Where would you go? What would you do? Are you a “see all the sites” person? Or do you like to immerse yourself in the culture? Do you prefer tropical beaches or a snow-capped mountain? Perhaps a bustling city or to explore the local cuisine and travel about the streets?
There are so many possibilities when it comes to travel.
It can be a daunting question. I had decided that I needed to go; I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I just wanted to go. I decided to allow the universe to decide where I should go. One night in the middle of the night, I was reading a blog I follow, and the writer presented me with my destination. He said something completely different in his blog, but I read “Find your soul in Seoul” Street Photography workshop.
I thought to myself … if that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is? I knew if I waited till morning to sign up, I wouldn't, and without looking at a map, I signed up. I had been following this guy for years under an alias, so it caught him off guard when I signed up. This random Canadian signs up for a course on the other side of the planet.
Then the fun came: getting to Seoul, South Korea, from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. An interesting note to consider - be careful where you get your advice from when you decide to travel. Most people will try to sway you from doing things outside your or their comfort zone. They mean well, of course, just trying to protect you. Don’t dwell on it too much; just get on with your travels.
The planning began, which flights to take and where to stay in Seoul. After some searching through Expedia, I mapped out my trip. Fly to Vancouver, then to San Francisco, then to Seoul. I planned to arrive the day before the course. After all, I had done very little long-range travel and was not fully aware of jet lag and how it affects me. I discovered that we would meet daily at a unique coffee shop downtown, so I looked for a hotel nearby.
Is it real? If you have never experienced it, you aren’t aware of what it is until you get to your location. I arrived in Seoul at 5 am, and at the time, they were still doing covid testing, so I had to jump through some hoops upon arrival. Luckily my driver showed me where to go to get everything done.
We then headed to the hotel; the roads were sparse as it was still pretty early. I stopped at the hotel, and they said the earliest they could have a room ready would be by noon. Rooms are booked differently in Seoul; the room is based on occupancy, and being a single traveller meant I wasn’t entitled to a very large room. They said they could put me in a tiny room with single beds until noon for a price. I took it as the alternative was to wander around town till my room was available.
I was just a block away from where Eric wanted to meet. And luckily, it was a coffee shop as I would need some coffee. I wasn’t drinking coffee much. Water was my choice. Jet lag can wreak havoc on the body and mind of anyone who has travelled across multiple time zones. It's a peculiar sensation that can cause fatigue, insomnia, and even digestive issues, leaving you feeling unwell and disoriented. The condition happens when your body's internal clock struggles to adjust to a new time zone, creating an imbalance between your natural rhythms and the local time of your destination. The good news is that there are several tips and tricks to help your body cope with jet lag, from adjusting your sleep schedule before you leave to staying hydrated and exposing yourself to natural light upon arrival. Overall, overcoming jet lag is essential to maximizing your travel experience and getting off on the right foot. However, I have heard about jet lag but didn’t fully understand it. I remembered watching Die Hard, where Bruce Willis’s character is told to roll up a towel with his toes to overcome jet lag. (It doesn’t work).
I felt exhausted despite sleeping on the plane. And I had to attend the course the very next day. I felt a little comatose when noon came along, as I had slept in this tiny room since arriving. And was still exhausted. I headed up to my larger room which was a little smaller. It was small. But I was still so tired. I awoke, and it was dark out. Looking out the window looked like a scene from Bladerunner. Super neat.
The first order of business - find vegan food. There were a lot of street vendors but not a lot of vegan options. I ended up having a couple of roasted sweet potatoes on a stick. They were surprisingly delicious. Then I found a street vendor whose vegan dumplings would become a staple food for my visit. I learned that Starbucks is a place to take a date as it is quite a special place to go. I just wanted to go there to work on whatever I needed to work on.
The next day I headed to the coffee shop to meet Eric. Eric Kim is a very fit young man who is a very devoted father to his young son and a loving husband to his wife. He is a well-known photographer and blogger with many philosophical ideas and strategies for living life. He is an avid weightlifter and meat eater. We decided to disagree about what I eat vs what he eats. To each his own, I am not a preacher of what you must eat. I am only interested in what I eat.
Was something I had toyed with but was never that serious about, and Eric Kim has some very unique ideas on how to shoot on the street. I was looking forward to meeting him in person and hearing his ideas, not to mention walking around a foreign place taking photographs.
Since purging all my high-end photography gear and settling on a point-and-shoot camera, my vision changed how I viewed the world and photography. Eric shoots all street photos in extra small B&W jpegs because he shares them on his blog, so he wants to get the most bang for the buck, so to speak. Web photos do not need to be massive.
I like to print some photos, so I was unsure of this strategy, but I was willing to try it. I was there to learn from this fellow, so I shot like and with him. He is a very bold street photographer. Bolder than most. Street shooting in Asia is very different than in North America. And when you shoot Xs, you are not limited to what you shoot. When I first started shooting digital, I used to shoot 4000ish photos but never deleted anything. That was years and 24terebytes ago. I had learned to be better with my shot choices. However, this is the way Eric shoots, and I was embracing the idea.
We spent the day talking and venturing into the street to discuss different street shooting strategies. We talked about the culture in Seoul. An interesting fact is that South Koreans are very keen on personal integrity, you can leave your laptop and cell phone on a table in a coffee shop, and it will still be there when you return from the washroom. I saw this in action many times during my visit.
On day 1, I was the only student, which suited me just fine as I got access to a photographer I had admired for years one on one. This was a great way to learn new tricks. For 15 years before this, I had practiced photography mainly in a studio shooting fine art and abstract with models. I shot airshows, cars, and bicycle races with super high-end cameras and fast lenses. I used photography as my creative outlet. When I shot, it allowed me to only think about shooting because photography can be pretty complex. It is also great fun. For days after a shoot, I was filled with ideas, Business ideas, and course ideas, which were spectacular.
The moral of that story is that when you can be creative and clear your mind of all the day-to-day clutter. You allow room for information downloads. Free your mind and have fun. Do things that are different and open your mind to freedom. If you take away anything from this blog post, take away that you will benefit whenever you have time to be creative and/or have fun and clear your mind of thought; open that door.
On day 2, I met Student number 2, Vu. He is a translator from Vietnam. He and I became good friends travelling around and taking street photos. He is a man with a huge heart, offering to help anyone at the drop of a hat. He is a very kind, gentle soul.
Travelling to South Korea was a massive risk for me. Travelling to a place so far away that spoke a different language and had different food and customs was about as far out of my comfort zone as possible. The comfort zone is a great place, but nothing grows there. You can’t get out of your comfort zone unless you are willing to take that step.