Cylinders of Seoul for cake eaters, roof spotters and tree huggers

Thursday was a day of cylinders.
Tea cakes shaped like old tiles
with a gutter in front
but more tender and more tasty.

Four coloured roll cakes in a specialty tea shop in Seoul
Roll cakes in a specialty tea shop in Seoul

Real tiles in Bukchon Hanok Village
are heavy enough to anchor a home
tight to the earth in storm.
The word “typhoon”
is a cylinder.

Traditional tiled roof on an old-style Korean house in Bukchon Hanok Village. Curved black tiles over white clay.
Solid as! Traditional tiled roof on an old-style Korean house in Bukchon Hanok Village.

Sunrise reddens the red trunks
of pines outside my door.
So wavy and so wayward
hard to believe they are rigid.

red trunks of Korean pines match an orange roof at Seou Art Space Yeonhui
In sunlight the red trunks of Korean pines match the orange roof of a building in Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

Photos and travel notes from Seoul Art Space Yeonhui by Rachel McAlpine. Sharing is good.

Young means young, not wonderful

Billboard of two old lovers kissing. Text: WE ARE YOUNG
C’mon. Who are you kidding? “Young” is a lexical error, desperate denial, and a sign of ageism.

Say these two lovers are eighty-two.
They may have many qualities of youth
they may be elastic, enthusiastic
they may be childlike, childish, curious, wildish
trusty, busty, lusty, gusty
brainy, zany, frantic, romantic
yearning, burning, learning, earning
they may be healthy and flexible and fit
they may be monarchs of the internet
they may be smart, they may be fun
they may leave you for dead when they go for a run
bouncy, flouncy, insecure
they may have charisma, they may have allure
they may be beautiful beyond all norms
gorgeous and cuddly and bubbly with dreams
they may be cute
but here’s the truth
one thing they do not have
it’s gone, it’s done, it’s been replaced
and that is youth.

Billboard in Seoul that is intended (I presume) to combat ageism… with a comforting lie. Shown to me by New Zealand Maggie Rainey-Smith as we walked through a few of her favourite places in Seoul. Thanks Maggie! Photo and poem by me, Rachel McAlpine: copy freely but include my name.

In this quick-fire poem I hear myself imitating Renee Taylor who wrote a furious and funny item about what old people are like in her blog The Wednesday Busk. Her rant was broader: I’ve focused on the characteristics of young people, because that’s what often lies behind cliches like “forever young”, “young at heart”, and so forth.

Quiet beauty in Korea

Aesthetic treats of the day.
Certain frames trap my eyes.
I feel an urge to stare and stay.
Best succumb. Just looking,
not shopping, not craving, not judging
sometimes flipping
into fleeting meditation.
These zen appreciation
moments happen often
in a foreign place.
Best if passive and silent
but sometimes a whoop
leaks out.

Ginseng liquor for sale at a store in the Korean DMZ.
Ginseng liquor for sale at a store in the Korean DMZ.  Elegant.
Garden pines in the 2-acre grounds of Seoul Art Space Yeonhui
Garden pines in the 2-acre grounds of Seoul Art Space Yeonhui. They grow in a shapely fashion
Pause at the yellow commas. Enjoy the colour, the form, and the debris.
Bulldozer at work demolishing a house
Two days ago this was an awkward, flimsy abandoned house. Tomorrow it may be a new house.
A feast for the writers in residence at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui. Vividness, lavishness, and flavour.
Long table and long curved bench with coffee drinkers in a converted warehouse
Coffee house with a warm buzz. Gleaming expanses and raw concrete that ought to alienate but soothe instead.


Travel notes and photos by Rachel McAlpine at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui— feel free to share. 



Walking the city: rainy day Seoul stroll

Sunday was rainy so I went for a stroll wearing a classy yellow $2 plastic cape
aiming for a human-scale hill and lo, I found it.
Map of the Gungdongsan Trail was disarmingly simple so off I set to do the smaller loop.

A simple map of Gungdongsan Trail, Seoul
How hard could this be? Enticingly simple map of Gungdongsan Trail, Seoul

Pretty, easy, rough and green, this little hill made me feel at home.
It could have been Mount Victoria, Wellington.

Hilly walkway through forest
No, it’s not Mt Vic. It’s a little hill in Yeonhui, Seoul

Surprise, an outdoor gym. I flick a puddle off the seat and try
a lift-your-own-body-with-your-very-own-arms machine.

A cosy outdoor gym with the lift-your-own-weight machine in front.
A cosy outdoor gym with the lift-your-own-weight machine in front.

I don’t last long because the handles are studded with metal prickles—
my hands have instant henna pattern done in Braille.

Hands indented with pattern from gym equipment handle
Not henna hands for a bride but my painfully indented palm after using a machine for mere seconds. Leather gloves next time.

She’ll be coming round the mountain getting wetter all the while
and she meets a pagoda shelter with fine feng shui
so she does t’ai chi. (She means me.)

Pagoda on Gungdongsan Trail, with mirrors
Pagoda on Gungdongsan Trail, with mirrors

By now I knew that the “map” of the trail was an abstract cartoon, like most.
I was mildly lost and emerged in an unknown part of the city
that turned out to be
very close to home.

This week is The Guardian Walking the City Week. If you’re taking public transport in Seoul then a lot of walking is involved, inside and out of subway stations. So it suits me. I’m at the Seoul Art Space Yeonhui #GuardianWalking

Guardian articles on Walking the City


A Monday in Seoul

ATM machine in Yeonhui, Seoul
An ATM machine is an ATM machine wherever it may be, and this one’s in Yeonhui

Personal independence day:
I managed to work
an ATM machine and a bus

Apartment blocks seen from a train window.
View from the train approaching Baekseok: a row of apartment blocks.

three trains and another money machine
all by myself. I’m Ms Commuter Queen
a functional

Quirky buildings in Baekseok, possibly designed by hobbits.
Quirky buildings in Baekseok, possibly designed by hobbits. Pretty quiet on a Monday lunch time.

Nobody even felt obliged
to help me across the street.

Entering Megabox Baekseok cinema complex.
Megabox Baekseok: cinema complex over a vast shopping store

At Megabox
cinema complex
I joined a full house screening
of My Year With Helen
by Gaylene Preston
in the 10th DMZ Doco Festival.
Film makers politicians and activists
took to heart
this feminist story of our time.
Listen up and hear our sisters:
they could hardly be more clear!

Travel notes and photos by Rachel McAlpine. 


A Saturday in Seoul: go, eat, walk, drink

People waiting to cross the road in Seoul as a green bus departs
Orientation: memorising landmarks so that you get on the right bus at the right bus stop.

What does a beginner tourist do
on a Saturday in Seoul?
Start with orientation practice:
take bus number 7612
and go five stops
to Hongdik Uni station.
Map, signs, card, gates, signs, gate, done.

Big plate of fried chicken with daikon side dish
A better class of fried chicken with daikon on the side

Next a hearty chicken lunch
in Hongdae, fried and fresh for once
which we consume like dainty gluttons.

Stone walls with colourful vertical flower beds.
Stone wall with vertical beds of impatiens (i.e. flowers) inset

Metro homework carries on
take Subway Line 5 this time
(the purple one)
to Gwanghwamun Station
and congregate at Exit 5
for a mini-walking tour
alongside Cheonggye Stream.
Map, signs, card, gates, signs, gate, done.

Korean drummers in their glorious traditional costumes
Korean drummers in their glorious traditional costumes

It rains and so the tour’s cut short
and we catch some young men
drumming while they dance and spin
and women dancing while they drum.


Next we follow our sexy guide
(seventy-six with two crook hips)
to his regular after-work cafe.

There I like the tofu soup
and the mystery of makgeolli
the living drink that’s milky white
rough and ready like a rice home brew
and touted as a health food too.


Back in Hongdae crowds are swarming
and I saw what I never thought I’d see
a punk musician trying hard
to snarl and scream
and looking cute and clean
in a brand new tidy T shirt.

Rachel patting a sanitised sheep indoors
Petting a sheep in the Thanks Nature Cafe, Hongdae

After such a busy  day
we slipped into a sheep cafe
for cup of tea and a gentle sniff
by a couple of bleached and back-combed lambs
who live indoors as fluffy toys.

Then it’s home again
on green bus 7612.
I must remember that.

Travel notes and photos by Rachel McAlpine. Share if you wish.






A capsule travel wardrobe—what to pack for your next trip: less, much less.

Travel wardrobe rail with 3 pants, 3 dresses, 3 tops
Travel wardrobe rail with 3 pants, 3 dresses, 3 jackets—too much!

For twenty-eight days away
two long plane flights
lots of writing
and one or two posh dos
into my little bag I packed
three dresses (nice in the heat)
three pants (one merino for the plane)
three pairs of shoes
three jackets, undies, and three tops.
I only need two of each.

What was I thinking?
I’m seventy-eight
and it’s not too late to learn
the pleasure of wearing the same old thing
day after day after day.
I am fond of that same old thing
and it’s comfortable and clean
so I disremember
the pleasure and the stress
of choosing choosing choosing,
How shall I dress?
What shall I wear today?

Is this maybe perhaps maybe
the way old age should be?

Cat looking forlorn beside a packed suitcase.
Ursula has an opinion. If she took out some clothes she could fit me in that case.

Travel note and photos from Seoul Art Space—Yeonhui, by Rachel McAlpine