For most of the first millenium, the Silla Dynasty ruled much of the Korean peninsula. The capital city of the Silla Kingdom was Gyeongju. Today, Gyeongju holds some of Korea's most important temples and historical spaces. It is considered the "museum without walls" because of the historical importance of the city's landscape. I was only able to see a handful of the sights, but the ones I did see were wondrous. Here are just a few shots from this fascinating place.
Cheongwansan means "Crown Mountain". I look at it everyday; its rocky crags overlook the town of Daedeok and my home. The peak elevation is 723m (2,241ft). Here are a few shots of a great sunset and sunrise from the top of this precipice.
The scene was surreal. Surrounding me were thousands of people, holding burning joss sticks and praying for the start of the Lunar New Year. Every minute a bell would ring. GONG. The entire crowd would bow simultaneously with the bell. It was an epic sight to see. The mood was solemn as everyone was focused on their prayers. I was overwhelmed. The masses. The fire. The striking bell. Not only was it intense just to be in the middle of it, but the photographer in me was going crazy trying capture its magnificence. In between firing off shots, I was trying not to trip over people or get burned by the fiery sticks in everyone’s hands. Wafts of smoke were overtaking my nose and lungs, and my eyes were tearing up in the stinging heat. It was powerful and truly an awesome event.
Longhua Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Shanghai. Joss sticks are a type of incense that is used during prayer. Here are some shots from what is one of my most favorite photo experiences yet.
It was a beautiful day and I just had to explore. I looked at the map and Maryang called out to me. It's a harbor town in Gangjin County not to far away from my place. So I went there. I stumbled into a fish auction, ate some octopus, and was given a ridiculously nice sunset. A lovely afternoon indeed!
I have a lot of fun taking photos of random people on the street, especially in a country where I don’t speak much of the language. What usually happens is I catch someone’s attention, make a gesture towards my camera, and smile. Some people smile back and give me a nod. I smile some more and snap a few shots. Some people are confused and give the “meee????” look. Then I give them a little push of confidence with a larger smile and nod and maybe a “yes, yes!” or a “nay nay”, or whatever confirmative word I happen to know in their native language. I try to let them know that they look good, or stylin’, or downright fabulous. More often than not, however, people just say no. Most say no with a respectful smile and a shake of the head. But there are a few who literally freak out in disgust as if I’m asking them for fifty bucks and a back massage… I mean I understand that they don’t want their photo taken and I completely respect that. I just wish they would not be so upset about it, especially when I showed respect enough to ask (because most of the time, I’d rather just shoot their glorious natural aura without them knowing). But I guess I can’t really judge them, I have no idea what their day or week, or their life has been like.
But the great, great thing about taking pictures of people in a foreign land is that the experience brings us together for a moment. The camera becomes a bridge of consciousness, a vessel for interaction. Even if the person says “no” to the photo, we still share just a touch of our lives. When I do a get rare encounter with a person who is as interested in me as I am in them, the experience can be the highlight of my day or week, or maybe my life. Interacting with someone who can’t converse with me sometimes provides a deeper connection than if we are able to speak. Maybe the lack of dialect strips away the technicalities and we find our selves talking in a simpler way. Smiles, eyes, laughs… awkward gestures. We are separate people from different worlds and we know nothing about each other’s lifestyles or beliefs. But in these moments what we share is the most simple and real connection, and we find ourselves appreciating each other just for being here.
One of the most enchanting places I have been to, Seoraksan National Park is an impressive garden of jagged peaks and granite spines surrounded by forests and mountain streams. My experience in this place was one that I will always hold high on my list of great things I've done. Though it was not without its challenges, I mostly felt like I had died and gone to heaven. You see, I have a deep deep love of mountains and rocks, which is Seoraksan's specialty. As soon as I stepped off the No. 7 bus from Sokcho City, I knew we were meant to be together. I spent three days exploring this wondrous playground, and I would have stayed much longer had I ignored certain responsibilities. But life is long (hopefully), and I shall return someday for another dance with this magnificence.
Valley of the Twelve Buddhas
I was very fortunate to meet Mr. Youn the day before the hike. Mr. Youn generously gave me his time and some excellent information about this hike. If I hadn't known that the shelters on this mountain sold bottles of water, I would have been carrying a lot of unnecessary liquid weight up this rather grueling hike. With an elevation of 1708m (5,604ft) Daecheongbong is the 3rd highest peak in Korea. The hike to the peak from Seorak-Dong is 11km (7mi) and a 1500m (5,000ft) vertical rise, which is a somewhat serious undertaking. I starting hiking at 3 a.m. and I lucked out with a beautiful day.
I was out for an evening wander in my neighborhood and was so very lucky to stumble upon this blazing sunset over the rice fields. It made me happy.
Late Summer in Daedeok, Jangheung-gun, South Korea.
I think eclipses are pretty dang cool. But I always feel like I want to find a different way of shooting them. Everyone has got the same picture of a moon against the black night sky, makes it hard to be creative. I try to look for a mountain or a tree or a building to include in the composition, something to give the lonely moon a friend. This year I was lucky to be in Korea, where there is always a neon red cross burning against the night sky somewhere nearby. These shots were taken right by my house in the little town of Daedeok. It was a Super Moon as well, so the moon was extra big and brave.
My first few months in Korea was a phenomenal experience. Being immersed in a new country and culture is like jumping into a lake. It's shocking and exhilarating. Life is refreshed and the feeling is incredible.... something new for the soul. Here are some shots from my first few adventures.