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This weekend, I hiked Mt. Pulag, the highest peak of Luzon and the third highest peak in the Philippines. I missed hiking; it was my first mountain in two years. It’s my second mountain in the Philippines and the first one I hiked in the dark on purpose. We started at 1 am and got to Peak #3 at around 5 am.

Some things I want to remember:

This sunrise! Korea, you know I love you and your mountain to bits, but I think Philippine mountains have you beat in this department.

The legendary Mt. Pulag sunrise

The legendary Mt. Pulag sunrise

I couldn’t help but reminisce about all the other mountains I hiked in Korea, especially since I was wearing the same outfit and shoes.

With the same hiking shoes I've used while hiking all of the mountains of Seoul

With the same hiking shoes I’ve used while hiking all of the mountains of Seoul

After seeing the sunrise, we hiked for another half hour to the summit, which was 2,922 meters above sea level. It was even higher than Hallasan, the highest peak in South Korea.

Me at the peak! I want to redesign this sign.

Me at the peak! I want to redesign this sign.

Here it was easier to see the famous sea of clouds that makes Mt. Pulag such a popular hiking destination.

The clouds over and around the Cordilleras

The clouds over and around the Cordilleras

The sea of clouds

The sea of clouds

I couldn’t resist doing a kick to send my taekwondo teachers back in Seoul. But alas, my arms were not ok and my back could be straighter. But hey, I hiked for 10 hours that day, so let’s all cut me some slack for today, ok? Ok.

My form is wrong. But hey, I tried.

My form is wrong. But hey, I tried.

It’s nice to be back on the mountains. I missed it so.

May no shopping mall ever befall you. God almighty.

May no shopping mall ever befall you. God almighty.

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On my last day in Korea, I took my second pilgrimage to Kukkiwon, World Taekwondo Headquarters. I’m kidding about the pilgrimage; I wanted to go shopping in the taekwondo stores on the way. At Kukkiwon, it was amazing to see a class in progress. Look: adults! People my height, if not taller!

A class in Kukkiwon

A class in Kukkiwon

Round the corner from the gym and above the cafeteria, I walked up to the Kukkiwon Museum, which was closed the last time I was there. It was fascinating to see all this memorabilia from competitions around the world.

Check out this championship cup from Nepal:

An early championship cup.

An early championship cup.

It was interesting to brush up on taekwondo graphic design:

Old posters

Old posters

And look at this old hogu made of bamboo:

An old hogu made of bamboo

An old hogu made of bamboo

There were some posters from championships in Manila:

More graphic design from Manila

More graphic design from Manila

I’m remembering my first pilgrimage here.

 

When I returned to Korea, among the things I was happy to do again was to take a walk through Gyeongbokgung, the largest of the palaces in Seoul. I loved seeing Bukhansan, the mountain behind it, all in full color. It was Hangeul Day, a day when Koreans essentially celebrate the making of their alphabet, and families and friends were strolling about.

HeLLO Bukhansan!

HeLLO Bukhansan!

One little step at a time.

One little step at a time.

Hanboks on the left, superheroes on the right.

Hanboks on the left, superheroes on the right.

Lovely Korean architecture

Lovely Korean architecture

Great to see you again.

Great to see you again.

Check out my first memories of it here last year.

It was a lovely day.

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October 2014, Seoul—The Apocalypse Project’s Climate Change Couture is now on view at Seoul National University Museum of Art. My piece is on the second floor and features six garments from Climate Change Couture’s Singapore, Manila, and Seoul collections, as well as six photos from the Singapore collection.

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Curated by Arthur Clay, founder and artistic director of Digital Art Weeks International, and Jeungmin Noe, senior curator at Seoul National University Museum of Art, the exhibition blurs the boundaries between art and science and enlarges the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaborations.

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The exhibition runs until December.

Many thanks to Digital Art Weeks and SNU MoA

While researching for my residency project on climate change, I came across a dialogue between Emma Maris, environmental writer and reporter,  and Erle Ellis, Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems, in which they discuss a very thought-provoking question, “Is the Anthropocene…Beautiful?”

Because of the apocalyptic nature of my project, when I think of the Anthropocene, it’s hard not to be a curmudgeon. It’s hard not to dislike our species. But on the other hand, there is no question that our species can make beautiful things, although I suppose the notion of beauty is subjective.

I think back on Seoul43, which is the project that made me want to do this, my first intentionally environmental project. I remember the ones with physical evidence of Korea’s history—the eunuch cemetery, the fortress, the centuries-old temple. But these are human interventions that are seen through rose-colored glasses because of their age. As one who hiked past them all, I found it interesting to trek through these unwitting museums of a country’s past. If they were to be built today, perhaps they will be met with resistance. But because they are relics from the past, they are instead seen as something to be preserved. From personal experience, I found the centuries-old fortress on one mountain to be charming, but the modern apartment building on another to be jarring—the former contributed to my experience while the latter hindered it. I wonder if, centuries from now, if someone from the future encounters this present-day apartment and sees it as a relic of architecture?

Watch the video below:

Seoul43 has given me a lot of moments to reflect on the impact of humanity on nature. This, of course, was not my initial intention. I wanted to climb all these mountains as a personal challenge. A city with mountains—how wonderful! I still believe it is one of the reasons that I found Seoul to be a clean city, compared to the other capitals I have been to. Before Korea, I had hiked only one mountain in the Philippines. It was a disastrous and traumatic experience—I nearly fell off of the peak, slipped many times on our descent, and slowed everyone down. I was, in chemistry terms, our group’s limiting reagent.

44 - Bukhansan

My second intention was to get people to share my experience. This is why I brought the soil from these mountains so that people can plant with them and then bring them back. “Borrowing” instead of “taking” the soil was an important part. It has always been my view that no one is exempt from environmental responsibility, artists/scientists/explorers/designers included. The tasks I asked people to do were also deliberately chosen. I wanted to ensure that this project had some positive environmental and cultural impact.

What I didn’t expect, aside from the extreme fatigue, were my unique experiences for each mountain. Many pushed me to my limits, some nearly killed me, others were places I found so fascinating that I want to revisit them. A number disappointed me for their smallness (This is it? Really?) while others made me ask a lot of questions.

As these are mountains in a bustling capital, one thing I found consistent about them was human activity. If Seoul’s mountains were a system that ensured the coexistence of nature and humanity, then it was determined by these parts:

First, there were the modern city officials, or whoever governing bodies that mandated which trails should be open to the public and what was allowed to be done. They were the ones who permitted the landscaping and gardening of these mountains, who added trails, tennis courts, exercise machines, trail signs, and other things that make them “usable” to the public.

exercise ajumma - Ansan

Second, there were the citizens and tourists, both young and old, who use these mountains everyday. Hiking is an everyday activity for many Seoulites. Although I always hiked alone (which was a stupid idea, but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to come with me), I was never really alone—there were always groups of ajusshi, ajumma, or young people who were also on the trails and giving me a hand. For the smaller mountains that served as neighborhood parks, it was the residents’ way of getting away from urban noise. Indeed, I could not help but think of these mountains as refuge in a city whose aging population is affected greatly by Korea’s rapid change.

lonely old man - Achasan

Finally, and no less importantly, are the people from Seoul’s past—the historical figures who added fortresses, cemeteries, and many a Buddhist temple to these mountains, turning them into rich canvasses that illustrate a city’s past and provide interesting questions as to how they fit into contemporary culture.

temple - Suraksan

The historical and cultural value that these manmade structures add undoubtedly “elevates” the status of a  mountain to something more than just a park. The exercise machines and other sports amenities added in recent years add utilitarian value for the citizens who make physical fitness a priority. These make me pause to think, because as a naturalist, one would balk at mankind altering nature, and yet, adding something of historical and utilitarian value perhaps encourages the city to preserve it better.

Because Korea is a very mountainous country and one that rapidly urbanized, I observed that: 1) Many mountains that used to be bigger have been “broken” into smaller ones because of apartment buildings, schools, etc. that found their homes in the lower areas, and 2) Some mountains seem to have all but disappeared because the buildings were right on top of them. Is it alright to do this to make room for city dwellers and businesses, as the country has so many? Indeed, as the official list I obtained from Korea’s Forest Service dates back to 2006-2007, I think that 43 will not be the number once they review the list once more. It will be interesting to see how the face of a city changes and how modernization affects these natural structures that are as old as time.

Originally posted on the Seoul43 site.

Heejung sent me this photo of our friend Kaya jumping on my hopscotch board at the Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival (ASYAAF 2013), which ended last week.

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I’m neck-deep in climate change articles and meetings with a lot of brilliant people, so this was such a nice email from the life I just left. I love that beam of light on the right. It looks as though Kaya was beamed there from space.

Thank you, ladies! And I miss you, Korea!