Saturday, July 29, 2006

Change of Address

There are a lot of beautiful scenes in Korea that pass by me too quickly to take a photo of, or I forget my camera. A good example of that was this morning when I was in a taxi, I saw the bridges over the Han river covered in fog. The fog was so thick that the bridges looked like they just stretched out into clouds.
This is the front of a bar somewhere, nothing unusual but aesthetically pleasing.

My old friend and flatmate Kylie is also living in Seoul. She kindly let me move into her place yesterday, because my time at Koroot was up. This is the alley where her flat is located. It's difficult to tell from the photo, but this alley is narrow and really steep. If you stand still on it, you feel like you're going to fall backwards. I want to buy a skateboard soon.

This is Kylie demonstrating correct delivery-food opening technique. You can order a whole bunch of food, side dishes and soup for about $9 and some guy on a motorbike will drive to your place in the pouring rain and deliver it steaming hot in proper dishes and with metal cutlery. When you finish eating, you just leave the dirty plates outside your front door and he comes by later to pick it up.
What happens if you steal the dishes? Well I don't really know, but when the delivery food is so cheap and delicious, why would you need your own dishes anyway?

This is a shop in Dongdaemun market where you can get your keys cut. The shop is so small that the guy stands up the whole time, leaning on the wall. He just stands there with the door closed and waits for people. When you knock on the door, he slides it open, grabs the keys out of your hand and can telepathically tell that you want them copied.

Because there are so many adoptees here in Korea, it's easy to meet people from all over the world. This is a meet-up in a bar in Hongdae. Of the 25 or so people in the bar at the time, only a few weren't adopted. We tend to get along really well and everyone has interesting stories.

For example this is Ulla from Denmark who just moved into Koroot. She's really cool and likes to drink Jagermeister. She told me that in Denmark, when it's a special occasion like a birthday or something, people drink Jagermeister for breakfast.

This is us at a club called S-Club in Hongdae. Hip hop clubs aren't really my thing, but they're common here. I've been looking for a decent techno joint for a while now.

The guy in the grey shirt is Brian. He's leaving Seoul to go back to the US soon, after spending 6 months here. I'm betting 50,000 won that he'll be back again next year.

This is Brian's goodbye gathering on the move from the bar to the club. I think the chronology of my photos haven't been uploaded in the right order. It matters not. What matters is that those two people shaking hands in the front have just met and it will probably be a long lasting friendship. Or maybe I've misinterpreted the photo and he's actually trying to steal her arm and sell it on the internet while she's about to clobber him with the umbrella.

This is Mi-Hyun (an American adoptee), me (an Australian adoptee) and Thomas (a Danish adoptee) at a noraebang (karaoke bar). The photo was a self portrait taken by Thomas's outstretched arm and so it isn't centered very well. Look how nice Mi-Hyun's smile is compared to my attempt at teeth-baring. Thomas probably had a nice smile too but unfortuneately the microphone is in the way.

Oh and I think it's time for you all to meet Stefano too. Stefano is one of the few Italian-Korean adoptees in Seoul and is quite a character and socialite. I actually met him last year when I was here. He's always full of energy, super-friendly and nice to the ladies. And he speaks with an Italian-Korean accent.

This is Stefano demonstrating the amazing ability of human flight. Or maybe he was dancing. Last year he explained to me that his heart only belonged to one woman, which was his mother, but his body is like Tianenmen Square - it belongs to everybody. Needless to say, Stefano and Eric the Pirate get along like a house on fire. Could life be anymore beautiful?

This is a typical Korean street. When you're living here, you normally wouldn't think about taking this sort of photo. But when I was in Australia just before I came here I remember that all I wanted to see was a typical Korean street on a typical day and I couldn't find one for ages.

This is a shop on the way to the subway from Kylie's place. It sells kimchi pots and they're all stacked up on the side of the road. At night, the shopowners just leave them there and apparently nobody steals them. If I use my powers of logic, I assume that it's because when kimchi is so cheap and delicious, why would you want your own kimchi pots anyway?

Well that's it for me this time! I've really settled in well here and can find my way around the city without too many hassles. The people I've met have been really friendly and helpful. During the next couple of weeks, things will gradually change as I set about getting a job and my own place. I should cut down on the alcohol a bit too, because my health insurance policy doesn't cover self-inflicted liver failure. Maybe I should just sip it slowly to make it last longer.

One week in Seoul

Well I've spent one week in Korea now. Here is a snapshot of what I've accomplished thus far:

Days in Korea: 7
Nights spent drinking: 5
Average hours of sleep per night: 5
Number of Korean BBQs eaten: 5
Number of days it took me to learn how to use the subway: 1
Number of times I've been lost for more than 2 hours: 2
Number of pirates met: 1

It's been raining a fair bit in Seoul lately, as you can see from this shot I took from upstairs in Koroot. The rain here is different from Adelaide's, it pours heavily for hours on end instead of clearing up frequently. The droplets are large and heavy as well. I didn't buy an umbrella for a while and just tolerated being a bit wet when leaving the house. But then someone told me that the rain here is acidic and can make your hair fall out. Now I have two umbrellas.

I generally shy away from racial stereotyping, but during my time here I've found Koreans in general to be hilarious people. Here are the Koroot volunteers making curtains for the guesthouse. After a couple of hours work, these four nice ladies realised that they had sewed the curtains the wrong way. That lady in the middle is undoing the stitching with her teeth.

Look who recently moved in. Adam is from the Netherlands and he's met Guus Hiddink in person. He was in an advertisement with him for a pizza chain and got to hug him. That is why I'm hugging Adam. So now in a way, I feel like I've also hugged Guus Hiddink.

We found a Vietnamese beef noodle place last week. I've heard that some of the other places are decent but this place was a bit shoddy. The waitresses were wearing Konglish (Korean-English) superman uniforms and one of them looked like she wanted to kill herself and was fairly rude. She even made Eric swear in French. The noodles were even worse. They weren't fresh, the chilli sauce was watery, the soup tasted like it was made from instant noodle base and the couple of pieces of beef in it were small and chewy. But the tea was nice.

A typical view of a BBQ session. Two points of interest: (1) The bamboo containers you can see are filled with a kind of sweet soju (2) There's toilet paper on the table and on the wall. They use it for paper towel here, but the funny thing is that it's not usually found in public toilets. You need to carry your own.

BBQ sessions always evolve into something more exciting. Here we are in a rock bar called The Door, singing to none other than Money Talks by AC/DC. If you look closely it seems like we've been drinking.

This is the ceiling in a different bar in Sinchon, called Mu bar. Those coloured panels are actually the transparent bottom of a stream that constantly runs overhead. The whole place has a kind of foresty feel to it and when you're in the toilets you get a good view of the place.

This is Thomas posing with a pitcher of beer that you can buy in Mu bar. The middle section has water and dry ice in it and keeps the beer cold while pouring out mist. See that pink tin on the table? It's got toilet paper in it.

And here is a market street near Koroot. The atmosphere is a little more pleasant and less busy than the markets I saw in KL. You can buy everything here, from live eels to already-boiled eggs in egg cartons that are indistinguishable from non-boiled eggs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Well the days have been eventful and interesting. Korea is a nice change from the tropics, a little cleaner and not so humid. Unfortuneately my camera batteries ran out on the third day I was here. But I managed to find an adaptor and can start taking photos again from tomorrow. I also had a few issues uploading images onto net cafe computers. Here are the photos from Friday and the weekend.

I arrived in Seoul at about 9am local time last Friday. I didn't manage to sleep much on the plane, but was feeling alright when I passed through Korean immigration. This is part of Incheon Airport.

The airport is located on a separate island to the Korean peninsula and the best way to get into Seoul is via the Airport Limousine, an express bus service that takes you to key points in the capital. Here's a view of some of the marshlands that you see during that journey.

I booked into the Koroot guesthouse for the first seven days that I'm staying in Seoul. This is a lodging place for Korean adoptees run by volunteers and the house itself was donated by a benefactor. A whole bunch of adoptees stay here, coming and going all the time. Here's the main guy that runs the place, Mr Kim. He's happy because I just gave him a bottle of McClaren Vale shiraz and he loves red wine. I don't know how you can love red wine in Korea, because the only stuff I've tried here tastes more like balsamic vinegar. Maybe it was balsamic vinegar with the wrong label.

Here are some housemates that I met on the first day. Maria on the left is from Denmark and Eric on the right is from France. Everyone here is pretty friendly and there are also volunteers that visit each day to help you out with stuff, like finding a mobile phone and guiding you around the city.

We went out to eat that night in an area called Hongdae. The nightlife in Korea is busy and vibrant, with plenty of places to eat at.

We met up with a bunch of people for dinner and had Korean BBQ where you cook your own food at your table. That's probably the most popular kind of restaurant here and really enjoyable because it gives you something to do while you talk. It's also pretty cheap. On the table you can see green bottles of soju. Soju is a rice wine that has a habit of creeping up on you, slapping you around a bit and leaving you in a gutter somewhere. You can buy it from corner stores for only a little more than AUD$1 per bottle. You can buy lemon, pineapple and peach flavoured soju as well.

And this is how you eat BBQ at these places. You cook the meat and pack it into a leaf along with whatever side dishes you like. Then you wrap it up and dip it in sauce. It's really good and somewhat different from the Korean BBQ places back in Australia.

The great thing about big international cities is that there are so many other travellers that you bump into. The people on our table that night were from many different countries but everyone spoke English and got along well.

So after that we went out to a drinking bar. At these places you just sit down, order alcohol and some snacks and drink until the early hours. One of the first Korean words I learned here is 'konbe' which means 'cheers'.

See that guy in the white shirt? He's Eric, the French Korean adoptee who I'm staying with and he reminds me of a pirate. He talks like a pirate, eats like a pirate and pretty much does everything in a pirate-like way. He wants to go bungee jumping next week.

This guy is from Copenhagen. I can't remember his name because my memories from that night have been tainted from alcohol consumption. But I remember he was nice.

This is in the Kangnam area of Seoul, in a nice bar called Tachyon. It was Andrew's birthday that day, he's an American GI working at the military base.

These are views from the front yard of the guesthouse. It's pretty comfortable here and only KRW15,000 per night. One Australian dollar is about 750 Korean won.

This is the mountain right near my place. I had problems memorising landmarks and this was the first one that I began to use to find my way home. Thankyou, mountain.

Down the road from the guesthouse is a guy who makes either bread or noodles in the morning. He throws dough around and stretches it in a window while people pass by.

This photo is for all the Lineage 2 freaks back home. This sign was up in the first PC Bang (net cafe) that I went to. There are lots of Lineage posters here, including one for Chronicle 5.

These arcade games are really tiny and cost only about 20 cents a shot. I played Metal Slug 4 on the right. They're really small and I had problems bending low enough to see the screen. Some little kid was watching me too. Luckily my skillful moves impressed the audience.

Right next to my place is a little food shack. For less than AUD$5 you can get a hotpot soup and side dishes. This is dwen jang jigae, fermented tofu chilli hotpot soup. It tastes really good and has a bit of a kick.

Here's Daniel from Sweden and Eric the pirate playing the guitar. They're pretty good and are thinking of performing at an upcoming gathering. Eric likes AC-DC.

Well that's all for now! Apart from some digestive problems I've been having a really good time. In a few weeks I hope to get an English teaching job. But first I need to party, drink lots and meet people. Seeya

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kuala Lumpur

Today is Thursday and I left Adelaide on Tuesday. Here is the goodbye party that sent me on my merry way. On the left is Vivien, then Daniel, Raf, Me and Dad at Adelaide airport. Seeya fellas.

Back when I was planning my trip I decided that I should stay in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of nights seeing as I was stopping over there anyway and it wouldn't cost too much more. That was a good decision. KL is a really amazing fusion of Indian, Chinese and native Malaysian culture as well as being a crossroad of SE asia. There are plenty of people from all over the world here. This is my hotel, the Swiss Inn on Julan Sultan in Chinatown. It's a little expensive but decent and in a great location. One night is RM135 (1 Aussie dollar = 2.5 RM). Not too bad.
This the view from my hotel room. I was curious to see what was so aromatic about the hotel over the road, so I went over to check it out. The verdict? It smells like fish and carpet.

This is what much of Chinatown looks like. The air is humid and warm but bearable. The streets are lined with shops selling all kinds of cheap imitation stuff, interesting foods and souvenirs. They open in the afternoon, with mobile shops all setting up in a different location each day. Late at night they pack up and disappear, with an army of street sweepers cleaning up all the mess. In the mornings the streets are spotless and empty, before the process repeats itself.

On my first night I wandered around the streets by myself looking for a bar. I found the Reggae Club on Petaling Street and saw this fellow sitting by himself. So I walked up and started talking to him. He's from Melbourne and his name is Alex. Alex is most definately a cool guy and is just coming home from his second 3 month tour of India, backpacking. If you're looking for decent conversation, talk to someone who has backpacked around India. Now me and Alex are good friends.
That night we went to a place called the Beach Club and I ended up getting superbly drunk and buying everyone drinks. It was a good place and I'm sure it was a lot of fun, but most of what happened that night I found out from what Alex told me the next day. I wandered out on the streets in the afternoon looking for food and there he was sitting at a food stall. If you look carefully, you can see that one of us is much more hungover than the other.

That day (yesterday) I decided to go out on a little daytrip into central KL. These are the KLCC towers, huge buildings that sit in the middle of KL and just sit there being huge. They don't do much apart from that. I went inside and saw a shopping mall too. That was similarly enormous. But in the end it was nothing more than a giant shopping mall so I didn't take any photos.

So I went back to Chinatown and had a poke around. This is a pet store near my hotel and in the water there you can see turtles eating cabbage. The water was a bit dirty but I guessed the turtles were happy because they were smiling. There were also hamsters and scorpions for sale.

Food in KL is incredibly varied and ranges from being somewhat questionable to very delicious. More often than not, it's really good. Alex and I ended up eating every few hours at somewhere different. Here he is standing in front of a duck stall. Alex eats a roast duck by itself with no rice, because apparently in India he ate so much nutritionless food that he now has an insatiable craving for meat. He's happy now because he just ate.

These are the Chinatown market stalls at night. Bargaining with stall owners is an essential part of the shopping culture. If your English is good, expect the price to be inflated by about triple. I usually manage to get the price to about half of that, but judging by the smiles on the shopkeepers faces after every purchase, I think it's an artform I have yet to master.

You can see the lady in the photo holding a walkie-talkie. A lot of the owners have these. Alex told me that there's a kind of syndicate of boys that patrol the market streets and they lookout for cops. When the cops come out for a patrol, the shopkeepers who subscribe to this network are warned through their walkie-talkies and they scramble to hide their imitation merchandise. The stuff they hide depends on what's happening with the unseen forces of market politics. Say if Nike wanted to crackdown on imitations, the company would pressure the associated politicians, and for a time thereafter it would be imitation Nike merchandise that the police would be searching for. Then after a month or so, it would turn into something like Gucci and everyone would start hiding their Gucci, and Nike stuff would be fine again. It's a bizarre and curious situation, but sure enough I later witnessed a mad walkie-talkie scramble and shortly after, a patrol of six well dressed policemen came wandering through, scanning the wares of the shops. No one got into trouble. What were they looking for that night? Pirated DVDs apparently. A whole bunch of storekeepers stuffed all their DVDs into boxes and other guys ferretted them off into buildings at lightning speed. I couldn't help laughing at the innocent smiles on the shopkeepers faces as the police passed by, but I'm sure the cops are well aware of what's going on.

This is another part of KL near Times Square that I was at last night. It's much cleaner here but there are less people. I still managed to see two rats run from a gutter and into an open restaurant though. No one in the restaurant even flinched.

This is the restaurant we ate at last night. Alex is leaving to Pangkor today and I'm off to Seoul, so we decided to eat somewhere fancy because it was our last night in KL. We had a huge dinner in the end and it only cost us about AUD$50. On the table I'm having oxtail soup, while Alex is having crabmeat soup. In the middle is a dish of Escargots (snails) cooked with garlic. I hadn't tried them before but they were interesting. Kind of like oysters but with less flavour. One was enough for me. I won't be ordering them again in a hurry.

Well that's it for my KL entry! Malaysia is a truly fascinating place and I will most definately be coming back someday. Next entry I'll be blogging from Seoul and I'm really pumped, even though I've had only a few hours sleep. It must be something in the water.