It had been quite some time since my wife and I made a trip out of town. With the spread of the coronavirus slowing down, we decided to head out down to Jeollanam-do to meet up with friends and explore. In the two days we were down south, we revisited old places and discovered new locations. This post will cover Saturday, April 25th of our visit to sites in Gwangju. A few days before, I had got a new phone and was dying to use this trip as a lesson in getting used to the state-of-the-art iPhone 11 Pro. Our hotel was a short walk from the Old Red Church, so before meeting up with our friends, we made our way to see if anything has changed since my last look in on the place. The church has unforgivable angles, making it tricky to shoot with a simple 35mm camera. Even shooting with a Mamiya RB67 provides its own set of challenges. Almost immediately, I came to appreciate the wide-angle lense mode of the iPhone Pro 11. It allowed me to get shots I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting unless I had a wide-angle lens. I don’t mean for this to be an advertisement for the iPhone 11 Pro, but this camera allows me to do my thing without having to buy a DSLR with an assortment of lenses. In the past, I considered the pictures I took with my old phone as back-up to the film images I tried to capture. Now, the world of possibilities opens up, including shooting HD or 4K video. This phone is a handy tool at my dispersal for documenting the abandonments of Korea.
When we met up with one of our friends, we went back to a neighborhood that had been decaying for years. I remember walking through certain alleys of this area in late 2014/early 2015 and blown away by the number of vacant hanoks. Some of the hanoks were beyond repair. Flora was growing through the cracks of some, while the remaining neighbors used the courtyards of others as large trash receptacles. As of April 2020, redevelopment is picking up steam. A giant patch of rubble grows by the day, and eventually, some sleek high-rises will pop up in its place.
Workers spray the area to make it easier for the crane operator to scrape it down.
The first house we stopped by was a place I had seen last time I was in Gwangju. I discovered things new details I hadn’t observed the first time, like the inscription on the support beam and the poster of Bodhidharma. I did use the portrait setting on my camera phone to take an intimate picture of a dead cat. I’ll refrain from posting it here, but I’ll say it came out clear and sharp!
We went through a few other houses before checking out the businesses that lined the parameter.
We weaved through the buildings on the parameter with ease and privacy as there were brown tarps erected the entire block. We came across a disused clinic.
Hunger started to set in, but we still had enough energy to explore an area that was one of the last to be evicted. Places that were impossible to get into a year ago were now easy pickings.
The New Ville Hotel and Bathhouse. In the basement of a building, we found this moldy drink bar. We stayed there as long as we could muster, taking pictures of the cool artwork.
And last but not least, a former movie theater that has long been an “eyescraper” in Gwangju. I’ve walked by this many times, confused by what this place might have been. My friend told me it was either a church or a movie theater. Well, as luck would have it, we finally managed to get in. Tall metal fencing that lined the building was gone, allowing us to see the space before it’s razing.
At some point, this place ceased being a movie theater, and a company purchased it, looking to transform it into another commercial venture. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt, and it had been sitting idle ever since. You don’t realize how expansive the place was until you start climbing the make-shift staircases. Once you get to the top, you have a beautiful view of Gwangju. The hardest part was going down and witnessing the descent. One misstep, and I would have been history.
After filling our bellies with seaweed soup, rice, and plenty of delicious side dishes, we hit up Shaman Hoarder’s House to check-in, and for me to test out making a video of the place. I feel mixed about the footage I shot. I don’t think I did anything to enhance the experience of being in a house cluttered with shamanistic trinkets. You be the judge.
The Shaman Hoarder’s House was overwhelming my senses; the dustiness of the place made me self-conscious of my bum lung. It’s a fascinating place that I would take out-of-town urban explorers to. I am bummed out by how these videos came out, but (hopefully) there will be another opportunity to visit.
It was a good day, overall. The second installment will document our Sunday trip to Naju.