Graffiti Tunnels, Leica Chungmuro, Myeong-dong and a Potter Around Itaewon

After shackling my new seat and second-hand wheel in the warded off bike park outside Lotte I embarked on the 6:05 am for Gangnam, my destination Apgujeong Interchange graffiti tunnel. As I sat stifled by the decision to ignore any for of AC I reflected on the start to my weekend. Dismal England are out and maybe Mario won’t get the peck he so deserves from Liz but he may get a full snog from Wenger, who knows? Karim Benzema is definitely worthy of Arsene’s attention as he reaches football maturity and seemingly has cast aside his inconsistencies. Faith can be rewarded. He shows remarkable composure and intelligence in the French defeat of the Swiss, scoring, having a penalty saved as well as providing assists and a faux conversion during added on time. Faux because the final whistle had gone but his execution was impeccable.

The pace of development in a country should not mean an ignorance of sanitary hygiene! Why would one wash hands before entering a cubicle to expire a number 2 then fail to hit the water and Lord Leverhulme after exiting? One can only imagine! The ability to catch flies on a bus journey is the stuff of legend but I can’t help thinking a good nights sleep would be better for the constitution. Why hide behind curtains when there is no sunshine and your skin is so palid you resemble a destitute Victorian with consumption? Again I can only speculate that you’ve consumed myriad propaganda warning you of impending doom from skin cancer rather than the benefits to the body absorbing vitamin D. Morrissey is my bedfellow on these journeys, the Victor Meldrew of pop inspires me to record these observations but please remember I’m more Peter Kay than Mozza.

I have a plan post graffiti to pop over to Chungmuro and visit the Illum Gallery and Leica Store before ascending Namsan via Myeongdong. The descent will deposit me near Hangangjin Station and after a potter along Antique street my hotel. Apparently this hostel, (despite me having used require a second email confirmation to save your room. I kindly requested a reason why but the answer given left me puzzled. You make your own mind up! “Another reason for this is a lot of fake reservation we receive since a lot of people make the same just to get visa paperwork and they never show up. So asking you to confirm gives us more security.” I of course cannot cancel as they have the right to claim (on my Visa card) the payment from as I reserved the day before. It also seems weird that they can do this but the customer has to pay cash to the black marketeers. As I write this my shoulder has become the resting place for an ultra black died head belonging to a sixty something. I only have another 40 minutes to endure before disembarking at the home of K Wave culture.

I am the only person awake. In the bowels of the terminal its pretty dead since they closed McDonald’s, the breakfast honey pot for teens and early twenty’s. There’s a solitary figure juxtaposed against the bronze sculpture seat and as I wait for my train most of my companions are posters displaying a fit looking Korean, a huge tyre and the message “Just Eat It”. A lonesome shopaholic confirms that the MEGA SHOP is now OPEN.

I disembark as planned at Apgujeong exit 2, passing through the Hanyang 8-Cha apartment and strolling through the linear park at the rear.  This is where I met my first sleeper of the day, still decked out from an over exuberant night on the slosh he had taken refuge adjacent to the outdoor gym.  I suspected the machinery would not be getting a work out that morning. Just beyond Wee Willie Winkie I discovered the entrance to graffiti tunnel. The the rebellious use of contemporary art to send messages to society is in its infancy in Korea and whilst the political message is sometimes incomprehensible the scribes certainly brighten up my day. Dragons, Angry Birds, Super Mario, Gorrilaz, Snoop Dog, Donald Duck, skulls and grenades are displayed in all their vibrancy for those a pied, cycling, jogging or perambulating through. There’s not much Banksie type stuff on view but it ain’t half photogenic. I continued my stroll along the Han River realising Seoul Forest Park was on the opposite bank and further on the posh waygook apartments of Hannam Dong nestled above Oksu Station. I tool the elevator up to the bridge, returning to Apgujeong my next destination Chungmuro.

Near the top of the main exit escalators of Chungmuro-ga are a pair of walls clad in old photographs.  The celluloid may have faded and aged but this homage is a demonstration of the area’s close association with Korea’s film industry. Many of the earliest cinematography screened in Korea saw the light of day in the Chungmuro area, later many film companies set up their offices here.  Korean cinema has seen a shift to Busan, Jeonju, and the outskirts of Seoul, but Chungmuro is still seen as the film industry’s birthplace in Korea. Do you love pooches or felines? If the answer is yes head East of exit 8, either side of Toegye-ro and you’ll descend upon Chungmuro Pet Street or Aewangyeon market where there are pet shops, animal hospitals and pet grooming shops. I’ve heard that most of the poor mites are from factory type farms so as I do you can rant at the vendors or just stay well away. I got my co-teachers to translate mt disgust into Korean and either delivered by hand or popped under doors. Of course they don’t want folk taking pictures an attempt to chase you away but I find if you stand your ground, go nose to nose and shout louder than them they retreat back inside.  Have fun following them back-in to vent more disgust and anger! Further along on Hullyeonwon-ro it’s a motorbike fetishists dream, BMW’s, Ducati’s, and Harley’s with a few Vespa’s thrown in for lads like me. I still adore the Sky Blue MCFC variety. On Toegye-ro, west out of Exit 5, and turning right on Toegye-ro-27-gil you’ll come across the epicentre of the photographic industry and the font of the high-alter is the rather expensive Leica store.

From here it’s a short stroll to Myeong-dong with its quirky characters and fashionistas, an old lady shopping cart in tow oggled a cosmetic shop poster. A gentleman appearing disillusioned with life in this shopping Mecca perched under a “Jesus will come soon” sign. He showed little appetite for a repent or journey to heaven, his demeanour suggested he’d rather have a bacon butty and soju. An old guy sucking on his 30th fag of the day (no quips) tugged a ridiculously large cardboard box clad recycling cart along the main drag. After dismembering a dozen or so teenage shopperoos he came to a halt at the theatre crossroads to finish his ciggie. Nearby a Muslim girl queued outside the Grand Open (ing) of the Mamonde cosmetic store and a sales rep from the said store consumed his nicotine fix inside a telephone box. Opposite Myeong-dong Cathedral a barrow boy pushed his decrepit flower cart while engrossed in a phone conversation with possibly his Faganist supplier. I hadn’t planned it this way (see above) but I was gravitating towards  the Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jogno 3-ga. Subconciously the hunidity wa stelling my grey matter that climbing a mountain would not be a sensible direction to take today.

Leaving Myeong-dong I grabbed an injection of caffeine and used the subway to cross the road as it’s invariably quicker than waiting for GOD or the traffic lights to change. I’m still intrigued by the sign on the steps which tells me to walk on the right but indicates the left! As yet another tower emerges from the dust of a decaying dong the hoardings provide many photo opportunities. I snapped a girl who was striding past with the silhouette of a happy shopper above her head and another pic of a guy looking as if his head was likely to be removed by an over-sized boot. A family walking in prefect harmony provided the back-drop to a guy with a destination Myeong-dong ambition and at Pagoda the swinging doors rattled full-tilt for hungry ESOL learners hoping to gorge on my native tongue. Passing the giant whale sculpture and the stream I arrived at the overly expensive but tasty pie shop. As I devoured two of these mini dieting disasters I consoled myself with the realisation that my belly will not be as trim as last year for my visit to blighty. A couple of these tiny pastries are unlikely to make much difference, true? To disperse my guilt I grabbed a 100% natural fruit juice as I washed them down. In the shadow of the juice store and old guy passed by head bows looking as if he was carrying the worlds problems on his meager shoulders. As I waited to cross over to Tapgol Park I noticed a poster for a K-wave horror movie. Displayed in a quad it consisted of a woman with a surgical mask spattered in blood looking like she’d shared tongues with Hannibal. I was glad the scale of the posters was less than alarming. A ridiculously toned fit Korean man emerged from a discount cosmetic store almost felling a mature gentleman who stood in his path.

Crossing over Jongno’s main thoroughfare I settled in Tapgol to imbibe some more Mozza. The Joseon Dynasty suppressed Buddhism and this was originally the site of a Buddhist temple but most of the characters who inhabit the park now are not there for religious purposes they’re simply waiting for God. Apparently it was converted into a park at the suggestion of a  Mr. Brown.

“A significant historical figure in Korea was John Mc Leavy Brown.  He was born in 1835 in Magheragall, Lisburn, County Antrim.  Educated at Queen’s College, Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, Brown joined the British Customs Service in 1873 and from 1874 spent nineteen years in what is today’s China, serving in Shanghai, Guangdong and Taiwan. He was appointed by King (later Emperor) Kojong as Financial Adviser and Chief Commissioner of Customs. Brown was to remain head of Customs in Korea from 15 October 1893 until 26 November 1905, a period of intense intrigue in the capital as Japan advanced its imperial interests. Brown became something of a consultant in the planning of modern-day Seoul as well. ” – Source: Irish Department of Foreign Affairs

Later in the afternoon I sauntered up from Itaewon station up Usadan-ro 10-gil past the Seoul Central Mosque to the hilltop community of Hannam-dong. There’s an eclectic mix of the local market and traditional Korean restaurants juxtaposed against Pakistani and Indian halal eateries, vintage shops, stylish “drip” coffee cafes, a tattoo parlour and resident artists. Hopefully this will protect the area from the nondescript developments that can blight Seoul.

After a shower and nap at my hostelry for the evening I ventured out again taking a stroll around the back of Itaewon before taking on-board very poor Fish & Chips at Baby Guinness.  It’s a piss-take really, pre-prepared greyish cod and supermarket chips for which the princely sum of 18 K-won is charged….never again! I needed my irritation suppressing so I headed to the far end of Itaewon passing Noksapyeong station and taking the dip and hill towards the Magpie Brewing Company. I had my usual Porter and the Pale Ale before trying the offerings at “the Booth”. The queues at Craftworks were too long but later that evening I discovered a new venue “Little Ale” which offers a semi al fresco experience. The Weizenbier was OK but lacked depth so I moved next door to the buzzing “Four Seasons“.  This venue is a good place to meet new folk as there are often interesting people sat at the bar; the first time I visited I met a documentary film maker and this time a writer. This bar has a fine choice of brews and its difficult to abstain from excess but I had to return to Dullju early on Sunday as Chungwon FC (Mt School) had a friendly game.

Rising early I grabbed a brew and egg butty before snapping a now deserted Itaewon and heading back to Gangnam for my bus. I spent the afternoon catching up with Brazil happenings and editing my iPhone snaps (attached).

At 4 pm I cycled over to the high school were Chungwon were set to take the field. Unfortunately my charges have had no matches this year and this according to the school is because of the ferry disaster.  Strangely it seems the opposition had played a number of games against a variety of opposition, I tried to look on the positive side a smy team had a number of first graders who will be physically stronger and moulded for next years return to competitive fixtures. The match was refereed by a Korean teacher who seemed to think any physical contact would lead to a near death experience.  My boys were physically not as strong but had higher levels of skill. We see this every time in the UK schoolboy soccer dominated by the larger physical specimens who steam role the more skilled boys. We played with vigour but also with too much respect and were losing 3-1 when the matched was abandoned due to torrential rain.  Next season we will be stronger and better for the experience but we are frail defensively and the goal keeping position is dire.

Next week is final exams so I’m winding down to my July 22nd UK trip but I’m sure there will be a couple of outings before then.

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