I’ve been a busy little boy—what follows is a miscellany of mini-adventures I’ve had over the last week or so.
Jogyesa Temple from above
Last week, I saw some photos of Jogyesa Temple taken by W.S. Chang and determined that, by Jove, I must have that shot, too.
Sadly, however, when a friend and I got a chance to go, the point was no longer open in the evening (when they turn on the lanterns). We did find another rooftop from which to shoot, however.
It wasn’t as cool as the other side—from which you could actually read the message in the lanterns—but it was better than nothing.
Traveling back in time to the Daehan Empire in Jeong-dong
I got a call early last week from Kang Im-san of the National Trust for National Heritage to let me know that the Cultural Heritage Administration and the NTNH were holding “Rediscovery of Jeongdong, No. 1 Place of Modern Cultural Heritage: Time Travel to the Daehan Empire,” a special event in the historic Jeong-dong neighborhood, a favorite place of mine about which I’ve posted before.
The multi-day event included performances, exhibits and—perhaps most interesting—open houses at several of Jeong-dong’s heritage sites, including Wongudan Shrine, the old Russian legation and Seoul Anglican Cathedral.
While it’s not quite finished yet, the city did remove the protective barrier Seoul City Hall, allowing us to see—in all their glory—the old and new city hall buildings, the former being one of my favorite pieces of Seoul’s architecture and the latter a target of previous derision. The new City Hall is already the source of controversy—see here and here—with even the architect, US-based Yoo Kerl (the man behind Songdo’s Tri-Bowl)—raising objections. This, however, I’ll save for the inevitable photo essay to follow the building’s final completion (I’ll be happy to discuss it in the comments, though).
Anyway, it was nice to see the lovely old City Hall for the first time in three years.
They’ve finished restoration work on Ewha Girls High School’s old Simpson Memorial Hall, now used as the school’s museum. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s definitely worth the visit—it’s a great way to learn about one of Korea’s most storied educational institutions. The building, too, is quite pretty and representative of mission school architecture of the early 20th century.
Yep, it’s the old Russian legation. Or all that’s left of it, anyway—the rest of the once palatial compound was blown away during the Korean War. For the open house, visitors could actually enter the tower (but due to safety concerns, not climb to the top), although to be frank, there’s not a lot to see inside. The view over the surrounding neighborhood is nice, though (no doubt the Russians thought so, too), and the foundation stones of the old legation compound are still in place.
Seoul Anglican Cathedral—one of only a handful of old Seoul’s buildings built by a professional Western architect (Birmingham’s Arthur Dixon)—is not only one of Seoul’s most beautiful buildings, but one of the most spectacular pieces of Romanesque architecture in the Far East.
For its open house, the cathedral hosted performances of Korean traditional music—including a duet between a guitarist and haegeum player Kang Eun-il (bottom photo)—at Yangijae Hall. Originally part of Deoksugung Palace, Yangijae Hall was built in 1906 as a modern school house for the royal family. It was later purchased by Seoul Anglican Cathedral and moved to its current spot right behind the cathedral in 1927.
The real treat was that the cathedral opened up the Society of the Holy Cross convent, a “secret garden” hidden in a walled compound just behind the cathedral. About the Society of the Holy Cross:
The community was founded on the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 1925 by the Rt Revd Mark Trollope, the third bishop of the Anglican Church in Korea, admitting Postulant Phoebe Lee and blessing a small traditional Korean-style house in the present site of Seoul. The Community of St Peter, Woking, Surrey in England, sent eighteen Sisters as missionaries to Korea between 1892 and 1950, who nourished this young community for a few decades. Sister Mary Clare CSP, who was the first Mother Superior of this community, was persecuted by the North Korean communists and died during the ‘death march’ in the Korean War in 1950. This martyrdom especially has been a strong influence and encouragement for the growth of the community.
The old brick homes with Korean-style roofs are from 1925 and are, from what I can gather, actually remodellings of the original hanok homes that the sisters used when they arrived in the 1890s. The landscaping is mesmerizing, and the atmosphere so tranquil, it’s hard to believe you’re in the heart of downtown Seoul. If you do get an opportunity to visit, be sure to take it.
Preparing for my RAS-KB tour in Gunsan
On June 17, I’ll be guiding my first tour with the Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch. The destination is an old favorite of mine—the West Sea port of Gunsan, known for its rich architectural heritage from the Japanese colonial era. If you’re interested in attending, see the link above for sign-up information.
The city is taking a renewed interest in its historical heritage—it’s opened a new contemporary history museum and is undertaking restoration work (some of it still ongoing) on many of its historical sites. To read more about Gunsan, see my story in Yonhap here.
Anyway, on Sunday, I went to Gunsan as a practice run and to discuss the tour with the folk at the various sites.
Yum, ganjjajang at Binhaewon, a nearly 60-year-old Chinese restaurant in Gunsan’s historic waterfront district. This ain’t your neighborhood ganjjajang, either—can’t explain it, but there was something quite unique about the flavor, something that indicated a bit more attention to prep than your usual Chinese joint. Two thumbs up.
While the big room on the second floor (top photo) is usually reserved, it’s worth taking a look at anyway—that’s a classic Chinese restaurant interior if I’ve ever seen one. It’s the kind of period charm only 60 years of existence can get you.
The old Hirotsu House’s restoration is proceeding quite nicely—the home is now open for tourism. A wooden Japanese Edo-style yashiki (mansion) built by a Japanese dry goods merchant as (one might suppose) a way to show off his wealth, it’s one of the most spectacular surviving homes of its kind in either Korea or Japan. It’s worth visiting just to see its beautiful Japanese-style garden alone.
Around some old railway tracks by the waterfront, there’s a field of wild flowers popular with visitors. Not sure what kind of flowers these are, but would love to know.
A popular spot for visitors to Gunsan—at least visitors with cameras—is the old Gyeongam-dong Railroad (across from Gunsan eMart), an old industrial track lined by humble homes, warehouses and shops. For more photos of this fascinating neighborhood, see here.
I suppose no visit to Gunsan is complete without stopping by Lee Sung Dang, Korea’s oldest bakery. Now, the storefront (and the bag) says it’s been in operation since 1945, which is partially true. Koreans took over the bakery in 1945, but the place’s history goes back to the colonial era, when it was run by a Japanese. The bakery is particularly well-known for its danpatppang, or as they are called in Japanese, anpan. A sweet roll filled with red bean paste, the confection has an interesting history:
Anpan was first made in 1875, during the Meiji period, by a man called Yasubei Kimura, a samurai who lost his job with the rise of the Imperial Army (made up of conscripts) and the dissolution of the samurai as a social class. The Meiji era was a period in which Japan was becoming increasingly westernized, and many samurai who lost their jobs were given work that was totally new to them. The Western role of baker was one such job.
One day, while wandering around the area where many people employed in Western jobs worked, Kimura Yasubei found a young man making breads. Yasubei felt that it was time for Japanese culture to become more Westernised, and so he started a bakery named Bun’eidō (文英堂). In 1874, He moved to Ginza and renamed the bakery Kimuraya (木村屋). At that time, however, the only recipe for bread known in Japan was for making a salty and sour tasting bread, ill-suited to Japanese tastes at the time. Yasubei wanted to make a bread that was more to Japanese tastes. Finally, he figured out how to make bread in the way of the Japanese manju — raising the dough with the traditional sakadane liquid yeast. He then filled the bread with a bean paste wagashi and sold anpan as snacks. Anpan was very popular, not only because of its taste, but also because the Japanese were interested in anything new and foreign at this time.
On a weekend, Lee Sung Dang is busy as hell, but the staff there moves with machine-like precision.
Buddha’s Birthday fell on a Monday this year, giving us a much appreciated three-day weekend. The weather was shite, but hey, a day off is a day off.
I got together with some other photographers to hit up three of Seoul’s major temples—Jogyesa, Bongwonsa and Bongeunsa. I didn’t feel especially inspired by Bongwonsa—it’s a lovely place, mind you, but perhaps because of the weather, I didn’t feel like shooting much—but I did get some shots at the other temples.
I would have much preferred to take this shot at night (or in pleasant weather), but it was not to be—see the first photos of this post. Still, the day shot works, I guess. The message in the lanterns read, “We, too, are like Buddha.”
You might recall I went to Bongeunsa last year, too, where I took a similar photo at a slightly different location.
Some very busy candles.
This is more red paper lanterns than you’d probably ever want to see. On a side note, while I was shooting, a met Korean fashion designer Lie Sang-bong, who really does look like that in person.