Cherries that Blossom in Seoul

Cherry Blossom

Spring in Seoul isn’t so much a season unto itself as it is a transitory and ephemeral passage of time between winter and summer. The only thing certain about spring is that it will not last. But while the weather is cool and the sun is warm, exploring Seoul and enjoying the city is a must. Right now the cherry blossoms are long gone with nearly a year left until their return, but I was lucky enough to get out of the house and spend an hour or two wandering the streets of Yeoido with my girlfriend.

Upper Body

We made a bee-line straight for the National Assembly Building on the No. 9 line. It’s a gathering point in the spring and the site of one of the largest cherry blossom festivals in Seoul. The actual dates for the festival are themselves mercurial and tend to change from year to year. Usually they get announced on television programs and websites a week or two ahead of their dates but we were looking to beat the crowds for a small private shoot. We judged the chance of full blossoms by looking at the cherry blossoms in front of our house and took a chance on a cool Saturday morning hoping for the best.

What we got was a mix of half blossomed trees and mostly blossomed trees. The festival got announced for the next weekend, though, so we were happy to have the street mostly to ourselves. What followed was a pleasant one hour walk along the street with minimal cars and foot traffic. Exactly what we’d been hoping for and, amazingly, something that showed up well on camera.

 

CloseUp

This isn’t the first time that we’ve attempted to beat the crowds to Yeoido for the cherry blossoms. Last year we made a trip and ended up visiting the area smack-dab in the middle of the festival. Suffice to say, we didn’t get many shots worth using that time. Next time I’m hoping to head out of Seoul to more exotic locales like Chuncheong or maybe even Tokyo depending on timing. Regardless, this year was definitely a great experience.

Full Body

Upper Body 02

The PHOTO & IMAGING SHOW @ COEX

Photographers

I’d known about it for about a month since I ended up doing a bit of research on the event at work, but the 2014 PHOTO & IMAGING SHOW took place last weekend at COEX. A three-day event, the show floor is covered with lens and camera manufacturers along with individual sales booths and other lighting and imaging companies. Of course this year, the big three at the event were Canon, Nikon, and Samsung. Smaller companies like Rokinon, Tamron and a few other were also in attendance to round out the show. Sony also had a big booth but to be honest I didn’t spend much time there.

Sony

Canon  Booth

I’d say a good portion of my time was spent walking the accessories booths were merchant booths were set up with lens caps, tripods, lighting equipment, flash gear and a whole lot more. While a lot of brand names like National Geographic did show up, a lot of the smaller stores drew the largest crowds with their “sale” prices. Unfortunately for yours truly, the sales prices weren’t great enough for me to warrant a purchase.

Canon Lenses

Expo

Most of my time was devoted to wandering the third party lens set ups like Tamron and Rokinon while I did get a chance to head over to the Canon booth. Thankfully there were plenty of setups which allowed photographers to plug lenses into their own cameras and to test them out. To accommodate this, most of the booths either had small setups or models to test the lenses and cameras on. It wasn’t long before I was spending a few minutes trying to  vie for a decent shot.

Lens Test Shot 02

Lens Test Shot 01

Near the back of the exhibition hall was a small curated photography exhibition by amateurs and professionals in Korea. I’m not entirely sure if they were for sale or for hire, but there was a lot of business going on in small groups with (what I can only assume) was the photographer. My girlfriend and I wandered the area a bit but to be honest, it wasn’t entirely thrilling. There was another exhibition for Leica set up as well, unfortunately the line was entirely too daunting and we ended up passing on the opportunity.

Model 01

Model 03

All in all, it felt like time well spent. Mostly due to the experience and testing of different lenses that were available, good information for later. The show will be returning for 2015 and I’ll be sure to post a reminder before then. Thanks for reading.

Samsung
Model 02

 

 

Hiking Namsan (N. Seoul Tower)

I didn’t actual try to hike the entire trail (that would be crazy), I took a bus to the top and then walked down. Along the way I was lucky enough to see the sights and have a good experience. I also ended up with a slightly twisted and ankle and sore joints. So… fun.

Adventures Far from Home

N Seoul Tower

Let me begin by saying that I didn’t hike up Namsan, rather I hiked down the mountain. The idea of hiking up a mountain lugging my laptop bag, camera, and tripod sounded like a small slice of Hell. I wasn’t alone as the bus heading up was completely full (strange for a Thursday afternoon) and the crowd was only larger once I reached the peak.

Cityscape 001

Polluted Cityscape

Once at the peak, I had my choice of paths to make my way back down to the bottom. For the most part, Namsan is surrounded by subway stations and, theoretically, each of the paths should drop you off near one. But this being my first foray down the mountain I decided to take a rather direct route down toward Myungdong. I can’t speak for the other trails but this one was about 1.2 km to the base of the mountain and another 1 km…

View original post 189 more words

A Wonderland, A Mess: Yongma Land (용마랜드)

The first time I heard about Yongma Land I was drunk. I can’t remember who 0r where I had the conversation. All I remember was someone telling me about an old abandoned amusement park  left in the hills of northern Seoul. And then I forgot about it for months, nearly years. Like a dream.

Standing 001 (graveyard)

Finding Yongma Land turned out to be easier than I expected. I did a search on Naver and Google that, predictably, gave no directions. Eventually I turned up a subway station (Mangu Station, 망우역). From there it was the simple matter of catching a taxi and pronouncing “Yongma Land” with a thick Korean accent. It was a six minute taxi ride to the foot of a hill that looks about as interesting and unassuming as you can get. A further walk in revealed an abandoned structure, a parking lot, and grave sites which aren’t rare at all in Korea (hell, my own family’s grave site is located across the street from an abandoned hotel). And then about five minutes later…

Carousel

Getting in was easy. There were signs posted everywhere in Korean and English saying the exact same thing, “Call 010-xxxx-xxxx”. A phone call and a short wait later, I handed a kindly little old man 10,000 Won (5,000 Won per head) and he let us in. He pointed out the still-active office building, gave us directions to the bathroom and told us to be careful. All the rides were still in good shape but a few looked rickety. Even though all the rides have been deactivated for quite some time and everything showed signs of age up close, it still gave you the feeling of being in an amusement park all by yourself. My girlfriend and I were climbing all over the place and sitting in the rides having a giddy time of it all.

Abandoned Ride

Racecars

Carousel (high up)

Upper body 003
The Grand Carousel sat in the center and was the main attraction of the park. It’s the first thing you see enter and definitely one of the rides that you’ll spend the most time photographing. But the hidden graveyard was the real hidden beauty of the park. You can find it on the third level past a set of stone steps and sloping walkway behind the pink/tan building that still housed the park office. Here there was a graveyard of the leftover coin-operated rides that once decorated the park like Christmas lights. Leaves littered the ground and the rides have been long since left to rust; it was, in a word, magical.

Graveyard

Goku

Broken Racecar

Once the sun begins to set though, all bets are off. We left just as the light was beginning to go and I have to say, the feeling of the park begins to change. Once the day’s last light hits the park, it looks like more of a rotting time capsule left open like a memorial, a poorly kept memorial. The larger rides have been left as is without the comforting flow of electricity and smaller rides litter the park like refuse left by an inconsiderate child, or a hurricane. Eventually, even the carousel in all its magic looks just like a bundle of tattered tarp, broken bars and marred mirrors. I’m guessing at night it looks like the entrance to the Joker’s lair.

At the end of the day we left the park exhausted. It wasn’t just the climbing on and off the rides or the walking on uneven terrain, it was the entire exciting and amazing experience. I guess the best way to  see the park is sort of like something from a Tim Burton film once you wash away all the style and pomp to look at what you’re left with, the core and remnants of a dream.

Helicopter

Broken Coin-Op

Hat Detail 002

Salon du Chocolat, Seoul 2014

Classic Choco Look

Salon du Chocolat started in 1994 and launched in 1995 as a event for chocolatiers to show off their goods and further the industry. Then in 1998, the event spread to New York, then in 2003 to Japan and since 2005 it has ballooned to include Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Cairo, Marseille, and beyond. Finally last year, it arrived in Seoul and to nobody’s surprise it was a huge success.

Chocolate Slippers

My girlfriend and I attended last year but we were too busy to go on a weekday and ended up going on a Saturday. This meant while the event was in full swing, it was incredibly crowded and we ended up missing the fashion show which is the centerpiece of the entire event. Just like last year, we toured the grounds made a few purchases and hit the vendors for some samples. Thankfully the vendors where different and most of the booths and sweets on display were significantly different from what we saw last year.  

Frog Composite

The show was made up of about 60% vendors parceling out samples and goodies and 40% industry vendors targeting businesses. And just like last year there was a chocolate art area where select chocolatiers put their skills to use to create amazing works of art from chocolate. Interestingly, there were two Swan Lake outfits along with ballet slippers crafted from chocolate also on display at one of the booths. It wasn’t part of the chocolate art exhibit nor was it a part of the fashion show. It was, however, incredibly impressive.

Swan Composite

Chocolate Horse

Chocolate Layout

Attending the event on a Friday made navigating the floor and fashion show a hundred times easier. Smaller crowds, no lines and we were finally able to watch the fashion show. The show took about half an hour to get started with two  hosts speaking English and Korean giving away prizes for contestants during a quiz show segment. When the show finally did start, it was worth the wait. It was less of a fashion catwalk and more of a extended preview with each model posing on stage for two to three minutes showing off their designs. If the designs weren’t interesting enough, the samples thrown into the crowd, live music and rapper were enough to keep the audience’s attention. The finale was a professional violinist who got the crowd up on their feet before all the models returned onstage for a final curtain call and for some extra photos.

Unicorn Model

After Show 002

After Show 003

After Show 001

After the fashion show, there wasn’t much time for much else since the event closes about 20 minutes later. We stuck around long enough to get a chance to look at the outfits that were worn during the show up close. The level of detail and amount of work that must have gone into them was amazing. It took another fifteen minutes for the outfits to make their way out to the viewing area but I would highly recommend taking a look. While the show is the headliner of the event, viewing the pieces up close gives you a better idea of just how awesome they actually look.

We left the show with a emptier wallet and a few potential cavities. All in all, a pretty awesome day.

Courset Detail

Gold Outfit Detail

Gourd Outfit

Hat Detail