Sunday, December 14, 2008

Get Your Art On

Yesterday I had the lovely privilege of going on an artsy gallery tour with my friend Jennifer. I was really excited for this adventure because I have been feeling guilty lately that I haven't been producing much art nor spending time seeing it.

Our area of interest was the Insadong and Samcheong-dong areas located near the Jongno-3 sam-ga station in Seoul. As many of you may know I have been to the Insadong area quite a few times, and enjoyed my visits. But I had a special feeling about this visit because my pal has been living in Korea for 10 yrs and is also into the Art Scene.Let me break down the map for you and our path. We started out at the beginning of Insadong street, which is the area closest to the Jongno-3 station. This is where most people start out when they are in this area. Anyways, Insadong street is an art district of Seoul, but is more so a tourist street. This is because along the main street there are shops that sell souvenirs and the usual knick-knacks one can take home. People often reference this street to a ChinaTown street like back in America. I had never gotten to the end of Insadong street and so of course had not gone past this area.

(View of the start of Insadong street with Bugak mountain in the background.)
We arrived around 11 AM and the shops were opening. This made it kind of difficult for us because we wanted to get brunch. But most of the shops were closed and not many cafes serving food were open yet. So we walked through Insadong street passing by mostly everything. As we passed by we did a little window shopping. Before I knew it we were already at the end of Insadong street. I felt somewhat amazed, I didn't realize how short distance the street actually was.

Next, we crossed a large intersection which was near the Angok subway station. It was here that Jennifer bought some roasted chestnuts, which I didn't care for too much. And also we made our way into Samcheong-dong. On this path Jennifter promised me that there were some cafes that served up some good brunch food (pancakes, sandwhiches...etc.)

The street we started walking up on had the atmosphere of being quiet and waking up. The path was somewhat more narrow than Insadong street and it appeared that the buildings were mostly residential. But we started to come upon the cafes. One place looked promising but it turned out they were still finishing the morning baking of goods...
Finally, we came upon a cafe that was just opening and ready for customers. It was inside a cute little building. Jennifer told me that the style and architecture of the building was built in the Colonial style.

I looked around at the structure and it had a familiar Japanese Colonial style. And so I mentioned this to Jennifer, and indeed it was built by the Japanese when they were in Korea. I found it somewhat thrilling to be inside this building. This is because I thought of how this building may not have existed if it weren't for the initial influence of the West on Japanese architecture after they opened their doors to the West. And then how the Japanese came over to Korea and built up this architectural style while they occupied Korea. It felt as if I had walked directly into a mini-historical-museum, but was actually just getting brunch.

(Brunch consisted of Pancakes + Ham + Egg + Syrup for Jennifer and a Ham + Cheese + Onion + Pepper Sandwich for myself)

Brunch was satisfying and we spent some time chatting and catching up on our own individual histories and opinions of life abroad. It felt awesome to get some girl-talk in and stew about certain aspects of foreigner life. But the streets and galleries were calling our name so we moved on.

Decaying Korean Architecture:
Did I mention Jennifer is rich in her knowledge of Korean Art and Architecture? Well, it was a delightful treat to be served a history lesson of the architecture in the area. Part of my Asian Art history courses back in college covered aspects of Asian architecture. But what I studied came from pictures, so of course it was exhilarating to see these structures in person.

The area, though, appeared to be going through many transformations. Apparently this part of Seoul is for the richy-rich folks. Indeed, I almost felt like I was walking through Nob Hill or the Marina district of San Francisco. How I could tell? Well not that many people were on the street, the majority of buildings were painted cleanly and also done up in very stylish ornamentation. But the old and the new existed side by side in this area, and was evident when Jennifer pointed out to me old Palace structures.
We could tell this structure was older than the rest of the buildings surrounding it because of the wear and tear in the wooden beams, and also within the style of the eave of the roof. If you look close enough at the second picture you can see remnants of painting left on the round beams coming out under the roof. In time this building will be torn down to be replaced with something new. I stood there trying to grasp this reality, wondering why the Korean government would not act to preserve each and every old building like this. But it is what they do and I in time will accept this part of Korean society.

So we moved on and came upon an area where they were tearing down old palace walls. This place had a kind of flux feeling feeling because we caught the walls in a state of suspended renovation. For one of the walls was cut away, like a cross section, and made for a particularly interesting study.

This area was really starting to grow on me. Of all the places I have seen in Seoul this one seemed to give me the impression of what I thought a Korean street may look like. That is with old Palace structures and nature tucked in between it all. So I became somewhat envious of the residents in this neighborhood and wanted my own traditional yet modern home.
Cafe and Gallery Streets:

Our path then took us onto the Cafe / Gallery street of Samcheong-dong, which reminded me of such places like Laguna Beach in Orange County and Geary Street in San Francisco. You could see Gallery window displays and cafes arranged next to one another. Also many of the shops had unique storefronts or architectural elements.
We stopped in a few galleries and took note of the art inside. Actually we didn't really go inside many galleries, I guess I was getting more of a feel for this area. But no doubt an artistic and creative edge permeated throughout this area, even if we didn't step inside many galleries.

As we walked up the street we came upon another Japanese Colonial style building. This time I could easily spot the Japanese elements. (Rectangular elongated windows and shortened eaves.) Jennifer made an accurate point about telling me how you can spot the irregularities, because it basically looks different than Korean homes. For those who live here I think you too can notice the difference. I think though that this structure has had some modern improvements and embellishments.
Turning the corner we came upon another street with cafes and galleries. On our way we spotted some graffiti art and a cafe with a crazy storefront.

Vista Viewpoint:
Then we came upon an uphill road, which yielded a spectacular view. Not only of the mountain in the distance but of the Geoncheondong palace structures, and in the foreground below us were old rooftops.
I was told that couples like to take thier sweethearts here for a walk at night, supposedly very romantic. (Hint, hint...BK)

At this point the weather was getting colder and colder, and for some reason my body wasn't warming up enough. So I suggested we head back towards a subway station, as a way to see more sites and also get out of the cold. On our way we tried to find a cafe to sit in, but they all seemed too pricey for just a cup of tea.

Jennifer remembered that she knew a friend of hers who had a store in the area, and said that she couldn't pass by without visiting.

An Actual Cultural Experience:

It was here at Jennifer's friends shop that I felt like I had a real cultural experience. It has been rattling around in my idea of what actually makes a cultural experience? Is it when you go see a place that is designated as a cultural icon? Or could a cultural experience come from the interaction with the people of the culture?

Anyways, the shop this woman runs is, what I guess, a tailor shop. She handmade everything inside including hanboks, coats, scarfs and decorative cloth materials. It was a tiny little shop, with a kitchen and storage room in the back. When you walked in you came across a large table, where she did her needlework. Jennifer and I were greeted with a warm smile, tea, walnuts freshly cracked and mandarins. The shop keeper was an unmarried woman who looked like she was in her 40's or 50's (hope that is somewhat accurate.) A sweet woman with rosy cheeks and a wise smile.

Inside we drank tea and Jennifer talked it up with her friend about boyfriends, marriage and past times. I enjoyed sitting and sipping my tea and looking at all the handiwork.
As I sat there it felt like I was on one of those adventure travel shows where the host is seen going inside a local person's home and being given a modest portion of something to drink and eat. While at the same time he narrates the scene by saying "You can really get to know a culture by being a guest inside a locals home." Or "You really must get to know this culture by going off the beaten path and engaging yourself locally."

That is how I felt sitting there, for it was as if I was off the tourist path. Inside the store I caught a glimpse of a little storefront, that I would otherwise pass by. So I wondered to myself whether or not this designated itself as an actual cultural experience. I would like to think so.

Chinese for Dinner:
Hunger was calling our name and so we said our goodbyes and headed back towards Anguk subway station. On our way we stopped at a Chinese noodle restaurant that is actually managed by Chinese people. From the picture on the wall I knew it was going to be delicious and indeed it was. The dish had that familiar ChinaTown from America taste, and perhaps actually better!
Ah, come on Joy...give us a smile!
And so ends my Art adventure with Jennifer. Thank you so much, and I can't wait to do it time we will actually go inside more galleries.


  1. THANX for the great adventurelog Joy!
    Where's a pic of Jennifer?

    Out of all the fotos there's one that's really great....the gray tiled roofs composition.
    (The third one down in the Vista Viewpoint section of the post) There's a little dark object in the center of the roof, is it an animal?

    YES....of course you're having cultural experiences.
    Why such doubt?
    Do you have some preconditions that make "it" real or not?

    THANX again! I enjoyed being there w/u via the post v. much!

  2. You spotted it! That would be a cat. It was scurrying along the rooftop... so we caught a picture of it.

    Sometimes life here rolls along ..buying stuff at the store and you can forget that your are still in a different culture..

  3. The vista viewpoint which you posted pictures of is the same spot where I took the picture that's the masthead on Roboseyo. Glad you had a good day.

  4. Well it happens to be one of the best shots you've taken Joy!

    An idea: shoot more elements of the Korean culture in a similar manner.......with & without their context. As an abstraction juxtiposed w/shots that tell their story... Absorb patterns, flavors, textures, colors, rhythms into your shots.
    The depth of your culutural experience will be visually recorded in that manner.
    Have FUN!

  5. So glad you had fun! I had a great time, too, and will happily drag you along on another gallery hop anytime you like^^

  6. If you like the idea of pre-war architecture sticking around, you just need to get out into the countryside. I'd say that around half the houses down here in Jindo are pre-1945.

    I actually just wrote about it, this morning:


Leave Your Thoughts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...