Thursday, October 9, 2008

Korea, part 2

A silly little pleasure I have when I travel outside of the US is finding visual juxtapositions between old and modern buildings. Yeah, I know, it's a clich├ęd observation. But every time I take a picture of an old castle or temple or funerary monolith, I find my eyes casting about for some little bit of modernity to add contrast.

I'm not sure exactly what the draw is. At least part of me is fascinated with the idea of visualizing the relatively modest (by modern standards) cities whose crumbled remains lay somewhere beneath the skyscrapers I walk by. It's hard to get a sense of the scale of human history sometimes, and I feel like the intrusion of ancient civilization on our modern edifices makes the historical events I read about feel that much more real.

Fortunately, Korea did not disappoint. As a caveat, most of the buildings Llama and I toured are modern-day reconstructions. They're faithful reproductions of the old buildings and occupy the exact same spot, but there was a tiny, niggling bit in the back of my head that said "Hey, this is kind of like going to the The Luxor and telling people I've seen the pyramids." But then I thought, "Hey! Castle! Cool!" and forgot my objections. [As a side note, it's always bothered me that the big Vegas casino containing pyramids is called Luxor. There aren't any pyramids at Luxor. The big ones are in Giza. Luxor just has a bunch of (really cool) temple complexes].

Of course, if you're going to rebuild a temple complex, it would be a good idea to ensure that the damn thing doesn't burn down again. Llama and I came across a number of these (presumably historically accurate) fire hydrants.

Suwon, a little city an hour's subway ride from Seoul, provided us with a solid day's worth of exploration. The primary attraction is an intact (but, I believe, reconstructed) fortress that occupies a huge chunk of the city. As seems to be fairly common in cities that have these ancient fortifications in their midst, the modern part of the city has enveloped and absorbed the older buildings, resulting in (for example), this city gate ensconced in the middle of a roundabout.

Reconstructed or not, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to walk along the city walls, overlooking the much larger but somewhat less impressive buildings below us.

Against Llama's well-intentioned but, I feel, silly objections on the basis of relegious respect. I ponied up 1000 won (~$1) to ring a Confucian bell three times, honoring my ancestors. Llama stood some distance away and would have pretended to ignore me had I not forced him to take pictures. Mom and dad, you better appreciate it.

And, of course, what ancient city would be complete without a hideously tacky tourist vehicle? We decided that, by night, this was probably the vehicle of a Chinese-themed supervillain, perhaps named Ming. We called it the Mingmobile.

And I know Llama posted essentially these exact two pictures before, but I really like them, so they go up on my blog. Hah. The first is a section of the city wall in Suwon overlooking the river. Notice the students walking along it -- I wish my route to school were so pretty. The second is of a Korean admiral who famously repelled a Japanese invasion of Korea with "turtle ships". Not quite as cool as the Mingmobile, but definitely worth an "attaboy".

And, finally, some historical reenactment. We visited one of the larger palace complexes in Seoul on our second day. Striding out of the subway station directly onto the palace grounds, we came across a spectacle of soldiers dressed in what I assume was historically accurate guard uniforms, participating in a changing of the guard. The whole routine, with musical accompaniment and rigid solemnity, took around 10 minutes. For a while, we thought this must be a particularly serendipitous encounter, since how often do you think they change the guard at the palace?

Apparently around 8 times a day, on the hour. We'd essentially watched the Korean equivalent of Civil War reenactors. Which was cool, mind you, but not quite the nifty anachronism I'd been hoping for. Oh, well.


  1. Hey you know, if you end up collecting a massive number of your travel modern stuff/ancient stuff juxtaposition photos you could probably publish a photography book of them or about them. I know, kind of a nerdy thing to think about, but hey you could do it. A lot of other people have published photography books of a lot weirder and a lot less interesting than that.

  2. I forgot about the Mingmobile! That thing's awesome, and I can't believe that I didn't take a picture of it.

    Joseph, if you want to wade in the Ganges, get baptised, sacrifice a heifer to Zeus, ring bells to invoke kami, or speak in tongues, well, I'll be there to photograph you doing it. I'm there for you, dude.

  3. This reminds me of that part in World War Z where the English live out the war quite comfortably in Windsor Castle, with its perfect combination of old-school construction and weaponry and cutting-edge security systems. I guess my point is, they'll be happy to have those hydrants during the zombie wars?

    I had similar feelings living in Freiburg. It seemed like a super-quaint, idyllic Schwarzwald town (at least the Old Town city center), until I read a poster at the cathedral about how god had spared their beautiful old church during dubya dubya too, with accompanying aerial photo showing the rest of the town leveled (god, Allied Air Command, whatever). Anyway, I hadn't even noticed, but apparently the whole place was rebuilt, for them sweet sweet tourist moneys. It seemed kind of weird and fake, but we did blow it up, and they did do a good job of faithfully recreating it, and if they hadn't, S and I wouldn't've given Llama a profoundly disturbing figurine, so I think it all works out.

  4. I seem to vaguely remember than a lot of Munich was reconstructed after the war, including a church whose two towers differed in height by one foot, supposedly because they couldn't find all the bricks to build one up to its full height or something like that. I vaguely remember the profoundly disturbing figurine, but unfortunately, the specifics have escaped me. What the hell was that thing?

    Llama: Thank you for your encouragement. I was thinking of calling up the lord of the underworld this evening. Would you perhaps be willing to Skype over and join me in some chants?

    Kristin: A coffeetable book could be a fun project. Maybe I'll get started on that after I finish posting about the trip to Korea. So, you know, in a couple years or so.

  5. It was:
    a sexy topless nurse body with a Porky Pig style pig head. They had a bunch in nearby Titisee in varying sizes and poses, all either nurses or S&M geared-up. I like to pretend that everyone else bought them as horrible "gifts" to inflict upon friends, because the possibility that the Krauts are turned on by sexy ladies with pig faces is just too disturbing.

  6. Teehee. You said "Titty see".

  7. It was truly awful. Still in a box somewhere stateside. I have nightmares about it that are neither sexy nor porky delicious...