Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Challenging Beauty of Seoul

Some people like to slag Seoul as an ugly city because it's not the easiest city in the world to appreciate at first glance. There aren't many obvious tourist destinations, and the overall look of the city seems to reflect functionality and practicality over aesthetics. But these people should keep in mind that this is a city that had to rise literally from ashes in order to foster the fastest economic explosion of any country in the history of the modern world. So perhaps the city planners and architects had to worry about things such as building apartments and offices as quickly and affordably as possible, as opposed to debating how best to gentrify a neighbourhood block with cute brownstones.

That being said, Seoul is a world city now, so it's time for the city to look to not only be a commercial capital but also a a city with a distinct architectural fingerprint. I dream of one day seeing a Seoul that'll embrace its Korean architectural heritage and show the world that a beautiful city does not have to look like New York City or Paris or Bruges.

Since I'm Korean, I am probably too biased to make an objective analysis. But I think there's a unique beauty to Seoul, one that's perhaps more tied to its narrative and sense of possibility than to aesthetics. One has to work a little harder and use a little imagination to appreciate the city, but because of this, it's more rewarding. Even when I look at the most generic, plastic-and-glass clone-tiled building on a block, I am reminded of the fact that just a while ago, there was probably nothing there. If something could spring up in so short a time, what could be around the corner in just a few decades?

Plus, it's always exciting to be in a city that remains wholly yours to be discovered, as opposed to being a gallery of postcard cliches that draw the same breed of tourists every year.

Here are just some pictures that I took last year when I had a lot of free time and had the luxury of just wandering around the city. All these pictures were taken on my Fujifilm X10.

The surrounding walls of Gyeongokgoong

An alleyway in the Bukchon Hanok Village

Gwanghwamun, the front gate of Gyeongbokgoong

A cafe in Samcheongdong

A building in the Bukchon Hanok Vilage

A food cart in Apgujeong

A couple of curious-looking buildings near the Banpo Bridge

Insadong at sunset

A Seoul street

Near the river at Yeouido

Sunset at Yeouido

A train crossing the Han River
A view of Suwon from the Hwaseong Fortress
A crosswalk in Sinchon, near Yonsei University

A barbecue joint in Sinchon

A food vendor (pojang macha) in Gangnam

A view of Olympic Bridge from the Seoul metro

A street bend in northern Seoul

A peek into a coffee shop

A back alley in Apgujeong

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