Korea, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, Urban Walking
Comments 9

Hit the North! #3: Pre-Dawn Waterfalls, a Celebrated Stream &…Snow?!

grass & stream

Those kids — those indefatigable, indestructible, intolerable hellions. From the moment we arrived at our  hotel somewhere in the mountains of some province somewhere in the Deep North…

hotel & mountains

..they never stopped running amok.

The place was huge and dark and kind of crummy. But it had a public bath, and I hadn’t been in one since Japan in 2009. Dinner was Korean but I got it down, and was then directed into the bowels of the joint, passing the kids affixed to screens in the coin-slot internet playground, and with some trepidation — but playing it cool like a pro — I revealed my ugly secret in the naked arena of the changing rooms.

Tattoo, I’m told, in Korea = taboo. I’m condemned to a summer of long sleeves in my day job, but anyway, boys, here they are. Six or seven blokes in the next bath were telling stories and laughing; I soaked alone in mine, troubles dissipating in the steam. Well, I mean, I didn’t start alone but for some reason the legroom suddenly increased…

I learned a lot about Korean education that night and the next. I was invited to join the other teachers in one of their rooms, where a big spread of fruit and cheese and snacks and beer and Ballantine’s was being attacked. I sat there like a tool for an hour while they all chatted and joked and outside the kids did whatever the hell they wanted. 

On the whole trip, in fact, I never saw a pupil pulled into line for anything. They were allowed to run wild and fend for themselves. When I escaped to my room, with its heated floor and tiny oblong pillow, they were going mental in the hallways on three different floors. When my alarm bleeped at 4:30 some of them were still going. Maybe they had their own Ballantine’s stash.

The weather was awful, but I needed a walk. Under my umbrella, camera hugged close, I went up a lonesome dirt road into the hills…

..and wet, cold and dark as it was, it felt great to be alive.


I’d passed these gushing cascades but it was still dark; I climbed up to a lonesome farm and coming down, there was just enough light to squat under an umbrella with a tiny tripod. It was fun, sort of, but I fondly recalled the dry, sane stamp albums of my childhood. My hobbies needed some reappraisal.

waterfall 1

waterfall 2

waterfall 3

After breakfast — I went with ancient pastries from the hotel store over rice and seaweed soup — the convoy headed into the southeastern outskirts of Seoul. The planned outdoor amusement park (compensation for all that culture) was ditched in favour of a drier indoor version: Lotte World.

Heaven for kids, Babylon on amphetamines for yours truly:

indoor amusement park

The vice principal was concerned that I’d disappear into the vortex of a city with more inhabitants in its greater metropolitan area than my entire country, but I safely negotiated the lovely subway system and was soon downtown — my first visit, and where better to stroll amid the rain and wind than an 11km stretch of exposed stream bank?

river & bike

Well, I only had half a day — I needed a theme. Today’s was water, in all its most unpleasant forms.

This is the Cheongyecheon

bridge legs

..a stream rescued seven years ago from the oblivion of concrete and a truck overpass by Seoul mayor, Lee Myung-bak, now the country’s president.

Seen as an example of successful green urban renewal, the scheme involved the waterway’s disinterment, resuscitation and extensive landscaping, bridge-construction and traffic redirection.

I enjoyed my walk, which covered much of both banks, but my masochist tendencies have been well documented on this site.

shelter under bridge

This is the point (get it?) at which I ran out of stream at the western end and headed back on the opposite bank:


Umbrella-mangling weather. The numerous bridges, old and new, provided brief shelter…

old bridge wall

windy bridge

tiled wall

..but my hands were freezing into useless claws, my pants were soaked — and then the snow.

That was it. I recalled a Starbucks I’d seen earlier, and had a new mission. Inside it was warm and woodsy, cocktail jazz tinkled, beautiful women glided past every few seconds (Seoul: man…), and I encamped at a window bench with an enormous mug of passable latte and a pastry, watching Seoul-ites do good-humoured battle with their notorious elements:

umbrellas 1

umbrellas 3

umbrellas 4

I ran out of coffee, my fingers were working, so out I went, continuing east. The snow blew elsewhere. I really enjoyed the next hour or two, and eventually found myself in a fashion district called Pyounghwa.


At last even the rain stopped.

grass & stream

There were ducks and other birds, and I could see how pleasant the Cheonggye might be in a balmy Spring, if they have them in Seoul.


I covered most of the stream’s length, but I’d been firmly instructed to be back in the amusement factory by 4:30. I crossed over like this fellow…

crossing stream

..and aimed at the far-off station, beneath the imperious gazes of a succession of terrifying beauties, coldly appraising the work of a team of workers hand-dredging the stream bottom for garbage.

models & garbage

That was Seoul for me: cold, wet, windy, but somehow compelling. I’ll be back, perhaps for the Buddha’s birthday in a few weeks. Hopefully my timing will be a little better…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Seoul, where cosmetic surgery is given as a graduation present. I’m not kidding – quick eye-jobs are cheap, and plenty of girls from here fly over just for that reason.

    • Hmmm, I’d hate to think I was seduced by plastic! It’s funny though — girls in my classes are always gazing into my eyes and sighing with longing (for my “blue” eyes). And my “high nose” is a hit too, something I’m sure you can relate to in Japan as well.

  2. Mate, first of all I’m liking your photo skills. I reckon they’ve really gone up a notch. You’ve even got a bit of the milky water look in your waterfall pictures! I was looking at your picture of the bloke walking across the steps on the stream. If that was me I would have waited until he had left and the photo would be a bore, but with that bloke in his bright orange top included the picture now looks great!

    What’s the go with tattoos in Korea? Is it the realm of the gangster? I guess you can just tell everyone over there that you’re a bad arse and be done with it!

    • Thanks, Greg! Well, I’ve shot so many bloody cascades over the last year or two, so I hope I’m getting a bit better. Far from ideal conditions, though! The bloke on the steps: one of my reliable kicks is freezing someone in motion. The fast lens is great for that! I can’t tell you what a buzz it is when I get them in just the right position in the frame.

      I still have these dilemmas about whether or not to include a human in my outdoor shots. Often there is no choice as there’s no people. But sometimes a humanoid puts things into scale, adds some drama. There are these grey areas though where you think the person needs to be a main feature but is not quite prominent enough…and would perhaps be better left out.

      I have heard/read many times that tattoos are bad news here. Haven’t seen any. Japan was the same but did have a tattoo tradition; not sure if there’s one here. I don’t like to display mine anyway — they’re not very artistic and certainly not macho. Most of them are just like little souvenirs or badges. I have ink from Brisbane, Sydney, Tokyo, Portland and New York!

      • Yeah, that bloke on the steps is sharp which I can imagine would have been tricky on a dull looking day. His orange jacket is a winner for contrast as well.

        You do have the camera for the street shot and urban areas look okay with people in them I think. I’d probably do the same, it’s only on mountain tops I try to avoid people in the pictures!

        Yeah, your AT tattoo makes sense for a reminder of the epic-ness of it all. I don’t have anything in my resume that’s worthy of a tattoo. I’m thinking one of ‘Werribee Gorge’ would be pretty lame!

  3. Koreans must be shocked in Oz where there are so many tats that blank skins (did I just create that term…?) like myself sometimes feel as though we are the odd ones out. All the best, Ian.

    • Yes, they must think we’re a bunch of idiot macho tools. I hate tattoo culture actually, especially the awful mock-tribal ones — stay pure and blank, Cameron!

  4. rivron says

    I take it Starbucks is a refuge from those cups of sweetened instant coffee!

    Your talk of children running amok took me back to school courses for young musicians in the summer holidays. Pretty riotous. I remember one particular night, when we’d been pretty noisy in our dormitory, hearing the door open. We all suddenly went quiet and pretended to be asleep. Squinting at the lighted door we were surprised to see there was no-one there. Gradually we became aware of an odd, shuffling sound. A teacher (one we all really liked, incidentally) was crawling, plastered, into our room. He proceeded to deliver a hoarse, rambling monologue on why we should try to be quiet… There were younger children sleeping downstairs… Etc… We were all hiding under our blankets, convulsed with silent laughter…

    • Ha, great story! Say what you will about Starbucks — I seldom go into them back home; who needs a teenage barista and all those absurd flavours? — but over here (and Japan) they offer plenty of space, staff who can often understand English, inoffensive music, nice chairs, a smoke-free atmosphere and — yes — coffee that, regardless of its qualities, is at least not manufactured by Taster’s Choice!

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