Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The time traveller's strife

The concept of time travel is so fascinating and multi-faceted, it's a shame I'm completely incapable of wrapping my head around it, however often I try.

Sure, I can keep track of the overlapping timelines in the Back to the Future films, unravel the gender-bending ontological paradoxes of Robert A. Heinlein's short stories and get frustrated when a below-par episode of Red Dwarf breaks its own time travel rules established 20 minutes earlier in the same episode, but when it comes to the practical, real-world experiences of crossing time zones or adjusting for daylight savings time and then trying to work out if I've gained or lost hours from my day, the rusting, wheezing cogs in my brain grind to a halt. But time keeps ticking on.

I began 2011 at GMT +8 and ended it at GMT +9, which I think means my year was one hour shorter than it should have been overall. Is that right? I mean, I travelled back and forth a lot last year, give or take a couple of time zones, but unless the universe works in a very different way than the one I'm barely grasping as it is, that doesn't add up into any extra or lost hours... does it? I'm not even joking, I really am this hopeless with numbers.

But I don't have to despair or feel cheated out of my hour (or hours), because this year we were all awarded an extra day for good behaviour, free of charge. Happy Leap Year!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

And that's why Koreans eat dogs

Oh yeah, I'd forgotten all about the dog meat thing. That's Korea, isn't it? That was probably one of the first things I'd think of if Korea was mentioned in the old, pre-travelling days (let's not give me more credit than I was due - it was the only thing I'd think of), but obviously it's not the sort of thing you see in every high street or restaurant in the South Korea of today. I haven't seen it anywhere, or even heard anything about it, and the thorough research I've just carried out reveals that it's basically illegal.

So dog lovers have nothing to worry about there - you can happily tear away at the scorched flesh of some other intelligent mammal without the nagging doubt that it might be a lovely pooch. Yeah, because I'm so vegetarian. A few weeks ago I actually planned to abstain from meat for a week in Korea to see if it's too difficult (provisional blog title: 'Vegetakorean') but by 7PM on Monday I was happily tucking into a bulgogi pizza and the experiment was void. Just eat bibimbap all the time and stop whining - save your strength.

But today I met an irritating little bowwowin' bastard who was cruisin' for a marinadin', and who I'll pretend hindered my plans to wander the hills around Jeonju, when in reality I just couldn't work out what was a public footpath and what was someone's private driveway. Never mind, this blog is a catalogue of failures and I wouldn't want to disappoint you by doing something right.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Land of the morning sun

How often do you watch the sun rise?

In a promotional interview for morally questionable canonical goth film The Crow, Brandon Lee muses with eloquence and accidental foreboding about the infrequent experience of watching the full moon rise - a monthly occurrence, but one that most people lack the time, interest or vantage point to see for themselves.

The sunrise is less of a rarity, occurring every single day, but I still doubt there are many people who make a point of waking up early to witness this spectacle, which acts more like a bat signal to binge drinkers that it's probably time to head home and sleep it off until that painfully bright orb goes away again, or at least to head to The Penny Black for a daycap (a reference for Edinburgh-based alcoholics there - you know who you are).

As for the rest of you, how many times do you actually bother to watch the sun come up? If the tedious rotation of the Earth around the sun just doesn't interest you, when there are things like Twitter and The Octonauts demanding your early morning attention, that's fine. But worst are the lazy people who say they 'wish they could' make the time to fit it into their schedules, like waking up an hour earlier in winter is too much of a stretch. These are the same people who've never visited their neighbouring country that's just a couple of hours' travel by ferry, but 'would love to go.' Less platitudes, more action, cretins! This is coming from someone who lived in Britain for 25 years and never visited Ireland, incidentally. But I'd love to go.

Monday, February 20, 2012

You're snow fun anymore

Near the end of last year, I was being driven through the centre of Jeju Island, on the slopes of South Korea's tallest mountain, and I saw my first fallen snow in almost two years - having spent the previous winter in sub-tropical Taiwan where it doesn't quite get cold enough to make rain fun.

I saw more snow in Seoul when I forced myself out of the hostel to visit Seodaemun Prison, and en route to my next destination in Gangwon Province I was delighted to see snow-capped boulders trapped in frozen rivers. I was looking forward to visiting Seoraksan National Park while this winter weather lasted, so I could have the rare privilege of seeing the landscape covered in snow and ice.

What I didn't realise was that I'd have to walk on the stuff.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Who is Mr. David?

Learning the naming conventions of other countries can be important if you want to avoid accidentally causing offence. Knowing that the family name is followed by the first name in some Asian countries is basic, for example, and it's easy to learn the correct titles for Mr, Mrs and Miss at the appropriate level of politeness in whatever country you're visiting. That's just basic courtesy, even if a total lack of language skills means you instantly switch to broken English and desperate hand signals to explain the number of nights you've booked at the hotel that's lost your reservation, forgetting that in many Asian countries the hand counting signs are also different.

But why do trained hospitality staff who otherwise speak excellent English and deal with Western people on a daily basis unfailingly call me 'Mister David?' Who is he?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


You really can't win sometimes. I was under the mistaken impression that by travelling to different countries, paying my way and cleaning up after myself, I wasn't contributing to the meltdown of the global economy and clanging the death knell of Western civilisation. But there are people who are prepared to take issue with anything, and when you're dealing with someone as indefatigably moral, upstanding and all-round ace as me, you do have to dig deep to find the bad stuff... oh hang on, that sentence alone has proven you don't.

I've been criticised as a dropout and a deserter for leaving my home country behind for so long. It's an overly antagonistic but otherwise accurate assessment - I didn't feel like living in the UK any more, and I had the means to leave, so I left. They don't make it all that difficult to escape, to be honest. But desertion didn't seem to be the main problem - it's that I'm still going and haven't settled down somewhere and got a real job. Again, I didn't feel like setting down and having a real job again, and I had the means not to, so I didn't. This really riles some people up.

By floating aimlessly and carefree (not entirely carefree, as blogs like this prove), I'm apparently not 'doing my bit,' 'giving something back' or 'some other platitude that I feel the need to put in inverted commas.' Like I'm a hedonist raping the world of its resources to satisfy my insatiable appetite and doing more harm than good. I just don't see what I've done wrong.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Seoul survivor

I didn't spend all that much time in Seoul - certainly not as long as the inexhaustible supply of Seoul/soul/sole puns would allow. But while I was here, I had to check out some of the city's bleaker historical sites, if only to counteract the torrent of cute cartoon optimism in every shop window.

The DMZ made me angry and frustrated, but Seodaemun Prison made me feel depressed and (this is the strange part) like I was back in the UK (specifically England), more so than anywhere on my trip so far. This was probably due to a combination of the first snow I'd seen in two years and the functional architecture resembling my secondary school. Which was also built to imprison free spirits and torture independence activists - ha ha ha ha ha! No seriously, my school was a Japanese labour camp.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Carbon confessions - Trailer

Seoul from the sky

I wrote a blog post calculating my carbon footprint and trying/failing to justify all the flights I've taken over the last 17 months, but decided it would be more suitable as a 'page' - an extremely superficial difference that will at least make it easier to update as I go along, and help to keep me on the right track.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Busan-d one more thing

It's very easy to get around in South Korea since they installed Stargates in all major city centres. It's faster than the KTX, but there is the minor possibility that your atoms could be scrambled or scattered across the cosmos, or that flange-voiced aliens imitating the Ancient Egyptian gods could enslave your planet. But that's the price of progress.

I'll probably be back in Busan before the month is out to take the ferry across to the amusingly named Fukuoka and begin my Japan tour, but this city in South-East South Korea was a nice end to my Christmas holiday. That's right, I'm still on December - rest assured I've done practically nothing but sit around in my pants and eat bulgogi in the weeks since, so we'll soon be up to date.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spam attack

I'm very sorry to anyone who got a spam/virus email from 'me' today (that's about 900 of you). I just signed into my Gmail and witnessed chaos. It was also telling me this blog was deleted for a while, which felt like losing a child (I imagine). Obviously you should delete the email immediately and not click any links that it might contain. It's not some amusing joke I'm doing. I feel violated.

There are many reasons it might have happened, and although it doesn't look like I've got any viruses in my email account or on my computer I do spend most of my time on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. I've at least now worked out how to delete all my non-contact contacts from Gmail, so when it inevitably happens again, you can rest assured only the people I care about will be at risk. I've also made a second email account that I might switch to in case this one is truly screwed, since it's probably not wise to use a single email address for everything ever. Some elementary 1990s internet security tips for you there - you're welcome.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Taejongdae is a good day to die

...or at least to do unspecified damage to your ankle. I hoped to explore Busan's scenic areas by hopping between city tour buses along the Taejongdae and Haeundae routes, but had to cut things abruptly short when it became clear I couldn't actually walk any more and literally had to hop into a taxi. Never mind, I still saw some pretty nice things.