Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Well, that about wraps it up for Earth

They really are big on the model village thing in Shenzhen. Not content with representing their own splendid country in miniature form, they've only gone and boiled down the whole world into 48 hectares of scale models and rides. Or rather, lots of nice places from Europe and some things they've seen in Hollywood films.

As with my trip to Splendid China, there was a more meaningful reason behind my visit than just wanting an excuse to pretend I was sixty feet tall. Alright, it was mainly about that, but I've also been putting a lot of thought into where I want to go next, now I'm through with this part of the world and my second tranniversary is fast approaching.

It didn't make my mind up, but it did strengthen my convictions.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Well, that about wraps it up for China?

Shenzhen may be southern China's commercial success story, but it doesn't have a lot going for it in terms of history and culture. That might be why they've over-compensated by cramming as many of China's greatest hits as possible into three square kilometres at the charming, impressive and amusingly named Splendid China. Grand!

I thought this would mean I could tick off essential sights like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and those Avatar rock formations so I wouldn't have to see the real ones, but seeing these places in lovingly detailed miniature only made me want to visit more, like the sucker for advertising I obviously am.

If only I could find some way around these internet restrictions that are threatening my livelihood, I'd stay in China for a while. But today was a chance to leave those frustrations and malfunctioning virtual private networks in my hotel room and spend a sunny afternoon stomping around replica fortresses like a Godzilla without the excuse of having children in tow. I mean, child.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Anonymous Hong Kong eateries

This was originally written for my friend Jemma's food blog, because I wanted to try something different and failed. I'm mainly re-posting it here because it's annoying having it wafting around in my drafts.

Eating blind has mostly been a rewarding experience in the various non-English speaking countries I've lived in over the past 18 months, though it carries risks. I won't go into some of the disgusting things I've eaten by accident here.

But for a change, I was visiting Hong Kong with someone who spoke the dialect, and could help me understand what I was putting in my mouth. Unfortunately, it turned out she couldn't read Chinese, so most of the time we were back at square one with the blind leading the blind. At least our senses of taste were still working, so here are three random, anonymous dining options from Tung Choi Street in Hong Kong's ridiculously bustling Mong Kok district.

Friday, August 24, 2012

There's my goddamn escalator!

When I was a kid, I loved escalators. Yeah, me too, you might be thinking. But you didn't love them like I did. You didn't get the same exhilarating feeling when you stepped onto the runway and watched it concertina up into a black, ridged metal step, now fully formed through a process of memory or mechanisms you couldn't understand.

Maybe because your nose was closer to the ground in those days, or you sense of smell hadn't been rendered impotent by too many microwaved cottage pies, in your memories you can smell the metal, before that exciting, nerve-wracking final stretch when the stair collapses in on itself and you perfectly time a death-defying hop over the curb or risk definitely going under like your mum told you would happen once and you unquestioningly believed, because why would she lie?

Maybe you did like escalators that much. The thing is, I liked them for a long time, well into my 20s and into my Edinburgh years, before a few too many trips to the desolate Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith, riding up and down the cobwebbed escalators while I waited for a friend to finish her shift at the Vue and get me in free to some shit stoner comedy film or other, finally destroyed the magic. Since then, I've ridden escalators much too frequently around the world in cities with subterranean transit systems, from Athens to Tokyo. The dream is over. Escalators are just moving stairs. I got over it.

So I was excited at the prospect of riding the world's longest escalator system in Hong Kong and trying to rekindle this childhood enthusiasm, because let's face it, I could do with a bit of that. This escalator turned out not to be affiliated with the Big Buddha after all, but located in the central district of Hong Kong Island, imaginatively called Central.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where's my goddamn escalator?

At some point in the last 23 months, someone told me there was a big Buddha statue up on a mountain in Hong Kong that you can visit, and someone else independently told me Hong Kong was home to the world's longest escalator. I assume that's what happened anyway, but for some reason or other (wishful thinking or idiocy - probably a sprinkling of both) I'd been convinced for some time that these entities were one and the same.

Needless to say, as someone who had a genuine passion for escalators in his youth, I was pretty excited when I had the opportunity to visit this tantalising attraction myself, and crestfallen to discover I was absurdly wrong.

It was only when I got about half-way along the satisfyingly long, multi-tiered cable car ropeway to the mountain village of Ngong Ping (where the Buddha lives) that I realised how impossible an escalator would be in this situation, and how ridiculous I must have sounded when I arrived at Tung Chung station, disappointed to see no signs directing me to the escalator and getting my friend to translate 'escalator' into Cantonese to baffled silence. Oh well, the cable car ride was pretty good. Actually, it was ace.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hong Kong - The Edinburgh of the East

So it turns out Hong Kong isn't 'the Singapore of the North,' as I'd been expecting, but bizarrely makes me feel like I'm back in Edinburgh. From paradoxical Scottish street names and First buses complete with distinctively unpleasant purple-n-turquoise interior decor to the city's persistent use of fireworks long after most people have become jaded by the expensive spectacle, this place made me feel oddly nostalgic for early morning work buses. I've got to get out of here.

The comparisons fall pretty flat after that, but that's fine. The lazy journalistic device of superficially comparing one place with another place is never obligated to stand up to scrutiny, though Hong Kong's history as a British colony at least means this comparison holds more water than Chiang Mai being 'the Chester of Thailand' just because there's a wall around it or Singapore being 'the Isle of Wight of Malaysia' just because it's at the bottom.

There are also more white people here than I expected, which always surprises me after I've got so used to being around Asian people. Though if you're racist, blind or an idiot, you could make a wry point about Britain basically being a Chinese colony these days, right? Ha ha! Please stop reading my website.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Down with this sort of thing!

Dave's certainly not happy about... something or other

Hong Kong hadn't been on my radar until recently, when I started to get the feeling that my time in Asia was drawing to a close and it seemed a bit remiss not to get China out of the way first. What with it being a bit big as well as massively influential on most of the cultures and countries I've seen over the past 18 months, which you're probably too racist to distinguish anyway. I've basically been in China for ages, right?

The main reason I didn't bother with Hong Kong until now is that I assumed it'd be very similar to Singapore, which is comfortable enough as a sanity/sanitary stop between jaunts in South East Asia, but isn't the sort of place I need to see repeated. But there's really not a lot of similarity, beyond both places wholeheartedly embracing capitalism to the most merciless degree possible. Oh, and they're both predominantly Chinese - but where isn't, right?

But there's just 34 years left before this Special Administrative Region is absorbed into the rest of China, and that might be what those gargantuan demonstrations and marches were all about when I coincidentally arrived in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the establishment of this weird and confusing one countries, two systems system. I don't know, I don't speak Cantonese, do I?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tossers of the world

I don't play by your admittedly sensible and important rules

This might surprise you, but I'm not perfect. I've gone on record describing myself variously as 'a bit of an asshole' and 'a dick,' but I don't think I'd go as far as to call myself 'a tosser.' I'll reserve that privilege for those more self-assured and insufferably cocky men I've encountered on my travels (they are always men) who make modest boasts about what they view as their impressive or unusual achievements that tend to look rather mediocre or even pointless to the objective eye.

These are usually the objective eyes of women who fail to be impressed when being insulted through their association with the lamentable tourists surrounding the tosser, who are probably only here on holiday, doing a bit of sightseeing on the well-trodden path, unquestioningly following their Lonely Planet guidebooks before going back to their humdrum lives. Like there's anything wrong with having something to go back to.

Here are some true examples of modest boasts, failed attempts to impress and general tossiness that I've enjoyed from an impartial vantage point elsewhere in the room, usually when I'm working, writing these blogs or finding other ways to avoid interaction. Most of these are from South Korea the first time around, which was the last time I shared rooms and hung around in communal areas in hostels, so is probably why those are freshest in my memory. I've embellished the events slightly for dramatic purposes, and although most of the featured tossers could conceivably be me, only one of them actually is. But which one?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The quite good wall of South Korea

Have you ever failed to spot something that's right under your nose?

Maybe it was a boy or girl who was into you, but you assumed you'd never have a chance. Or only realising how arbitrary the religious convictions people live their lives by really are, when you take a wider look at the world and colonial history. Or finally getting that the name of Sonic the Hedgehog's fox sidekick Miles Prower was a rubbish pun on 'miles per hour' when you're 23.

Or that most Koreans wear glasses, something I never clocked the first time I was here, but which I haven't been able to stop noticing since I came back. I don't know if it's genetic, a combination of Korea's notoriously heavy-duty schooling with its heavy-duty gaming culture leading to a general lack of sun exposure, or if looking like a stock 1980s nerd character is popular right now in this conformist and fashion-subjugated society. Whichever way, it makes me feel more at home in the land of the visually impaired.

There's also the massive wall that surrounds Seoul, 18.2 kilometres in length, which I spectacularly failed to notice in all the time I spent here last winter, despite even taking a couple of photos of its gates when I came across them. What did I think they were attached to? You can see the southern section of the wall in my cloudy Namsan photos too, where it was literally right under my nose, but I must have been too busy squinting at the buildings in the distance. There might be some sort of meaningful analogy there.

That'll teach me to travel on the subway rather than letting my feet guide me. Walking around Seoul's perimeter did wonders for my psychogeography and gave me an idea of how the different parts of Seoul I've visited fit together, much like the very similar wall in Suwon last week, and it's more prep work for the inevitable mid-life crisis where I decide to walk across China or some similarly pointless feat. Let's see if this blog's still going by then.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

There's snow snow anymore

Seoraksan was one of my favourite places in South Korea last time, but I didn't get to see much of it due to the winter weather making things unreachable without decent boots and ice picks. So it was inevitable that I'd come back in the summer to spend more than a couple of hours here and see Korea's first national park at its third-best.

Everyone seems to agree this place looks most spectacular in the autumn, so I guess I'll have to come back again. And then I'll feel compelled to come back in the spring to see the pink cherry blossoms and complete the set. Normally, those sort of self-imposed obligations would be a cause for annoyance, but I'm already looking forward to it. Any excuse to justify coming back to Koreagainagain.

And if I accomplish nothing else in my life, charting The Four Se(or)a(k)s(a)[+o]ns would be legacy enough.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Hwaseong remains the same

I was a little stingy in Japan when it came to paying entry fees for palaces, museums and things, and when there was usually a slightly inferior alternative nearby that didn't cost me anything. But after walking the perimeter of this old Korean city, I was interested to see Hwaseong Palace itself, which was also refreshingly cheap. Why am I only staying in this country for three weeks? I could easily spend a year here. Maybe I will. With my diet and general health, I should have at least seven more years left in me.

They also put on free shows every day of the week for anyone who wants to watch spinning women, martial arts, precariously balancing kids and other activities Koreans get up to when they're not playing Starcraft. If these guys toured the UK, they'd make a killing on the bland audition TV show circuit. But they're not, they're here with me and you don't get to have them until you learn more about this country and stop thinking of Asia as just 'India and those Chinesey ones.'

I'm partly talking to the me of a couple of years back, when I was unwisely trusted to write whole websites about countries in all parts of the world despite never having ventured further than Spain, which I was too young to remember. I'd be too ashamed to read whatever uninformed crap I wrote about the countries I've visited since.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The York of South Korea

Maybe if I wasn't so averse to looking at travel guides now and then, I wouldn't have missed out on Suwon last time I was in Korea. I somehow got the idea it was full of bored, racist English teachers, but this nicely sized city just an hour from Seoul turns out to have more going on than some places I took a long haul bus ride for. I'm looking at you, Jeonju.

But these are the reasons I came back to Korea - for the unfinished business of scrambling over broken walls, taking boring photos of reconstructed gates and dressing up like an idiot. There wasn't enough space to write all that in the 'Purpose of visit?' section of the immigration form, so I just went for 'tourism.'

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The tale of Mr Toilet

심재둑 was born in a toilet.

The other children used to tease 재둑, calling him 'Mr Toilet' and worse names that are much too rude to write down in a children's book.

'From toilet originated; you be faeces!' one cried.

'Will show them!' sobbed Mr Toilet. 'I am becoming Suwon mayor and be construction house in shape as toilet. At I am died, Mr Toilet Museum is be special legacy.'

So Mr Toilet did become mayor, and he did build a house, and it was the most toilet-shaped house in the whole world! (Until Dubai decides to build one, like they ruin everything).

And when Mr Toilet died in 2009, his house was converted into a museum where it stands to this very day.

Mr Toilet's body was not flushed down the toilet. That would be inappropriate, have some bloody respect.