Tag Archives: photos

Pleasant Peninsula

1 Dec

Si quæris peninsulam amœnam, circumspice.

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Jebudo Sunset

1 Nov

Hwangsa Breaths

20 Mar

This is the view from my apartment building’s balcony about 6:30 this evening:

Mind you, that’s not a normal twilight.  The sun is still up but its last remaining rays are blotted out by the the yellow dust, or hwangsa as it is called in Korean.  When I emerged from work today, the city had an distinct yellow pallor to it.  The air seemed thick and heavy; I could barely make out a huge church at the top of the hill at the end of the street.  No wonder my throat had been feeling bad the past few days.

The camera, when set on its Intelligent Auto function, actually cuts through the haze surprisingly well, and the exposure comes out much lighter.  I took the first photo on manual to give you a better sense of how it appeared to the eye.  The second photo should show you how many more buildings there are behind that initial row, buildings which I can normally see perfectly but are obscured today by the dust.

What is hwangsa?  It is dust or sand that has blown off of China’s deserts and carries on the wind, reaching Korea and often Japan as well.  China’s northern regions are experiencing desertification on a rapid scale.  Though both the Chinese and South Korean governments have tried to work together to stop the process by planting trees, little seems to stop the process.  So the dust will continue to blow over the Yellow Sea and deposit itself on Korea’s shores, bringing with it all the heavy metals and other pollutants picked up from China’s contaminated atmosphere.

I thought about a comment I had heard from the great French anthropologist Rene Girard.  He said that the necessity of questioning whether it is nature or man who is responsible for impending disaster or doom is what it means to live in truly apocalyptic times.  With every labored, coughing breath, we may find that he was right.

Korea: Life in Pictures

6 Sep
Bundang Skyline.
Bundang Skyline.

Everywhere you turn here, the sky will be scraped by an immense high-rise.  It will have a ridiculous name, wholly un-Korean: Royal Palace, Pantheon, Zenith, Pavilion, Paragon, Park View.  All are built by a massive corporation: SK, Samsung, We’ve, LG, or Doosan.  They are the future of humanity, where everyone is packed in close, separated by tiny walls, yet a million miles away from understanding their neighbors.  Food and education are in the building or close by.  The very small makes up the very big and grand.

The Future.
The Future.

I captioned this photo because I thought the architecture represented something sleek and modern, with no shred of the past.  In retrospect, the pair of CCTV cameras furtively peering into our lives more aptly captures the title.  Which begs the question, if big cities make us just one in a faceless, teeming mass, what of individual interest is there for the camera to look at?

Surprise splash.
Surprise splash.

Goaded by her friends, this schoolgirl walked out into the middle of the fountain, expecting that the water wouldn’t hit her when it came on.  Obviously she was wrong.

Directions for ajoshi.
Directions for ajoshi.

The younger man holds his left hand to his chest as a form of respect.  This comes from the days when men wore a hanbok, which had a long sleeve that needed to be pulled back to hand something to another person.

Annyeong, jamae . . .
Annyeong, jamae . . .

There’s something quite precocious about lots of Korean children.  They’re well-behaved and seem to act like miniature adults at times, seemingly perfectly at home and competent in the world about them.  Not a lot of screaming and tantrums like American kids.

Goin' to the temple, gonna get married.
Goin’ to the temple, gonna get married.

In the midst of the modern throng, two people take the time to follow the old ways.  They will be married but it’s not just a union of convenience.  No, it is the continuation of an ancient pact.  They are not ashamed of it, nor do they think it is backwards.  The past has given them purpose for moving forward.

Timeless couple.
Timeless couple.

History moves on out there, in the world.  Nations are crumbling, tyrants are rising, great deeds are done, horrible wrongs committed.  People die cruelly and pointlessly, grand ideas are found hollow, wars rage, famines linger.  We are all a part of history; it will inevitably touch us someday, somehow, in some way, big or little.  But we still carry on, still build lives for ourselves.  Maybe it’s the divine spark within, guiding us on our unique path.  Maybe it’s the innate cheekiness of human beings, that spirit which raises a middle finger to the grimness of the world and pushes us to do great things, take great leaps.  People get married, even if times are tough.  Others buy a motorcycle and ignore sane advice.  Still others cast aside stability and convention to take a job that thrills them.  Or is the right thing to do.  We live, in spite of the darkness out there.

Old men always talk furiously to each other.
Old men always talk furiously to each other.

Wherever you go in Korea, there will be old men sitting around, looking at things.  They seem to be waiting on something but what it is, I’ll never know.  They talk heatedly with each other or play chess or nap on a bench in the humid shade.  You can see the story of rough years worn into the deep lines on their faces.  These old guys have seen a lot.  They are tough bastards.

Trees, roof.

Dragon banner.

In between the cracks we can find the past.  Even if it’s not our own, we can appreciate it.  We can understand and smile, being glad to remember and think back.  For despite all the bad of the past, never can we deny the good that once was.  And that we wish could be again.

With each day, Korea opens wider and deeper for me.  Answers only leave more questions.  So down I go, into the rabbit hole, waiting to see when and where I’ll come out.

Enter the dragon.
Enter the dragon.