Saturday, March 29, 2014

Photo Blog: Time Warp at the Seoul Folk Flea Market

If you were take a Goodwill thrift store and mix it with equal parts antique shop and estate sale, then throw in a pinch of distinctly Asian flair, the result would be the Seoul Folk Flea MarketSome friends and I stumbled across this amazing market by accident -- we'd set out looking for a completely different market and managed to get completely lost. Luckily, losing our way was the best possible thing to have happened because the market we did find greatly exceeded our expectations.

Though I'm slightly upset that it took me two years to find this market, it's probably also for the best. If I'd known about all the vintage and antique things in that that building holds when I was first decorating my apartment in 2011, it would've been dangerous... That being said, this is definitely a new go-to spot for gifts and souvenirs. 

The flea market was only recently put into an actual building in 2008, with its origins being in the street vendors that used to cluster around that area of the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Now it boasts hundreds of vendors and offers a staggering range of items.

Lucky for us (and you), a respectable amount of effort has been put into making this market organized and tourist-friendly. As we walked around, we noticed that the different areas of the market are color-coded, as you can see in the pictures above, from the signs hanging above the aisles to the tarps that pulled down over the booths. Here's a basic breakdown of the zones: 
  • Yellow = household goods, personal goods, vintage clothes, accessories.
  • Orange = vintage clothes, shoes, bags.
  • Green = antiques, used goods.
  • Red = food court!
  • Indigo = tools, bicycle accessories, repair items.
  • Blue = clothes (sports, men's, military).
  • Purple = leisure, cameras, clothing.

Aside from the obviously ancient antiques that makes the market kind of feel like a museum, looking through most of the booths was like a bizarre time warp through the past 50 years. I say bizarre because of the number of very American (and generally Western) items that were being sold, which I can only assume are leftovers from the Korean War and Korea's subsequent modernization. The entire building is just steeped in nostalgia, making any attempt to shop with purpose nearly impossible due to the overwhelming desire to just carefully look at everything.

Directions and information: 
  • Sinseoldong Station, Exit 10. 
  • Walk straight out of the exit and around the corner on the left. You'll make a left at the Shinhan Bank. From there, look for signs and little lanterns hanging along the streetlights. The market will be on your left! (If you cross Cheonggyecheon Stream, you've gone too far.) 
  • Hours: 10:00am - 7:00pm. Closed on every 2nd and 4th Tuesday. (Note: Many vendors close early, so I would advise going before 5:00pm.) 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art in Seoul

Near the end of 2013, years of construction finally came to a close and the Seoul branch of Korea's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art opened. Located next to Gyeongbok Palace in my favorite area of Seoul, this new museum offers excellent exhibits that range from sculptures, paintings, and interactive installations. I happily spent a few hours there recently and I highly recommend checking it out while you're in Seoul!  

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art

Two other branches of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art already exist in Korea: Gwacheon and Deoksugung, and a fourth branch is still under construction Cheongju. The museum features art from Korean artists as well as international artists, with an impressive range of pieces. 
Personally, I'm not always a big fan of modern art, but I was very impressed with the pieces in the Seoul branch. I can't wait to go back actually, especially once the exhibits turnover and new pieces are brought in. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art

As soon as we arrived, I was immediately impressed with the musuem and its staff. We got there a little after 5pm, ready to pay the 7,000 won admission for all exhibits. The staff politely stopped us from paying, informing us that after 6pm, admission to the museum was free. Not wanting to kill time for 45 minutes, we went ahead a paid for admission, but I definitely respect their kindness and honesty. If anything, it made me even more willing to support the museum with my 7,000 won.  

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artTicket.

The pieces are spread well throughout the museum, from gallery rooms featuring a traveling exhibition to installations on the walls of the hallways or hanging from the ceiling. I was unsure of the picture-taking policy of the museum, as I didn't spot any of the typical "No Photography" signs, so I snapped pictures as we went so I could show off the range of art the museum offers. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artEntrance to one of the galleries.

The Zeitgeist Korea exhibit currently occupies two galleries. Some of my favorite pieces were part of this exhibit -- really expressive paintings and creative techniques. (The Zeitgeist Korea exhibit was the one place where I hesitated to take photos -- my gut instinct told me that it wasn't at all allowed, but I still don't know for sure.)

Outside of the rooms holding exhibits, the next photos should give you an idea of the art that's on (and in) the walls of the hallways: 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artHuge installation on a hallway wall in the museum.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artPerformance art in the form of an opera singer. The information on the wall said the artist found great comfort in Schubert's Lieder, so this interactive performance art was set up. The listener, seated in the chair, would be given the gift of song by one of the hired opera singers. This guy had a beautiful voice and we were mesmerized by this performance.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary art  
Don't forget to look up! This thing was moving, too!

Going back into the galleries, we came across more interactive pieces that allowed patrons to walk around in the middle of the installations:

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artProjectors in the four corners of the room lit up all these big rectangles with images.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThis huge, intricate piece looked like it was made with pieces of plastic trash, but it was full of sensors that would make the piece move in response to the movements of the patrons walking around.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artIt was definitely weird, but it also just looked so cool.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThis room had a story being displayed on all four walls and in order to (try to) read it all, we had to quickly spin on the spot to chase the words around the room. This is just a portion of one wall.

My favorite piece in the whole museum was this one, entitled "Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home," by Do Ho Suh. Believe it or not, this giant, detailed blue structure is made of fabric. The outer structure is a Western-style townhouse and inside, there's a smaller structure hanging from the ceiling that is in the style of a traditional Korean home. 

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artThe line to get in.

mmca seoul museum of modern and contemporary artAmazing detail.

Museum Information: 
  • Directions: Anguk Station Exit 1, Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 6, or Gwanghwamun Station Exit 2. Handy map can be found here
  • Admission: 7,000 won for all exhibits, either 3,000 or 5,000 for individual exhibits. Free admission for special exhibitions on Museum Day -- last Wednesday of every month.
  • Hours: Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sun - 10:00am~6:00pm, Wed & Sat - 10:00am~9:00pm (and free after 6:00pm!), closed Mon & national holidays.
Have you been to the MMCA Seoul yet? What about any of the other branches in Korea? Leave your thoughts below! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Favorite Spots on Jeju Island

Well, I should amend that title by saying these are my favorite spots from my first visit to Jeju... I'm sure future visits will introduce me to other places that are equally awesome. My recent Jeju trip was over the Lunar New Year holiday, which was a four-day weekend. The end of January isn't ideal Jeju weather, but it didn't stop us from touring all over the island and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Here's the best of what I saw... 

jeju island south koreaOne of Jeju's famous dol hareubang, or stone grandfathers.

Our trip to Jeju was part of an organized tour, and honestly, I'm kinda happy we had the guidance. Normally I love plotting out an entire vacation, but this time I wanted to have a weekend of not worrying about what came next. I definitely appreciated having a chartered bus and no responsibility. We went with one of the popular expat tour groups: When in Korea. After doing this tour, I feel like I've gotten my bearings enough to plan a really awesome return trip around Jeju. 

The tour itself was a whirlwind of activities, so here are my favorites: 

Olle Trail #7

Jeju's 13 Olle Walking Trails are a big attraction on the island. We only walked along this one, but it was beautifully scenic and I was impressed with the sights we saw. Plus, it was a spring-like, sunny day and it was just really nice to stroll along the seaside. 

jeju island south koreaOedolgae Rock.

Possibly one of the coolest things to see along this trail are the Jusangjeolli Rock Column Formations. Jeju Island is a product of the volcanic eruptions of Hallasan, so all over the island, you'll see crazy lava formations. In this case, the lava formed hexagonal columns that don't at all look natural: 

jeju island south koreaJusangjeolli Rock Column Formations.

jeju island south koreaJusangjeolli Rock Column Formations -- so cool! 

jeju island south koreaA shot of the trail - so pretty.

Yongmeori Coast

This was possibly my favorite part of the whole weekend. Not only was it a stunning location, but we had a lot of fun trekking around and taking photos. Yongmeori Coast, also known as Dragon Head Coast, is right next to Mt. Sanbangsan. 

jeju island south koreaLayer after layer of limestone deposits.

jeju island south koreaThe rock is full of tiny little caves and spots for sitting. 

jeju island south koreaWith Sanbangsan in the background.

Orange picking!

Jeju is quite famous for a few things, and from my experience in Korea, it seems as though their oranges hold the number one spot. I was really excited to see that our tour included a stop for all-you-can-pick-and-eat at an orange orchard! We only had ten minutes to stuff ourselves (and possibly our bags...) with these sweet little oranges, but it was definitely worth it. Pruning shears were passed out, a timer was set, and we went crazy. 

jeju island south koreaTrees ready for picking.

jeju island south koreaGive me all the oranges you have.

Kimnyoung Maze Park

If you've ever wanted to reenact Harry Potter or Labyrinth, I've found the place to go. This giant hedge maze was a rather whimsical part of our tour, but I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this part of the tour was during the day when the weather decided to be rainy, making the maze less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. We did, however, still laugh hysterically as we got completely lost. Also, because our umbrellas were too wide for the maze and we kept getting stuck: 

jeju island south koreaWe just want to get out! 

jeju island south koreaWe never found the center of the maze... Instead, we managed to make our way back to the entrance? Accidentally, of course.

Manjanggul Lava Tube

As I discovered last fall when I explored Hwanseongul on Korea's east coast, I love caves. They fascinate me. Getting to walk inside the massive Manjanggul Lava Tube was no exception. Designated as a natural monument and UNESCO World Heritage site, it was created by the lava flow from several volcanic eruptions. It's actually part of an entire system of lava tubes that are at least 100,000 years old.

jeju island south koreaJust awesome.

jeju island south koreaMake sure you stop and check out the different lava formations as you walk.

jeju island south koreaGoing early in the morning is recommended -- it was so empty!


Next time I visit Jeju, I'll definitely be ready to tackle more of the island. Warmer weather will call for more time spent on Jeju's beaches, checking out the waterfalls, and maybe even escaping the heat in museums. There's just so much to do! 

Any recommendations on what can't be missed on Jeju? Leave a comment below!