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Suseong-dong Valley

December 2, 2012

One of the good things about living a little out of the way is that you’re close to natural parks like this one. I remember thinking how great an attraction it would be when it was still under construction.

Located at the foot of Mt. Inwang, Suseong-dong Valley has quite a story behind it. For starters, the valley is the source of the Cheonggycheon, the 5.8 kilometer stream that flows through Seoul.

The valley was also the subject of a painting by Jeong Sun, a renowned landscape artist during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and one of Korea’s more respected painters.

But then rapid industrialization took over, and the verdant grounds were shielded from view. As part of the initial stage of the urban renewal policy of the Seoul Metropolitan Government to supply Western-style common houses in place of Korean-style homes, Ogin apartment complex in Seochon was completed in 1971.


The apartment blocks were all built in the valley of Mt. Inwang so that the water, bedrock and trees of the valley could almost pose as the veranda and gardens of the complex.

It’s good to see the area returning to its former setting. It makes for a nice weekend out. An added bonus is that you’re 10-15mins away from both Roasters and Club Espresso, two of the city’s finest coffee shops.

Getting there: Take subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station and get out Exit 3. Grab Village Bus (those green little cartoonish-looking ones) number 9 and take it all the way to the end.

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Weekly Snapshots | 11.13.12

November 13, 2012

Off to the east coast next week. One of my favourite parts of Korea is the coastal stretch just north of Pohang. The region’s home to some pristine landscape, traditional villages and Yeongdeok, the place to go for crab. Will be posting a few sets from that trip.

♦ Red Bull makes its mark in Seoul: Air Force N Tower BASE Jump.
Slowing down in Samjinae Village, a very beautiful part of South Jeolla Province.
♦ Absolutely incredible shot without the crutch of HDR.
♦ And this is a freaking stunning shot of Busan’s Haeundae I’Park complex.
♦ And anyone not familiar with Dylan’s work should head over to his blog.
♦ Frenchman Romain John has some stunning work worth checking out.
♦ And just when you thought SJ Kim’s couldn’t get any better, he nails this.

Naejangsan National Park | 내장산국립공원

October 3, 2012

Decided to take advantage of the extended Chuseok Holiday and beautiful weather by heading down to Naejangsan National Park. I’ve been hearing a great deal about how incredible it is, particularly during the fall. Despite there not being much in the way of colourful foliage (best time to visit is the first week of November), Naejangsan is nonetheless a beautiful place to visit any time of year.

Be forewarned: it’s by no means an easy hike. The walk alone from the where the bus drops you off (along a nice little street lined with traditional Korean restaurants) is between 2-3kms. From the entrance of Naejangsan National Park, it’s another half a kilometer or so to Naejangsa Temple. From there you can grab the Seoraebong Course (5.9km, three hours) that runs along Byeongnyeonam all the way up to the summit of Seoraebong (624m), the first of eight peaks that circle the park’s colourful grounds below.

That being said, it’s damn well worth it. If you get over your screaming calf muscles and the throbbing in your temples, what awaits you above (and even along the way for that matter!) is incredible. The sign at the summit of Seoraebong claims the valley below resembles that a “flowing traditional Korean dress” by the way the hillsides seem to drape and flow to the ground below. I can only imagine what this place must look like when the colours are out in full force. I’ll be returning for that.

From Soeraebong, the course continues on to Bulchubong (622m), then starts descending through Wonjeogam, a smaller temple said to have been built during the 3rd year of King Seonjong of the Goryeo Period (AD 1086). The quiet grounds are home to a huge ivory Buddhist statue, which at the time, was being stripped on its golden exterior by a monk.

The trails, or lack thereof, throughout the course can be pretty challenging. It seemed never-ending in some parts. But it’s one of those situations where, once you’ve already started, there’s pretty much no turning back. Somewhat daunting, but the realization sharpens your focus and puts a little momentum in your step.

I’ve hiked a lot of mountains in Korea, but views such as this are pretty rare. Naejangsan really is amazing.

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Getting there: There are two ways to get to Naejangsan: by bus from Express Bus Terminal (subway Line 3) or by KTX (KRW 32,100) from Yongsan Station (subway Line 5). I took the train so I’m not sure what the current fare for the bus is. I imagine it to be somewhere around KRW 15,000 to 25,000. Anyhow, both the bus and train drop you off in Jeong-eup so it’s really just a question of how fast you want to get there. The KTX takes just over two hours.

From Jeong-eup Station, walk straight out the entrance, cross the street and head straight, past the CU Mart on the corner, and take bus number 171 (20mins).

Cheonggyesan | Hiking in Seoul

September 24, 2012

Cheonggyesan (청계산) is a beautiful mountain that extends over Seocho-gu district and stretches all the way down through Gwacheon, Uiwan and Seongnam. Intersected by a pristine 2km fresh water valley, it is said to be one of two guarding mountains in Seoul; the other being Gwanaksan.

Despite its height (620m), the hike to the top is pretty steep in parts, but overall it’s relatively easy going. The unspoilt surroundings certainly don’t hurt and are a great distraction from those aching calves when you’re nearing the summit.

There are several trails to choose from at the entrance; I opted for the Maebong (2200m) course.

One my way down, I stopped by Cheonggyesa Temple (청계사), which is very close to the main entrance.

The hike left me a little stiff, but it was nothing a little tofu, kimchi and makgeolli couldn’t fix.

Getting there: Take subway Line 3 to Yangjae Station. From there, get on the newly opened DX Line (Shinbundang Line); this will take you right to Cheonggyesan Station. Get out Exit 2 and follow it all the way to the underpass market.

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Busan’s Gamcheon Art Village

September 4, 2012

Busan’s a great city. Visits down here always feel too short. I did get a chance to check out Gamcheon Art Village over the weekend though. I left Saturday afternoon from Haeundae, grabbing bus number 1003 just outside Angel-in-Us coffee shop across from the Busan Tourism Center. This took me to Jagalchi Fish Market (40mins). From there I took a 10min taxi ride (KRW5,000) the rest of the way.

Set high up on a hill overlooking the city, Gamcheon is full of constricted alleyways, colorfully painted housing, steep inclines, and friendly locals. There’s a huge emphasis on art here. And for good reason. The relatively impoverished neighborhood morphed into the open-air art installation that it is to bring a little life and happiness to the area.

Once populated with refugees from the Korean War, the community has come together over the years to improve their conditions through art.

The artwork itself is pretty interesting, especially the Mirrored Wall, the huge mural at the entrance that reflects the other side of the street. When you face it from a distance, the distorted wall-sized painting looks almost like you’re entering an animated world.

Best drop into to the village center up on your right just after the entrance and grab a map (KRW 2,000). The map will lead you on an ‘art hunt’ whereby if you collect all seven stamps from the various art houses along the way you receive a handful of unique picture postcards.

There are three courses. I decided on Course A which cuts through the heart of the village and then winds its way back up to the entrance. But rather than follow the curved road that encompasses the village back, I walked all the way back down to the main road, cutting through side streets and meandering through more alleyways.

Arrows painted on the sides of the houses guide visitors through narrow streets, past embankments which boasted incredible views over the port, and into the art houses themselves.

To find out more, simply drop the Busan Tourism Office a line (they speak English), or shoot me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction.

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Esperanza Spalding in Seoul

September 3, 2012

American multi-instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding will be bringing her jazz roots to AX-Korea in Seoul this coming Friday (September 7). Show starts at 8pm. Tickets are KRW 110,000 (seating) and KRW 99,000 (standing).

Spalding began her classical training as a cellist but her musical journey took a much different direction when she discovered bass at 14.

Citing Ron Carter and Dave Holland as musical heroes, the hugely talented singer-bassist is also a fan of fusion music, often blending Brazilian rhythms in her work. In 2011, she scooped up both a Grammy for Best New Artist and a Boston Music Award for Jazz Artist of the Year.

For Spalding, the music industry has reached a point where women seem to rely more on their sex appeal rather than their inherent talent.

She prefers to let her musicianship shine through rather than relying solely on her looks. “To write original music,” she says, “One must read and stay informed about the world.”

Spalding’s style is largely attributed to her fears that jazz music “has wandered from its roots”. If you’re not familiar with her work, I strongly encourage you to give it a listen.

In an industry inundated with manufactured, bubble gum pop, her music is a welcoming breath of fresh air.

Contact Justin at Private Curve for more information: (02) 563-7110.

Tickets can be purchased through Interpark: 1544-1555.

Second Wonhyo Pilgrimage

August 30, 2012

On September 1 a group of seven pilgrims will leave Bunwhang-sa temple in Gyeonju to re-enact the famous journey the Korean Buddhist saint Wonhyo made from Gyeongju to the area of Wonhyo-bong  more than 1,300 years ago.

This is the second Wonhyo pilgrimage. The first one, an exploratory trip, took place in December of last year. In that journey, the pilgrims covered just shy of 500 km, much of which was walked along back roads and mountain tracks. The journey took them from Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Korean Shilla kingdom, to what is known as Wonhyo’s cave near Dangjin, on the west coast of South Chungcheong Province, just south of Incheon.  The second pilgrimage is expected to finish in the same place.

Wonhyo’s journey resulted in his enlightenment. Legend has it that he and fellow spiritual seeker Uisang, took shelter from a storm in an old tomb they thought was a cave. During the night Wonhyo became thirsty and began searching on the ground for a gourd of water. He found one and picked it up and drank deeply from it. The water was sweet and refreshing and he slept deeply until dawn. In the morning he discovered that the vessel he had drunk from was not a gourd but a human skull. It was not filled with sweet, clean water but instead was full of dirty rainwater, rotting meat and maggots. He was so revolted by what he had drank that he fell on his knees and vomited. At that moment, the question came to his mind “Why? Why was the water so sweet and refreshing in the night and yet so revolting in the day?” The answer came to him that it was his mind that determined the difference between the water at night time and in daytime, not the water itself. He realized that truth is created by the mind. At that moment, he attained enlightenment. 

MacGregor said the pilgrimage was a joint effort between him and his friends and was inspired by the kindness and goodwill from Koreans that he and his friends had experienced during their stays in Korea. “We wanted to say thank you to Korea and Koreans in a special way, and what better way than through a pilgrimage to honor Korea’s most beloved and respected Buddhist saint, Wonhyo.”

To learn more about the pilgrimage visit http://www.inthefootstepsofwonhyo.


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