Chase Travels to Seoul with Nicolas Grootjans: “It was all bigger and more bombastic”
Imagine you could travel to any country in the world, where would you go? One of our top Chase photographers, Nicolas 'NFrame' Grootjans, got the chance to do just that with his twin brother as an 18th birthday gift. The brothers took a good look at the world and ultimately chose South Korea, as they both knew chances like these don't come around too often. In autumn 2016, they flew more than ten thousand kilometers from Brussels Airport to the capital Seoul. With little preparation, Nicolas discovered this city in the Far East at his own pace and with an open mind. In this first story of our new Chase Travels series, we're proud to present a selection of photographs in which he captured his once in a lifetime experience.
Text by Chess Teugels, photographs by Nicolas Grootjans
“There's loads of cool stuff to visit in Seoul and the DMZ (short for Demilitarized Zone) at the border between South and North Korea. I visited a design museum in Gangnam for example, but also an old prison and old temples that are located in the middle of the city. When in Seoul, you have to make sure to visit the different parts of the city, as there is a big difference between the traditional and more modern neighborhoods. In the city life itself, there's also a huge contrast between the suited-up businessmen and the monks in their traditional clothing.”
“The picture I am most proud of is the one of the skyline that I took out of the apartment we were staying at. I love the mix of the densely built city with the silhouette of the mountain in the background. I have to admit that I used a little Photoshop on this. But the end result is pretty awesome, right?”
“For me, it was a challenge to capture the atmosphere in Seoul photographically, as it’s crucially different from what we experience in Belgium. The presence of police is very prominent. You can find a police officer on every street corner. People aren’t even allowed to smoke on the street, unless you're in a dedicated smoking zone. On top of that, South-Korean people keep very much to themselves. Only a few speak English, since everything is written and provided in Korean. But they were always very friendly, even when we asked for directions.”
“I had a pretty bad jetlag, so I stayed up late and went outside a lot to discover the city at my own pace. That time of year the sun sets early, that’s why a lot of my pictures look like they were made at night. But I didn’t go out partying, I wasn’t old enough to enter a club anyway. One night I did visit a traditional lantern parade. It wasn’t that special, there was just a lot of light. But it was a cool experience nonetheless.”
“Before I visited Seoul, I thought it would be like Tokyo: super modern and high tech stuff that we Europeans haven't even heard of. But that wasn’t the case. Basically, Seoul has the same technology as we do in Belgium, and the traditional markets aren't that different from the ones we have. It was all just bigger and more bombastic.”
“Never before had I had such a diverse diet as I did in Seoul. On the first night my brother and I went to a restaurant with menu written in Korean. They only had that one, no English. So we blindly ordered several dishes. One of them was a plate of chicken feet. It looked very weird, but it was actually very crunchy and tasty. In Seoul, dog meat is also prepared as a regular dish, but my heart couldn’t handle it.”
“A lot of tourists are quick to take a taxi while there are cheap subways and trams available in the city. You just have to figure out where to buy a tram ticket and you can get anywhere with public transport. You can also cut costs by searching for a nice apartment online, instead of staying in a hotel.”
“If I were ever to return, I would explore the border between South and North Korea more. There's a lot of nature and history that I haven’t all discovered yet.”
Several of these pictures are for sale, contact Nicolas Grootjans himself for more info.
We hope you enjoyed our first part of the 'Chase Travels' series. Many more are to come, so stay tuned!