Small details of Korea, Part 2


That’s Korean for the French objet.


Wedding halls. Even on a brilliantly sunny day, they’d still look like decaying amusement parks. I like how the first one tries to appear much taller than it actually is, by throwing up a four-storey high screen. The cherubs presiding over cracked plaster columns reek of desperate, faded glory.

Sadly, just a bar.

This is the entrance to Garden 5, a giant, 10 storey mall that continues to be built in south-east Seoul, despite it being nearly empty. Many floors are just dark marble corridors. Movie producers can film there for free. In brief: to build the urban miracle of Cheonggyecheon, the river in central Seoul lauded by naive urban planners, mayor (and later president) Lee Myun-Bak had to uproot all the small traders in the river’s path. He promised them shops in a glorious new mall in the suburbs. He didn’t mention rents would go up. The mall got built – at state expense, of course, subsidizing the massive jaebols – family corporation – construction firms. The traders lost their shops. And, since ‘build it and they will come’ isn’t good urban planning, nobody shops at Garden 5. They’re still building massive apartment complexes nearby, maybe that will change. But of course, the petty bourgeois will be frozen out no matter what. It’s a cautionary tale that even green urban planning has to deal with rent. Less theoretically, big business gets bigger.

In fact, it gets absolutely massive.

Inside one of the mall’s corridors, the complete lack of customers has given bored retail staff freedom to express themselves.

In the Dunchondong market in SE Seoul. Really, who wouldn’t want to go to Judith U. or root for the Butter Cookies?

Good luck with that.

From a bookshop specializing in $50 chapbooks of squiggles and photos of artists’ friends. I’m not a philistine, honestly, but I don’t see the point, aesthetic or political, of most of it. Nor of this.

South Korea also has traffic women! And men. In front of the Blue House.

In the government souvenir store. That little guy is celebrating the sacrifice and super-exploitation of Korea’s working class.


Whoa. I’ve never seen anything so nationalist, even back in Canada.

I’m getting familiar with the constant pressure for achievement and perfection that drives Koreans. I need to learn a lot more about it, but the effects seem clear enough.



Today I learned that Seoul has an antique district… of European and American antiques. Just south of the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon.

This is my photo of the year. Someone was told to put up signs to the bathrooms, and by god, he did. Pedantry FTW.


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