Myeongdong Encounters

by Liz on May 25, 2013

in Travel

Myeongdong Street Scene. Seoul, Korea

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a photographer.

But I like taking photographs.

For years, I shied away from taking photographs of actual people.

Which is ironic, because people are the only subjects actually worth photographing.

Last year in my first semester of graduate school, and thanks to great teachers at NYU, I’ve been making strides in photojournalism and videography.

I have a long way to go, but in the meantime, I use what I know, and do what I can to capture the fleeting moments of life.

This summer in Seoul I’ll be interning at the Associated Press, and I am greatly honored to be part of a bureau that includes Jean Lee and Foster Klug.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with these photographs of Myeongdong in weekend mode.

Myeongdong is located in central Seoul (aka non-Gangnam), and it is a bustling hub of shopping, dining, and entertainment. Every day, crowds wash over the granite walkways like waves crashing the rocks of a beach in Maine. They leave behind footprints, and come away with shopping bags.

Writerly superlatives aside, I really like the first photograph. In a forest of urban anonymity, this lady saw me, and I saw her.

I like that she is not glaring at the camerawoman. Instead, she just acknowledges my presence, as she moves on.

But, for a brief moment, we ‘met.’

Oh, and I also like her bag, which I think is — for lack of a better metaphor — ‘Myeongdong style.’

And you can check out more Myeongdong style here:


Laughter, and a cart selling Korean celeb paraphernalia.


One of many couples.


He wanted another hat, as she tried to distract him.


Half-foot long soft serve ice cream everywhere!




A steady gaze against the backdrop of a poster promoting loans.


Smartphones as walking companions.


Seoul’s Gwangjang Market

by Liz on January 25, 2013

in Food,Travel

It was a chilly day when I visited Gwangjang Sijang in Seoul, but the subzero temperatures didn’t seem to bother some of Korea’s hardiest street stall entrepreneurs.

Most of them, nearly all women, were too preoccupied with pancakes on the griddle, or cauldrons filled with porridge.

Maybe it was because it was a Saturday, but the food stalls from north to south were packed! Which, to me at least, came as a surprise, because I’m quite familiar with this market.

My maternal grandmother fled North Korea in the late 1940s with two little girls (one of them, my mother). After the Korean War she began selling fabrics at one of the above-level floors of Gwangjang. She worked there, I believe, for five decades, and we would visit her. She would awake at 4AM, so this was the only way we’d actually see her during the day.

On our way home, we’d sometimes stop at one of the many stalls serving Sundae (Korean blood sausage), kimbap or tteokbokki.

But up until recently, there were never too many people at this market largely dominated by humble migrants from Hamgyeong and Pyongan provinces.

All that’s changed now, and it seems TV media, both foreign and domestic, may have had something to do with Gwangjang’s status as the new, hip place to be.

It’s interesting to note food in Korea, even the most ordinary everyday stuff, is fetishized.

Koreans used to eat to live. Nowadays, it’s safe to say, they live to eat.

The Korean market has always been a traditional feminine domain. Women seem to be doing all the money-making, and the day I went certainly proved this point.

But with a new woman president at the helm in South Korea, perhaps the political power-making will be in the hands of women as well.

So here’s to a new year, new pancakes on the griddle, and more importantly, to our appetite.

Gwangjang Market is located at 6-1 Yeji-dong, near Jongno-5(o)-ga station, Line 1, exit 8.


Meanwhile In Tibet

by Liz on September 10, 2012

in Opinion,Travel

I received this Tibetan parable in my inbox. It’s from Ji Hyang Sunim who’s the head of the Wellesley Buddhist Community. Such a great morning read. Or any time of the day.

There was a great teacher in the land of Tibet named Milarepa, He had a very bright, promising woman student named Paldabum. She asked questions about meditating with distractions: “In the daytime I have to work, at night time I sleep, in the morning and evening I need to cook. I am a servant to all these tasks that fill up my life. In spite of this, I still want to practice. How can I do this? Please give me some advice?’

In reply, Milarepa sang a song of four analogies and one meaning, five points. First he said, “Look at the mountain. The mountain is unshakable. Like that, train in being like a mountain, always steady and stable.” Then he said, “Look at the sun and moon. Though sometimes covered by clouds and haze, the sun and moon in themselves never change; their brilliance doesn’t increase or decrease, they’re forever the same. Train yourself in being constant, without waxing or waning.” The third analogy he gave was: “Look at the sky. Space is not made out of anything. Its nature is empty, and has neither centre nor edge. Train yourself in being free from centre and edge.” Then he said: “Look at the great lake: Though its surface ripples, the body of water remains unwavering. Train yourself in being unwavering.” Finally he gave the fifth point, the meaning, singing, “Your mind is the most important. Simply settle into yourself and look into your mind. Without being carried away by thoughts about this and that, be totally steady and meditate. That is the heart essence of meditation.”

“When you practice in a way that is like a mountain, remember this: shrubs, trees and plants grow naturally on the mountain, sprouting, growing and perishing there. This arising, dwelling and ceasing of growth does not change the mountain in any way whatsoever. It is merely different expressions that don’t affect the stability of the mountain at all.


Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken, topped with Shan Preserved Mustard Leaves, or 'Burmese Kimchi.'

I just had the most amazing bowl of noodles in a long, long time. A bowl of noodles that’s actually timely and relevant, given that the country it hails from is now ‘unclenching its iron fist.’ Yes, I’m talking about Burma, that storied country of nascent political and economic reforms, and home to a legendary democratic activist whose house arrest has paved the way for today.

This food experience comes at the heels of a boat tour I took this past winter of Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Along the way I enjoyed a bowl of Khmer noodles, topped with cilantro and other indescribable deliciousness that has had me in sort of a daze.

Noodle vendor at Tonle Sap. Best noodles ever!

Certainly New York is a long way from Tonle Sap, and Burma too, for that matter. But one of the great perks of living in this megapolis is the sheer human diversity and the accessibility of wonderful cultures, especially culinary cultures, from Asia and otherwise.

Every year the Moegyo Humanitarian Foundation holds an annual Burmese Food Fair in Queens, the details of which I mined via the prolific Dave Cook of Eating in Translation. The weather has been lovely, so I ventured out to try Burmese food, not because I wanted to duplicate my Tonle Sap food experience, but I wanted to try something new, yet familiar.

It was my first time trying Burmese food, and under the friendly gaze of Burmese vendors, volunteers from the local community raising funds for humanitarian aid, I managed to make some very fine choices.

The very colorful Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken (pictured way above) hit the spot. This was excellent, excellent stuff. The rice noodles were subtly chewy, and served as the neutral backdrop to the protein-rich flavors of the stewed chicken, the refreshing bites of cilantro, crushed nuts, and my favorite, the Shan Preserved Mustard Leaves, which the smiling lady who ladled my soup explained as “Burmese kimchi.” And like kimchi it was memorably spicy.

Upper Burmese Style Stewed Pork at Moegyo Burmese Food Fair New York

Next was the Upper Burmese Style Stewed Pork. I was starting to get the feeling the Burmese like their meat stewed, cooked until so soft the meat starts falling off the bone. We’re talking tender flesh braised in a barbecue sauce that I can best describe as possessing the flavors of the Thai sauce Nam Prik Pao. Sweet yet savory. And slightly addictive.

I know New York has more upscale food affairs than those to be found at the civic food fairs that enrich its local communities. But at 5 dollars per dish (at most!), and with a far-ranging array of Burmese, Vietnamese and Thai desserts to satisfy everyone, I have to say – I really look forward to next year’s food fair, and perhaps even having a go at the karaoke stage, that is if I learn some Burmese songs first. (And if do go on stage, I’m thinking some jungle wine wouldn’t hurt either.)


(From L to R, top to bottom) ART HK 12, Seoul Diagonal Tower by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, The Chan-Zuckerbergs, China's War for Talent, Vintage Viet Cong Posters

@The Diplomat reports the Obama Administration has appointed its first Ambassador to Burma. Derek Mitchell, an inside-the-Beltway native, will be America’s ambassador to Burma, the first in 22 years. Or as President Obama put it poetically: “As an iron fist has unclenched in Burma, we have extended our hand.”

@TIME Magazine reports there’s a war for tech and engineering talent taking hold in China. Expect massages, foosball tables and other perks if they really want you.

@Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. The Korea Times reports a survey of 3,600 people in nine countries shows K-pop Inc. will probably not see lasting success. Too much hypersexual dancing perhaps?

@Art sold well for an impressive swath of galleries represented at the Hong Kong Art Fair (ART HK 12). Even Arario Gallery reported selling an “undisclosed number of smaller pieces, ranging from USD 10,000-50,000.”

@Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan tied the knot at the end of a very eventful week: Chan earned her medical degree, Zuckerberg’s Facebook IPO was the largest in tech history, although it did disappoint a bit by closing 9.5 percent down from its opening price. It’s also something of a fairy tale ending for Mr. Zuckerberg.

@Looking to vacation in Southeast Asia? Know your fruits before you go.

@And if you are Southeast Asia-bound, you might want to rethink fish pedicures.

@On the other hand, if you’re headed to Beijing and looking for some bizarre eats, be sure to get your sneak preview here. (via Fili Nation)

@Are the Norks getting soft? I’m talking about their agreement to release 3 Chinese fishermen, who were detained for 12 days and at one point were held for ransom.

@And for South Korea, Dezeen has done a very nice job of rounding up the future of Seoul’s positively 22nd century skyline.


@Child of the Sixties Forever has a collection of Viet Cong posters from that decade. Which makes me wonder. Will we be looking back at today’s North Korean propaganda with equal bemusement?

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