The Seoul I Love

Mapo-Gu (Seoul)

Morning Calm.  A view of the Mapo gu area in Seoul from my hotel room.

You know what?  It’s a good thing we will have our company retreat next week.  It will give me enough time to shake off this overwhelming feeling I had from my last trip.  I just came back from Seoul and obviously still in a daze; my body already here but my mind still back there in the cold.  I usually only spend a week or so in a certain place so I could use my other leave days to visit other cities and see as much places as I can.  But this is the first time I wished I had stayed longer in one city.  It is also the first time I heard myself wishing for time to stop (obviously dreading the work waiting for me back in the office).  It seems that I am the only one who has not seen Seoul yet.  At one time and for some reason, I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this place.  I regretted that one.  So I made it a point that I get to visit Seoul this year.  With all these recent frenzy for Korean drama, this Seoul trip is all the more significant. 🙂

And I was not disappointed.  It was not really the best time to visit this place though.  We did miss the spring blossoms (since my daughter had to wait for the school year to end before we could get here) but the weather was the most pleasant with the air still cold and chilly despite the sky being bright and sunny (the closing of spring and the beginning of summer) which made this trip one of the most memorable.  This is one of those places that lightning gets to strike only once.  But unlike lightning however, tourists make it a point to hit this place at least twice in their lifetime.  How can you blame them?  Seoul is one of the most beautiful and tourist-friendly places on the planet (at least in the region I have visited).  It is a shopping haven for travelers (you ask the ladies) and a food mecca for the adventurous.  The locals are the most friendly; going the extra mile to make the tourist experience memorable and speaking the most sweet-sounding of all languages (even though I didn’t understand).  I apologize for that.  Maybe we listened to too many Korean songs and watched too much Korean drama while we were there 🙂 .  It is a very lovely and picturesque place with old neighborhoods preserved and nestled within a modern and bustling metropolis; with different seasons providing new perspectives on every familiar scene.  Despite the ravages and destruction of war, Seoul has come a long way to emerging as one of the world’s 21st century cities.  This is one model city enjoying a comeback that should not be missed.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Old and New.  The beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village with the modern Seoul city in the background.

You have to believe me.  The photos in this post don’t do justice to the ultimate bliss of actually being here.  I originally wanted to do several posts about this trip with each post corresponding to each day I spent here; but then decided not to.  As much as I wanted to relive the experience, I also did not want the memory to linger any longer than it should.  It is one of those “I-wanted-to-stay-but-I-had-to-leave” situations you sometimes find yourself in.  Again, too much of that Korean drama  🙂 .  Besides, I also messed up my itinerary for my personal photowalk and committed the grievous sin of seeing most of the places I planned to shoot but actually forgetting to shoot some of them.  It is because the place is so beautifully distracting and the local food so sweetly unnerving.  All those preparations and plans to photograph the place with a fresh pair of eyes and from new angles all went down the drain.  I just simply didn’t care about doing original photography but just immersed myself in the moment.  I don’t even remember ever complaining about long walks and large crowds.  It was a welcoming change from previous tropical ramblings.

What am I talking about anyway?  Okay, I’ll spare you the Korean drama.  This is one place you definitely have to see.  But don’t take my word for it.  You just have to be here.  I am trying to make sense and order out of a disorganized bunch of random photos from my distracted photowalk and trying to write the names of places and their descriptions as I remember them.  So I share them here:  my must-see places in Seoul (the Seoul I love); not in the order of their importance but in the order I found them worthy to be salvaged from my camera’s memory card 🙂 .  Enjoy the images and stay inspired.

Gyeongbokgung Palace: Gyeongbokgung is the largest of Seoul’s four main palaces and perhaps the most recognizable of all the city’s attractions.  It has served as the principal residence for Korean royalties.  Much of the palace’s structures were destroyed during the 20th century Japanese colonial rule.  What you see now are mostly accurate recent reconstructions.  Take time to walk through the palace grounds beyond the Throne Hall to admire two beautiful floating pavilions:  Gyeonghoeru and Hwangwonjeong.

Gyeongbokgung Palace (Seoul)

Geunjeongjeon.  The Imperial Throne Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion (Seoul)

The highly-prized Gyeonghoeru Pavilion on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.

Hwangwonjeong Pavilion (Seoul)

Hwangwonjeong or “The Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance” on an artificial island inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.

Ehwa Womans University:  This is one impressive and imaginative piece of contemporary architecture I have seen during my stay here.  A sloping causeway dives six stories below ground level to the main entrance of this facility and is flanked on both sides by glass and steel fenestration.  The causeway is terminated at the opposite end by a flight of stone steps leading back to the Gothic style campus buildings at the ground level.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

Ehwa Womans University is one of the most beautiful and unique works of architecture at the heart of Seoul City.

Ehwa Womans University (Seoul)

The six-story high stone steps leading to the campus grounds of Ehwa Womans University.

Seoul City Hall:  The recently redeveloped Seoul City Hall embodies the modern interpretation of traditional Korean architecture.  The curved top of the new glass and steel building resembles the roof of old palaces and temples.  Underneath its shade is the beautiful stone-cladded old City Hall building.

Seoul City Hall

The modern and respectable Seoul City Hall at the blue hour.

Deoksugung Palace:  Also called “The Palace of Virtuous Longevity”, Deoksugung is one of several main palaces built during the Joseon dynasty.  It is the only palace ground that is open until late evening so you could admire the buildings when they are illuminated.  The highlight of this attraction is the unusual mix of traditional Korean and Western Neoclassical buildings within a single palace ground.

Deoksugung Palace (Seoul)

Junghwajeon.  The throne hall of Deoksugung Palace.

Seokjojeon (Seoul)

Seokjojeon.  One of the Western Neoclassical buildings inside the Deoksugung Palace grounds.

Cheonggyecheon Stream:  This famous stream of the Joseon era was once covered by an elevated highway that was built after the Korean War.  In 2003, the highway was removed as part of an urban renewal project to restore the stream to its present state.  The stream is 11 km. long running through downtown Seoul and passing under 22 bridges with several attractions along its entire length.

Cheonggyecheon Stream (Seoul)

A River runs Through the City.  Cheonggyecheon Stream provides a soothing contrast to the surrounding urban jungle.

Namsan Hill:  Namsan Hill is Seoul’s geographical center and is topped by N Seoul Tower, its iconic observatory.  The cable car ride to the base of the tower is impressive enough; but the view of the city from the top of the hill is breathtaking.  Counter the cold weather with a cup of coffee and churros from one of the restaurants at the base of the tower. 🙂

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Breathe Again.  A view of Seoul city from the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Namsan Hill (Seoul)

Love Locks.  Beautiful and assorted locks adorn the railings at the base of N Seoul Tower above Namsan Hill.

Bukchon Hanok Village:  Walking through the alleys of this village feels like going back to the time of Korean kings, dynasties, and royal subjects.  Bukchon is a cluster of traditional Korean houses (or hanoks) nestled between two main palaces at the heart of an urban city.  Some of the houses were recently converted to small coffee shops, restaurants, and homestays for tourists who want to be near major local attractions.

Bukchon Hanok Village (Seoul)

Time Passages.  A view of one of the picturesque alleys of Bukchon Hanok Village.

Some Sevit and Banpo Rainbow Bridge:  Some Sevit is a cluster of contemporary flower-themed buildings set on a man-made island off Han River.  The buildings house restaurants and a number of multi-purpose spaces.  Come during the blue hour to admire the buildings when illuminated by color-changing LED lights.  Next to the buildings is Banpo Rainbow Bridge (the world’s longest bridge fountain).  At night, colored lights illuminate the fountain as it sends up jets of water into the air with synchronized music.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Gavit.  The convention and corporate events venue of the Some Sevit community.

Some Sevit (Seoul)

Some Chavit.  The dining and restaurant venue of the Some Sevit cluster.

Banpo Rainbow Bridge (Seoul)

Banpo Rainbow Bridge with the lights and water show at night.

National Museum of Korea:  The simple but impressive exterior doesn’t divulge much of the diversity of exhibits found in its interior.  The stories and cultural treasures within its walls are topics that require a separate discussion.  The lush garden and beautiful park outside the museum provide a calm and soothing contrast to the rigid and stately character of the buidling.

National Museum of Korea (Seoul)

Afternoon Calm.  Lush landscape softens the hard-edged and imposing but beautiful National Museum of Korea.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

 

A Year in Postcards

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Postcard Merlion. Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort with Merlion Park in Singapore, the city where I am currently based.

I could have called this post “A Year in Review” or “My 2015 Travels” but I thought it would be a cliche.  We always do this year-end post or write-up where we cross out a few items in our travel bucket list (or any bucket list for that matter) and admittedly, this post is in some ways no different.  But it’s a little bit more than that.  As I was writing the draft for this post, I breathed a prayer of thanks to my Maker for helping me get past a year of office work marked by an organizational mayhem caused by some internal special elite force who obviously refused to work for the common good.  We are happy that we were able to neutralize that group and have put them all in the past. Peace has been restored and now we are back to doing the things that we are supposed to do, and that is (as a colleague puts it) “to work hard, to play hard, and to travel harder”. 🙂

Looking back at my calendar, I noticed that I did spend a large amount of time travelling.  I realized that in part, these sporadic wanderings somehow helped to put a lot of things in my life and work in perspective and has enabled me to better understand my peers who come from all sorts of backgrounds and temperaments.  Funny thing though is that I only started travelling recently (just this year actually).  These however are not extravagant travels but are rather short trips within the region and to neighboring countries.  Travelling is never cheap (even the ones done on a budget). 🙂  And if you’re like me travelling with a family, you understand how challenging it is both financially and logistically.

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LuminoCity. Lights exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resorts in Marina Bay, Singapore.

So why this sudden passion for travelling?  Well for one thing, I needed an excuse (an expensive excuse) for learning and practicing photography. 🙂  In the past, I also passed off a lot of opportunities in the office for free travel.  And lastly, I got this big scare from a fitness consultant a few years ago (which is perhaps my real and silly reason for this travel frenzy).  The consultant took a quick BMI check and told me I have a somewhat high level of fat in my system (which is quite surprising considering my thin body frame) and that I might even get a massive heart attack by age 45.  I was not sure if he was just trying to make me sign up for a gym program.  Anyway, I didn’t buy into the program but I did freak out a bit after that.  I did give it a thought and made a few lifestyle changes over the following months.  Alongside those changes is a list of the places I wanted to visit (kinda like a 1001-places-to-see-before-you-die sort of stuff).  So I told my family that from then on, we will meet regularly in some distant foreign lands and we’ll explore those places together. 🙂

I am still doing the things that I love very much and care passionately about; but now with more of the things I really don’t like to do but I needed to do (e.g. exercise, strength training); and eating less of the food I love and more of the ones I really didn’t care about before (e.g. greens).  Nowadays, the only time I eat with reckless abandon is when I am travelling. 🙂  When eating in another country, you should have a mantra.  I have one (something I learned from my church apprentice).  “Counting the memories and not the calories” is a reminder of why we eat and travel and why nothing that you eat in any foreign land will have any bad, real-life impact on your health and body. 🙂  Kidding aside, eating is my excuse and the best way for me to learn and to experience another country’s culture.

So here you go.  My postcards from 2015 (the very cliche I was trying to avoid).  Sorry for this.  I didn’t mean to brag or boast about these modest travels.  I just turned 45 three months ago and still feeling quite grateful (and obviously still alive at the time of this writing) for each day I receive past that 45-year mark. 🙂  I am currently looking at travelling outside the region.  It may take a while for this to happen as it will require a more challenging planning strategy.  Meantime, enjoy the images as much as I do and I hope I kept you inspired and always grateful.

1) Visiting Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong: Fabruary 2015):  Didn’t have much time to take so many photos but tried my best not to miss these spots.  I have seen this view of Hong Kong so many times that it was almost a cliche.  But seeing it personally gives one a different kind of high.  Taking photos at night in Victoria Peak was a challenge with children either knocking the camera tripod or extending their arms into the camera’s frame.  Not to forget the crowd behind me pushing each other to capture a photo.

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City of Embers.  Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong at night.

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Blurring the Lines.  Night view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

2) Anniversary with the missus in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia: April 2015):  Kuala Lumpur is just an hour away by plane from Singapore.  So it would be a sin to miss the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.  As an architect, I made sure I didn’t miss this one as well as other places of interest.

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Atmospheria.  The city of Kuala Lumpur viewed from the top of KL Tower.

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Unbroken.  Petronas Towers viewed from a somewhat awkward angle.

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Dataran Merdeka.  The historic Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

3) Team Building in Bali (Indonesia: May 2015):  I think our company did well the previous year so we had this weekend in Bali.  It was not the best part of Bali but it was a great opportunity to connect and re-establish relationships with our colleagues.

Children of The Light. Kuta Beach at Sunset.

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Edge of Tomorrow.  Twilight at Jimbaran Beach in Bali, Indonesia.

4) Road trip to Legoland Malaysia (Malaysia: July 2015):  I found myself stuck during a public holiday so I decided to take this last minute road trip.  The decision was perfect as the journey ended with me being reminded of why I became an architect in the first place.

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Legoland Hotel. The LEGO-inspired hotel located just across the park entrance.

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Imagination. The home for the true LEGO fan where children and adults alike can play with the LEGO bricks.

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LEGO Academy. This is also home to Mindstorms where you can build and program LEGO robots.

5) Photowalk at the Bund and Pudong Districts in Shanghai (China: September 2015):  I quite enjoyed this one despite the long-haul flight.  The weather was pleasant with the air starting to get cooler (the beginning of autumn) and the skies a perfect blue.  There’s no need for me to saturate the sky colors in the post-editing of the photos.  Not to forget the amazing architectural wonders in this area.

Historic Buildings along the Bund Strip in Shanghai, China.

Storm brewing above the Shanghai Pudong CBD.

Shanghai viewed from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

6) Visit to Bangkok (Thailand: November 2015):  It was quite sad I didn’t have my family to join me in this trip.  Nevertheless, Bangkok surprised me with its unique flavor and twist to every experience possible.  Not to forget the food that you could enjoy just almost anywhere in the city.

Tourist Duty. Temple structures inside the Wat Phra Kaew grounds in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

Wonderful sunset viewed from Cielo Skybar in Bangkok, Thailand.

Enjoy the holidays!!

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

A Toy Story

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Enter My Dreams. The gateway to Legoland Malaysia. Surprisingly, the place was not as crowded as I had expected.

This day trip to Legoland Malaysia just happened without much planning.  To be honest, it was a result of simply having nowhere else to go.  Legoland Malaysia is just a 1-hour bus ride from Singapore (where I am currently based) so it’s funny and embarrassing to admit that it was one place that I had yet to visit.  I finally got my chance during a public holiday.  The holiday fell on a Friday and I suspect some office colleagues already planned their long weekend somewhere really nice.  And here I am.  Stuck.  I needed to go somewhere too.  Somewhere.  Anywhere actually.

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Legoland Hotel. Stay close to the action by checking in at this hotel located just across the park. The interior of this hotel is a theme park in itself.

But honestly, maybe at the back of my mind I already had a reason for visiting this place.  I wanted to go back to how I started; on how I became an architect in the first place.  When I started this blog, I was hoping to share about photography and the places that I will be able to visit; with perhaps a detailed account of what I will do and eat during each day of the trip in those places.  It’s what most bloggers do :-).  And believe me, I wanted to do the same.  But then, I realized you might as well buy a travel guide.  The accounts about the places (and the food) will be more convincing.

One of our life coaches taught us the lesson of the empty cup.  It’s a reminder to be teachable; on not to think so much of yourself as someone who has already arrived; and not to underestimate the power of a small person or place to teach or remind you of something important.  That happened to me here.  So, may I request that you indulge me once more in sharing my gleanings on this recent road trip and I promise next time, I will write about what most bloggers write in their blogs :-).  Thank you very much.

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Color My World. The LEGO-inspired detailing of the Legoland Hotel facade.

Nearly everyone I know who grew up in my generation had their affair with the LEGO.  There were other toys before that but most did not offer much of a breakthrough compared with the creativity and imagination inspired by the LEGO.  I loved drawing when I was a kid and our bedroom walls were proof of that passion.  I know my parents had no problem repainting them regularly.  I had the drawings and the building blocks of the LEGO to work and to build with.  Growing up, I believe I enjoyed the high feeling created by the smell of freshly poured concrete and the way things were put together.  Everything fell into the right places.  I knew I had to build.  I wanted to be an architect.  And so an architect I became.  So now needless to say, I found this Legoland trip right up my alley.

The Big Shop. The place for the ultimate LEGO fan.

At the facade level, the place looks just like your usual theme park designed only for children.  And like most theme parks I know, the place could be really hot and sweltering (sadly though, it actually rained most of the afternoon).  Unless you’re a LEGO fan, have children, or just plain curious; I am not sure you’ll think of coming here almost all by yourself.  But what awaits inside is something that can thrill people of all ages.  Honestly, for a moment I was a child again (I was trying my best not to make it sound like second childhood).

The park has several attractions (namely:  The Beginning, Lego City, Miniland, Land of Adventure, Imagination, Star Wars, Lego Kingdom, Lego Technic, and Water Park).  Depending on who you are with, your interest and your bias; you could spend an entire day in just any two or three of the attractions.  I tried some of the rides (the “adult-friendly” ones) if only to make use of the RM235 I paid to get to this park :-).  The last time I took a crazy ride was with my daughter when she was 12 years old.  I was a little younger back then and I was happy having created that memory for her.  Nowadays, I would have none of it :-).

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Water Fun. Take the plunge at the Dinosaur Island.

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Imagination. This is the place for the true LEGO fan where families can build and play with the LEGO bricks.

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LEGO Academy. This area is also home to Mindstorms, where you can build and program LEGO robots.

Not surprisingly, what caught my attention was Miniland:  a miniature showcase of some of the iconic buildings of Malaysia and Southeast Asia.  LEGO released its architecture series a few years ago and featured some classic American buildings as part of its collection.  But to see some of the Asian buildings in a LEGO rendition and in a very impressive scale was a real treat.  I have seen some of the actual buildings so I couldn’t help but look closely at the miniatures.  The level of accuracy and detailing was absolutely incredible!  Back in our time, models were made using wooden blocks or cardboard to show clients the massing and placement of buildings.  Those however did not include details as we know them now.  Much of what’s to be expected was left to the actual completed structure.

A LEGO version of the Singapore Marina Bay Waterfront buildings with the Merlion Park in the foreground.

A LEGO rendition of the Putra Mosque, the centerpiece of Putrajaya in Malaysia.

The Taj Mahal in miniature. The level of detailing is incredible.

But you know what surprised me the most at the end of this visit?  It’s actually the kids and the families working together on the LEGO.  I don’t know where I’ve been lately but honestly, I haven’t seen that for quite a while.  I grew up in a time without computers.  It wasn’t always the best of times but it somehow taught me the ever-increasing value of face-to-face conversations, collaboration and high-touch, tactile activities;  especially in these times when our kids have more facebook friends and high-tech gadgets.  It makes us want to consider carefully the balance of the types of toys we give to our kids.  Maybe it’s the reason themed places like this still thrive.  People still do recognize its significance after all.

Star Wars Museum. The latest addition to the Legoland experience. The museum features miniature versions of the Star Wars landscape as well as a new indoor visual experience.

My daughter also grew up without a computer.  I didn’t decide on that.  I just couldn’t afford it back then :-).  The only good that came out of it was that she learned how to draw and to work with her hands (yes, she also knows how to draw.  I even tried to sell her the idea of taking up architecture, but in vain).  Thanks to the upcoming movie installment of the Star Wars saga, the LEGO is back again with its Star Wars characters collectibles; and it’s a funny and creative way to get my daughter interested in the LEGO (of all things, she bought a Darth Vader key-chain / LED light to start with).  Now, whether or not this interest will lead her to the path of her lifework is another story.  Until then, I wait :-).

See you in my next post.  Cheers!

 

Click here to browse through the photo gallery of this day trip.

(Note:  Legoland Malaysia is Malaysia’s first international theme park that opened in Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia on September 15, 2012.  Located at 7 Jalan Legoland, Bandar Medini 79250 Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia.)

My Favorite Photography and Travel Quotes

Above Altitude. The beautiful city of Singapore at night; the city where I am currently based.

Hi there.  Needless to say, this will be my first post.  I already said quite a mouthful about myself in the About page.  So while I am developing the contents of this website, allow me to share my favorite photography and travel quotes.

Photography

  • “Life is like a camera.  Just focus on what’s important and capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.”–Unknown
  • “All photographs are accurate.  None of them is the truth.”–Richard Avedon  (A reminder not to overdo post-processing of my photos.)
  • “The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong.  It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” –Susan Meiselas  (My excuse for travel.)
  • “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” — Marc Riboud  (Do something you love so you won’t need motivation.)

And my favorite (from my daughter).  She must have read this somewhere;

  • “You’re not a photographer.  You’re just a guy with an expensive camera.” (My reason for studying and maximizing the camera’s potential.) 🙂

Travel

  • “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”–Anonymous
  • “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”–Saint Augustine (One of my bosses has read the entire book!)
  • “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”–Dalai Lama (Good suggestion!)
  • “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”– James Michener (Sometimes, we need to be lost in a new place to find ourselves.)
  • “When overseas, you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting”–Clint Borgen (A love and big dreams for your own country is important.)

Okay.  Enough of the talk.  Let’s start taking some pictures 🙂

See you in my next post.