Scenes from South Korea

Southwest Minnesota State University art professor Alma Hale considers himself at home when he’s visiting South Korea.

Last semester, Hale went on sabbatical, and he spent nine days in Seoul, South Korea at the beginning of September. One of the classes he teaches is photography, and he wanted to do some work on his own photography.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to go back,” Hale said.

A dozen of his photographs from South Korea are on display at the Marshall-Lyon County Library.

Hale had been to South Korea before – 33 years ago as a missionary with the Church of Latter-day Saints.

“That’s where I ended up for two years, I’ve always wanted to go back,” he said.

Hale said the trip to South Korea was the first international travel for his wife, Sheri.

During his time in South Korea, Hale intended to do some street photography, capture some of the architecture and the culture.

“What I did not expect to happen was that I met some friends from 30 years ago,” he said. “That changed the trip.”

One of the things Hale wanted to do was go to a Mormon church. It turned out the closest one was the one he would’ve gone to if he stayed in South Korea for the past 30 years.

Hale said a woman came up to him and introduced herself as someone he taught and baptized while he was a missionary.

“I recognized her immediately when she said her name,” Hale said.

He was also put in touch with his missionary companion from more than 30 years ago. The companion hosted Hale and his wife for a day, and they went sightseeing.

“He took us to places we wouldn’t have gone on our own, that we wouldn’t have known about,” Hale said.

One of the places the Hales visited was Gyeongbok Palace, a tourist spot. Hale said there were even a lot of Korean tourists there.

“It just so happened the day we were there, they were doing a traditional Korean music festival,” Hale said.

Hale met up with another person he taught while he was a missionary, and that person also hosted the couple for a day. He said he went to a Korean folk village where reenactments take place.

In the more than 30 years since Hale has been in Seoul, the city has changed in some very significant ways, he said. One way is the population movement, he said. The last time he was in Seoul, there was 8 million people. Now there’s 25 million people, he said.

“Since then, Seoul has been the hub of business and industry,” Hale said. “That’s about half of the population of Korea, in Seoul.”

Prosperity has changed as well in Seoul, Hale said.

“When I was there 30 years ago, it was very rare to find someone there with a car,” Hale said. Back then, it was also not uncommon to see beggars on the streets as well, he said. Hale said he only saw one beggar during his entire trip.

During his time there, Hale captured roughly 1,000 images, from the architecture to a young boy taking a photo of his family to an reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding. He said he also visited Chuncheon, a place he served for three months, as well as the Korean village Suwon.

“It was wonderful, I can’t describe how magic it was,” he said. Hale said it was kind of a spiritual renewal, which included reconnecting with people.

It was also a magical time of the year as well in South Korea, Hale said, as they were there during the country’s Thanksgiving.

“We loved the street vendors, the sights and the sounds and the smells,” Hale said.

There was also a safe feeling in Seoul, Hale said. No one locks their bicycles, and there’s a lot of respect for people, he said.

Hale calls South Korea his adopted home. He even gets choked up when he hears the country’s national anthem, he said.

“I love this place,” he said. “I feel like I’m home when I’m there.”