Sunday, January 29, 2012

Twisted my Busankle



Well, that taught me a lesson. Hurrying up and down the twisting staircase of a lighthouse in Busan's Taejongdae coastal park like an impatient child, I put a foot wrong and treated my ankle to the novel experience of an angle it hadn't experienced before.

The pain wasn't too great at first, but bode its time throughout the afternoon to produce incrementally heightened levels of agony each time I stood up after a lengthy sit down in a bus or cafe. To borrow a familiar example from the literary canon, it was like those ghosts in the Sandopolis Zone, Act 2 of Sonic and Knuckles that grow larger and more menacing the longer you fail to deal with them. No?

I tried to play it cool and ignore the pain, but after a while I sounded exactly like Alan Partridge after he pierces his foot on a spike. ('Ooooh, it's a good paper.') We really don't have any reference points in common, do we?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

oh! NO~



I was a little surprised at the existence of Jeju Love Land on Korea's favourite holiday spot, Jeju Island - though the focus of this sculpture park and 'museum' is pretty much squarely on titillation (particularly penisillation) rather than anything too extreme. Despite their reserved manner, Koreans aren't compulsively puritanical, and this attraction isn't any more outrageous or corruptive to the young than the average British joke shop or seaside tat stall at Blackpool - until it dawns on you just how heterosexual the whole thing is. To a fault.

For a place so obsessed with cocks and presenting a softcore smorgasbord of sexual practices from around the world, the very notion of same-sex love or activities is glaringly omitted to the point of denial or ignorance here - as in pretty much all aspects of Korean life and culture. The light-hearted yet confusing and potentially offensive sign pictured above is practically the only admission that these sort of practices exist, and the caption doesn't seem particularly flattering. Though the inclusion of a heart confuses matters - are they admitting that romantic love accompanies this disgraceful act, or was it just a lazy choice for fig-leaf-style censorship?

(To avoid ambiguity, other signs depicting 'hilarious' sexual incidents all featured both a man and woman, the latter of which can be identified by being pink and having long hair like all women do).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Return to Hell




Korea is covered in mountains but disappointingly low on active and deadly volcanoes, the bloody not-choking-to-death spoilsports. Even the stand-out feature of Jeju Island, Seongsan Ilchulbong, disappointed me slightly when I reached the summit and discovered it was a filled-in, Arthur's Seat-style extinct volcano rather than a Bromo-style sulphuric belcher. Well, it was a nice view.

But Jeju still had a few surprises left for me, including an extensive network of lava tunnels underground that made me feel like I was heading back to Hell. And we all know the ordeal I went through last time - I still can't look at a frying pan without wincing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jeju - The Isle of Wight of South Korea

The language barrier and ethnic homogeny clearly delineate South Korea from Great Britain, but in other ways this East Asian republic isn't a million miles away from England (actually, only about 5,400 miles). Take a look at this scene from Jeju Island, for example:



How am I managing to survive in such an alien environment?


South Korea is also roughly the same size as the UK and even its coastline doesn't look all that different, with South Jeolia jutting out to the south-west like some kind of Cornwall, and South Chungcheong basically being Wales. I guess that makes North Korea the Scotland of Korea? I can't see any problem there.

That means idyllic and slightly backwards Jeju Island, the southest you can get, is an ideal candidate for the Isle of Wight of South Korea - not its Hawaii, as the tourism industry wants you to think. Anyway, what's Hawaii got that the Isle of Wight hasn't? Exactly. Stop talking, I already said 'exactly,' which closes the debate.

Here's more stuff from Jeju.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Holiday



Because I don't celebrate Christmas or New Year, I usually get annoyed around that time of the year when the Western world shuts down and less work comes my way. This problem wasn't so severe in Korea (or in Taiwan the same time last year), but to curb any remaining Scrooge-style festive frustrations, I gave myself permission to take a holiday in the last few weeks of December. Everyone else bloody does.

Let's be clear that all this travelling around Asia and a couple of other places over the past sixteen months hasn't been a holiday - I've still been working as much as I can, and between work, blogs and the day trips necessitated by the blogs, there hasn't been much time to relax. I don't think I've been on what could be accurately categorised as a holiday since a weekend break to the Lake District in 2009, which was extremely rejuvenating and put me in a great mood for a long time after. I understand the value of holidays, I'm just not very good at taking them.

So last month I informed my editors that I'd only be able to do about two hours of work per day. I'm on holiday. And I had to be careful with my money due to an impending, whopping tax bill. Holiday. And I'd still be spending more hours than you think writing these blogs, of course - otherwise, what's the point of going anywhere? I'm on holiday. Then Kim Jong-il died and South Korea declared a state of emergency. Holiday.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My English bad quality


Call me an elitist language school snob,
but I'd probably think twice before sending my kid there (Kaohsiung)


I've been living outside the English-speaking world for more than a year, which really isn't as difficult as it sounds, as a lot of people speak English there anyway. Language barriers haven't presented a problem most of the time either (apart from that one time in Indonesia when I ended up sleeping in a rainy field).

But as I speak less and less to native English speakers, I've been noticing a drop in the quality of my spoken English - what began as well-meaning simplification to make me easier to understand seems to have had the adverse effect of making me forget how sentences actually work.

This became most apparent when I spoke to an American in Thailand in November, and caught myself saying 'tomorrow I stay three nights in Cambodia.' An ambitious plan, albeit chronologically impossible without some sort of Father Christmas-like time-warping ability. But I realised this had become a major problem when I took in the view at Jeju Island, South Korea, and proclaimed: 'I like to be fresh air in my face.'

Monday, January 9, 2012

Now I know my DMZ, won't you come and infiltrate me




I made the fun/harrowing excursion to the border between the Koreas the day before North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il died, and I can't help but feel somehow responsible.

This is a pretty popular tour (as popular as South Korean tourism gets, anyway) to see history in the making, and although it's usually pretty safe, it might be a little while before it's up and running again. South Korea's drafted 19-year-old soldiers have enough to worry about without being on the look-out for pesky, meddling tourists trying to take sneaky photos of the North Korean propaganda villages. (I'm just jealous because my own sneaky photos turned out so poor).

After visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone (한반도 비무장지대) and getting an impressively unbiased overview of its 58-year history (and counting - probably for some considerable time to come), I can't say I was massively heartbroken to hear of the Great Leader's death. The last thing I'd want to do is incite all-out war and the annihilation of human civilisation, but you can't visit the DMZ without coming away with the distinct impression that North Korea's rulers and strategists have all the military skill and integrity of a seven-year-old child. Specifically, me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We'll tear your Seoul apart



I finally made it to South Korea, which I suppose would complete one of this blog's long-running narrative arcs if this was actually some kind of slightly tedious drama series and not my actual life. Korea had a lot to live up to, and apart from some state-sanctioned racism, homophobia and widespread gender inequality, it doesn't disappoint - this is one of my favourite countries I've been to yet. Though I might have been easily won over by the delightfully sub-zero temperatures after spending 10 months in perennially sweaty (and perineumally sweaty) South East Asia.

I'm planning on spending at least a couple of months in The Good Korea, so there'll be plenty of time to blog about the Koreans and their unnecessarily great food. But to start things off, I took a trip to the country's heart and Seoul.

(Oh sorry, I just noticed I spelled that incorrectly - it should have been 'soul.' If only there was some way to edit this).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Literally everything I spent last year



In 2011 I visited eight countries and spent GBP 9,421.37
(average £785.11/month)


Is that a lot? An achievement in thriftiness? I'm not sure, and I don't really care either way. I'm still earning more than I'm spending and I can't put a price on the freedom my freelance career gives me (not because it's priceless, I'm just rubbish with numbers).

I expect 2012 to be similar in terms of aimless wandering, but it'll probably be more expensive now that I've left South East Asia. But there are other parts of the world where living is cheap, and that I haven't been to yet. Those two criteria are enough to put South America on the I'll-think-about-it list for 2012 - but not before I've been through the more expensive South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand on my slightly illogical odyssey.

That said, now I've added up and taken a look at these figures for the first time, it turns out some of these Asian countries really weren't as cheap as I was giving them credit for.