Gwangju Blog

Gwangju Ukulele Circle – Sunshine In The Form Of Music

Spring is here. Summer is just around the corner. What could be more relaxing than the sweet strumming of a ukulele?… Maybe 10 ukuleles?

IMG_0552 The Gwangju Ukulele Circle has recently debuted as a way for folks in the community to meet up and play through tunes on a Sunday afternoon. The group is lead by local hagwon teacher, Carleen Kirksey. “I started the uke circle because I wanted to have a creative space where people, myself included, could just have fun singing and playing songs without it being watched, scrutinized, and judged. I personally wanted a safe space to practice ukulele and meet like-minded people.”

The group is open to the public and all skill levels are welcome. A song selection is posted to the group’s website before each meeting so that people can listen or practice the material before everyone meets up at the GIC for an informal jam session. Kirksey explains, “The first circles have IMG_0546gone well. There were a good amount of people who came to the first gathering who practiced the songs on the website beforehand, which made it fun to just play without trying too hard.” The first few meetings have featured a mix of oldies, like The Beach Boys and The Beatles, to jazz standards, and even indie bands such as Portishead and Fleet Foxes. As a long term project, Kirksey adds, “My goal is to bring more people to ukulele, and to bring foreigners and Korean citizens together through music.”

Although the group is not intended specifically for people who are seeking a lesson or tutorial, it is a fantastic way to become more familiar with the instrument or strengthen the skills you already have. For absolute beginners, Kirksey suggests, “My advice would be to practice, even 15 minutes a day. I know it’s easier said than done, believe me. There is no other secret to beginning ukulele, but to figure out how to read chord charts and pick a song and play. There’s music all over the internet. So play!”


Carleen has been living and teaching in Gwangju for seven months, but she has been playing the ukulele for four years, “I like the ukulele because there is almost no seriousness given to the instrument. It’s a relatively small instrument and many chords only use one or two fingers. It is fairly easy to learn. Although there are serious players out there, anyone can learn to play ukulele. I believe music should be in everyone’s life and ukulele lends itself to that belief.” She grew up in Garland, Texas where she developed a strong background in musical theatre before moving to New York City to be a professional actor. She has written and performed in several acts in the United States since that time, and is now frequently seen performing around Gwangju with her band Galaxy Hotel or solo. “I really like when people make new things. There are a few artists out here who are regularly writing and performing new music at Speakeasy and Dreamers (Daein night market), and it’s nice to be able to get that every Saturday night.”

If you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument, but never had the time, now is the perfect opportunity to pick up a ukulele at your local music shop. The next circle is Sunday, May 28 at 1:30 at the GIC. More information is available at:


(Photos courtesy of Courtney Dudley and Carleen Kirksey.)

Higher Ground

WEEK 101 - higher ground


The days have flown by, and with them our sense of appreciation for those heady early spring days. Our inner skeptic might label this sensation as a multi-sensory forgetting. The once ubiquitous cherry blossoms framed in the image above have no doubt been carried out of sight on the yellow late spring winds. Yet, that this forgetting implies an impassioned remembrance of what was, is all the excuse necessary to revive the past within positive light. Last weeks photo blog post touched on the swiftness with which these changes occur. Remembering that image, it seemed easy to juxtapose recently barren trees with the smorgasbord of sights, sounds, and smells found around us just one week ago. The image above reminds us of a similar experience.

This image was taken using a sixteen second exposure time and a flashlight to highlight the central cluster of flowers and the branches which surround them. It was mid-night, and the residential backstreets and alleys across from Chosun University were without their usual commotion. The base of the tree rested several feet below from where I stood, perched upon a small rise next to a small officetel. Nestled, or rather recessed into the hill below, the building allowed a unique vantage point into the cherry tree planted next to it. For once, the activity within its branches could be viewed at eye-level rather than from below. Viewing the tree in this way felt almost voyeuristic, as if requiring permission to be viewed in such a naked state. I entered the scene slowly, aware of the new intimate world within which I was now immersing myself. It was the same, yet also not so. I waited several minutes, then opened the shutter.

Sixteen seconds of one night, at a location which both still exists, and is gone forever. Such a still evening ensured that the edges of the petals remain crisp despite the lengthy exposure time. This stillness is deceptive. For, while it can provide the illusion of a moment being trapped forever on this film, it is the culmination of many moments. In photography, the longest moment usually caught during our days are usually one sixtieth of a second. However, multiply that by about a thousand, and is this moment still purely visual, or does it contain much more sensory information? If you have sixteen seconds free now, please give it a try. In this photographer’s case, the mixture of sounds, smells, and of course sights contained within that period of time allow for a much deeper appreciation of the prolonged moment. To me, this experience inches the photographer ever closer towards that space where active remembering can occur. Where the image can produce a lived remembrance in the present moment. Often this comes from us having taken the image within a sense of wonder at what is in front of both our eyes and the lens. On this day last month, the tree and blossoms were waiting to be viewed from higher ground.


[Photo taken on a tripod with a Hasselblad 503cxi using a 180mm f4 lens and shooting Ilford FP4.]


Photo & Text by Marty Miller


What to Do This Weekend: Zumba, Live Music, and a Birthday!

Hello Gwangju!

It’s time to start planning your activities! Let’s see what you can do this weekend in Gwangju.

Thursday, May 11th

Courtesy of Zumba with Thando

Courtesy of Zumba with Thando

Before you start the weekend, how about a good workout? You can get that, and have some fun by taking part in Thursday’s Zumba class at the GIC. This cardio class is fit for all levels so you don’t have to worry about experience. Make sure you wear some comfy clothes, bring a towel, and a bottle of water. The class begins at 7 p.m., and is led by Thando Mlambo. For directions to the GIC, please go their website. You can also get more details about the class by visiting the Facebook event page here.

Friday, May 12th

I can’t think of a more perfect start to the weekend than happy hour! Check out the great drink specials at Speakeasy such as Jameson for 4,000 won, and Red Rock drafts for 3,000. It’s a great way to usher in the weekend with friends. Happy hour(s) starts at 8:00, and goes until 11 p.m. If you need any other info, please go to Speakeasy’s Facebook page.

Saturday, May 13th

Courtesy of Gwangju Art Class

Courtesy of Gwangju Art Class

It’s time for your artistic side to shine with this Saturday’s art class at the GIC. This weekend will showcase another female figure drawing class. The instruction begins at 12:45 p.m., and the model will arrive at 1 p.m. The doors  doors will be locked for the privacy of the model (the model will be nude). The cost for the class is only 10,000 won, and all materials will be provided (you are encouraged to bring your own). For directions to the GIC, please see the link for Thursday’s event. You can also get more info about the class by going to the Facebook event page. This Saturday’s class will be led by local artist Jen Lee.

Courtesy of the GPP

Courtesy of the GPP

Continuing on the theme of the arts, the Gwangju Performance Project (GPP) will be holding auditions for their newest production, No Man’s Land. This performance will combine dance, music, spoken word, and much more. If you ever had the desire to perform on stage, now is your chance! Auditions will be held at the GIC from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and again on Sunday the 14th at the same time. This is an open call for performers, so don’t worry about level of experience. For complete details about the auditions, you can check out the GPP’s website: You can also go to their Facebook page for more info.

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Courtesy of Speakeasy

Speakeasy is bringing more live music to their stage tonight. Two bands will be performing for the always energetic Gwangju crowd. The first, The Monday Feeling, will play some of your favorite rock covers. The second band, CCTV, is made up of local musicians from Gwangju! You don’t really need an excuse to rock out, but Speakeasy is giving you a great one. The show begins at 10: 30 p.m., so get down their and enjoy two great bands! For other details, please go to Speakeasy’s Facebook page.

Courtesy of Loft 28

Courtesy of Loft 28

A birthday is always a great reason to celebrate, and tonight it’s Loft 28‘s turn! That’s right, everybody’s favorite hangout near the Chonnam backgate area is having it’s 2nd birthday this weekend. They’ll be games, chances for free drinks, and of course the music being spun by Loft’s great DJs. So help wish Loft 28 a happy birthday this weekend (they grow so fast!) by heading out to their party tonight. It all begins at 11 p.m., and you can get more information by going to Loft’s Facebook page.

Essentials with JD # 278 ** EXPLORE YANGDONG MARKET**


Traditional Markets are amazing places to find local and seasonal food at cheaper prices than usual. Each area usually has its own but there is one right in the heart of the city as well as on the subway line and it is Yangdong Market. Remember to bargain and ask for a discount.


According to Korean Tourism agency


“The Yangdong Market started in the 1910s as a traditional market held on the 2nd and 7th of every month on the white sand beach under Gwangjugyo Bridge. In the 1940s, the market moved to its current location, and was renovated to become the marketplace we know and love today.


Yangdong Market is the largest traditional market in the Honam Region selling a variety of items including fruit and vegetables, seafood, manufactured goods, and more. Yangdong Market is especially famous for its Jesa products (those related to Korean ancestral memorial service) and quality items for newly-weds. The market closes on every first and third Sunday from April to September but is open every day from October to March.”


Remember to take cash as some stores might not accept cards.



IMG_3701 IMG_3699

Operating Hours

Fresh produce / grocery shops: 03:00 – 21:00

Others: 09:00 – 21:00



Get out and enjoy!

A few weeks till now.

A few weeks till now.


Yesterday was the Buddha’s birthday holiday here on the peninsula. Usually occurring the first week of May, this national day off usually hits that sweet spot weather-wise. Not too hot nor cold, previous Buddha B-days have been near perfect opportunities to go on a makoli-infused hike from temple to temple in the hills around town. Such trips usually allow a bland but filling temple lunch provided at one end or other. Also depending on where you choose to roam, you might just be able to find some solitude on your trail-of-choice. If leaving her headphones at home, the hiker can potentially gauge her impending arrival by the strength of the mok-tak, or temple woodblook, which is ubiquitous during early morning, afternoon, or early evening chants.

This annual event exudes its charm through sheer simplicity. Being a not-so-subtle Buddhist retort to the Christmas holiday, it nevertheless manages to avoid the commercialist trappings which subsume the latter’s annual celebrations. For these reasons, I tend to successfully pry myself away from netflix and Ren & Stimpy re-runs, and head to yonder hills. In this case, those hills meant an area full of smaller peaks just east of Manjin-san (Manjin Mountain). The three hour jaunt left me without any remarkable experiences to share. Yet, the experience filled whatever metaphorical and physical cups needed filling at the time.

Overall, what the hike yesterday provided was a reason to return to what is. Trees nearing full bloom; the tips of which bowing gently to the will of the wind. An algae-colored snake sensing my vibes and exiting the scene. A crumpled up tissue and candy bar wrapper sitting on a rock just off-trail. Perhaps with the makoli’s urging, I could not help but feel appreciative for the way things were. A few extra strikes to the snooze button and that trash, snake, and maybe even wind would not have been there. If not, I have no doubt that other elements would have taken their place to imprint their presence upon my experience. Yet, the experience was a reminder to appreciate what there is, while there is. As such, for this week’s photo, I have chosen an image from a nearby location just a month ago. Taken at dusk, the shadows of the trees behind the camera lead our eyes upwards towards those behind the boulder. The stark contrast of these trees against the sky is only achieved by the barrenness of their branches.

When encountering the photo above, we can access memories of similar locations which until recently, were the standard view on the hills outside of town. And, there is something to be said for the power of such images to reconnect us emotionally with the times and locations represented visually. However, on this day, the image, in all its stark beauty, serves as a cautionary tale. It warns us that what we see today is already within a continual process of becoming. So, we might as well make the big Buddha himself proud and relish in the impermanence of wherever we find ourselves during these warming days of May.

[Photo taken with my Nikon FE2 shooting T-max 400 pushed one stop to iso 800.]


(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)