Wednesday, September 27, 2006
So long Korea, So it goes.
So, I am perched at a computer in my hostel where I have spent so much time in the last two weeks I've managed to make my own personal ass groove in a wicker chair. I fly from Seoul to Beijing, China tomorrow and I'm not about to burst into tears about it. So as not to give you the impression that Korea has not been good to me, let me snag about 15 minutes of your time to update you on whats been up and show you a few pics.
After being spoiled rotten (as rotten as kimchi) with hospitality and sight seeing with my old students in Jinju and Jeonju I made Seoul a priority. The city is bursting at the seems with palaces and shrines, all with the same placards saying when they were built, when they were torched by the japanese, when they were rebuilt and when they were torched again by the japanese and then finally rebuilt in the last 40 years. If i stepped foot into one more they would have to make new placards describing when they were torched yet again by a disaffected Canadian backpacker.
I, along with my german friend Jakub went to a Korean horse racing track to lay some bets down on the horsies. We were lucky enought to have a couple korean girls translating what the betting cards read and helping us place bets. In the second race I picked a winner and I bubbled with pride when i went to collect my winnings. Turns out the horse i bet on was a sure winner and i pocketed a cool 200 won (about 20 cents Canadian) which i promptly hucked into a nearby river. All in all it was pretty damn fun to yell at horses with a few thousand koreans.
Jakub and I also took part in the making of a korean movie. A producer came by the hostel looking for volunteers to play the role of lost backpackers in a scene for the movie. I have been preparing for this role for about 5 weeks now. I got to deliver a couple lines and they fed us lunch and gave some boxes of tea which met a fate not terribly dissimilar from the 200 won I earned at the track. The good news is, it will be entered in festivals and may possible be screened at the Toronto film festival next year and the whole experience was a lot of fun.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Cheongyaecheon creek in Seoul. It is an old creek that has been massivly developed into one of the most beautiful places in any downtown area I have seen. I was there with a 65 year old american english teacher volunteer and a chinese guy born and raised in Germany (I dare you to try to imagine that). There was a live musician playing guitar and singing while we sat with out feet in the river drinking Soju and laughing at the little kids that innevitably fall in the drink as they bounce across the rock bridges.
Today I visited the Demilitarized Zone in the north end of South Korea (where the border with North Korea is). The area is still technically considered a war zone so rules are pretty tight. There are few chances to take photographs (unless you want to risk being arrested as a spy) but there are a few museums and relics of a Cold War hangover that just wont go away including minefields, countless barbed wire fences, Hundreds of Korean solidiers with weapons drawn and a 1.5 km long tunnel dug through granit 70 m undergound those slippery North Koreans made after the ceasefire. What little is known about North Korea is that it is a messed up place. it is mountainous like south korea but there are no trees on the mountains as they have been clear cut for fule and so North Koreans can survive a little longer by eating bark. They are on average 7" shorter than south koreans due to malnutrition.
a beautiful photo of jinju on a beautiful day
Cheongyaecheon creek in Seoul. Single handedly made coming to Korea worthwhile.
Me eating roasted silkworm pupaes on the street. beats the ass off of kimchi.
The film crew setting up for a shot
Me with Jakub and the director, stars and producer of the film
North Korea from the DMZ. If you want to see more of the country than this, you have to get a special invitation from the government for one of their tours which involves an armed guard escorting you everywhere, a 10pm curfew, no photography without permission and no talking to locals at a cost of $3000 USD for 4 nights.
another bloody palace as it looked before i snapped and burnt the mother down
Due to rigid censorship laws, I wont be able to make any blog posts while I am in China. I think im going to deviate from my scheduled travels a bit again and go to Hong Kong and directly to vietname rather than go from the south of china back half way to the north pole to fly out of Beijing, connecting in Seoul and heading back down to Hanoi. This time though, no beautiful women await me as motivation.
Kurt Vonnegut books are saving my sanity in insane places. Ive read 4 so far.
Much love, keep the e-mails coming
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I'm a Seoul Man
So It's been about a week since my last update and I have very little to write about. this is most likely on account of there being very little to do in Korea that merits being written about. This is not a completely fair assessment of the country but it does stand in marked contrast with Japan.
The people here are impossibly friendly and helpful (almost to a fault at times). If you look lost or inept in a public place (and those of you that know me will agree that ineptitude is part of my charm) you can start counting down from 10 and there will be an english speaking korean eager to help you. Maybe more than one. The canadian flag on my backpack is almost a hinderance here. If anyone that speaks english spots it on a subway they feel compelled to come over to talk. They usually say they like Canadians and tell me about a couple places they have been to in the US. It was fun at first but now I it just pulls me away from my book and I-pod. I think it stopped being fun when the girl told me outright that she had bad spirits living in her head that tell her to do things and that she was on the way to church (where she goes three times a day) and wanted to make sure that I was not a member of the masonic lodge.
I have been in and out of Seoul visiting the families of my former ESL students. I spent three days in Jeonju with the Yang family and two days in Jinju with the Moon family. Both of the spoiled me rotten with hospitality and made great sacrifices so I they could entertain and house me. This also assured that I ate plenty of tradtional korean food. more on that later.
Two nights ago I went our for a drink with Mr Moon, the father in the family I was staying with. We ended up in a Karioke bar. While he sang beatles and beegees songs, I drank budwieser on his tab. At least that was the case until a 40 something year old Korean lady who was about 4' tall noticed me and decided it was time to ruin the night of a foreigner. She came at me with the persistance and ferocity of Pepe Le Pew . I was accosted, dragged to the dance floor and forced to grind with her and Oh my dear God if I didn't try to get away. I eventually broke free (and i do mean broke free) and ran and hid. she tracked me down and wanted to make out and much worse. I was frantically trying to get Mr Moon's attention. He eventually spotted me in my desperate state and laughed and said "Ha ha ha, No Probrem". When Koreans tell you something is no problem, there is usually is a massive problem. It pains me to relive this awful memory. Just learn from my mistake and make a quick and rude exit when a 40something 4' tall korean lady with no command of the english language wants to dry hump you in an empty Karioke bar. I hope this story makes you laugh as much as it has made me cry.
I will put some pictures up to break up the monotony of a story about a monotonous place.
This is a floating Torii gate outside of Hiroshima. I have read the warranty for my camera and it becomes null and void if I take any more pictures of torii gates.
A striking photo of some stiking ladies near the above mentioned Torii.
A model of Hiroshima as it looked before it was nuked
And after... The lives that were snuffed out instantly are nothing compared to those that survived long enough to see their skin melt away from their bodies or die of radtion poisoning. Fun Fact: there are still over 60,000 active nuclear warheads in the world. Write your local member of Parliament.
Me standing on a bridge with the remains of one of the only buildings to survive the blast in the background. It is being preserved as a monument to one of the ugliest moments in human history.
The country side of Korea is about 70% mountainous. As far as roads go, Korea is the most breathtaking place I've visited.
Re: what I said about the view from the highways here.
Me with William Yang in Jeonju
Me with Youngmin Moon in Jinju
Korean food is much more of a challenge than japanese. Staying with Korean families I had the pleasure of eating kimchi three times a day. Kimchi is cabbage that has been buried underground for 10 days to ferment. It comes out of the ground all red and spicey with an expected amount of gooieness. Tastes as good as it sounds. Imagine me shoveling forkfulls of it into my mouth and grinning while I tell everyone how good it tastes. Other than that, the diet here contains a lot of fish (cooking fish is kind of like an obscure afterthought). Most seafood here has the eyes on it still.
I miss Sarah.
My passport is currently in the hands of the Vietnamese embassy while they process my Visa so I am staying put in Seoul for the next few days. While I havn't had a lot of crazy fun in Korea (oweing largely to the fact that there is little to no backpacker culture here) I may find more of that as I spend a weekend in Seoul.
Write me because I spend more time in internet cafes than I do in the sunlight here.
thanks for reading. This blog is longer than most because I have more time on my hands because the internet is free here and I have nothing to do
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Memoirs of a Gaijin
So after three weeks of insanity I have parted ways with Japan. Before i left I took the shinkansen to Hiroshima. I no hostel booked but luckily I had some charming british friends that went above and beyond and let me stay on the pull-out in their posh hotel room. I realized soon after getting there that my Visa was not working. I think the phrase Up shit creek without a paddle can be bettered by being changed to being In hiroshima with no money and no visa. Like all problems in Japan though, this seemed to clear itself up within 12 hrs.
I visited the Hiroshima peace museum featuring everything one could want to know about the A-bomb dropping there. It was by far the quietest place in Japan. Many people choose not to enter for fear of the emotional hell it will bring upon them. It is my firm belief that all world leaders should spend a day in the museum before they are allowed to take office.
There is much to see and do in Hiroshima aside from history lessons in the asanine ability to burn, blast and radiate an entire unsuspecting city that 12-15 countries in the world are capable of within 15 minutes notice.
Back in Tokyo I spent more time taking in the sights with my friend sarah including a free concert by The Fray, Shopping, watching a sumo tournament and of course, imbibing in the drink.
I dont know how many times I will visit Japan but i know I will never understand it. It appears that cartoon characters, vending machines and uniforms are the glue that holds the society together. Near as I can tell Tokyo was mostly destroyed during WWII. Some time in the 1950s An insane asylum was used to recruit all the federal, prefectural and municipal governments. These people, completely divorced from logic and rationality then hired the most skilled engineers in the world to rebuild the concrete landscape with unimaginable towers of glass, neon and steel. Somehow, I think by accident, they produced the most logical and convenient subway system in the world.
Japan is expensive. As soon as you get of the plane, they grab you by the tit and squeeze. They squeeze and squeeze until you are purple sore and dry then they send you on your way. After 3 weeks the sheer randomness of things there begins to no longer phase you. When you start to understand things or stop being curious as to why, it is time to go. I recommend that you do not dig to find the answer why to the many oddities. You will go insane before you make any real headway. Just accept them and do your best not to piss anyone off.
I recommend everyone experience this at least once before you die, or at least turn 25 because it takes a very maliable mind to enjoy yourself.
I got into Seoul last night and was immediatly overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people here. Things are more laid back than Tokyo and the City is bordered by snow capped mountains. I still need to find a place to stay for the night and tomorrow i will take a bus to Jeon-Ju to visit one of my Korean ESL families.
I am pretty hard up for contact from home so drop me a line and let me know what you've been up to; no matter how routine or seemingly uninteresting. I will love to hear it.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
There and Back Again
So, allow me to waste 15 minutes of your day with my exploits and pictures
I took a midnight bus to Kyoto hoping to get some sleep. I soon after remembered that traveling in Japan means you must stay up all night every third night. I arrived in Kyoto at 6:00am knowing no one and only the vaguest memory of the name of the hostel I was booked to stay in. A cabbie was uncommonly committed to getting me there and followed me into a posh hotel to get directions. I believe the place was called Kyoto's Shittiest Inn... or was it Kyoto's Cheapest Inn?.... That part isn't important. I found the place with the door locked and elected to sleep on the pavement for a little while. Turns out that wasn't the door to the Inn and I was awoken a while later by a old Japanese lady laughing because there was a kid with a Canadian flag on his backpack sleeping on her driveway. She showed me the proper door about 10 feet away. I didn't come to Asia because i was expecting it to be easy or comfortable.
Kyoto is famous for being full of shrines and temples still in their original condition due to the fact that the city was not bombed during WWII,. The city is to Japanese antiquity what Whitby, Ontario is to doughnut shops. I saw many shrines and temples and gardens and castles while I waited for the check in time. I met an english speaking japanese guy who couldn't have been more pleased that he could show a forigner around.
The hostel was full of Limeys, Dingos, Kiwis and Canucks that I hit it off with right away. We got kicked out of the hostel for being too loud and drunk. We went out for what I assume will be the most fun night of drinking I will have in Japan. Japanese reggae is something I couldn't invent if a tried but they seem to have it nailed down. Memories of the night get sketchy but I do remember getting kicked off the stage and meeting a beautiful girl.
The next two days were more sight seeing and we managed to find a restaurant a couple doors down that sold pints of beer \100 (less than $1 canadian). Let me tell you, that beer contained some of the finest tap water in Japan but it did the drick (just a little bit slower). I was quick to miss the excitement of Tokyo. Once you have seen one or two shrines, you have seen them all.
I came back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). It cost about what the down payment on a house in the suburbs does but moving across the country at 300kph is worth it.
Last night was another night out in the club district with my Kyoto people here in tokyo. $40 and you can drink for free all night (and i do mean all night and i do mean all you can drink). I got back in around 6:00 this morning.
The staff here at the hostel are laughing at me because I am wearing a shirt i bought with Japanese writing on it that says something to the effect of "i am an obsessive fan of Japanese animated porn featuring young girls". Motherfucker at the store told me it said "crazy".
I am supposed to fly to Seoul tomorow but two weeks in Japan Isn't enough and three weeks in Korea is too long so for an extra $200 I am going to take the bullet train to the west coast and take a boat to Korea. Allegations that I m doing this for a girl are only half true.
me at the golden pavilion...yeah
you know those little Japanese Zen gardens you can buy with rocks and sand and stuff? They made a huge life size one of those here obviously modelled after the little ones.
shortly before we got the boot
Kyoto is beautiful
try walking that with a hangover only to find it is not open to the public
some civilized and sophisticated gents and myself out for an evening stroll in Tokyo
very civilized and sophisticated