Sep 25, 2008

Suwon: Fortress and Sprawl

We had at best a loose structure planned for our trip, one which was constantly revised and altered. Hostel reservations were canceled and remade, DMZ tour times constantly seemed to shift, and plans regarding trains were more or less fluid. Fortunately, J and I know each other well enough that we kept itinerary-related bickering to a minimum approaching nil, which was cool. On the second full day, we cracked open the guidebooks and wondered where to go. We were basically thinking "What the hell should be do before we can see the DMZ and then head to Gyeongju?" Basically on a whim, we and decided to head south of Seoul to Suwon, the site of Hwaseong Fortress, of which there are a few interspersed pictures.

It was only about an hour away on Seoul's exceedingly user-friendly metro. But, just about any train system would seem user-friendly when compared with Tokyo. Tokyo's train system is a fantastic mess of twisting, labyrinthine train lines, of different mass-transit companies swirling in and out of each other's way. The whole of the Tokyo train system seems like it was designed by stoned minotaurs who decided to take a crack at urban planning after blowing their minds on Jackson Pollack paintings.

Seoul's metro, on the other hand, seems to have been designed by actual people. The only issue I had with it was that the ticketing machines weren't consistently designed. The transport system itself, though, was superb.

Look! More fortress!

We got to Suwon, and made our way up the hill upon which the fortress rested, and got a full view of the massive sprawl just south of Seoul. In the downtown area where our hostel was situated and where we'd wandered around the night before, it was sort of difficult to get a sense of just how dense the Seoul-Incheon metropolis is. Granted, being in Tokyo has inured me a bit to density, but the sheer size of these things was amazing.

There they were, great stacks of concrete that proclaimed beigely how the city had burst its boundaries and outwardness was being supplanted with upwardness. Oddly, one of the colossal buildings had a gigantic cowboys-and-indians mural on it, a strangely outdated American cultural signifier that clashed with the distinctly Asian fortress upon which we stood. I didn't get any particularly good pictures of the sprawl, sadly.

More fortress, though:

We trekked over and around the walls, and were sort of astounded that the whole structure dated from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. By that time, Europe had abandoned castles and America had never bothered to make them. I'm at a loss to adequately explain the technological differential, and J reminded me that I really ought to read Jared Diamond.

More into town, more into the body of the fortress, there were people lounging about on the castle structures, myriad students and smokers sitting on the walls and in the shade of the roofed structures. It was heartening to see something so old and stylized used as a public space. It was nice to be reminded that the place were were strolling was not a static museum but a very real town on the outskirts of a booming city. The structures pictured above and below were, up close, filled with refugees from the sunlight.

More to follow...

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Awe, man. Scooped! You're going to be done describing the entire trip before I even have time to post a single picture. Grrr. Cursed moving and start of school.

Nice pictures, though: glad they turned out well.