Suwon, a satellite city of Seoul, South Korea. Warm., Springtime air and a midweek national holiday. The perfect day for some city hiking. I set a course to visit friends in the center of the 1 million strong city i live in, leaving from the North.
Heading out of the family neighborhood into the mean streets of Suwon (kidding), it’s possible to notice poorer areas that have their own, cost-effective security system: the guard dog.
Love motels, the long or short time getaways for naughty couples often have a castle shape design, presumably because whatever wench that gets hauled in by a fair prince will get a right royal seeing to.
Although most Buddhist temples in the city are noticeable by the original peace sign (reverse Nazi symbol), they are usually tucked inside a bland, otherwise unnoticeable building. It is Christianity that truly pervades the optics of the Korean city gazer, the cross lingering at every turn.
These omnipresent neon-lit steeples with glowering Christ symbols cut an eerie presence at night, creating a Gotham City meets Blade Runner atmosphere in the skyline.
Suwon is home to what could be Korea’s largest church. I haven’t seen bigger, even in Seoul.
Considering that they teach you non-believers will go to hell, most churches, although frequently architecturally impressive, never strike me visually as a place of heavenly worship in the way that a Mosque or a Buddhist or Hindu temple do.
April is the time of year for that rare beauty of the East Asian springtime, the cherry blossom.
Magnolias are out in force, too..
…as are an array of floral firepower, including the mighty daffodil.
Many migratory birds come and go. The one above is a type that is more consistently seen year-round.
Cute-as-buttons mutts are a frequent site, perhaps owing to the lack of living space in the family quarters…
…though the fashion for dying the poor things’ hair is a tad bizarre.
Any walk toward Suwon’s fortress walls is best filled-up for at my favorite restaurant view in the city with my current addiction, bi bim bap.
The UNESCO-listed fortress wall is immaculately preserved from an age of kings. It was originally built as the center for a shift of capital cities from Seoul to Suwon. It never happened, and now serves as great place for a long walk, and was a big draw for my move to live here.
There is a height restriction on the buildings inside the walls, and plenty of hidden gems to discover, such as the street art in these alleys.
The architecture is reminiscent of many forms of palaces and temples in East Asia, and has it’s roots in spirituality as shown by the yin yang symbol above. Getting to know the predominant religions of a country is helpful, it’s history even more so. The most helpful insight into the Korean psyche would be to study a mixture of it’s modern history most notably it’s troubles with occupation and subsequent rise, and explore the spiritual and cultural landscape of Confucianism, the mindset of which many modern Koreans still function with, although that is gradually changing.
An ajjuma (old lady) taking the famed squat position. Many Koreans do this instead of sitting. Ajjumas are more powerful than old ladies in other countries, and they have elbows of steel. It is common knowledge that ajjumas have the right of way, especially in the subway, where the steel is wielded to deadly effect.
An ajussi (“a-josh-i”), or old man, with a Jindo dog, which is native to Korea. Ajussis, like ajjumas, are not to be thought of in the same category as elders from other countries. Here they will pass you on hiking mountains (sometimes running), powered by a cocktail of ginseng, soju, and kimchi-infused superfoods.
Fresh food is found in abundance at market stalls. Red pepper is the spicy ingredient that is added to make Kimchi, and a host of other tongue tingling, digestive system-stimulating bites.
Silkworms, whilst being a novel sight to wander past, can be vomit-inducing appetizers as an occasionally-served restaurant side dish.
Although K-pop is all the rage with the younger generation and a growing international audience, this lady’s stall sells nothing but old school joints.
Killer robots are no way to attract customers….
…but evil clown have a trick up their sleeves – balloons! This child is about the right age to start using a cell phone in Korea.
Whenever a new store opens, there is generally some sort of outrageous promotion, whether it be clowns on stilts or cute dancing promo girls with matching outfits.
Most restaurants, even the fast food places, seem to have a delivery option.
Ginseng is one of Korea’s great exports. It is a root that is made into a tea. It is a favorite of the ajussi, and known for it’s strength and energy-boosting properties. Mixed with honey, it’s delicious.
These are some of the seemingly thousands of ‘dok’, or rice cakes. However beautifully presented, i am not a fan of the chewy texture or the bland taste. It’s a shame taht it is the main present i receive from parents of my students.
Pig heads. Lots of them. Kind of sick on first sight, but after you have tasted the delights of barbecued pig’s face, you look at them in a new, lettuce wrapped and dipped in red bean paste light.
On opening a new business, it is known (scientifically questionably) to be good luck to place a pair of pig heads in front of the store for the first month.
Ajussis are a tight bunch. You will often find them huddled around on the street.
This is almost always because they are gambling on a board game.
PC rooms (“bangs”) are dotted throughout cities, usually with fantasy images on display that indicate that they are geared toward teenage boys playing online games. This one has the tagline ‘Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability’, which is false advertising if ever I’ve seen it.
The robot greeter in this restaurant, near Suwon station, is a lot less menacing than it’s Disney counterparts. In East Asia, robots are seen more as friends to humans in fictional cartoons and films, whereas it is the opposite in the West, hence my inherent distrust of them. Maybe i can learn to love them. In 2013 a robot theme park will open in Korea. It’s going to be a blood bath.
Every city in Korea has a tagline. Suwon has two – ‘Happy Suwon’ and ‘Human City Suwon’. The former sounds like a government spin to convince it’s citizens they are happy. The latter, like Suwon is the last bastion for humankind in a robot-governed existence.
With the cuteness overload, sometimes, there are casualties.
Suwon station is the most neon-lit area in Suwon.
The main drag, some call ‘soju alley’, is stacked with bars and restaurants. This place, ‘Dong Bang’, translates literally to ‘Shit Room’. It is a waffle shop. Koreans are obsessed with shit for some reason. Especially cartoon characters with shit on their head. School children like to ‘Dong Chim’ each other on a regular basis, which is where they put their two index fingers together and stick it up their friends’ back passage (over clothes). Unfortunately, teachers have to watch out for the menacing fingers as well.
Suwon station, the nightlife area close to the train station, has all manner of nighttime pleasures. This is the entrance to a booking club, where groups of young men buy a table and alchohol, and waiters bring girls from the dance floor to the gentlemen that look like a good match. You sometimes see employees in large droves hustling girls off the street and off to their club.
At night, love motels come to life. This is where businessmen bring their illicit partner, booking club couples frolic, or where an ordinary couple may stay a few hours or the whole night because of their parental living situation, if the DVD rooms aren’t romantic enough for them.
Apparently the double barber swirls means that it isn’t haircuts going on inside. I’m guessing the same is true for the giant one too. This is not far from the main street of Suwon Station, and is known as Suwons red light district.
Surprisingly, even though having an affair if you are married is open to prosecution by the scorned partner, and prostitution is technically illegal in Korea, the red light district is as open and obvious and nothing i have seen outside Amsterdam. There is a nearby sign that reads that the police have cracked down on prostitution in the area. Nonsense. There is a large labyrinth of hookers behind pink-lit windows who are open for business and hiding from no one. I decided to end my walk by video taping the main street, which is a internet first in Suwon Station as far as i can see, and show how casual the trade is.
I’m looking forward to my next city hike.