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.


The definitive girl’s guide to living, discovering, and enjoying South Korea
By Hana Yoo and Elizabeth Shim
Small Planet Publishing

Call me crazy, but I keep hearing little voices that are nudging me to declare 2012 as the year to visit, discover, and frolic in the land of Korea. Perhaps even live there for a year or two, and really get to the bottom of a bottomless intrigue.

Sure, things are a little shaky up North. And everyone’s a tad bit nervous about a 29-year-old, Swiss boarding school-trained neophyte handling the last Stalinist regime standing. I mean, would you hire this guy to run a country? I wouldn’t.

Luckily for us, South Korea is everything North Korea is not. The keywords here would be leisure and entertainment. Many travelers from neighboring China and Japan are now coming in droves to do their shopping, hang out in the cafés of Gangnam, and taste some of that ferociously delicious Korean food. Kimchi, anyone?

Other, rather unexpected events have also taken place that have put Korea squarely on the map, kind of like the way you can see places like London, or New York not just geographically but also symbolically.

First — and let’s just get this out of the way — there’s the K-pop phenomenon. I’m thinking of the scores of websites dedicated to Korean entertainment news, especially this lovely one based in Singapore — designed to quench the unquenchable thirst of K-pop fans for more pictures, updates, and music videos by some of Korea’s cutest, eye-catching, what-have-you stars. This stuff is addictive, I’m telling you, so don’t get sucked in. But if you do, you may find yourself actually traveling to Korea.

And I’m here to tell you that’s not a bad idea. Especially if you are young, Korea seems to hold a few promises for the smart, adaptable person who’s curious to learn more about Asia.

So if you’re headed to Korea, check out Seoul Sweet Seoul! There’s lots of information about shopping, spas, and travel, in a detailed language you won’t find in tourist brochures, or the usual suspects published by Lonely Planet or Moon Guides. It also helps it was written by myself and Hana Yoo, and we’ve lived in Korea for a combined six years.

There’s also information here about expat living and finding a job, but with none of the usual ranting about locals that you’ll find on forums littered with trolls who suffer from some arcane inability to adjust.

The world’s getting smaller. And we’ve all got to make an effort to understand each other better.

And in 2012, as this piece on CNNGo suggests, what better place to head for than the Land of the Morning Calm, in a year when the Mayan Calendar ends?

Mark my words, dear readers. All roads lead to Seoul. So buy the book already.


Do Ho Suh | Lehmann Maupin Gallery

by Liz on October 30, 2011

in Art & Design

Many Americans think of Koreans in the United States as diligent and capable newcomers who adjust quickly to their host country. Different, yes, but in a nation of differences and diversity, Koreans are just another stripe of color in an ever trendy mosaic. Do they have reservations about the new culture they must adapt to? Are they experiencing difficulties? No one knows, because no one ever bothers to ask them. No one, except for perhaps Korean artist Do Ho Suh, who resurfaced to transform elements of the autobiographical into both the artistic and the architectural at Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

As you can see from the photograph above, Suh created replicas of two buildings that have become fused thanks to a collison of two worlds, which took place when the artist first arrived in the United States in 1991 to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. The prewar brownstone replica represents the home he adopted in Providence, Rhode Island, and the hanok on the right depicts his childhood home in Korea with painstaking accuracy. According to the art narrative, his Korean home was lifted up by a tornado, transporting Suh to a strange but soon-to-be-familiar place called America. And the results are a vision to behold.

Details of hanok in Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-2011

Floor by floor of Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-2011

The tornado-driven crash landing has devastated the interior of the brownstone across all immediately adjacent floors. The damage is severe, even irreparable, but also void of catastrophic emotion. The rooms appear to be inhabited, and yet there are no people. All we have is silence, but a silence so indifferent it’s practically an ode to the ones who know that when a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it really does not make a sound.

Suh is a remarkable artist whose intimate knowledge of cultural displacement has in many ways inspired my desire to become a better interpreter of transnational Asian culture and experience. Suh’s collision is a serious crisis, but I know all too well the greater crisis is our defiant disregard for our feelings of discontinuity and change. It’s a story that’s defined entire swathes of people but remain suppressed and unverbalized, until someone like Suh takes a stand and says, “You. This is you.” The fact that Suh is Korean and has intimate knowledge of Korean architecture made this exhibit feel all the more personal.

As for his art, I’ll let the visual outcome speak for itself.

Details of a kitchen

The attention to detail, such as in this bedroom, was simply mind-boggling.

Rear window

Visitors standing by Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-2011. Certainly gives you a sense of scale!

The parachute attached to Suh's childhood home. Definitely has echoes of his previous works.