I must admit that I never really liked Itaewon until now. It just seemed like too wild of a place. I think that it stems from a night where I tried to find a hostel there and found myself walking up Hooker Hill. I was then promptly grabbed by a large Russian prostitute and almost dragged into a seedy bar. Her Schwarzenegger-like accent demanded me to “have a good time” but I broke free and ran like hell.
However, recently the whole area is gentrifying with mixed emotions from the community. Like most places in Seoul, there is a weird cycle that has started to happen. First, they get popular because of the independent shops and restaurants, the place becomes trendy so rent goes up, so the independent shops move out, generic businesses owned by large companies move in and soon it resembles every other place in the city. This is on the forecast for Itaewon but at the moment it is a mix of trendy shops, the old Itaewon and the ever encroaching big businesses. For me, this balance seems to work as long as everything stays where should. However, with rent skyrocketing it won’t be long before it is overrun with Angel-in-us cafes and Mom’s Touch Burger shops.
On my recent trip back to Itaewon, I was looking for a more touristy angle. What would would want to see here? For those of us who have been here for a while and who do not live in Seoul, the trip usually ends up being a food pilgrimage. However, with the good advice from Robert Koehler and John Steele, I had a great plan to visit some of the area’s more interesting sites.
The first stop was the Banana Tree Cafe to get some shots for the article that I am currently working for. It was the exact place that I was looking for. It was creative, quarky and uniquely Seoul. They served a truffle-like concoction in flower pot which added to the overwhelmingly “perfect date shot” feel to this place. These places are the kinds of places that you have to choose when you are thinking about the kind of audience the magazine, for which I was shooting for, has. In this case there are more geared towards people and families who would love this kind of location.
The Leeum Museum was just up the road and was the first of the major sites. This is the place that you may have seen but I felt that it doesn’t get a lot of attention. I have seen the photos of the exterior art exhibits but never really knew the name of this place. For me, what puts this place on the map are the collections of ceramics and art pieces that date back to the very early periods of life in Korea. There are modern exhibitions but for me the paled in comparison to the old paintings and delicate ceramics.
Originally this piece was supposed to have been on the Global Village Festival which was happen that weekend. It was hard to miss but the underlying theme for me was not the festival itself but how the community has changed over the years. The festival showed just how much had changed with regards to the population. Thousands of Koreans and foreigners gathered over that weekend to celebrate and partake in some great food and cultural activities.
The star of this trip was Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue. Damn was it delicious. I have seen shots online and seriously drooled over them. I was a little concerned about the lines being that thousands of people had descended upon Itaewon that particular weekend for the Global Village Festival. However, we were reassured by an American Military couple that it was worth the wait. Before too long my wife and I were in BBQ heaven.
With our bellies full, we staggered back to our hostel and get a few shots during blue hour along the way. Suffice to say that we were beyond full, exhausted but very happy. I think that my wife coming along for this trip was great as she gave me some great feedback for different styles of shots that I may not have considered. Also, I think she realized just how much work I put into these trips and I am just not sitting around drinking coffee and chatting with friends.
The following day we returned to Itaewon to photograph the Seoul Central Mosque and get a few more street shots. We also decided to return to Linus’ for some more BBQ. For the second day in a row, it was still amazing. Again, with our bellies full, we headed off to a market that is known for selling 2nd-hand goods. It was, to my amazement, full of old people. By full, I mean it was shoulder to shoulder with no room to maneuver a fully loaded camera bag. My frustration with being pushed and shoved got the better of me and we decided to leave.
Our final destination was Namsan Tower. This is one of the major tourist sites in the city. The shuttle busses come from all over the city to take people up the mountain. The only downfall on a day like this was the pollution. From the top of the mountain, you could barely see the city of Seoul. We got there early and sat for awhile, to be honest, I am really not sure why we went there so early. At any rate, blue hour came and I got the shots that I wanted. We jumped on the shuttle bus and headed for the station.
One of the best things about Korea is the fact that everything is so well connected. Getting from the tower all the way home was simple and affordable. It is crazy to think that we got from where we were all the way to within a block of our apartment using nothing but public transportation. With some great shots and an awesome weekend behind us, we greeted our cat and collapsed in bed. Mission accomplished.