999th post – A tale of two cities

I have occasionally pondered the similarities and differences between these two cities (shown above as close as I can to the same scale). I think there are more differences than similarities. Both are the biggest city in their country, but Seoul comprehensively so and Sydney only just (and is projected to be overtaken by Melbourne sooner rather than later). Seoul is the capital of South Korea, but Sydney isn’t the capital of Australia, even though many people around the world think or assume it is. As a result, Sydney (and/or Melbourne) dominate economically and culturally, but not politically (at least at the national level; they dominate their respective states). 

Geographically, both sit between the ocean and mountains. Even though South Korea is overall more mountainous, Wentworth Falls (at the far left of the Sydney map) is higher in elevation than Bukhansan. It’s just that Bukhansan is located comparatively much closer to its city. (Also, Mount Kosciuszko (the highest mountain on mainland Australia) is higher than Hallasan, and Mawson Peak (the highest on an outlying territory) is (just) higher than Mount Baekdu.) Both are at similar latitudes (Seoul 37ºN and Sydney 33ºS), but Seoul’s weather is dominated by the Siberian high and East Asian monsoon, meaning very cold winters (with snow) and very wet summers (with occasional typhoons) while Sydney’s is more equable, very rarely getting super-cold or super-hot (at least towards the coast; my inland suburb is more variable, and one day a few years ago a suburb near here was the hottest place on the planet). 

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여러 분 추석 잘 보내세요!

Chuseok isn’t a holiday in Australia, of course, so I spent the day working, listening to Korean music or semi-watching Korean hiking videos for most of the time. Youtube suggested two videos of old photos of Seoul, dating from 1884 and 1984 respectively. (A lot happened in between!)

The first is on the 대한여지도 Korean Geographic channel, and has photos taken by Percival Lowell. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube korean geographic seoul 1884 percival lowell’.

The second is the 복원왕 Restoration King channel, and has colourised photos. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube restoration king life in seoul 1984’.

The next video I watched was from 1979, and the Yeouido 63 Building was conspicuously absent (it was started in 1980). While I was watching it, I had the sudden thought that it would be interesting to compare then and now (if possible). The screenshot for the second video above should be relatively easy, but the screenshot for the first video is probably under an apartment building or department store.

I also remembered seeing a video at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza of the view from Namsan, with the buildings risings up animatedly over time.


Today is 15 years since I went to Korea the first time. We were planning to travel there last year, probably for Chuseok, before continuing to Europe, but that got knocked on the head. We hope to travel as soon as we can, but that is obviously not going to be soon.

I have been watching a lot a hiking videos and reading travel websites and blogs. My default maps is Google. Although its coverage is limited, it gives me most of the information I need. I have also investigated Naver Maps. Their maps and satellite are better than Google’s, but they have no street view, at least that I’ve been able to find. (Their default language is Korean, not surprisingly. There may be a way to switch that to English.) A few days ago I read a blog which mentioned Kakao Maps, which has better maps and satellite and more extensive street view than Google. (And is also in Korean, but the blogger said there’s a way to switch languages.)

These three maps show the area including Deoksugung Palace (lower left), Seoul City Hall, Cheonggyecheon and Jongno Tower (upper right):

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Google bedroom view

I have been using Google Maps to explore South Korea, retracing places I’ve been to and finding places I haven’t. Naver Maps has better maps and aerial, but no street view or user-submitted photos, from what I can see. I managed to trace one brother- and sister-in-law’s house in a densely populated suburb of Seoul. I noticed that there was one user-submitted photo nearby. A presumably young woman has submitted a photo of her bedroom, in an apartment immediately above the office where my wife used to work. There’s nothing revealing about the photo, but it seems an unlikely thing for anyone to submit to Google Maps. 

A very famous wall

Another well-done travel and tourism resource is a Youtube channel called Seoul Walker, which consists of someone’s video of himself walking mainly silently around various parts of Seoul and nearby places (eg, Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon). Yesterday and today, I watched the one of Deoksugung Palace, Seoul this autumn. At one point my wife came into the room I was in, so I paused the video (it just happened to be along the outside front wall, opposite City Hall), explained in general terms what it was about, then showed it to her saying “Where is this?”. She instantly identified it.

This is a perfectly ordinary Korean wall, with some perfectly ordinary trees. There must be many almost identical walls. It wasn’t even the very famous side wall of Deoksugung, with its narrow, bending street and overhanging trees. In fact, I instantly identified that in a Korean tv program she was watching, and I just happened to glance over.

Hangang River

Some time ago I posted about whether it is better to write Gyeongbokgung, Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace. Ultimately, there’s no best solution. The literal transliteration of 경복궁 is Gyeongbokgung, but that does not provide foreigners with the important information that it’s a palace. Probably the best solution is to write Gyeongbok Palace, but in my experience, very few people do, along with Nam Mountain, but compare the very common Han River. Gyeongbokgung Palace is, strictly speaking, tautologous (also known as ‘repeating the same thing twice), but it has the advantage of including the full Korean name plus the fact that it’s a palace.

The Korea Herald has an article about the guide book published by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the National Institute of Korean Language for the use of those who are producing foreign-language signs and promoting Korea abroad. It recommends the use of, for example, Hangang River. 

It refers to the “translation” of Korean words. But the translation of 한강 is Great River. The transliteration is Hangang. I don’t know if there’s an official word for 한강 > Hangang River, but I will use the word rendering.  

The article links to the institute’s website, but it’s all in Korean, so I can’t give you any more information from it. 

At some time, my wife expressed great surprise when I told her that Namsan means “South Mountain”. She claimed that it is just the name of the mountain and doesn’t mean anything. But in any other context, Nam means south: Hamhae (the South Sea) is south of the peninsula, and Chungcheongnam-do, Gyeongsangnam-do and Jeollanam-do are south of Chungcheongbuk-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do and Jeollabuk-do respectively (and are sometimes rendered as South Chungcheong/Chungcheong South etc). Further, Namsan Seoul (I guess I should be writing Namsan Mountain Seoul) just happens to be south of Seoul, Namsan Gyeongju just happens to be south of Gyeongju and Bukansan Seoul just happens to be north of Seoul. Coincidence? I think not.