business-as-usual clutter and turned down a narrow alley that ran perpendicular to the road we had driven in by. It had been some time since I had last been down here and recalled the broken tar macadam, stinking drains, and what looked like lines of hardware stores and grotty restaurants and bars.

But now the tar macadam had been replaced by neat and colourful cobble-lock paving of sandstone and black granite. The drains and gutters were clean and decorative. Bright shop fronts with displays of crafts and flowers had replaced the previous occupants. The shops façades were of old wood and plaster or bright tiles, and murals decorated the gable ends of old dreary buildings facing into empty space. Here was a new street, a street that anyone who walked down it could feel a little proud of.

Now in its new glow, the street carried with it a refreshed but lazy village atmosphere that wound its way through it. And we entered it, arm in arm, sauntering from one window to the next, taking an interest in every detail to be seen.

Music rolled out slowly from a speaker as a man explained the merits of his pecan pie he was selling as he offered tastes. We obliged and bought one for ourselves. Children shouted as they raced by on bicycles. A man and woman stood by a wall beating a rhythm with sticks as they practised a drum sequence. A mannequin sat painting on a canvas opposite a clothes shop. A large pig sat in the shade with his legs crossed and his eyes focused furiously as it thought about something.

If you looked up you could see what remained of the old street; rusting signs and old dirty tiles, sun yellowed net curtains in windows, wires and dangling satellite dishes, and all those other things you would recognise in a forgotten alleyway in an old part of town. It looked like another place. Yet none of these mattered as they sat allowing the street to change.

We stopped for a short rest in a coffee shop. Herself had jasmine flower tea and I ordered a latte. As we chatted and read, classical music played low from a single set of speakers in the corner and the two sisters who managed the business kept busily moving between tables, chatting with customers, and relaxing on an old sofa in the corner when all else was satiated.

When we left it had become darker as the evening was setting in. We cut down one of the alleys that spidered off from the central street. The streets remained clean, the building fronts remained neat, and everyone continued to move around at an assured but happy pace. We passed by old buildings restored with new stonework, new roof tiles, and fresh paint on old plaster and wood supports. Every so often we would pass a new looking tea and coffee shop sitting there in the slowly darkening evening and its lights warming the street with their orange glow. Before long we passed back onto the main street from which we drove in initially.

Everything we had just experienced lost its normalcy as we stepped out onto that street that seems to always argue with itself. The difference was behind the rows of quiet buildings and found only by following a windy alleyway, seemingly worlds apart from the stubborn old city it sits quietly changing within.

Exploring Seoul

The Instigator – Sinnae-dong, Jungnang-gu.

When I first arrived in Korea in 2005 I was based in Jungnang-gu, which is on Seoul’s most north-eastern extremity. On face value, there wasn’t really much going for the place but it was close to the Costco in Sangbong, so I used to walk down to it every so often to get more cheese. I also found a little hill, which was often described as a mountain, next to me, which I would wander up regularly because I had the mornings free. This mountain was called Bongwhasan, and the subway station at the end of line 6 is named after here. When it was a little warmer I would also walk to Bongwhasan to take the train into Itaewon. This was as adventurous as I got back then. After a while, I got a little bored with seeing the same things.

Jungnang-gu, Seoul

I first started walking around in the morning after I got up and had breakfast. This was usually after I realised that having all this morning time allowed me plenty of freedom to go out and do stuff, and then come back in time to go to work at two or three o’clock. Staying in bed late into the morning just wasted the whole day. Later, when it was hotter I would walk around at night as I finished work around nine o’clock and didn’t really feel tired. I would walk for hours sometimes.

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