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.

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

Instagramming My Environment


Friend and travel blogger Steve Miller a.k.a. The QiRanger, has started a new October series of videos titled Eye on Your Environment. His aim is to look a little closer at the world around him, and to talk about what makes his environment special to him. I can see a lot of worth in this kind of post (and have tried myself before), but especially because Steve doesn’t live too far away from me and in an environment which is not too dissimilar to Yeongtong.

I thought after watching Steve’s video that I could do something similar. Regulars to this blog will know that I don’t really do video, although I do do photographs, in fact arguably too many photographs. Although that may be others opinion’s of me sneaking into my work, but still lots of photos is me, regardless of the quality.

One way of photographing I’m also quite passionate about is with Instagram. Now, frankly I don’t care about your opinions of the photo sharing phone application, as I have mine, and if it’s something you feel is close to the most evil thing in the planet then I imagine you should reconsider your priorities, or whatever.

I use instagram to basically chart my motions and impressions, although I limit it to those which I believe to be aesthetically pleasing (in my own eye) or particularly interesting. As I live in Yeongtong you can rest assured that a lot of my images make a big deal of trying to make Yeongtong look aesthetically pleasing. This may be the biggest challenge at times.

I stem from the belief in photography that there is a certain amount of beauty to be found in everything ugly. In fact, I find that so-called ugliness is in fact more pleasing to photograph as it is the effects of humans on the environment which interests me. And with regard to the environment which is itself a human creation, the effects of time and weather and lives interchanging in all the multitude of ways it does is where my eye will usually be drawn for a closer look.

Instagram, the social photograph sharing app, is ideal for showing what I see as unique, and worth letting others see also. Of course the fact that the app is linked with my twitter, flickr, tumblr, and facebook, and there’s the convenience of having it always with me on my phone allowing for me to be in a position to have a photograph taken, tweeked, and shared within moments. I think I do have a problem with over-tagging, but then one must do one’s best to try to attract more followers. This is the internet afterall and if I don’t stake my claim (which is basically the same as screaming my side of the argument as load as possible), who is going to listen?

Back to the QiRanger and what I started out to say.

Yeongtong itself is not a pretty place. It seems to constantly shape itself into a copy of everything else in the neighbourhood. It is a place where you can imagine everything constructed or used to construct sitting on a shelf with a pricetag. You can feel that all which was made here was in the imagination of an architect, and not a particularly good one at that. Everything was once shiny but now after fifteen or so years the price paid for the sparkle has proven to be a poor substitute for the more durable alternative.

The broken paving slaps and cobblelock tiles where the poorly levelled earth has come uneven. The benches have detiorated and but still usable. The footpaths are uneven and the streets are a mess of cars poorly parked and those basing the rules of the roads on their chances of not getting caught by the police. The facades of the buildings are long past any notion of contemporary, not just because of the red-blue-green neon flashing constantly, but typically tacky bad christmas decoration like attachments to the painted concrete. Lets not even start with the now unwashed glass that gives a eerie mottled effect to so many businesses. Let me not forget to mention the constant buzzing of delivery scooters.

But Yeongtong has its charm. It has its coffee shops and it has, for the most part, clean streets. It has restaurants and children ploughing the streets between hagwon hours and drunks jostling for each other’s shoulder space as the leave restaurants later in the night. There are parks and trees which fill with sunshine, laughter, and silence as the rest of the neighbourhoold rumbles around it arguing with car horns. There is an independence about Yeongtong in its many boutiques and restaurants which can be found away from the usual franchise filled streets. There are people who smile when you walk in and talk with you like a person, who share a story, and ask you about your day. And this may not seem like something to talk about but often you forget in some places that there are people working there, not just teenagers programmed to chirp 안녕하세요 in the same nasally annoying voice.

From where I work on the outskirts of the neighbourhood to my home on the twentieth floor, Yeongtong is a vista on a world in motion. Yeongtong was made to facilitate living both for the Samsung behemoth and Seoul behemoth. It is not a perfect place, nor is it so imperfect that you cannot live there. Its perfections and imperfections are in many ways subtle, and in that regard I feel that the immediate displeasure you may have here will soon be overrided by the time you find what it is that gives Yeongtong its own sense of place, and that is its livability. Yes all places are livable, but for me Yeongtong will never be perfect and I could not stand living in the perfect home.

Home is where we do our best to subsist and survive. It is where we go to escape from the outside, and where we delve into for our own pleasures, be they a favourite chair, a flatscreen television, complete silence, or every so often a stunning sunset or the brightest of sunlight streaming inside right into the late evening.

Yeongtong is where I live, it is my environment, and I document this with Instagram as my medium. Please join me for my so-called ride of living in the bellows of Korean suburbia.

Instagram: conzieinkorea

Please click on photos for larger images on flickr

Home to If I Had A Minute To Spare Towers


I kid because I love. But in this case I’m not kidding. I do live in a tower, a twenty storey high tower pitched between what seems like a thousand other twenty storey high towers. Although mine is made from concrete, steel, and glass, not ivory. This may or may not be a good thing.

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After a long summer away in Ireland, myself, Herself, and +1 have returned to our perch overlooking the ever present traffic which persists along that big long avenue that runs through Yeongtong-dong which I have no idea of the name.

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We have been told we have missed the worst of the heat, and we can well believe it as a cool breeze is now flowing through our apartment. Outside the weather is balmy indeed, with only the strong afternoon sun in our eyes to bother us as we stroll around.

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This evening, the first of September, the sky was truly clear for the first time as the sun encroached on the horizon of high-rise to our west. Bright, it turned the walls of the other apartments closest to us pink from white in its glow. All else which felled a shadow was black in its own silhouette from the departing evening. As it darkened more, all those shadows tuned to dusk, street lights came on as pin-pricks of fluorescent light, and the sky streaked with a brushstroke of cloud was layered in a peach kind of pink and a typical sky blue.

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It is home, I suppose.

Looking Up


You come to Korea from where I’m from and you can’t stop looking up. Always up. At the sky without so many rain clouds, at the trees forever in a constant pattern of change, and at the buildings which stretch above everything I’ve ever known. It takes a lot of concrete and steel to make a megalith as complete as the Korean urban space, and event then it never seems complete. There is always some mason tapping away at some finer piece chiselling another groove in the pursuit of perfection.

And inside every groove lives another person, perhaps with their family, perhaps not. There are over 48 million people in this country, and it is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. You would think that you can never escape elements of the human here, but it is possible. You just need to close your eyes and try.

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Suwon where I live is small compared to other cities in Korea. I think I get confused when I hear the population and think of whether or not a city is big because I am prone to making comparisons. Like suggesting that a city of one million people is not big because there are plenty of cities around the world with populations over great than ten million souls. Comparatively we will never be happy with the populations of cities as we will always find one which is greater by some degree in some means of classification.

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Even then a city as an urban space cannot be properly understood at any one moment as it is forever changing. Its people die, businesses close and open, some policy creates some new complaint or cause for celebration. You know how it is. A guess can be made at the next best option but the streets that make up the urban space always aim to surprise, and I can only blame the people who make up the inhabitants of cities for this very welcome phenomenon. 

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Cities with their intensive concentration of people, constantly viewed by some as anti-human, are as human as everything else humans decide to make a part of their lives. Since I’ve come to Korea I’ve thought of both cities as both the anti-thesis of humanity and as the epitome of what humans live for. It is now that I understand or accept cities for what they are. They are an animalistic reaction. Cities are the home of the herd, and it is the herd which comes together as a means of supplying itself with more food, increasing protection, and to make finding mates a simpler process so as to increase the chances of the survival of the species. The highrise in Korea is nothing more than stacking more people in to provide higher odds of survival.

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It is no surprise that few homes come in the shape of a cylinder or sphere. Soul after soul compressed into blocks of concrete and steel without the honeycomb simplicity and complexity of a bees hive, but still everything continues to spread. I look up. It can’t be helped. Stack after stack of rooms on top of rooms, lives lived and thrived inside, happiness and tears, arguments and heartbreak, and more memories than atoms in between each neatly organised and tidily ordered set of walls. Each stack of rooms neatly slotting in between its neighbour, some growing from others, some torn down and new seeds laid for new rooms to grow eventually. There are a few dead with carcases shrouded in plywood and graffiti.

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But you will never know this if you live in a place like this, and I mean really live. Don’t stare at this grand blue print of a metropolis and dissect each block with demographics. Know each window hides a face and a past and a story and a future. And know that without any one of these this place would not be the same.