From Iksan to Seoul

Between Iksan and Seoul.
Between Iksan and Seoul.

I have lived in Korea for just about 7 years. Feels longer sometimes. Feels shorter others. Ironically, I haven’t lived in Seoul for much of that. The name of my blog is what it is so my friends and family at home would have something to recognize. They all wanted to know about Seoul, not the rest of it. I tried to live in Seoul, I did. I ended up back in the small town where I started.

Near Iksan, South Korea.

Iksan, South Korea is a small (ish) city about two hours southwest of Seoul. I still remember my first day here. I remember being dropped off by bus from the massively impressive Incheon International Airport. Dropped off in front of a petrol station in the middle of nowhere.

Iksan, South Korea.

It was 5:30 in the morning. I sat on my hockey bag converted suitcase (I know, very Canadian of me) in front of the station trying to figure out what to do next. An old man saw me and offered me his phone. When he realized I had no idea what to do with it he called my boss for me.

Iksan, South Korea.

Years later it all sounds ridiculous. Iksan isn’t the countryside town I originally thought it was. I saw something recently on Facebook saying it would be like the 12th biggest city in Canada.

Perception, I suppose.

Iksan, South Korea.

I really did try to live in Seoul. The thriving metropolis really is something. I love it for what it is. I would say it is my favorite big city in the world. I love that it is always moving and always alive.

Always awake.

Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea

It isn’t a place for the faint of heart. It is survival. Visiting there I never really noticed. Trying to live there I certainly did. As a foreigner, I don’t really “get” it. I don’t get the societal pressures. How would I? I live here rent free without a real worry to be had.

Seoul, South Korea.

People survive, though. Korean people are among the toughest I’ve met. They figure out how to swim in the current of the city. They become sharks.

Seoul, South Korea.

Or else get eaten by them.

Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea.

Not for the faint of heart.

Seoul, South Korea.

People often comment about the blank stares in my photos. It is what it is. It is what I see.

Seoul, South Korea.

Someone recently wrote me an email telling me that my Korea (or at least the one in my photographs) wasn’t at all what he found when he came. He was upset by the fact that he couldn’t see it this way. I told him simply that I didn’t always see it this way.

Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea.

Nor do I always see it this way now. I love Korea. I love this place.

Seoul, South Korea.

I went back to Canada, tried to live and home. I wanted to be back here nearly right away. Didn’t feel right.

Seoul, South Korea.

Now, almost 7 years into my life here I am back in Iksan. I am back riding the train to Seoul near every weekend. I sometimes drive. Sometimes take the bus.

Seoul, South Korea.

People in Iksan often ask me why I go every weekend. I don’t really know? It is a routine that I enjoy. The differences between the places aren’t as great as they used to be. Things change fast in both. Things disappear. Seoul strives to be a more international city. Restaurants like the one above are disappearing in favour of coffee shops and cosmetic chains. Old Korea is dwindling.

Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.

Ironically most people I talk to are quite happy about this. Proud of the fact that life is getting “better” and more convenient.

Seoul, South Korea.

The train from Iksan to Seoul used to feel different. Arriving in Iksan felt like arriving in a different world. In fact, it still does considering the area around Iksan train station went from being the hottest spot in town to a ghost town in a matter of years. A ten minute ride to nearby Youngdeung-dong shows how things have changed. As modern as nearly any street in Seoul it feels very little like being in the “countryside”..

(Nonsan Station) Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.

Seoul is trying to be more international and Iksan is trying to be more like Seoul. I’m writing this in Iksan, at a café that looks as though it wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan. The people around me don’t look like they would be out of place there either.

I think it is me that’s holding on.

Suwon, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea.

Summer is coming. I never actually ever liked summer much. Weirdly though, I love summer in Korea. Like the feeling of walking in the summer. Maybe I’ll spend more time in Iksan this summer.

Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea.

Maybe I won’t. The routine is too strongly embedded now. Somehow I think it is the trip I enjoy. Going to Seoul feels more an event living away from the city.

My Iksan friends say I go to Seoul so often I should live there. My Seoul friends say I should stay in Iksan more if I enjoy it here so much.

I think I’m happy as things are. I’m happy living most of the time somewhere between.

Between Iksan and Seoul.

Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.


On a side note, a video recently came out featuring myself and a couple of friends during the 24 hour project in Seoul. It is going to be part of a series of videos with this sort of being the first trial of sorts. If you want to check it out you can find it here:

<p><a href=”″>24hrs in Seoul</a> from <a href=””>After Story Film</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>





  1. Loved the video Josh, kind of makes me wish I had been there too, a real experience, one to remember. Looking forward to the others.

  2. Great shots! And enjoyed the thoughts – I even wondered how much of the transition between Iksan and Seoul is the third location, perhaps the one you connect with most – the place that brings “home,” the place in-between. Great stuff.

  3. Josh, I enjoy every post on your blog! I enjoy the fact that it is words and pictures and that gear has a relatively minor place!

    Keep on bringing out the good stuff!

    Thank you!

  4. The first three photos and the last but one photo are very good. I like them a lot. The video is cool as a teaser, but left me longing for more – but in a different style: more thoughtful, with longer clips, at a slower pace. I’m really looking forward to watch the complete series.

    Oh, and I thought you go to Seoul every weekend because your girlfriend lives there, but I guess I was wrong. 😉

    1. Thanks! I like the first and second the best in the post as well as the woman in the subway staring at me.

      And I agree on the video. Quite honestly we all got so tired that we spent most of the next day passed out at cafes so we didn’t shoot much else. I think the next one is going to be much more upbeat with me looking to purchase every small sensor compact camera I can find haha 😉

  5. I liked your statement of holding on, that it is you, while the rest is evolving. By now I live for like 18 month in southern China, with my first stay being already four years ago. My city is not that special, it is rather unpleasent to most of the people I know. I used to call it a Maelstrom, it is ugly to many, but they still keep on coming back. Seems like it is hard to escape. Some things have changed in the last four years, public transportation still sucks, but hey! We got our first Starbucks! It is less the city(you cannot control a Maelstrom😉 ), it is the people changing. You might call it americanization, many see it as a better life to reach out for, I see it as a process of loosing your culture. Not sure if this is the arrogant view of a foreigner on a developing culture, but who am I to judge a country I’m a welcomed guest in, that I still don’t understand to its bottom? Might be my education, I was raised to question things for a better understanding, my home country is also ‘americanizing’, at least in terms of media content, but I keep up what I learned as the old values, keep them up in my head and cherish them when ever I experience them. Hope that the young chinese generation will do it the same, it is not all about Starbucks…

    Thank you Josh, for your great article!

  6. I like how your frames are constructed. The complexity in your photography and the background.
    Living in a foreign country made me an outsider. Not fully fitted in a new reality and yet not longer able to accept or understand your motherland, always in-between…

  7. This is beautiful in more ways than one. I found this searching for “seoul to iksan” as I met koreans on the road who live there and i wanted to go there to meet them again. I think i found quite another gem.

    (may i ask, if you haven’t already answered countless times before, what camera you use?)

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