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essays | places

South Korea

the tradition of ambition




Hahoe / South Korea · 2016   Eun-Jin



   I stopped in South Korea to meet a friend from the old life, my first life, and to make inroads into her country and dissect it from the inside. In the end, I learned more about her character’s chromosomes than her culture’s core. Of course, that’s even better. The information contained in one tangible person is much fleshier than the DNA holding together a country. There’s hardly anything existential you can’t learn from a person.


a glimpse


lines   CANDY | World, give us candy, give us city, shower our aspirations of more with more aspirations, let us play a little longer, hide and seek in the dark, our shadows ripping the night’s wrapper wide open.

passages   LIFESAVER | A lifesaver. Keeping people afloat. Never letting you down, let alone letting you drown. Always there for you. Loyal, no questions asked. A lightweight, but robust. A true helper and a giver, taking in the punches of your desperately flailing arms, taking care of the ones in need without patronizing. A hero. One of the best people I know.

Woman standing in front of frozen river in Seoul, South Korea


passages   FROZEN WATER UNDER THE BRDGE | What if the water under the bridge was frozen? Would it change anything? Would it change you? Would you change anything? Would your choice become easier or more difficult with more time at hand? And would it matter at all if you were looking the other way? Would you prefer to keep going with the flow?

Aerial photo of Seoul and the sea with smog

Seoul / South Korea · 2016   heavy air


Traditional house at Hahoe folk village in South Korea

Hahoe / South Korea · 2016   sweet nostalgia



places / stories

Seoul / Friends in Places


Seoul / South Korea · 2016   public bucket list


Seoul / South Korea · 2016   crooked geometry



Five years, long and fat years at that, stuffed with a bold filling of distinguishable days, some sweet, some sweeter, some sour, and some nuclear waste. And yet you couldn’t have squeezed five minutes between the tight friends we were. But you can touch what time can’t, and I know I’ve squeezed her soft soul a little too hard at times even though it never made a sound.

Seoul / South Korea · 2016   temple and tower



Seoul / South Korea · 2016   OLED sky



Seoul / South Korea · 2016   counting lights


Seoul / South Korea · 2016   holes in the dark


Her two roommates welcomed me as one of them and I even got my own room. I would have settled for a piece of that immaculate, heated floor gladly. They also spoiled me with an intergalactic internet connection, so fast that it made my eyes spin. The first night we went to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and it felt like we ate the entire Korean cuisine, but over the next days I realized that we had hardly made a dent. Everything was as good as food gets, but I guess the seaweed is an acquired taste. They’d just sprinkle a few tiny blades on top of everything, but it was so overpowering, it felt like a ten-foot piece of kelp in your mouth.

Over the next days, we had tea in teahouses, and art, and culture. The city was made from glass and wood, ambition and tradition chasing each other. They were hard workers these South Koreans, and in some parts, you could see the kind of poverty they’d lifted themselves out of during long hours and with a work ethic that seemed like a Japanese-German hybrid.



Seoul / South Korea · 2016   dinner gifts



Seoul / South Korea · 2016   the old, the new


When I left, I got some chocolates and cute toothbrush holders for her roommates. Seemed like a decent little thank you at the time. Until one of them gave me a tripod. A full-on, proper, professional tripod. Lacking a mutual language except for cigarettes, all our conversations had been reduced to something like “work, today, good?” and smoke clouds that we uttered into the wintry air. Now I knew even less what to say.


Daegu / Putting Melons to Sleep


Daegu / South Korea · 2016   218


We also visited her parents in Daegu. They had a melon farm outside the city, or maybe the farm had them. If Jin worked her ass off at Siemens in Seoul, they worked their souls off with both hands in the dirt. We went with them one day and my favorite part was putting the melons to sleep at night, tucking them in with heavy blankets. Nothing favorite about it, to be sure, if you do it every day. Back at the high-rise apartment, more food and a sister – Ajin. She was excited about the wedding but worried about her fiancée’s supernatural snores. Simple delicacies littered the entire table. Spicy chicken feet and such.



Daegu / South Korea · 2016   twins & twins



Daegu / South Korea · 2016   down down



Daegu / South Korea · 2016   mono-caterpillar



Daegu / South Korea · 2016   original symbolism



Daegu / South Korea · 2016   West-ish


To wrap it all up, we embarked on a little day trip to some folk village a couple of hours north. Actual people lived actual lives in it. A zoo with humans, from humans for humans. Another thing or two learned.




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