Street snapping in Sinchon and Hongdae

We were blessed with a Saturday drenched in sunshine and this weekend I intended not to venture too far from the circle line number 2.

I began my pottering at the Ehwa Womans University Campus in Sinchon. The  campus centre accommodates around 20 000 students and was designed by Dominique Perrault Architecture (2008) who I expect hail  from France. The scale is phenomenal and the cavernous building contains 3 types of facility. For the academic programs there are learning and sport-term project spaces, libraries and a range of cafeteria. The building also has the colleges administration department and commercial areas which contain a cinema, theatre and shops as well as external sporting spaces and car parks (20 000 m²).

Above and below the land previously occupied by Ewha Square and the athletic field the new “Campus Valley” provides both Ewhaians and prospective female leaders with much-needed extra space for continuing education and student services. The campus has become a tourist attraction in itself because of the landmark building that the architects bestowed. On Saturday I exchanged banter with Indonesians, Malaysians and a group from Frankfurt.

“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” (Robertson Davies)

“Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.” (Alain de BottonThe Architecture of Happiness)

Good architecture is like a strong marriage its merits are often undefinable but it makes us feel good, it inspires and changes our mood, this building succeeds in all this; it’s certainly the finest modern academic building I have ever come across.

Leaving the campus the contrast is immense, the litany of architectural carbuncles that represent over zealous catalytic development are there for all to see. This whole area deserves better but the positive aspect of the mucky streets and expanse of cables straddling the poorly constructed topography just highlights what an exceptional building the campus is. I continued past the monstrous half derelict Sinchon Station and Megabox and planted myself outside the foot tunnel that links the area to Yonsei University. There is a continual refreshing of the street art; as one mural disintegrates it is replaced by another sometimes political statement made through the medium of graffitti.

Graffiti is often a beautiful thing, a splash of the soul in unlikely places, displaying to us character and development, engendering ideas of hardship and victory. Then in an instance it is no more, often of its time and that time is fleeting, before its renewed and replenished by a more relevant piece of art. The spray can pirates in South Korea are much more palatable than those who strive to save the hillside slums by painting child-like populist murals that resemble Hallmark cards, I say keep up the good work soldiers of the working class!

I stopped and was salivated on by an over amorous Golden Retriever. I chatted to the two young brothers who owned him and were convinced he was just one month old. I suggested he must be at least a year plus but no, he is one month old :-). I suggested removing his manhood to calm him down but that was simply met with puzzled expressions and so I moved on for an injection of caffeine. A Saturday morning in Seoul fools you into thinking that the city may never wake up but around 11am folk stagger from their sojued slumber and take to the streets for their hangover cures. It is at this time I tend to find a peaceful park or simply wander through a new dong. Today was no exception, I would be staying in Hapjeong tonight but I had a bit of flaneuring to do before then.

Climbing up through Nogosan-dong I came to Wausan-ro and my eyes popped out as I stumbled upon another headphone dealer. I wanted the fix of euphoria that only confirming the “value” of my last weeks cans purchase would bring. I was successful they too were 40% more expensive than the price I actually paid. Wausan road provides the shortest route to Hongik University but it is the streets north of here leading down to Hongik University station that are most interesting for the street snapper.

This area contrasts wildly with the area opposite the university gates.  There are smaller crowds and affordable dining opportunities. I noticed an abundance of Vespa’s and a notable number of Mini Coopers. Bar names relate to New York and London Covent Garden as well as the usual titles that are difficult to decipher. The area is a neighborhood known for its youthful and Koreans say romantic ambiance, underground culture, and freedom of self-expression. Unique cafes, cozy galleries, accessory stores, fashion shops, live cafés and jazz clubs, art markets, and gourmet eateries make this a popular hang-out for locals in their 20s and 30s and a fascinating place to walk around. I mooched around for a couple of hours taking the occasional shot to boost my by now flagging constitution.

Later it took me 45 minutes, 5 Koreans, 3 phone calls and a stroke of luck to find my hostel for the night.  The unfortunately named Ho-hotel was around 300 metres from its location shown on I was lucky as my kindly 5th Korean wanted to practice his English and so he took over the transport arrangements, calling the hotel and delivering me in person. The hotel itself was modern and clean though the wi-fi was unpredictable and the “clean” bedding had the usual mild stench of fag smoke. It’s a ritual of mine now to spray the bedding with 4711 Mandarin Orange cologne before I take to my pit.

After a nap I planned my night-time activities which included 2 World Cup games before the boys played Italy at 7 am. For those regular readers you’ll probably know that watching football on Korean TV is a trial but I had a genius solution. I would turn the sound down on the TV and use my iPad supported by VPN to listen to Radio 5 Live as the games began.

I couldn’t resist my usual Fish & Chips treat at Beegers washed down by the immaculate, and strong, IPA. The owner also kindly let me sample their new Porter from Daejon which was much more of a palatable experience that that endured when I have to work with my Daejon co-teacher. Whilst sat on the outdoor terrace seduced by the none-smoking atmosphere I came across a lovely quote from Jamie Ayres:

“You say (the British public) that the BBC are winning the soccer punditry wars, but surely ITV never stood a chance as having Adrian Chiles, up front and centre, is akin to starting the season with a 12 point deduction.” Fantastic!

I then became a victim of a US invasion on the next table. Of course they were expert pundits themselves. It’s great to know that Yanks who never watch and know sweet FA about football suddenly become expert pundits during the World Cup, I’d endured this for the past 40 years since Germany 1974; the worst occasions being when I worked in New York during the 1994 tournament. Apparently Spain lost because the manager is too old! I suppose if the USA lose it will because they have a German manager. In saying this they love German rocket scientists at NASA so perhaps he’ll be OK? I was getting excited only 10 hours to go to England vs Italy and listening to Radio 5 without a “mida” or strangled “shooting” I’d hoped would bring joy to my ears. What this numpty had not realised was that because of the weak w-fi I would have to endure a two-minute time delay between the pictures in South Korea and the commentary from the UK, aghhhhhhh!

I left Beegers and found another outdoor terrace on which to imbibe a few more craft beers. Opposite me a very loud Korean girl flounced in with blue hair and a tangerine top, loud and with skin the quality of the Sea of Tranquility she was fueled by an extremely large bottle of Makgeolli which she was demolishing through a  straw. She was accompanied by an extremely camp Englishman who sported golden curly hair, a string vest and he too sucked on his Makgeolli through a straw. Sorry if these persona insults are irritating teh reader but this self depreciating mid 50s, overweight, glutton for punishment writer was nervous and only an England win would serve to extinguish my fire of mickey-taking. At this juncture a positive thought entered my cerebral cortex, because of Sean’s leg I only had two classes on Monday, I would enjoy Monday if England win, if! My dream-scape became reality when the string vest fellow started to used his chopsticks as tooth picks, at this moment I thought its heaven help me go back to your hotel room and take a nap before footie. As I left Mr. string vest was all flailing arms and twisted tongue and I reflected that he’d be quite possibly be the spawn of Tory party sperm. One this for sure is he’d go down well with the Eaton Rifles in public school.

On the way back I noticed that the over-priced no atmosphere Irish bar had closed (during a World Cup!). How sad, they should have employed some Irish folk and not charged 10k won for a pint of Guinness.

Now the England game, Sterling was selected and Roy’s currency was at an all-time high. When in the opening exchanges he burst forward and drove a shot goal-ward, I rose from my seat believing we’d taken the lead and so did half the stadium. Unfortunately it skirted the outside of the post ruffling the side netting just at it would if it had been 6 inches to the left and a goal.  This was what we’d been waiting for young English guns to run the legs off the ageing Pirlo, how wrong we were to be.

Despite more passing and enterprise from an English team than we had seen since 1998 Italy took the lead. A corner pulled back and then a dummy by the imperial Pirlo led to a low driven shot by Claudio Marchisio which seemed to pass though someones legs, while un-sighting Hart and nestled in the bottom corner. 1-0 to the Azurri. England did not capitulate, we have a new breed of hungry players who believe in their ability, it is promising and Daniel Sturridge equalises after a fine assist from Wayne Rooney, I am in heaven! Half-time arrives with the writer convinced that the young guns would out-fire the ageing Italian canons in the second half but it was not to be. They of course have SuperMario and we have a suspect defence, Mario Balotelli’s header made it 2-1 to Italy early on in the second half. The imperious Pirlo gave a masterclass in possession football and with Rooney’s missed “sitter”, England’s hopes were dashed. This will be a great England team once the defensive deficiency is addressed and there is much to admire now in an offensive sense, we can still qualify if we beat Uruguay and Costa RIca. Do not repent Roy,  keep the faith and eventually these young boys will deliver.

Disappointed but far from despondent I boarded the line 2 train to Mullae-dong to snap some hanging shutters painted in street art. From here I walked through the dong to Sindorim and the D-Cube complex. Seoul FC were planning a promotional event and as the complex hadn’t yet opened folk snoozed in the Skate-board park style entrance area. After taking more snaps I took a coffee and bagel before heading for an early departure back to Dullju, snaps attached.

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