Exploring in Seoul

Exploring in Seoul

The past several days have been packed with adventures and some excellent progress on the film front. I’ll start with the film update before I bombard you with photos.

We have several interviews lined up for next week! The first is on Monday with the hwangsa expert at the Korean Meteorological Administration. This person is going to provide some much needed context and will clarify many of the questions that have come up about hwangsa and air quality in general since I arrived in Seoul. This interview will be key in guiding the focus of the rest of the shoot and helping to determine some of the more practical aspects of the rest of my trip (where and when!). Among other things, I’m hoping he can help me figure out exactly what this means:

Korean Meteorological Administration time series showing hwangsa trend

While at the KMA we will also be speaking with a public relations officer who will give us some higher level information about the general public’s consumption of meteorological data, the forecasting and early warning system they have in place for hwangsa, and generally what the public view of the phenomena is and has been throughout the years.

Our next interview is with a medical professional who will speak to us about the health affects of hwangsa and her view on the future implications of the problem. Fromm the media I have consumed in researching for this film, the medical profession is relatively outspoken on the issue. A statement from a medical professional appears in almost every article you read online or in papers; however, they mostly deal with the immediate consequences, and practices and advice for coping with the situation in the now. I’m going to ask them to give their thoughts about 10, 20, 50 years from now.

We have also been in touch with the Korean Green Party as well as an environmental group called Friends of the Earth Korea, and are working with leads to speak to someone in the Department of the Environment from the current government in power.

Another excellent set of contacts that I’ve made is through the group WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). In a week I will be travelling to a farm about 2 hours from Seoul with a translator for a work exchange; we will work a few hours a day on tasks around the farm in exchange for room and board, as well as conversations about hwangsa and how it affects their lives as farmers. Exciting! I will be visiting farms within a short distance from Seoul, and possibly as far as Jeju – a beautiful, natural, self-sustaining island that is the southern-most point in South Korea.



Aerial view of Jeju Island.

Ok let’s get to the goods. The timelapse below was taken on a low-visibility day from a bridge that spans the Han River. I’ve included a little video of the visibility conditions prior to starting the timelapse from outside on the bridge. A number of years ago, a whole bunch of window-laden cafés were constructed on the bridges that cross the river in order to offer views of the city from this vantage point. What a great idea! Despite the traffic rushing by (which is a bit unsettling at first) it’s a beautiful sport to drink a beer and watch the sun go down. So crack a cold one and press play:

Low visibility due to “smog” on the Han River.

Footage from before the timelapse was taken.

Sun set over the Han River, Seoul.

I’m looking to switch up neighbourhoods I’m staying in so that I get to know more of the city, and so began exploring Insadong (dong means neighbourhood) in more depth. I am constantly surprised at what I find in this city! I turned one corner and all of a sudden I was in a manufacturing district with little shops filled with larger-scale printers, welding and metalsmithing facilities, construction materials, electronics materials… and a lot of Pyrex.

Side street in Insadong.

Tools for sale!

Pirex for sale from a tiny store front down a twisted street in Insadong.

Big and small.

I wonder what that red stuff is?

I’ve been thinking about how to describe the architecture and layout of Seoul, and the best I’ve come up with so far is “mish-mash.” There are old-style, run-down, single storey shops and houses mixed right in with new construction, multi-storey shiny glass buildings. And the streets are relatively narrow, most of the time without sidewalks or designated areas for pedestrians. So cars and people mix in a way I’ve never seen before, giving it a somewhat chaotic feel.

Seoul street.


Coffee and what? Many cafés, restaurants and shops have English names, it seems to be a thing.

As I was walking through this area, I came across elderly men and women cooking fish on an open fire in the alleyways. They would wrap the fish in newspaper and load them onto huge trays, then hoist them onto their heads and walk the streets, delivering fish to the people working in the shops.

Cooking fish outside a shop in an alley in Insadong.

Fish over open flame, yum!

Food to feed the masses.

Minutes away by foot is the area of town that lies between the two palaces in the centre of Seoul (I’ve yet to visit, but don’t dismay you will get to see royal pictures in the coming weeks). This is still Insadong, but the feeling of place couldn’t be more different than where I had just been. This area of town, near Anguk Station, is much more geared toward tourists, with street vendors who yell out to you in English to purchase their handmade goods. I was captivated by a young man making traditional Korean candies (surprised? Mmmm, candy!) which he called 16,000 String Honey Candies, and which are also called Dragon’s Beard Candies, which are made by stretching a honey and cornstarch dough and looping and looping over and over until you have 16,000 loops, which look like very fine silk strings. Then you pull a piece off and wrap it around a mixture of roasted nuts, and voila!

This area hosts the Ssamzie Market, featuring neat looking art galleries and shops selling crafts, clothes, décor and souvenirs. I liked it’s design, floors that have a gradual slope up which lead you around (and around) three floors of shops without you having to go up a single stair.

Ssamzie Market, check out the angles.

Ssamzie Market, sloping up.

Korean sweet purchased from a street vendor – what I thought was chocolate fillings was… beans.

The next day I visited the National Museum of Korea. It’s huge, so I decided to just do one floor, and come back for the other two. Here I learned about the Prehistoric and Neolithic history of the Korean region and the development of tools, agriculture and societies, and ran through the various dyansties and their changing borders over time. Somehow I only managed to take one photo from the inside, this one’s for you, Mom:

Prehistoric shell bangles, fashion item and used in burial.

Outside the grounds of the National Museum.

National Museum of Korea.

View from the National Museum – Seoul Tower featured in the dust.

I’m excited to say that I have discovered a new favourite market! While the Dongdaemun and Namdaemun Markets I mentioned before were thrilling for all of the senses, I was pleased to stumble across the Mangwon Traditional Market which features much more food and local produce and much fewer clothes and glowing plastic tiaras. I bought some lovely sweets and stocked up on local tangerines.

Mangwon Traditional Market.

Various fish, fresh and salted.

Ohhhh, the slime!

Chili and other red spices featured heavily in these dishes.

A delicious meal!

Traditional Korean sweets.

Butcher at work.

Giant miso cakes, or pills.

All the varieties of dried fish you could even dream of!

Dried fish at Mangwon Market.

I’ll leave you with a final photo that I like very much. This was taken along a walking path near the Seoul World Cup Stadium. Along the Han River and at various other spots throughout the city, there are little public parks with exercise equipment where you can find people out and about, exercising and stretching. In the coming week, I will head down to a couple of these little parks with my assistants to do some candid interviews to get people’s thoughts on hwangsa and air quality. Below you will see people walking, exercising and getting about their lives in masks, common in the city and in particular along the river.

Exercising in Seoul.

Until next time!