Environment, Korea, Urban Walking
Comments 4

Dirty New Town

When I sent my friend Frank a batch of pictures from the collection you’ll find in this post, he responded, “You’re not doing a very good job of selling the place to me.”

To which I made some pithy rejoinder about reporting on my new neighbourhood rather than selling it. And I doubt the pictures here will have too many of you calling your travel agents either. I can understand that.

However, there’s more to a place, obviously, than its physical beauty. A lot of tourists go to, say, Hong Kong, and I doubt many of them are there for the pristine harbour and natural amenities. I spent a few months in Switzerland in 2010, a place so beautiful it almost hurts to open your eyes. But the whole world can’t be Switzerland.

Jangyu, for all its blistering ugliness, is my “town” for the time being (its Korean administrative division is a myeon, which is translated as “town”; it’s a bedroom community of the city of Gimhae, recently built — still being built — apparently to alleviate the pressure from neighbouring Gimhae and Changwon). I don’t know if I could ever “love” it here, but it’s possible to imagine missing it when I’m gone, the way I sometimes miss dirty, crowded, ugly, endless — and endlessly fascinating — Tokyo.

Another weird thing I’ve found is that photographing ugliness and mess and urban squalor can be as enjoyable as capturing a mountain meadow. Seriously, as depressing as the dreadful litter and shitty foothpaths and public spitting and drab buildings and maniacal drivers and piles of junk on the roadside can be, I often find myself smiling at the sheer audacity of the mess here — at some point every day I want to laugh out loud, to shout “Doesn’t anybody here GIVE A SHIT?!”

And there are the tower blocks. I wouldn’t want to live in one, but at least in their endless ranks there’s some pattern, some power in uniformity and repetition, some semblance of organisation that the eye, or mine anyway, seems to crave. And from the outside at least, the tower estates seem quite clean and relatively pleasant. They’re not strewn with plastic and junk-food wrappers and cigarette packets either.

It has something, this dirty new town, I just don’t know what to call it yet.

Anyway, I’ll let the pictures and their captions do the talking…

My room is the 3rd aircon unit up in that pinkish place

View from my stairwell window

One of the ubiquitous piles of domestic trash on the streets in my first week

A week later, the pile extends onto the road

There are three or four churches within two minutes of my place -- I try to mix 'em up

It's not a bike culture like Tokyo's -- it's dangerous enough just walking here

There's construction going on everywhere, mostly these studio apartments like mine

Evening traffic near my school

I took this shot this afternoon -- my first rainy day in Korea

Near my place a week or so ago -- I walked through this tunnel before work today

A redeeming feature is the access to elevation -- this hill is 5 mins from school

Weekend street market

Cops with balls

My building's "trash collection area" -- no recycling!

Barren vegetable fields among the department stores

It'll look a lot greener, at least, come Spring

These shots were a few evenings ago -- great light, a certain visual power

But will the Spring greenery hide all this APPALLING FILTH?

Look through the earthmover: an old man tending a few onions

How does all the religion coexist with all the filth?

These surviving farm plots are surely doomed

Plastic litters every border, every drain, every roadside and often the gardens themselves

Two nights ago near my supermarket

Yesterday's news

Construction & remnant cabbages near my school

Last season's crops wither on the vine

The Loner & the River -- more on this poor waterway soon

Mohair jumper after a failed escape attempt, left to hang as an example to others

Bird nests on a misty morning, today, near my place -- redeeming the urban squalor

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Good. You see with the eye of a true and objective reporter. And yes, when I was in Switzerland recently, I opened my eyes, and the beauty did truly almost hurt. Even on dull, rainy, wintry days. But, as you say, everywhere can’t be Switzerland. Nor would we want it to be. Long live variety, even if some of it is pretty shitty. There’s always beauty to be found in the least likely places, just as the lotus flower blooms with its roots in the mud.

    • So true, you start to notice it in some unlikely places. This is one theme in my forthcoming post about the former river here.

  2. Whether intentional or not most of your pics of Jangyu remind me of some crazy Asian version of “The Omega Man”….. the streets are always deserted, there are barely any people depicted, there is overwhelming aura of desolation. I know this emphasises the modern chaos that are the endless new buildings and it also perhaps emphasises some internal isolation on your part but sometimes I wonder …. are you the sole resident of Jangyu?

    Where are the dancing girls?

    • Excellent observations re the pix, Frank, and you raise some interesting points about photographing places and people. I do feel isolated here (often in a good way) — I haven’t spoken real, unmodified (for 2nd-language speakers) English in almost a month, for example. I walk these — yes — rather desolate streets talking to myself, often wishing I could share my often-rather-humorous (to me) observations… I find the urban environment here simultaneously exciting (the novelty of all those ranks of residential buildings plus the outrageous garishness of the commercial ones) and trashy, vibrant yet depressing. An odd mix. I’m glad the shots capture the isolation at least.

      The other thing that contributes to your valid point about there being no people: I have real reservations re pointing cameras at strangers — or even friends. I’m a lousy street photographer in that sense. I think to be a street photographer you need a certain arrogance that I lack (I make up for it in other kinds of arrogance). I try to sneak shots of people sometimes, but my heart’s not in it. I’ve thought about this a lot: why don’t I have more people in my pictures? But I walk alone, mostly, and when I do meet people walking, I am reluctant to say, “Hey, can I take your picture?” But in a weird way this policy presents a view of the world I see that is very real. I live in my own head. When I do photograph people, they’re usually “fellow” loners… I am utterly alone when I walk around here.

      Well, not just here…

      Should I just jump out a window or something?

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