Tuesday, June 26, 2018

And that's all from Seoul

Sungnyemun, Seoul's historic south gate, was built in the 14th century C.E. It's one of the city's landmarks. 

This is my last blog entry from Seoul. It seems that Seoul doesn't get mentioned very often as a travel destination. Not as charming as Bangkok or as metropolitan as Tokyo or as historic as Kyoto, and located on the Korean peninsula, so not as accessible as Hong Kong or Singapore. But don't overlook Seoul.
Seoul's city hall building stands behind a large public space. 

It's a huge city, the population of the "special city" (a South Korean term for main administrative area of a city) is 9.5 million. The population of the metropolitan area is more than 25 million. Seoul is a megacity, home to South Korea's leading financial institutions many of South Korea's largest manufacturing conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Despite Seoul's massive scale it's a pretty easy city to navigate. Seoul was essentially destroyed during the Korean War and then rebuilt following the armistice. So the city was razed in 1950-51 and then rebuilt on a blank slate starting in 1953. Then, when the South Korean economic tiger was unleashed in the mid 1960s, money poured into Seoul and was directed into huge infrastructure projects like the subways and highways. 

The subway system is a thing of wonder. There are 21 subway and light rail lines, with more than 900 km of track (more than 540 miles) that run to every part of the city and into neighboring cities and provinces, like Incheon and even the DMZ (North Korean border). Most of the subway stations double as bomb shelters because North Korea has hundreds of pieces of artillery just north of Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery shells into Seoul in an hour if hostilities broke out again. All of this means you can get around Seoul almost entirely by subway. 
A couple relaxes in the "O" in Seoul. 

I wasn't sure to expect of Seoul. I found it huge, a little bewildering and ultimately very satisfying. It feels more authentic (for lack of a better word) than Singapore, which sometimes feels like a Potemkin village.
Part of Namdaemun market, near the South Gate and the beating heart of South Korea's retail trade.
A woman sells traditional Korean treats, made out of glutinous rice, in Namdaemun. 
Dolls for sale in the market. There's been a market on the site since the late 1400s CE.

Don't let Seoul's hypermodernity put you off if you're not a fan of that. There's still plenty to see and do.  
A prayer grotto at the Meyongdong Catholic Cathedral. 
A street preacher on a Seoul shopping street. Christianity is the second largest religion in South Korea. Although technically more South Koreans are Buddhist, so many are non practicing that there are more practicing Christians in South Korea than practicing Buddhists. (56% of South Koreans don't practice a religion. 27.6% are Christian and 15.5% Buddhist.) 

I hope to get back to Seoul in the near future and explore the city more as a tourist.

There are more photos of Seoul in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Changing of the Guard

Members of the Royal Guard at the Deoksugung palace in Seoul start the Changing of the Guard ceremony. 

The best daily free show for tourists in Seoul is the Changing of the Guard at Deoksugung palace. It's held most days at 11.00, 14.00 and 15.30. There is no Changing of the Guard on Mondays or when other events are scheduled. There are frequently political protests at the palace and while the palace is open to tourists during the protests, there is no changing of the guard ceremony. 

The drum announces the changing of the guard. 

The ceremony is based on the Changing of the Guard used during the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Empire from 1392 until 1910. (In 1910, Japan invaded and occupied Korea, ending Korean independence until the end of World War II.) The ceremony last about 15 minutes and there's a chance to do "selfies" in the middle of the ceremony. 

One of the royal guards blows a conch shell during the ceremony. 
Drummers. 
One of the royal guards march past a drummer in the royal guards. 
Selfie time with the royal guards.


Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Speaking Freely

A man makes a clenched fist while he marches through central Seoul during a protest against South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

South Korea now has one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia. That's a remarkable change from the years of dictatorship South Koreans endured during their country's post war journey. And in any democracy, protest is a part of life. 

Park Geun-hye was inaugurated as the President of South Korea in February 2013. She is the daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961, officially appointed (not elected) president in 1963 and ruled until 1979, when he was assassinated by a friend in a coup against him. During Park's rule, South Korea sent thousands of troops to Vietnam to fight alongside US forces and the South Korean economy expanded at a blistering pace. 
A man in military garb during a pro-Park, anti-Moon rally.

Time heals all wounds and despite the fact that Park was a dictator, some in South Korea look back fondly at his tenure (because of the rapid economic expansion) and his daughter Park Geun-hye was elected on both the basis of her own accomplishments and her connection to the long ruling dictator. 

Park was a committed hard liner in relations with North Korea and she allowed the sun to set on  the Sunshine Policy of her predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee. She also, apparently, had questionable judgement and got caught up in a sweeping corruption scandal. She was impeached in 2017, removed from office and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
A pro-Park protester waves the South Korean and American flags at a pro-Park rally. 

Moon Jae-in, a liberal and supporter of Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee, was elected in the wake of the Park scandal and governs South Korea today. 

Moon is incredibly popular. By some South Korean polls, his approval ratings are around 60%. But for Park supporters, Moon is an illegitimate President (in a nod to Trumpian rhetoric, Moon's opponents call him the "fake" President) and Park was innocent, or at least no more guilty than any other president, (both sides do it) and was set up by the bureaucracy (the "deep state"). Park's supporters loathe Moon and the reinvigoration of the "Sunshine Policy." 
A woman plays a drum during the anti-Moon protest. The Park supporters I met were very pro-American. Most were waving US flags along with South Korean flags. 

Many of Park's supporters think Moon is a communist agent, placed years ago (a "Manchurian Candidate" as it were). They believe Moon will sell out the South in favor of North Korea. They are counting on South Korea's relationship with the United States to maintain the South's freedom. 

Despite the fact that Trump unilaterally cancelled annual joint US-South Korean military exercises, suggested the US could pull its military forces out of South Korea, and did not bring up either South Korean* or Japanese** concerns, Park supporters insist Trump will stand by the South.
An evangelical Christian who supports Park prays during the anti-Moon protest. South Korea has a very large Christian population. About 14 million South Koreans profess to be Christian, about 29% of South Koreans, 23% are Buddhists but 46% are non-religious.

The anti-Moon protests have a large evangelical presence. Many start with an evangelical prayer meeting before the political rally starts. 
Park supporters at a rally. 

There are more photos of the anti-Moon rallies in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

* North Korea has hundreds of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds, some loaded with chemical weapons, on Seoul in the first hour of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula. This is a major concern of the South and Trump didn't bring it up. 

** North Korea has abducted hundreds of Japanese civilians from western coastal areas of Japan. Return of its citizens has been a key issue for Japan. Trump, apparently, said nothing about this.

An Anniversary Renewed

A man stands between cardboard cutouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a celebration of the anniversary of the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in Seoul

The June 15th North–South Joint Declaration has been celebrated off and on in South Korea. It marks the agreement signed on June 15, 2000 between then President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and then Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il of North Korea (both are deceased). It was the culmination of Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy" with the North and an effort to bring North Korea into the community of nations, with a goal of reuniting the peninsula.
A drum line performs during the celebration...

...while Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul (front row, center) and other VIPs watch. Park is an ally of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who in turn, was a supporter of Kim Dae-jung.

The Sunshine Policy was regarded by many American academicians as a failure and as relations soured between North Korea on one hand and South Korea and the US on the other hand observances of June 15 became smaller or the day was ignored completely. 

But the recent thaw in relations brought on by the Moon Jae-in / Kim Jong-un Inter Korea Summit in April and Kim's meeting with Trump in Singapore earlier this week has renewed the hope that some South Koreans have for a peaceful resolution to the peninsula's conflict. This year's observance of the June 15 anniversary was reported to be the largest in years. 


The general mood at the event was optimistic and happy. 

There were several hundred people at the rally, so it wasn't huge, and many in South Korea are not convinced the recent turn of events signals a sea change or is a temporary thing, like the passage of a storm before an even bigger storm swamps the boat. South Koreans are stuck between mercurial leaders (Trump and Kim) and what's said one day may not apply the next day. 
A woman with a placard bearing the silhouette of a reunited Korea. 

There are more photos of June 15 party in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Eid al-Fitr in Seoul

Men pray during the Eid al-Fitr service at Seoul Central Mosque. 

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and is one of the most important holy days on the Muslim calender. I've been photographing Eid al-Fitr since the early 2000s and I try to photograph Eid services every year where ever I am. 
A Muslim family on their way to mosque for Eid gets in an elevator in a Seoul subway station. 

Muslims make up a tiny percentage of South Korea. Most are Buddhist, but Christians have a large presence in the country. There is, however, a vibrant community of Muslim migrants in Seoul, from throughout the Muslim world. 
Some of the crowd at the mosque before the service started. 
Men pray in the parking lot of the mosque. 

The mosque was packed. I got to the mosque about 20 minutes before the service started and there were so many people on prayer rugs in the parking lot I couldn't get up to the actual mosque. I photographed the service from a corner of the crowd and then went into the mosque after the prayers to photograph the "Khutbah" or sermon.
The Imam delivers the khutbah. 
A man prays in the mosque after the khutbah.

After the Imam's sermon, men greeted each other, people posed for selfies in front of the mosque and folks poured into the street of the Muslim community around the mosque for banquets at the Muslim restaurants. 
A man from West Africa takes a selfie in front of the mosque. 

There are more photos of Eid in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Calling for Justice

The "Pyeonghwabi," or "Statue of Peace" across the street from the Japanese embassy in Seoul, represents all of the Korean girls forced to be comfort women for Japanese forces during World War II. The statue was dedicated in December 2011. 

Every Wednesday, since January 8, 1992, hundreds of South Koreans gather in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest against Japan's use of forced sexual slaves, put into mobile brothels that traveled with Japanese Imperial forces, during World War II. The sex slaves were euphemistically called "Comfort Women." Japanese forces enslaved hundreds of thousands of women from the territories they conquered but since Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910-1945, many of the enslaved women from Korea. 
A man leads a chant during the protest on Wednesday June 13. 

World War II ended 73 years ago and the surviving "comfort women" are in their late 80s and 90s but the issue is still an open wound in South Korean-Japanese relations and is a leading source of anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea. Japanese efforts to shut down the protest and move the "Pyeonghwabi" have backfired and strengthened Korean resolve. 

There are dozens of "Comfort Women" statues in South Korea. In 2016, activists put up a statue in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan. Japanese diplomats complained and the city removed the statue, which angered local activists and sparked demonstrations. The mayor apologized and allowed the statue to be put back in its place in front of the consulate. Japan responded by recalling two diplomats from South Korea and cancelling some economic agreements. 

The crowd in front of the embassy during the June 13 protest.

I was surprised by how young most of the people in the crowd were. They were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the generation enslaved by the Japanese in World War II. I was expecting people my age or a little younger, people in their 40s or older. But it was people, mostly women, in their 20s and younger. 
Young people energize the crowd. 

Women at the protest.

The protesters have been coming together every Wednesday since January 8, 1992. In that time, they have only missed one day - after the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995. Their resolve has gotten them a place in the Guinness Book of records as the world's oldest rally on a single theme. 

There are more photos of the Wednesday protest in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

South Koreans React to The Kim-Trump Summit


Members of the South Korean People's Democracy Party, a progressive South Korean political party, demonstrate in front of the US Embassy in Seoul in support of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

Earlier this year South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met for meetings in the Korean DMZ. It was a significant thawing of relations that had grown very frosty because of North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, long range missile tests and bellicose tweets from the American president. South Koreans gathered by the thousands to watch the meeting on large screen TVs throughout the country.

The world was surprised when, after the Inter-Korean Summit, the "Dotard" and "Little Rocket Man" decided to hold a bilateral summit to address their issues. American conservatives, who were outraged when President Obama said he was willing to meet with Kim embraced Trump's decision.

I went to Seoul expecting that people would be as transfixed by Trump meeting Kim as they were by President Moon meeting Kim. I was disappointed. The reaction in Seoul was very subdued.
South Koreans ignore Kim's arrival at the Kim-Trump summit. 

The US Embassy, usually a gathering spot for demonstrations regarding the US presence in South Korea (for both supporters and opponents of the US presence), was quiet. There was a phalanx of South Korean police around the embassy, but they were bored with nothing to do. Only the  South Korean People's Democracy Party showed up, and it is a small party with no members in the National Assembly.
Members of the party gathered across the street from the embassy and chanted during the sumit.

I photographed the protest until it broke up and then went out and looked for other photos related to the summit but didn't get anything. In the evening I went back to the embassy and there were two women there protesting against the presence of the US THAAD (anti-missile defense) deployment to South Korea. 
A woman in front of the embassy protesting the THAAD deployment.

There are more photos of South Koreans' reaction to the summit in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Remembering the Forgotten War

A South Korean student runs past prayer ribbons hung on a fence in Imjingak, near the Korean DMZ. 

The Korean War might be the "Forgotten War" in the US, but it's not forgotten on the Korean Peninsula. There are monuments to the war dead in many South Korean cities. There's a huge monument and museum dedicated to the war in central Seoul. Millions of Koreans, on both sides of the DMZ, died. More than 33,000 Americans died. Thousands of Allied soldiers, fighting under the banner of the UN, also died. 
Looking north from Imjingak, the bridge on the right was destroyed during the war. The bridge on the left is to carry commercial traffic between the north and south after relations are normalized. 

It's worth remembering that the war never officially ended. The two sides, South Korea, the US and the UN signed a cease fire agreement with the North Korea, the People's Republic of China and the USSR (although the USSR was not an official combatant, it had hundreds of military personnel aiding the North, mostly in the form of air crews). The cease fire agreement is still what keeps the two sides apart. From time to time one side or the other will take some provocative action that threatens the status quo (for example, the North sunk a South Korean patrol boat in 2002). Not to mention North Korea's drive for nuclear weapons and long range weapons. And the North considers joint US-South Korean military exercises provocative. 
The entrance to Imjingak. It's a huge park and memorial within view of the DMZ and North Korea. South Koreans go there to relax and consider their history. Tourists go to get a glimpse of the North.

I went to Imjingak not knowing what to expect. I had seen pictures of the places and read travelers' accounts but sometimes it's hard to reconcile that against the reality. In this case the reality matches other travelers' accounts. 
South Korean school children hang prayer ribbons on a fence near the DMZ.

Women look at their smart phone from a scenic overlook. North Korea is behind them. 

A woman and her daughter walk through a park in Imjingak.

There are memorials to the war scattered through the park. Altars for the veneration of ancestors and families separated by the war. Cafes in the park. An amusement park with rides. A food court. A Popeye's chicken restaurant. It's easy to spend a day wandering in the park. 

There are more photos from Imjingak in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Noryangjin Fish Market

A worker carries a fish to a scale to weigh it before the nightly wholesale fish auction in the Noryangjin Fish Market.

I'm in Seoul for a couple of weeks working on stories related to the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un. The first thing I did was not related to the summit but is a great slice of South Korean life. I went to the nightly wholesale fish auctions at Noryangjin Fish Market. 

A buyer signals his bid during an auction. 

Noryangjin Fish Market is the largest fish market in South Korea and is famous in Seoul for the small shops that sell and prepare seafood for retail customers. The auction action is in the adjacent wholesale market and starts when most of the retail shops are closed.  

The auctions start between midnight and 1AM and go to the hours of the morning. There are usually three or four auctions going on at the same time. It's quite a seen. There are auctions selling batches of seafood already boxed and ready for shipment and there are auctions of individual fish, like tuna and rays.
An auction worker holds up fish for people to see during an auction. 

At an auction of boxed and ready to ship seafood, an auctioneer takes bids. 

While a bidder tracks prices. 

Most visitors to Seoul go to the fish market at lunch time or during the evening hours for dinner. If you're interested in the retail side of it or interested in getting dinner, that's definitely the time to go. But if you want to see something most visitors to Seoul don't get to see, the early morning fish auctions are great. 
A woman in a retail shop slices fresh fish for sashimi.

There are more photos of the Noryangjin Fish Market in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.