In the first hour of my landing in Seoul, the immigration officer scans my Jordanian passport and immediately a small grey box where I’ve scanned my fingerprints started speaking Arabic to me, guiding me through the next steps of my entry process to South Korea.
Right after that, I grabbed a map of the city, bought an express train ticket, and I was on my way from Incheon airport to the city. At the center of South Korea, Seoul is a city surrounded by mountains 700-800 meters high, and is home to over 10 million people. The express train ride took exactly 45mins from the time of departure till arrival.
My first reaction as someone who grew up in the Middle East was, “how civilized this country is…” from a small box speaking Arabic to me at the immigration counter to trains running on exact times—I couldn’t help but appreciate the smooth-running technology all around me. Already, my layover was proving to be an exciting experience.
When I got out of the train at “Seoul Station” my reaction was “I made it to the city—I have 7 hours to get lost.” I started off on foot—my best option since I wanted to photograph my route. My wandering began around 10:00 am, and for the most part the city felt relatively quite. When I arrived at the Changdeok Palace (Changdeokgung), however, I discovered a bustling crowd of tourists. I decided to find a different route back to Seoul Station, which brought me through an open market (Namdaemun Market), which was relatively crowded with people from different parts of the city.
Something else I noticed, and appreciated, on my 7-hour walk was that people in Seoul are not allowed to smoke apart from specific smoking areas. This is a drastic contrast to my hometown of Amman, where, as in many parts of the Arab world, smoking indoor is a common practice.
This series reflects my desire to explore, as much as possible in 7 hours, the “civilized” urban city of Seoul as an outsider who grew up in the Middle East. The work is a mix of exploration and street photography that aimed to capture fragments of Seoul’s dynamic natural rhythm without disturbing its authenticity.
To know more about Hamzeh Zahran’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.