Street Food in Busan

One evening, on returning from my excursion up a mountain, back in December 2017, I decided to do something differently, and have my dinner outdoors at one of the roadside stalls of the place. It was my first experience of street food in Busan.

Roadside stalls with hygiene

Contrary to what you would expect in Thailand, for example, the Koreans do take hygiene at heart. So, vendors do use plastic gloves when handling food and all of their dishes are single-use.

Busan street food
Busan street food

Rice cannelloni

Most of the dishes were simply some form of rice cannelloni as can be seen on the pictures. The sauce was pretty good and in the cold evening of Busan, it did provide a refreshing change from habitual food (although I must say I tried also some delicious kimchi).

Most people just eat standing.

Atmosphere

Indeed, one of the lovely things about street food in Busan is also the atmosphere around. The night lights, the stands and the street’s setting combine to give it a homely atmosphere. Eating out should be done more for sharing in the atmosphere of locals. One local student helped to translate for me my order and was quite curious to know from where I was. Koreans have always been welcoming and helpful everywhere I went, and Busan was no exception to the rule.

Atmosphere in Busan
Atmosphere in a street where roadside vendors have set their stands

Finally, if you prefer eating in a restaurant, there are many places where you can eat kimchi or a full set meal for a very reasonable price.

For once, I truly enjoyed “going local”. But then, Korea is a place where even foreigners are gladly welcomed to share the local life. Probably one of my best experiences traveling around Asia. Busan, itself, has a more “rough” feeling to it, but locals are quite friendly and nice.

A dawn exploration of Busan: Jagalchi fish market

I was in Busan for a couple of days already, and it was my goal to try and see the fish auctions of the Jagalchi fish market. Descriptions and indications are pretty sketchy on how to get to see these auctions given the early hour at which they take place.

Nevertheless, as there was no public transportation at that time, I grabbed a taxi to get to Jagalchi fish market, and arrived there around 4.45 AM.

 

A profusion of fish

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Jagalchi, is the profusion of fish available everywhere.

Jagalchi fish market
Frozen fish stocked for sale at the jagalchi fish market

The Jagalchi fish market is one of the most well-furnished markets in terms of fresh seafood, and this general reputation was confirmed seeing the market at 5 AM.

I found out one of the main halls where wholesalers present their produce. While it looks astonishingly clean, the floor was drenched in water and there was quite a “fishy” smell in the air.

 

Jagalchi fish market hall
Halls of Jagalchi fish market

 

It seems unfortunately that I was quite a bit late there, since I did not manage to find the actual auctions of fish. All I did manage to find was an auction for clams. On the whole, Jagalchi fish market has the reputation of having vendors who are quite hostile to pictures being taken, but my experience was quite the contrary. It is maybe because I look European, or maybe also because I did smile and engage my subjects when taking photos.

Auction at Jagalchi fish market
An auction for clams just ended at Jagalchi fish market

 

Life around the market

The interesting thing about a market is the life that gravitates around that market. In fact, vendors need also to feed themselves and need also to rest or have their needs tended to. So, you have plenty of small businesses thriving around, like a sweet potato vendor using an old coal furnace.

Sweet potato vendor
A sweet potato vendor

The feeling was extraordinarily atmospheric, being out at 5 AM in the cold and seeing first the market, then the scenes such as this small merchant. The world belongs to the early risers, and this is especially true for photographers.

On the technical side, of course, shooting at night is a challenge, but I equipped my Nikon 20mm F.1.8, and this helped me to handle the difficult lighting condition. You could obtain the same results with a (cheaper) 50 mm F 1.8, but then, the inconvenience is that you must stay further from your subject. And nothing engages as much as close range photography for your viewer.

 

Jagalchi fish market
An incredible wealth of fish and seafood available at Jagalchi fish market

A local breakfast

My original plan was to enjoy a local breakfast at the hotel. However, on the way, my attention got caught by a local shop grilling fresh fish in front of the shop and serving local breakfasts. I think the owner of the shop got scared seeing a foreigner, as she attempted to tell me her shop is closed, before eventually relenting when a local patron invited me to sit down in front of him.

The breakfast was every bit hearty and delicious as expected, with several pickles, a fish soup, and of course, the grilled fish. It was a perfect restoring meal before heading to Haeundae beach, my following stop.

 

Local Korean breakfast
Local Korean breakfast

Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve

Yesterday night was Chinese New Year eve. It is a tradition for honkongers to go to Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve. Mainly because of the local flower and plushes market taking place there. Chinese New Year eve is the last day of the market, so vendors are hard pressed to sell their goods as soon as possible to avoid having to throw or to give them for free after midnight, when the market closes.

Learning business “on the job”

Victoria Park is also the setting of a real life “business school” for high school students. In fact, many students use the CNY market as an occasion to learn the basics of doing business. From starting a business plan, to pricing, sourcing, setting price, marketing and then adapting to competition on the market;

High school student selling plushes
A high school student texts while selling plushes with her comrades in Victoria park

Highly valuable, the experience sees the teenagers throwing themselves into the fray, rivaling with ideas to attract customers. Some even tried the idea of hanging plushes with sticks above the heads of the crowd!

Victoria park hanging plushes above the head
Students try to attract customers by hanging plushes above their heads

The Flower market

The other big attraction of the Victoria Park CNY market is, of course, the flower market. Replete with mandarin trees and various other plants or flowers, it is an occasion for Hongkongers to come and find cheap flowers to decorate their house.

On Chinese New Year eve, you can literally see “live” vendors discounting their wares as the hour advances.

Discounted plants
A merchant holds signs to attract customers for his discounted plants

As the hour advances and it gets closer to midnight, customers also hurry to get their shopping done. After midnight, the vendors must throw or donate their flowers, as they cannot be sold anymore.

Buying flowers on CNY eve
A mother and her daughter are buying flowers at a stall in Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

It must be said that the flowers look magnificent and are a welcome decoration.

Flowers on sale
Flowers on sale as hongkongers pass by.

Finally, if you are not there to buy flowers, then maybe you just go there to take pictures and selfies. It is a bit what these three pretty girls were doing in Victoria park, with their smartphones.

3 pretty girsl on CNY eve
Three pretty girls stroll into Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

In conclusion, although it was quite crowded, going to Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve is an experience to try! You can also read about my similar experience with Chinese New Year in Bangkok, here.

Japan: a visit to Sensoji shrine

When you visit Tokyo, a must visit if you are in the area of Asakusa is certainly Sensoji, the oldest shrine of the city. A visit to Sensoji shrine is not only the occasion of watching Japanese and their beliefs which intricates elements of Shintoism along with Buddhism. It is also the occasion of watching numerous ladies and men dressed up in elaborate ceremony kimonos.

A very old shrine

Sensoji (浅草寺)is so called because it is another way to read the character for “Asakusa”, where the temple is located. I mentioned earlier that Sensoji was the oldest temple in Tokyo, and its establishment dates back to 645 AD. Obviously, the current temple looks too new to still be the original temple. All the more as the area was destroyed in the WWII bombardments.

Despite the current relative “freshness” of the shrine building, Sensoji still carries a special weight in the heart of the Tokyo dwellers. Before entering the temple grounds themselves, there is a very famous shopping street, Nakamise street, mainly targeted to tourists, but still very interesting for visitors. Originally, the street appeared when traders obtained the permission to set up shops in the street leading to the shrine, several centuries ago. While the shops may have been chased away from time to time, and were destroyed to the ground in WWII, today they are back into their prime.

Nakamise street
The incredible vibe of Nakamise street, near Sensoji

Things to buy in Nakamise street

Since you are already there, you may want to buy some souvenirs. It might be the occasion to buy some Geta, those traditional Japanese wooden sandals (very comfortable, by the way).

There are shops like the below shop, but while expensive on the main street, you find some interesting deals either in made to order geta or generally sized geta in side streets.

Geta shop
A geta shop in Nakamise street

I got my own geta from a side street with a very lovely couple. They fit well, and are just as comfortable as the Berkemann slides I habitually wear too.

My Japanese geta
The pair of Geta I bought in Japan. Stylish and easy to wear.

There are plenty of sites explaining how to wear geta, but the general idea is that they should be slightly smaller than your foot. That way, your feet hangs out a little bit.

Besides geta, the side streets also display some lovely fans as these hand painted ones (a bargain at 1,100 JPY).

Hand-painted fans
Hand painted fans near Nakamise street

The gate to the shrine

The gate to the shrine itself is painted in tones to remind of thunder. This is logical, as it is called Kaminarimon (雷門, “Thunder Gate).

Kaminarimon
The Kaminarimon gate of Sensoji

It is nearby that I asked the two lovely Japanese girls if I could take their picture in kimono and they kindly agreed.

Japanese girls in Kimono
Nihonjin girls in Kimono

As much as possible, it is recommended to ask the permission of people to take their picture, as generally, it is frowned on taking pictures even in a public space. A smile and a few words in Japanese help a lot in that respect.

It must be said that shrines and temples are often places used for photoshoots of kimonos. Like this group where they were focusing on the elaborate obis (the “belt”) of these furisode. A furisode is a ceremony kimono worn by unmarried young girls and is typically recognizable by the long floating sleeves.

Photoshoot of kimonos
A photo shoot of kimonos focusing on the elaborated obis.

When shooting your picture, if you know some Japanese, it will allow you to distinguish between the “real” Japanese in kimono and those tourists who wear kimonos to have photo sessions.

For example, the two young ladies below were from Hong Kong (!) and immediately corrected me when I asked if I could take their picture. They kindly agreed nevertheless to have their picture taken.

HK tourist in kimono
A Hong Kong tourist posing in Kimono

The shrine

The meaning of Sensoji probably escapes me a bit, but from inside the shrine itself, you can have a nice view on the bustle in the courtyard as well as on the Kaminarimon .

View from inside of Sensoji
A view from the inside of Sensoji

Later, as we went back, our daughter, Maria-Sophia fell in love with the gacha machines. She was too cute, asking to buy one of those little balls with premiums inside.

Little girl and gacha machine
When a little girl falls in love with a gacha machine

In short, either for shopping or for visiting the shrine, Sensoji is absolutely the place to go if you come to Tokyo.

Nakamise street another angle
Nakamise street and the bustling activity

Ruifeng night market

After visiting the Dragon and Tiger pagoda, I caught a taxi, asking him to take me back to Ruifeng night market. Whether I pronounce badly or cannot catch the tones, the driver did not understand… In the end, he understood “MRT”. But then again, he did not drop me at the Arena MRT, he dropped me at another MRT station. I walked to the Arena area to get to my objective, which was the Ruifeng night market.

Two main markets in Kaohsiung

When it comes to food and to passing time, there are two main markets in Kaohsiung. Most tourists hit the Liuhe night market, which is more centrally known and truly geared towards attracting tourists. But Kaohsiung inhabitants go to another, place, namely Ruifeng night market. Food there is obviously, at another level than the more tourist-oriented fare of Liuhe. The difference is understood immediately when you arrive at Ruifeng.

Stinky tofu

When you enter the market, a diffuse stench pervades your nose. No worries, it is not gutters which are stinking, but the ever-present smell of the Taiwanese specialty, stinky tofu. Those who tried it talk about stinky tofu a bit like durian: hard to stomach outside, but delicious once eaten.

Stinky tofu at Ruifeng night market
A cook at Ruifeng night market prepares stinky tofu for customers

I was not that courageous so as to try the dish, but if you are interested, you might want to watch Andrew Zimmern trying it before going ahead with it. The program does a good job about explaining the experience very graphically!

Still, the stench of this food pervades the whole market, but it is discrete enough not to spoil your experience of eating less “risky” food.

Games for a fun time

The interesting cultural aspect of Ruifeng Night Market is that the locals love to play some silly games to pass the time, just before or after meal. As such, the market is also a family outing.

Kids play games at Ruifeng night market
Little children love trying and winning prizes at Ruifeng

In photographic terms, it is an interesting place to get some atmosphere, provided you slip in close with a wide angle (pics were shot with a 20mm).

 

Playing games at Ruifeng Night market
For adults and kids alike, playing some simple cheap games can also be fun.

Having dinner

I toured all over the market, and in the end, not wanting to get my stomach too upset, I settled for a dish of udon. I must confess it tasted very good, but the seating was quite confined as you can see from this pic. The price was about 80 NT$, so still acceptable.

Udon stand at Ruifeng night market
Seating space is quite limited at this udon stand in Ruifeng night market

In the end, as can be seen from this visit to Ruifeng night market, this is a place to go to experience some of the real vibe of the Kaohsiung people. It is a place where mainly locals come (I didn’t see a single foreigner during my visit), but worth visiting if you are after authenticity and real taste.

I concluded my meal with drinking a “papaya milk” smoothie, before heading back to my hotel.

Papaya milk in Ruifeng Night market
A stand preparing a very delicious papaya milk in Ruifeng Night market

 

How to get there?

Getting there is quite easy. You must head to the Kaohsiung Arena MRT station. Take exit 1, and walk a couple hundred meters straight on Yucheng road, and you will find the market located just after a crossing. In the case you are still unsure, I added a map below, of course.

 

Street Photography: Bangkok girls

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Bangkok girls over the years

Having lived for several years in Bangkok, I must say that I was gifted with a nice opportunity to take pics of pretty ladies almost at every turn, if we may speak this way. For street photography, Bangkok girls are a gift that keeps giving.

Girl with clogs
A girl walks past Dusit Thani while checking her phone.

If you ever felt that you were limited by subjects, Bangkok is an incredible trove of subjects in terms of street photography. You do not need to go in red light areas to find interesting and pretty ladies – on the contrary.

Girl waiting
A girl waits near the MBK mall in Bangkok, while a bus rushes past.

Candids or interacting photo?

Ah, that’s an eternal question of the photographer. Let me give you two examples of pictures taken with an interaction with the subject:

Flea market girl
A vendor at a flea market in tones which reflect the linen which she was selling.

If I did not ask this young lady for her permission I probably would not have had her look into the lens, nor her lovely smile which is just as warm as the surrounding clothes.

Beautiful flower vendor
A beautiful vendor prepares lotus flowers for sale.

In this case, it is a bit different, as I did not ask her consent, but I was very close (shot with a 20 mm), and she was happy to have her shot taken. Afterwards I thanked her for the picture. As the goal was to show her work, it was useless to have her pose. Of course, afterwards, I thanked her and she kindly acknowledged.

Compare and contrast with this picture, where the lady poses for the picture.

One of the vendors with the most colorful stands at Pak Khlong Talad.

In short, there is no single answer. It will depend of the scene and what you are shooting. As much as possible, avoid being creepy though. Respect and appreciation of your subject is the key word in street photography.

 

 

Chiang Mai Sunday market

One of the main attractions for tourists in Chiang Mai is certainly its  Sunday night market. Sprawling across Rachadamnoen road, this market offers both, the occasion of seeing some real Thai craft, as well as a very lively and beautiful atmosphere. So, if you are in Chiang Mai, don’t miss visiting that market!

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The Lost Markets of Bangkok (2/2): Pak Khlong Talad

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Ah, Pak Khlong Talad! This flower market was an island of poetry in Bangkok. Especially around Valentine’s day, it was a hub of beauty and of happiness.

Flowers, activity and friendliness

A bustling flower market, most active at night time, Pak Khlong Talad was a favorite destination for tourists. With its colorful flowers and its welcoming vendors, it was one of the most charming aspects of the Thai capital.

Best stall in Pak Khlong Talad
One of the best and most colorful stalls of the market.

The vendors themselves, as they sold mostly to Thais, had no incentive whatsoever to cheat or scam tourists. On the contrary, they certainly appreciated the interest of the few Westerners who took the trouble of coming and witnessing this typical market.

Rose vendor
A beautiful rose vendor talks animatedly at her stall in Pak Khlong Talad

The end of Pak Khlong Talad

In 2016, once again under the impulse of the Thai junta Pak Khlong Talad was shut down. In a matter of weeks, and despite the protests of the merchants, the market was shut down.

This, despite the fact that cleanliness was not really an issue compared to other roadside food markets. Vendors had expanded onto the street, but that made for a lively, colorful and beautiful market.

Yet, the Junta and the Bangkok Municipal Administration were relentless in their drive to push out the vendors of Pak Khlong Talad. Some late protests took place by unhappy vendors, but eventually, they all had to close their stalls and move away, either to neighboring buildings, or to other areas of Bangkok. As a result, what was left behind was a large dark and empty street.

Dark and empty street
The same street after the eviction of Pak Khlong Talad.