Thursday, May 24, 2007

pics from Seoul, man

If you were in the BHS band or otherwise have seen the Blues Brothers movie several dozen times, you'll be content to just sing along with the post title ad infinitum. For everyone else, there are a hundred or so pictures from Korea, being the few pictures I was able to take when not at work at one of the world's most tightly media-controlled semiconductor fabs. This is a generally accurate depiction of Seoul, even though I don't hit a lot of normal tourist points.

1: Construction across the street from my hotel. While there's not quite so much as in Beijing, there's still a lot of building on going on in and around Seoul; it's just amazing how many new apartment buildings are going up everywhere.

2: Traffic interchange, also from the hotel. It's early in the morning, so there's not a whole lot of traffic on the roads. Later on, like when I had to go through it going to work (in a taxi; I'm sure I could drive Korea, but not all the time), it gets a lot more packed.

3: Road office. This jumble of beer, junk food, receipts, and way too many cell phones for any normal person follows me around the world and actually has to be a work environment in the rare case that there's no field office to operate out of. This was not, really.

4: Trees and cranes over the road next to the hotel. This probably looked better live, but now it works as a subtle statement about man and nature also.

5: Greenery, opposite. That this is photo-worthy tells you a lot about what this part of Seoul is like...and again, it's probably better live.

6: Inset tiles in the sidewalk leading up to the bridge over the river north. Cool stuff, and in good condition for the amount of foot traffic.

7: Shot across the river. I can't read the inscription on the rock, but the tower in the far background is the somewhat-famous Seoul TV tower.

8: How you know it's my kind of country. Serious. I did not, obviously, eat this pizza, but the very idea of a "garlic special" pizza is something to be respected. An entire nation of people who are OK with eating raw garlic; if I spoke the language I'd be preparing naturalization papers.

9a: South bank of the Han, part 1. I was trying to do a panorama shot, but the angles didn't line up at all.

9b: South bank of the Han, part 2. The floodplain left between the river and the road reminded me of similar land management on the Elbe in Dresden.

10: Downriver to the east. There are better shots of the distant building and the other bridge -- which I would cross back on -- later on.

11: Older Seoul, on the north side. These were among the first houses, as opposed to high-rises, that I'd seen in Seoul proper.

12: LOL KOREA LOL. If you know why this picture is funny, you spend too much time on the wrong parts of the internet. If you don't get it, there may be hope for you yet. CHEVY RUSH KEKEKEKE.

13: Modernistic Christian spire. South Korea is about the most Christianized nation in east Asia, at about 20-30 percent betwen various denominations. I didn't get any closer to this building and thus can't tell whether it's Catholic or Pentecostal.

14: Graffiti on a handrail. Korea is not a very graffitied country, and this is probably the most immediate example that I saw, on a rail on a footbridge across the street heading up towards Itaewon. No idea on a translation.

15: Barbed wire expressionism. If I'd gotten to Germany a decade earlier, I might have shot something like this around Dresden. As it is, this is the wall around the US Army motor pool across the street from their main complex entrance.

16: Shot into the US base. I was trying to get the signs in front of the guard shack, but at least I got the streetsign on the traffic lights.

17: The first, but not the last. Hines Ward endorses a bunch of other stuff in various places; this was just the most photographable. Somehow, I don't think that Martin Grammatica would get this much attention in Argentina even if he did something as noteworthy.

18: Itaewon arch. This shopping street is a proverbial hive of scum and villainy after dark, but I was cruising through on a Sunday morning, so the bars were closed and the hookers off the streets. There's a bunch of legitimate activity as well, but this street is about 200 yards from a large military base and was known as "Hooker Hill" even before the soldiers showed up. If I get sent back, I'll try to report on the night version and at least attempt to make it back alive.

19: Local information board, Itaewon. Some general information about the area; this is at 40% original dimensions (16% original area) so the English text is unreadable. Apology.

20: Pileups aren't just for HC shows. The way these houses stack up the hill towards the church just looks really neat.

21: Dome and more towers. Again, this is mostly just visually interesting. Most of "downtown" Seoul is actually north of Itaewon (the way the camera is pointed here), but you'd never know it with the way the hills dominate the landscape.

22: Trainer plane on the grounds of the War Museum. Why Koreans bother saving trainers will be explained later.

23: B-52 dwarfing everything else, same grounds. B-52s were never used in the Korean War, as they didn't enter service until '54 or '55, but we made so damn many of the things and it's so expensive to mod them to survive on a modern battlefield that the USAF probably just gave the surplus away to good homes as best they could after Vietnam.

24: The memorial stone of King Gwanggaeto. There's a caption shot for this later; I don't remember whether this is the original or a replica.

25: General-view shot of the Korean War memorial that dominates the front yard of the War Museum. The design recalls the symbolic landscaping of the US Vietnam Memorial while still blending in the expected statuary of a traditional monument. The design is really cool, but somewhat spoiled by putting APCs down in the bottom of the basin (carefully excluded to the right in this shot).

26: Memorial spire. The lighting was kind of bad on this, but there are reliefs running up the inside of the sectioned bronze pillar.

27: Explanation of the memorial. Unfortunately too small to read again; I'll check to see if the original has more readable text and transcribe.

28: Detail of the bronze statuary surrounding the spire. There are two flows of this, suggesting the yin-yang design of the Taeguk emblem, rounding after one another.

29: The other side. Walking up close to these is really chilling; the mass of metal presents a feeling of weight and immensity that drives the dynamism and movement of the overall design.

30: Full view, commemorative pillar (Greece). Several of these can be seen in shot 25 above; there's one for every foreign country that contributed personnel to the UN forces in the Korean War -- some of which may surprise you.

31: Ethiopia?!? Yes, once upon a time Ethiopia contributed troops to UN efforts rather than having them address issues in their own country. Troop levels were minimal (see later pictures), but they were there.

32: Colombia?!? Once upon a time, Colombia could send troops over to stabilize the international community, instead of having to keep them at home to fight gangsters and rebels...and needing American military intervention besides.

33: T-34 tank, doubtless restored since being captured. They also had a Sherman here, but I just need to drive about 5 miles up the road to see one of those.

34: Caption shot for shot 24. I'll transcribe this from the original if there's enough interest.

35: Three guesses what country this is. Countries with syllabic languages tend to misspell stuff, but by stripping out the parts that we don't pronounce in English anyways.

36: The US stele. As long as I'm shooting other countries, I had to shoot my own; despite the suicidal idiocy of some of the current government's policies, I'm still an American and still proud of the American idea.

37: The Statue of Brothers and supporting dome. Though the story behind it may be apocryphal and was certainly anticipated by the Armistead-Hancock saga (among, doubtless, hundreds of others) in the US Civil War, this memorial is still a uniquely touching reminder that for Korea, the Korean conflict wasn't about about ideology or geopolitics; it was and is a fratricidal and thus suicidal disaster that tore their country and their culture in two.

38: Caption shot for shot 37. This one is actually large enough to English, the Japanese and Chinese are a little small.

39: Plate inside the dome under the statue. The inside of the dome has the real feeling of a tomb or chapel, and I was uncomfortable taking a lot of pictures.

40: Taeguk flag flying over the museum. Because there were some other people in the way, I didn't shoot the reliefs on either side of the stairs going in the front; on the right, there were the expected heroic depictions of ROK and UN soldiers, but on the left there were similarly syled figures that could only be NKPA and Chinese. Sooner or later, North Korea is going to give up and join the rest of the world, and when they do, united under this flag, they can also be proud of this building.

41: "Turtle Shaped Battleship". On the video there is footage of this craft (or another replica) actually sailing; the deck armor is really interesting.

42: Bronze artifacts. I forget what this shot was supposed to be demonstrating; from here on in, a lot of the pictures are shot with low-light settings and thus somewhat blurry.

43: what. Maybe the Chinese or the Japanese on this one makes sense, but the Engrish is completely out to lunch. (By the way, I would likely buy a rap album from Beat Mr. Wae, whether Korean or not.)

44: Bronze figurine. This was also originally a functional teakettle; pretty cool.

45: Traditional costume, middle ages. Mannequins in military uniform continue down to the present day in the rest of the museum.

46: Inscription on a medieval statue. As can be seen, this is in Chinese characters, which means that I or someone I know will eventually be able to pick out meaning despite not speaking Korean. This is one of the good things about an ideographic writing system, but it's a little degraded due to wear and low shutter speeds.

47: Tapestry, suggestive of the Bayeaux but a little later. There's an uneven approach to curation in this museum and I'm not certain that this is original.

47c: Caption of shot 47. Future caption shots will have no notes as they have little content.

48: Medieval Korean records, in bronze (reproductions, the original was a scroll that was necessarily destroyed in the transcription process -- the fragments still conserved), and a bound book. Again, written in hanzi/kanji.

49: The world's first Stalin Organ. This mobile multi-tube rocket launcher dates back to the 15th century.

49c: caption shot.

50: Crossbows, including a repeater (rear). Thanks a lot, Korea. Now I can no longer ban repeating crossbows from any games that I GM on the grounds that they don't exist.

50c: caption shot.

51: There's a fine balance between camouflage and usability. The leaves on the rearmost spear were probably great for hiding in a bamboo forest, but they're made of metal and would have cut the hell out of anyone trying to wield it.

52: Cannon arrow. Why fire a random rock when you can shoot a bore-perfect fin-stabilized projectile with a hull- or wall-piercing head and a shaft that's going to fragment into anyone standing nearby? There are a lot of smaller and larger examples of these, but none that I saw were fitted for an explosive warhead.

53: Large swords made normal by lack of scale. The Japanese-styled swords at the rear are between 5 and 6 feet long overall and seem to be at least reproductions of battlefield gear -- there were also obvious bearing swords in this area that were even larger. Thanks again, Korea; now I can't just rule out no-dachi either.

54: Another originalish painting. I don't know when perspective entered general use in east Asia, so I can't accurately date this.

55: Early modern machine gun. This is a multibarrel muzzleloader that could technically be rapid-fired by two people, I guess; the barrels are strung onto the backing bar like wind chimes.

56: Early-modern map of Korea. This is an original, and the first I saw here showing the whole country.

57: Japanese WWII surrender document_ This is an original, one of the several signed on the deck of the Missouri.

58: Counterfeit money and news articles on it. This is one of a series of cases on the runup to the start of the Korean War that should have made it obvious that the North Koreans were going to start something.

59: The Suicide Soldiers of Mt. Songak. In one of the first engagements of the Korean War, the NKPA crossed the line of demarcation and assaulted ROK positions; to drive the enemy out, these ten soldiers charged a key machine gun nest carrying 81mm mortar shells. Their sacrifice was successful, and this sculpture is moving, but it gets creepy a little later, because there are several more similar memorials to suicide squads later in the museum. (And one wonders why, if they had the mortar shells, they did not shoot them out their mortars -- there are terrain-dependent reasons why this might not be possible, but still.)

59c: caption shot.

60: ROK medic's kit from the Korean conflict. The picture, presumably of the medic who donated the kit, though this wasn't immediately clear from the exhibit, adds a human touch.

61: Little kid looking at other kids bayoneting and getting shot by NKPA. During the initial surge of the North Korean invasion, North Korean infantry assaulted a girls' middle school which was held by high-school- and college-age volunteers, which is now immortalized in this realistic and gory diorama. There is a didactic (or, cynically, propagandic) purpose to many of the exhibits here; this one should be obvious.

61c: caption shot. Since no mention is made of victory, the defenders were probably next to wiped out.

62: Personal effects of student volunteers. The enrollment of highschoolers (most student volunteers were college-age returnees from abroad, but there were others) should bring to mind the last days of the Confederacy (c.f. Richmond Greys) as symptomatic of a nation in extremis, which South Korea certainly was during the retreat to Busan.

63: Printing press and arms of ROK partisans. Koreans had a lot of experience from 40 years of being a Japanese colony to fall back on when the communists overran the south; much of this kit was probably just taken out of storage and the irregular units that had fought the Japanese just reformed.

64: Scribbles on paper. These are original battle plans of several ROK units from the Incheon landing, but half-century-old pencil on yellow paper doesn't photograph well in low light. Much cooler when you're there.

65: Various propaganda leaflets dropped on North Korea. Note Stalin pushing Mao pushing the poor NKPA private into the fire in the lower right.

66: Leaflets dropped on the UN forces. The shot is blurry enough that you can't really tell that the leaflet in the center isn't some ad cut from Life magazine of the day; the production values are really good.

67: Another leaflet. The Communist dialectic is obvious; Mr Big Business vacations in Florida while Joe Proletariat freezes his ass off under occasional fire at the Chosin Reservior.

68: Cross if you dare... Uniquely effective, as you cross into the exhibit on the UN surge, you also cross across the 38th parallel and into a world of thick green and unfamiliar noises; into the unknown, and you get the feeling wondering if you -- and by extension the UN forces -- should be there, invading as much as liberating. In the background, you can see a diorama of ROK soldiers filling their canteens on the south bank of the Yalu River (Chinese border for those who don't know the regional geography so well).

69: Red Army soldiers from the Chinese intervention. Further left out of the frame is another Chinese armed only with a pair of hand grenades; due to supply shortfalls, a lot of Chinese soldiers were just issued grenades and told to acquire a rifle off the enemy (or a PPsh off one of their comrades, like the guy on the far right) as soon as they were able to free one up. The human waves advance to the sound of flutes and gongs, as played by the two mannequins in front of the flag.

70: Machine gunner's shackle. To hold up the UN advance as long as possible, a North Korean machine gunner chained his leg to this iron staple and drove it into the ground. The will to not retreat meets the realistic assessment that the smart thing to do is probably to run the hell away like everyone else, and prevails.

71: Sign from the Military Demarcation Line. Unfortunately, due to poor planning, this was as close as I got the the DMZ. Bus tours run from Seoul daily -- it's like 30 miles north of the city, North Korean artillery could probably fire in right now without a lot of problems -- but I was too busy to schedule a slot in time.

72: Locations of the four invasion tunnels discovered so far, with dates of discovery. The dotted line on the map is the MDL/DMZ; the red blob in the lower center is the Seoul metropolitan area. It's a 20-minute bus ride from Seoul to the airport out in the other little blob labeled Incheon, and the closest point of the border is not much farther.

73: The UN joins in. Being the document of all countries involved in the "police action" taking place on the dates noted.

74: Breakdown of troop levels. With almost 2 million troops committed, the US did most of the fighting, but you probably didn't know that Turkey sent a full infantry brigade, or that there were seven thousand Filipinos and six thousand Thais on the ground as well. (Total commitment from Ethiopia and Colombia as noted before, 8618 soldiers combined.)

75: UN memorial. The hanging sculpture is composed of myriad dog tags to represent the soldiers lost.

76: Another trainer, suspended. We'll see in a moment why planes like this were important to the Korean War.

77: HALO parachutist. On the floor below you can see some of the scale models of military equipment and the placards describing them and their makers...who have names like Hyundai, Daewoo, and Samsung.

78: Divided nations faceoff. Though the light levels are too low and I had to get too far back to read the captions, those are ROK arms on the right, and on the left, typical weapons carried by the NVA. I was also surprised to learn that South Korea sent three infantry battalions to Vietnam, you're not alone.

79: Miscellaneous NVA/VC artifacts. A field doctor's manual is center; the metal object in the upper left is a tea kettle.

80: Random crap scavenged by ROK medical teams in Iraq. Koreans were there in Desert Storm. They were also there in Yugoslavia, they went to Georgia (former USSR, not current US) during the civil war there, they went to Somalia and Haiti, and they were in Afghanistan for Enduring Freedom. Whenever the UN or the US puts the balloon up, the South Koreans go, probably because they still feel in the world's debt for saving them from the North, but since the end of military rule, they tend to send medical support rather than combat forces. This still does not explain why they bring back the crappy bread that Saddam Hussein gave to his troops, and then preserve it and put it in a museum.

81: Relief celebrating the Korean armed forces. Few non-American democratic societies celebrate their armed forces the way that the Koreans celebrate theirs...though this may be the result of the fact that the armed forces are the reason that they are still democratic.

82: North Korean spy materials. The lists of numbers hogging the center of the frame are one-time pads used for cryptography and instantly identify the photographer as a computer geek, because the crypto kit is what is classified as most cool and interesting. :roll:

83: Cart as used by North Koreans in one of their invasion tunnels. The technology is crude and the bore of the tunnel (a reconstruction here, obviously) is small, but the NKPA did build other tunnels large enough to drive a tank through.

84: ROK air forces bombing from trainers. The explanation of all those unarmed junk planes hanging around a war museum. Due to a total lack of modern combat aircraft, the South Korean air force was forced to drop improvised bombs by hand out of unarmed and unarmored trainers to slow up the initial North Korean advance. It is one of the greatest testaments to individual ingenuity and bravery trumping organizational stupidity in modern military history. Seriously, you have a dissatisfied neighbor to the north glomming up all the Soviet Union's WWII-surplus hardware they can get their hands on, how the hell do you just decide not to have an air force??

84c: caption shot.

85: North Korean MiG-15. This was parked inside with a bunch of uninteresting APCs rather than outside, probably due to vandalism concerns.

86: Forend, same MiG-15.

87: National Defense Drum, main rotunda. This drum was marked as such but not explained in my museum guide. It still looks really cool.

88: War photography as macro bait. This was one of a long series of photographs showing the combat and devastation of the Korean War, just lined up on easels, but it was one of the few whose absurdity -- the intact tank angled as though ramming itself into the concrete wall of the other side of the ruined bridge -- really stuck out. You will probably be able to find this picture on the internet somewhere, but show a little respect as you cook up a lulztastic caption.

89: A rare example of Engul. This is more noteworthy because all the OTHER gates, RIGHT NEXT to this one, were marked correctly as WAY OUT. How does that even happen?

90: Ceremonial procession outside the War Museum. I'm not sure what this event was.

91: Procession again, slightly better view and lightly less HAET FURRINER. Seriously, go back to shot 90 and look at that guy in the lower left.

92: The procession advances.

93: Yes, that says what you think it says. All Korean males are required to serve in the military for two years. There are probably not too many of them, though, who can convince their fiancees that they ought to get married in the national war museum, even as traditionally Confucian as Korean society is.

94: North Korean minisub/speedboat. This was used in an intrusion attempt recent enough that I actually remember reading about it in the papers, and is now parked between some fontains here.

95: Flags of the UN participants. This is a good 'image shot' of the museum and grounds; behind me are a bunch of tanks, APCs, and SPGs with little kids climbing all over them that are just as valid an image shot, but less aesthetically pleasing.

96: Korean MP covering his face. This was about the only security-conscious thing this guy did over the minute or so I was watching him, and he only got his hands up because I had to punch in on him from across the street, then wait to shoot until the traffic cleared. There are plenty of police walking around on the sidewalk in front of the US base (which this guy is standing inside of) with four-foot riot-baton-cum-kendo-swords, but no actual threat from anything.

97: American soil, for now. The Us is giving this base back in a couple years, and I'm sure the soldiers who have to live there are glad, because a lot of the buildings look pretty crappy, old, and ill-maintained.

98: Wicker sculpture on a traffic island. Finally, an end to the drab and depressing war stuff! I was getting sick of it too when I got here, and a giant wicker dragon was just what the doctor ordered.

99: Seoul as normal East Asian city. The signs and the looping telephone wires cutting across them provided the visual complexity that caught my eye. I can recognize "world" in the middle of the Chinese sign in the upper right, but I don't know most of the other characters.

100: Old handcart in amid modern cars. It's like this was deliberately set up as a contrast of old and new, but this is obviously still a working cart, just set down while whoever owns it went to buy a drink or some cigarettes.

101: The new Seoul. Somehow, the rows on rows of high-rise apartments don't seem as depressing as those in the Hong Kong territories, maybe because I've been to China and know what real soulcrush looks like, maybe because they're just all over the place. If there's open land in this part of Korea, either it's a thirty-degree mountainside or someone is trying to build an apartment building on it.

102: Facade of the National Museum. I was thinking about going in, but it was late, I was beat, it was on the other side of a huge road, and I still had another 5 or so kilometers to walk to get back to my hotel. If I get sent back, I'll be sure to make it here as well as up to the DMZ.

103: Loltastic traffic sign. Sixty km/h speed limit? No swerving around other cars? What country do they think they're in?? This was on a ramp going up to the bridge over the river, so people did mostly obey it, but it's still really funny in the context of how people drive around Seoul.

104: Korean highway traffic. This is only a still photo of Seoul's answer to Storrow Drive, so you don't see the drivers taking it like you'd expect people to run Storrow Drive: going too fast and trying to get into every lane but the one they're in. As a Massachusetts driver, I would have felt right at home except for all the dimpled side panels and fenders I saw on the highways. "Ramming is how we say hello in Korea!"

105: Blue-arched bridge going south across the Han. Not quite a Blaues Wunder, but close; trains run in the section under the arch frame.

106: Golden skyscraper and park below. Pretty much just a postcard shot...except I couldn't get the sky to turn blue.

107. South bank towards the national cemetery. Just above one of the hills you can faintly see a plane coming in to Incheon.

108: Road in front of the national cemetery. This is a crop rather than a resize to show the detail of the sign in the center of the frame, and it really was kept pretty quiet.

109: National cemetery, terraced into the hillside. My camera batteries gave out after this shot -- too many long exposures in the museum -- so I wasn't able to shoot a couple interesting points on the way back to the hotel.

This is the end, so far; I'm not scheduled to go anywhere in the near future, but you never can tell.

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