Thursday, September 12, 2013

Deleted scenes: South Korea

I spent ages in South Korea. It's the country where I've felt the most comfortable in Asia, striking the best balance between value, comfort and intriguing weirdness, and there's always more to see - though considering the immigration hurdles we keep tripping over to get my girlfriend a 30-day tourist visa, it probably won't be for a while yet.

I took a lot of photos and wrote a lot of blogs in Korea, but when looking through my folders for unused odds and sods I was surprised at how many there were. Join me on a trip down memory lane as I revisit Korea in my mind, forget immigration hassle and try to ignore how depressing that sounds. Remember when I could just show up at airports and they'd let me in?

Unseen Korea

Anyone else really feel like a Pepsi right now?

A somewhat more menacing flag at Deoksugung Palace

Another view of Gyeongbokgung Palace gate with Bukhan Mountain,
according to the tediously detailed file names I make. Bloody me

A somewhat more humdrum gate in Suwon

Dave on a pirate ship at Lotte World

Protoceratops v. Velociraptors at Seodaemun Museum of Natural History

Dave takes a bulgogi burrito break on his circumnavigation of Seoul's Fortress Wall

Here's a photo of North Korea I wasn't supposed to take from Panmunjeom in the DMZ. Most of these buildings are vacant and constructed for propaganda purposes because, in case you haven't been paying attention the last 60 years, North Korea's leaders are insane

Peace Bell Shrine at Imjingak, DMZ.
Don't think it's been working

The raft I took to Jeju Island. Definitely did that

There are mysterious rock piles everywhere here. I say 'mysterious,' I could probably find out what they are if I asked someone or read a website. Still, woooo!

More 'hilarious' willy stuff at Jeju Homophobia Land.
Ha ha ha, *cough*AdamandEve*cough*, harmless fun

Things Mother Nature is really trying to suggest you don't eat in Busan.
I beg you, take her advice

Seoraksan in the snow

Seoraksan in the rain

Balloon/UFO in rural Gyeongju

Hyundai is a Korean car company that everyone outside of Korea pronounces wrong.
I probably imagined this photo was meaningful or arty or something

After being enthralled by snow, ice and cold when I first got to Korea, I was jaded after a couple of months, to the point that I didn't even think a frozen waterfall was worth documenting any more

A shitload of crows

Anti-Semitic tree

In closing, here's a never-published, long-deleted draft post I eventually tracked down in an old XML backup of my blog. It's a plea to myself to get my act together and push myself to make the most of my travel experiences, as I prepare to board the ferry from Korea to Japan. It's sort of embarrassing and an artefact from a time between girlfriends when I quite liked someone, when the pressure of a cushy life was getting to me and when I felt I had everything and nothing. It wouldn't be the last time I felt like that.

Let's do Japan properly (February 2012)

I mean it this time. Enough of these complacent, wasted days in interchangeable hotel rooms, churning out uninspiring work for money I don't know what to do with and finding increasingly desperate angles for blogs to provide some miniscule creative release. Enough of these half-arsed language lessons, getting by on five lazy phrases and buying most of my meals from the convenience store because I'm embarrassed to ask for a fork in every restaurant I go to, because I never learned to use cutlery properly.*

Japan will be different - for one month (and maybe more), I'll return to being that naive, handsome fool who started out in Venice 18 months ago, drank box wine with Australians, chatted to weird old guys in the street and completely failed to get anywhere with girls. I'll learn some Japanese, and not run away when an attractive woman offers me an orange because I don't know how to explain that I don't like oranges in her language. I'll make a point of learning that in Japanese - wa kirai - there you go. It's probably wrong.

Japan was the closest thing I had to a goal when I set off from Scotland, so after this, anything can happen. No more half-hearted travelling: I'm going to do Japan properly and make the most of my time here. It's going to be great! It also helps that Japan is extremely expensive, and I don't want to spend more time than necessary hanging out in my capsule on a laptop. That's the main reason, to be honest - I'll probably go to some cheap country after and return to my old ways instantly. But reasons are a rarity in my journeys, and at least this one doesn't have breasts and underlying homophobia.

Get your scrawny, lazy ass outta there

I frequently remind readers (but I'm speaking to myself really) that I'm not on holiday, and not one of those 'travellers' you meet. You know the ones, the kind of people who would specifically identify themselves as a 'traveller' as opposed to a 'tourist,' and be able to correctly identify how many litres your backpack can hold (what are you carrying in there, milk?) The kind of tedious twat who, after returning home, inserts smug references to their exaggerated travelling experiences into every conversation, regardless of relevance - like how you haven't tasted fresh food until you've tried sannakji. Sod off. I'm a different kind of tedious twat.

But maybe I should be making more of this opportunity, because who can say how long this freedom will last? Especially if I continue ungratefully slagging off my extremely cushy job in these blogs. I love my work really, but that's the problem. In my slightly skewed reality, 'laziness' amounts to filling my days with work so I can avoid having to think about fun - because that's such an effort, isn't it? Allowing yourself to enjoy yourself.

On the days when I get my act together, get outside and make the trip to another boring temple or lighthouse or something, I enjoy myself. When I make the effort to get up early and visit an amazing volcano, I have some of the best experiences of my life. When I'm on a long intercity bus journey and I subject myself to a 29-minute audio lesson of Pimsleur Korean, I feel like the most respectful and enlightened traveller who's ever lived - why hasn't this self-aggrandising feeling motivated me to get beyond Unit Three in six months? Nothing beats the feeling of getting inspired to write some fiction (admittedly, I've lived quite a vanilla lifestyle), but after taking down notes for a preliminary novel it soon becomes clear that the thing will never see the light of day, because why would I want to ruin it like that? Let's not even get into relationships. Which is the actual advice I give myself.

All these feelings are fantastic, so why do I always give in to entropy and fall back to my factory settings? Maybe this is where a travelling companion would come in handy, so we could guilt-trip each other into avoiding KFC at all costs, but there's the risk you'd end up travelling with a 'traveller,' or worse, a girl you accidentally end up in a relationship with. I'm stronger than this, or can at least keep up the pretense for 30 days, so less talking, more doing. Or as the Japanese would say... well, they probably have a saying for it. Probably some analogy about a sword.

Let's do this. Tomorrow I'm gonna get on that boat and hit that Japanese port like an atomic bomb. What? What did I say?

* I can use chopsticks now

I stayed in Japan for three days before getting the boat back to Korea and wasting more time on my new visa waiver in exactly the way I urged myself not to. Since then, I've mostly travelled in company so that I don't write more blogs like that one and can appreciate the odd lazy day spent making blogs like the one you're reading now.

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