Monday, February 29, 2016

Snowflakes from My Window

While talking with my sister on Skype, the world outside my window was transformed. For most of the winter, the snowflakes on my window were the closest thing to the white stuff in Seoul. 

A look through the apartment stairway window left me with no doubt. I HAD to go out and capture the winter wonderland set before me. Schoolwork would have to wait.

Watch for subsequent posts on my journey - perhaps my last one, through the winter wonderland of Seoul.

Friday, February 26, 2016

From Ihwa Mural Village to Seoul's Fortress Wall

We continued to hike upwards through the Ihwa Mural Village. On one side of more stairs was this Black & White mural, contrasted beautifully against the blue sky.  

On the other side was Seoul's distinctive fortress wall, which was originally built in 1396. The wall spans 18.6 km and was built in 30 years. Parts of the wall have since been restored, while other sections were torn down to make way for modern construction. 

At the time it was built, the wall demarcated the outer limits of Seoul. From the many high-rises and skyscrapers now lining the horizon, it is quite apparent that the city has greatly expanded since then.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Not Your Typical Clothesline

When photographing residential areas, I sometimes include laundry. It can shed some insight on the owner and helps break up geometric shapes. This strung line in front of a house in the Ihwa Mural village area of Seoul had something else on display. On this sunny but dry, chilly day, no odor was detected from these silvery specimens.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Just Follow the Carp

One sunny Saturday morning, some friends and I took a Seoul bus over to the Ihwa Mural Village. Following some signs near the Hyehwa station, we walked through some streets and upward-sloping alleys until we reached the Ihwa Mural Village

In 2006, the Naksan Project was established by the local Public Art Committee to reinvigorate the area. As part of the project, over 60 artists painted murals and created sculptures in various spots within the neighborhood's narrow alleys.

The carp stairs and the angel wings are two of the most popular murals. Judging from the worn nature of the area between the wings and lasting impression of those posing, it's obvious that the feathery mural is a favorite of many.

Several Korean dramas were filmed in the neighborhood, increasing the number of visitors.

It was an enjoyable forenoon, meandering through the various alleys and spotting public artwork on the otherwise aging neighborhood. There were some cafés in the neighborhood and quite a few little shops selling handmade crafts. Artsy, eclectic, and some great views of the city.

You can reach Ihwa Mural village from Hyehwa Station (Line 4, exit 2) and walk for around 12 minutes.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

One of THOSE college jobs

The jobs that young people sometimes must endure, just to earn a little cash. In Seoul, especially around popular shopping areas, one can often spot those donning mascot costumes for various promotions. On top of temperature concerns, such costumed individuals might also have to deal with the potential embarrassment of being seen in public. 
On our way to the Ihwa mural village in Seoul, these young people were hard to ignore. One was wearing a very tall inflatable woman. Speaking from the groin of the woman, he explained that wearing the outfit and manipulating the arms was rather draining. Being rather top-heavy, I can imagine that it would be particularly challenging on a windy day. After a few hours wearing the woman, he traded places with the other young man who was carrying a large load of boxed cuckoo rice cookers. I'm hoping that the inflatable woman drew the attention of customers who then empathized with young lads and bought more rice cookers.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Konark Temple - Ancient Sundial wonder

A shared post from a friend on Facebook reminded me about one of the amazing sites I visited in India - the Konark Sun Temple. A 13th century Hindu temple in Bhubaneswar, this UNESCO World Heritage site filled with incredible carvings, but its significance goes beyond this. 
In 2009, I wrote several blog posts about the temple, including one just on the wheel.  My guide had explained that the wheels could accurately determine the exact time and day, but he didn't go into many specifics. The video above includes a great deal more details about the wheels as a sundial, as well as other wheels that likely serve as a moondial.
According to the narrator, modern knowledge about the temple & its wheels is very limited, with much of its mysteries concealed by yogis. 
Hearing again about these ancient wonders puts me in awe. Such an incredible combination of knowledge and beauty. What kind of impression will future civilizations have of our current society?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Squat Kick Wheel Pottery

With the firing well underway, one of the women demonstrated how she manipulated clay to form the pottery.

In between turning the wheel with her hand, the occasional kicks with the feet provided the needed momentum. A fragment from a broken plastic plate was used to shape the clay piece.

A narrow piece of fabric helped smooth the clay.
I sensed a feeling of harmony and peace from the woman as she manipulated the clay from her short seat. How many pieces must she have formed in the same manner over her many years of labor, I wondered.

After the bowls had stiffened, she returned them to the wheel, refining the shape over an inverted fired pot. Once again she used the plastic plate piece as her simple tool.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Smoking Times Two

After the pottery firing was underway, the man took a break from his labor. Keeping an eye on the fire, he lit a cigarette. Briefly turning my way, he smiled when he realized what I was thinking.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Seollal Perfornance

Over my years in Korea, I've tried to attend performances that are of part of special events. One such event occurred at the Unhyeongung Palace. Located right next to Anguk station, this former royal residence was easy to get to - perfect for a free winter performance. Prior to the musical performance, different areas were set up for activities such as playing traditional games, trying on (and of course taking photos) traditional Korean costumes, stamping a wooden block with good luck/health characters, and writing good luck messages on small pieces of colorful paper. I loved the patterning of the colorful message papers tied onto rope, contrasting with the brick patterns on the residence wall.

My favorite part of the performance was the solo female dancer. Her movements were very slow and deliberate - no camera shake/blur here! 
Two young drummers took a break from their gongs and drums to do some plate spinning. The balanced disks were also hurtled in the air and caught by the second performer. A couple of audience members were asked to try their hand at keeping the disk spinning or to pass the disk to be caught. 

What's a drumming performance without drums? These guys (and a few gals) looked like they were having fun, despite the rather chilly temps - especially with such thin blouses. I only took a couple photos of their drumming, as the scene, their shabbier-looking drums, and simpler outfits weren't as inspiring. It was still enjoyable though, and a nice way to spend the day off.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ready to Fire at a Klipoh Village pottery shop

After the visit to a local market near Borobudur, the driver took me to a pottery shop in the town of Klipoh. Although I have visited many pottery shops in different countries, I always enjoy seeing the varying ways they create and fire their wares.

Today was the day to do some firing. Some pieces needed their drying time to be hastened, so they were heated just a bit on some ashes.
Using a rag like a potholder, the two women grabbed the still-hot pots and carried them over to the kiln shed. The hot ashes didn't seem to bother their bare feet.

The pots and bowls were stacked over a bed of thin bamboo, husks, and some coconut shells.
The clay pieces were then covered with leaves, husks, and more coconut shells,  over which some ash was placed.
Some dried fronds were bundled and lit.
This was used to light the material covering the pottery.
The man used a long wooden rake to stoke the fire, which quickly enveloped the dry leaves and emitting a thick haze of smoke.
According to the driver, after a few hours, the firing would be finished. This seemed rather short to me, but I can imagine that these utilitarian pieces would be of rather low fire.

Monday, February 08, 2016

All Packaged Up for Seollal

Scattered throughout the grocery store in Seoul this past week were displays of gift boxes. Seollal, the Lunar New Year for Koreans, it is one of the country's most important holidays. In anticipation for the big event, gift boxes full of prettily-packaged skin & hair products, produce and snacks were ready for the taking. Not so keen on buying the box of SPAM? Try the octagonal box of mushrooms - 30% off for only $52. Or try the smaller box of nuts and mushrooms for just $33. Different fungus and seaweed was also available, along with perfect specimens of oranges, apples and Korean pears.

Such pretty boxes of rice cakes.
This box of ginseng seems to be posing for a family photo.

While I don't anticipate any gift boxes coming my way, I'm perfectly happy with the extra two days off. Yipee!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Water Castle - a Perfumed Garden No More

Still within the Kraton palace grounds about 2km south, we visited what is known as the Water Castle - Taman Sari. The driver explained that through that white decorative gate was a bathing complex. At one time, it was just a small part of the 59-building palace complex, complete with 18 water gardens, pavilions, mosques, and was surrounded by an artificial lake. Following a devastating earthquake in 1867 as well as destruction by the invading British in 1812, Taman Sari was abandoned by the sultanate. Since then, the complex has become overrun with squatters who settled and constructed buildings on the dry lake bed. 
A naga greeted us at the gate

 The floral designs and peacock-like birds brought me back to India, particularly the Taj Mahal in Agra. How splendid this place must have looked at one time, harkening back to the meaning of its name - garden of beautiful flowers.
Once through the gate however, I was saddened to see the state of this partially restored section. The pool, once used by concubines of the sultan, was blackened and dingy. Oh how I wanted to drain the water, scrub the bottom and repaint/tile it. The buildings walls were equally dingy. In 2004, Taman Sari was placed on the World Monuments Watch endangerment list. Another devastating earthquake two years after that further damaged the site and has increased the urgency for preservation of this culturally and historically significant site. Despite the series of natural & man-made disasters that have befallen the complex, it is considered one of the best examples of 18th century Javanese architecture and landscape design. While it is quite doubtful that the complex could ever be restored to its former glory, the WMF would love to see more funding to make some attempts at preservation.
With the guidance of the people I was with, we went past some squatter's homes and found the underground tunnel that led to the Sumur Gumuling, an water mosque. Reminding me of a real-life Escher staircase Relativity artwork, four staircases met on an elevated platform in the middle of the building. On the ground level was a pool (now drained) that once served for ritual ablution.

Although I found it a bit difficult to fathom the grandiosity the Taman Sari complex must have once possessed, even the encroachment buildings had their own flavor. Had I more time, I would have liked to wander through the alleys, catching a glimpse of life on what once was a garden of beautiful flowers.

The Taman Sari, along with the Sultan's Palace, was listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. Although I've seen some UNESCO sites that also feel neglected, perhaps a full acceptance onto the esteemed list would provide some needed funding and awareness.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Gamelan Orchestra at the Sultan's

After our tour of portions of the Kraton, our palace tour guide led us to the Gamelan orchestra that was gathering and bid us farewell. With far more lighting than that at the Wayang puppet performance the previous night, it was far easier to see the instruments. Each musician was dressed in traditional local costume, complete with beautiful batik fabric. The men sported a sword as part of their outfit.

Huge gongs were arranged in a row behind the metallophones. Women and men looked very studious as they read the cipher system notation on a sheet of paper. 

The women all had huge "buns" of what looked like fake hair. They also sang. Note the lidded tea cup which was omnipresent in so many places I visited in Indonesia.
The wood carving on the instruments was quite ornate and bore the seal of the sultan.

Many musicians played different bonang instruments. These covered kettle-like instruments were an essential part of the gamelan orchestra. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Sultan's Palace, Yogyakarta

The morning after the Wayang Puppet Show, I went to see the Sultan's Palace, otherwise known as the Kraton. It is essentially a walled city, with a population of around 25,000, complete with its own mosque, shops, schools, and more. The façade of this building read 1925, the date when some European touches were added, but the innermost section where the sultan still resides dates back to 1755. 

This grand complex, with its spacious halls, beautiful pavilions, smooth marble floors, and decorative symbolic touches, is considered the epitome of Javanese architecture. 

I especially loved this pavilion, with its music-themed Dutch stained glass and pretty flooring.

The lavish ceiling decorations and chandeliers reminded me of the Chow Mohalla in Hyderabad, India. Both palaces were an interesting combination of European and local elements, with grand imported chandeliers.

 Our palace guide shared with us (in her very thick Indonesian accent) some of the symbolism that abounds in almost everything in the palace - from the trees and flowers all the way down to the decorations. From the image above, the date of that building's renovation could be determined (1 = crown on the serpent's head, 8 = serpent, 5 = giant, 3 = leech).
More beautiful Dutch stained glass and some ornamental teak columns
Many of the buildings we saw were made into a museum holding furniture, clothing, puppets, family photos, gifts to the sultan, and other collections of the ruler.

Over 1,000 residents are employed at the Kraton.