Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Memorable Trip To The Beach


So far I've alluded a number of times to a trip I took to South Korea a couple of years back. Here's an account of another aspect of that trip that was of particular interest to me, both as an artist and as a lover of movies.

A few years ago I saw this movie called 'Time'/시간(2006) by South Korean director Kim Kiduk/김기덕. It's an interesting movie and you all should run out and rent it today -- but I digress; there is a scene in the movie that takes place in a sculpture park by the sea, and one of the sculptures there was used to memorable effect, as seen here in this publicity photo:

I was watching the movie with my friend Ev, and as we both were intrigued by the scene with the unusual sculpture, I half-seriously vowed then and there that if I ever were to go to South Korea I would find out where that sculpture park is and have a picture of myself taken in the same setting.

Well, as fate would have it, the very next year my mother and I did have occasion to go to SK, to see her sister, her brother and their families.  It was my first trip back to the land of my birth since I left it all those years ago, and I didn't know what to plan for the trip -- except that I had to fulfill my vow to find that sculpture by the sea.

So I did some research online, and managed to find out not only where that sculpture was, but scored detailed directions for getting there from Seoul/서울, where the whole meshpoche lives. Turns out the place is something of a landmark.

So anyway, we go to Seoul... and it was like a whole different country (I mean from what I remembered). Granted, I was just a child when I left, but I didn't recognize anything at all, and all the new stuff like the designy buildings and the giant display screens everywhere was really disorienting. Incheon airport itself didn't exist then. Unsurprisingly, our mission to locate our old house ended in complete failure. Not only was the whole neighborhood changed, we were lucky to find the neighborhood at all.

Amazingly though, the old house my mom lived in when she was a girl still existed, but it was now a restaurant. The new owners had knocked out some internal walls and opened up the whole space, and turned it into a traditional-themed eatery with old-fashioned floor seating.

So we see the sights, sample the local cuisine, tour some temples and palaces, get grabbed and pulled by the merchants at Namdaemun outdoor market/남대문 시장 who kept talking to us in Japanese because they thought we were Japanese tourists (some middle-school girls we ran across at one of the palaces also did this, to practice their Japanese), take a side trip to Jeju Island/제주도..,

and when I got a day to myself I at last set out to find the fabled Baemikkumi Sculpture Park/배미꾸미 조각공원, on the island of Modo/모도 off the west coast. I took the subway to the train station, took the train to the port city of Incheon/인천, took a bus into the city, then transferred to another bus to get to the dock, from which I took a ferry to the island of Shindo/신도, and finally, took a ride on a rickety country bus to the island of Modo (there are three islands connected by bridges; Modo is the smallest and farthest one out).

The directions turned out to be slightly outdated, and I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me find my way around Incheon (good thing I still speak the language).

Once on Modo, the one paved road ended partway across the island; off the bus I got and from there I hiked the rest of the way on foot to the other side of the island; I guess it really wasn't that far, but it became a longish trek because I kept pausing to take photos.

So I finally got to the sculpture park, and I have to say it really was pretty awesome, well worth the complicated trip. Amazingly, the whole place is a showcase for the work of one man. I didn't know anything about the sculptor Lee Ilho/이일호 (I've since learned that he is a well-known figure in SK's art scene), but just creating the park itself must have taken a lot of time, money and effort. As for the artwork, while it's very different from anything I would do, nevertheless I could totally get into the mindset that created it.

An obsessive, sensual streak, often informed by an eros/thanatos juxtaposition, runs through pretty much everything in the park; however, it's more explicitely and literally stated in some pieces than in others.

And, of course, there was this piece, with yours truly feeling pretty proud of himself:

One thing -- it hadn't even occurred to me to check the tide schedule, but maybe I should have; later I came across this photo on the internet:

I don't know if that's a Photoshopped image or if it was taken during a rare monsoon or what, but if anything even close to that actually happens when the sea rolls in, it's a dang lucky thing I got there during ebb tide. And it was also by luck that clueless Mr. Landlubber made it back to the dock on Shindo (via the very same bus -- for all I know it's the only bus serving Modo; I heard there's just one village on the island, so there can't be all that much of a demand for public transportation; in fact, the driver seemed to know all his passengers personally -- during the return trip he stopped at some random spot by a field; I was wondering what could be the matter when a farmwife jogged up to the window and the driver handed her the purse she'd left behind!) with just minutes to spare before the last ferry departure of the day. If I had dawdled to take a few more photos on the hike back I would have had to find lodgings for the night on the island (EDIT: and if I had brought a female guest with me I would have been living a K-drama cliché in the flesh -- where the nice guy and cute girl get adorably stranded together in a remote locale and have to devise a way to spend a night together-but-decently-apart^^ -- I've seen this happen in 'Spring Waltz', 'My Girl', and most recently in 'You're the Best, Lee Soon-Shin').

While waiting for the bus to take me back to the train station at Incheon, I noticed something I missed earlier; there was an electronic bulletin board at the bus stop that kept track of the buses on that route and showed in real time when the next several were expected to arrive, which was cool. I wish we had this in Los Angeles:

What wasn't so cool was that while waiting for the bus I happened to check out the cut-out plastic gas can this old man had with him. Evidently he had been fishing and was now on his way home with his catch of the day. When I looked down into the can there was this little octopus looking right up at me... Poor thing, I hope he was delicious and the old man derived much pleasure from eating him. Then his death would at least have served a good purpose.

And checking out Seoul's streets at night, I learned something else that's cool. In Korea, McDonald's/맥도날드 delivers! You don't need to lift a finger to get your fast food fix -- just punch in that number on the left, and minutes later your Big Mac/빅맥 is at your door. I've read that more and more Korean kids are growing up overweight, and no wonder.

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