Thursday, January 5, 2012


Chain emails are annoying, aren't they? Stupid long lists that take ages to fill out, always the same damn questions asking whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla. You know it's only people who have nothing to do at work that fill them out and send them on, expecting you to do the same as if you have nothing better to do with your time!

As it happens, I have time to kill and I know many of you do too (desk warmers)! I found this rather more interesting chain thing on, and thought it was a fun idea, especially for those of us who like to travel. Here's my travel A to Z, so if you feel like doing it on your blog too, send me the link!

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

12 – My parents took my brother and me to the USA for three weeks, and to Germany for a week. We took part in the World Championships of the martial arts we did at the time, something very similar to Tae Kwon Do. He got a medal, I did not. We did go to Disneyland and Sea World in Florida though, which took away some of the sting of a seven-year-old besting me! We also went to New Hampshire, Maine, West Virginia and Boston. Germany was a bit too cultured for me at that age. I think I would have appreciated it more as an adult, or even an older teen.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

I like real ale, so when I lived in London I worked in a bar that specialised in ales. Every week we’d have different barrels from all over the UK, but the one stock beer on tap was called Palmer’s IPA. It was delicious, not too strong, hoppy and refreshing. I would kill for a nice pint of its goodness, but instead I drink swill called Hite/Cass/Max. On the lager front, I really liked Saigon (the green label, not the red export one) when The Lovely Gen and I went to Vietnam. It wasn’t so much the beer, which was lovely, but the circumstances, sipping an icy cold drink after a long, hot day, sitting on the sidewalk as people rushed by.

C: Cuisine (favourite):

Probably Italian, if you put a gun to my head. I love all kinds of pasta, a cheesy pizza is heaven and the meat dishes and stews are amazing. I would get very fat if I lived in Italy. I also like 'Mexican' food, but I've never had the real stuff so I'm going with what I know and putting it in inverted commas. I had an amazing chimichanga (in Cambodia of all places) that I can still taste if I concentrate hard enough at a place called Iviva.

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite and why:

Beautiful Roma. Magnifico!
This is a tricky one. Favourite would have to be Rome, which was amazing in every way and I would happily go back for a long stretch if I had a half-decent passport that allowed it! I also loved Oxford, Cork in Ireland and Cambodia. I love beautiful buildings, and Oxford has them in abundance, Cork is green, lush and friendly, and Cambodia is packed with history.

Least favourite: Well, of the places I’ve lived, probably Fort William in Scotland. The place itself is pretty, if a bit trashy, and it has Ben Nevis (highest mountain in the UK), but I hated it there. I had a crappy job working in a hotel restaurant, I didn’t like many of the people I worked with and it rained all the time.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

Great, a wall.
When I was 18 I went to England for the first time, on a school tour, and we happened to be in London at the same time as some big royal celebration. I stood on the side of the road by Buckingham Palace as the cars came past, and I saw Prince Phillip and the queen. I still have a photo of the Duke driving past. I’m not a big Royalist, it was just amazing to be so close to people so famous. Other highlights include standing on the Great Wall after a long hike to the top, crawling inside a pyramid at Giza and snorkeling at Snoopy Island in the UAE.

F: Favourite mode of transportation:

I loved the scooters in Ho Chi Minh City, they were thrilling and terrifying all at once, and I thought I was going to die quite often. I also quite like walking when travelling, taking it a bit slower and seeing some things people might miss when they zoom past. This might sound lame, but I really liked the gondola ride in Venice. It was tacky and cheesy, but so relaxing and seemingly luxurious to a kid like me.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling:

The obvious answer is having the freedom to do as you please, which is very true if you’re on the go for a long time. Sometimes though, freedom is not really there if you’re sticking to a plan, have things you really want to see, or are only in a place for two weeks. So, I like being able to see places I’ve read about or seen on TV, stumble upon things I didn’t plan on finding, and learning about a place’s history from the people who live there. I generally prefer more culture-oriented holidays, as opposed to ‘doing nothing’ trips.

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to:

I’ve been to the UAE twice, which is the desert. It’s very hot there. But never have I been as hot as in Daegu, Korea. The humidity reaching into the 90’s, sky-high temperatures and lack of air conditioning in some places nearly killed me. I am very glad I won’t have to endure a Daegu summer again.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:

Nothing jumps to mind, so I’ll say Korea has an incredible service culture, better than any other place I’ve lived. Restaurants and bars have a smart button-on-table system, so it’s easy to find a waiter, they don’t hover, and they’re really eager to please. Also, you often get free bar snacks, and if you spend long enough in a place they’ll give you proper food for free! I’ve never had a problem with service in Korea, people are very helpful in my opinion. I also like walking into a store and having the entire staff say hi, and then bye when I leave. In South Africa you’re lucky to get a smile.

J: Journey that took the longest:

Getting to Daegu from Cape Town is a bit of a pain in the ass, and can take up to 30 hours. Cape Town to Johannesburg, Joburg to Dubai/Hong Kong, Dubai to Seoul, bus from Seoul to Daegu, taxi from Daegu to my apartment. Eish, terrible.

Otherwise, the bus(es) from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia took over 12 hours. It was not a fun day!

K: Keepsake from your travels:

I like touristy t-shirts, and buy them wherever I go. I have one for nearly every place I’ve been overseas. I also like sports jerseys, and have soccer and baseball shirts from all over. Otherwise, I like tacky fridge magnets.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:

Necessary but ugly conservation work at Angkor Wat
This is going to sound like sacrilege, but I was quite disappointed with Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I loved it, but not as much as I thought I would. It was super busy, the sunrise was rubbish and there was scaffolding all over. It was tough to get the famous long shot without green mesh in the way. I preferred other temples like Bayon and Ta Prohm.

Similarly, I didn’t love the Acropolis in Athens as it was also covered in scaffolding. I know why it’s important, it’s just a bit sad when you travel all that way to see it. The Sistine Chapel was also a bit of a blur, because it was packed like a sardine can, and they herded you through like cattle. Do not go to Rome/Vatican City in tourist season!

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

Experiencing Italy with my friend Ryan when I was 18 was a wonderful thing.. We got lost in Venice for three hours and ended up finding a tiny gelato shop in a small alleyway, and pooled our meager funds to share a chocolate cone. We wandered around Rome for hours, stopping off to have a sneaky vodka and orange juice in two different bars. It started raining so we had to dash into a church, and there was an original Michelangelo sculpture right there in the open. I will always associate Italy with him, and it made me love the adventure of new places.

Sheraton Dubai Creek.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:The Sheraton Dubai Creek was gorgeous, and my mom paid so I could enjoy it without worry! Also great was the Sofitel at the foot of the pyramids in Cairo. You could see the pyramids from the pool, and I remember the breakfast buffet being really fancy (to me at the time, anyway).

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?

As mentioned before, I love architecture. I take tons of pictures of buildings, streets, bridges and monuments. I also love taking photos of rivers, I have no idea why. My mother always complains that there are never enough photos featuring actual people in my albums. TLG loves taking pictures of food. I don’t think we’ve had a meal on a trip that has not been documented.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

In my current passport I have a bunch of stamps (22), from South Africa, Korea, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and the UAE. In two weeks Thailand will be added.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

One of the less NSFW interactive sculptures...
The sex museum in Gyeongju has got to take the cake. It’s one of the more hilariously bizarre places you’ll visit, and is oddly enough not the only one of its kind in Korea. It’s worth the trip though, for the giant, multi-coloured penises, sex shop, artwork and ejaculating man in a box (he's not real, and he shoots a jet of water out of his giant member). Let’s not forget the various life-size statues of people/dogs in all sorts of positions. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely memorable as long as you don't over-think it. Oh, and you can watch porn while you have a beverage or snack.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, Cambodia are harrowing and important, and the memories stuck with me for a while. Just absorbing all the facts is difficult, especially when told to you by someone whose family was murdered. For sheer fascination value, I’d say going to the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam is also a must. Americans should gird their loins, as it’s VERY anti-USA, but once you get past that and look at how the tunnels were made and maintained, it’s a fairly astonishing experience.

S: Splurge - something you have no problem forking over money for while travelling:

Hotels/accommodation. I am not a backpacker/dorm room kind of person. I like an en suite bathroom and my own space. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and I won’t break the bank, but given the choice I’ll spend a bit more to get a decent place to sleep.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

Where do I start? I love touristy things! Disneyland, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Tea Party ship in Boston, a singing gondolier in Venice, the Louvre, Versailles, Tienanmen Square in Beijing, the Great Wall, going to the aquarium at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm in Dubai, having dinner at the foot of the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), etc. You name it, if I’ve been to that city/country, I’ve done it! And I'll probably have a t-shirt to prove it!

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng are probably my strongest recent travel memories, as well as watching TLG fight with a tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh. It was hilarious, and ended with both parties hurling the f-bomb at each other in the rain while a security guy held an umbrella over them.

V: Visas, how many and for where?

Currently I have 5, from Korea, UAE, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. In my old one I had a UK work visa, and a Schengen visa.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where?

I don’t really drink wine, so I couldn’t say. I couldn’t tell a great wine from an average one if you paid me.

X: eXcellent view and from where?

I love cityscapes, so many of my favourite views were from above cities. Paris from the Sacre Coeur cathedral, Rome from the top of the Spanish Steps, London from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, and this might be cheating but Cape Town's Table Mountain from Blouberg Strand or the Waterfront.

Y: Years spent travelling?

Since I finished university I’ve lived outside South Africa for a total of four years in Scotland, London, and Korea. So between ages 22 and 30, I’ve been at home for half that time.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?

Football fans in Scotland, and the UK in general, are a passionate bunch. In Scotland, Rangers and Celtic fans often reach the point of being ridiculous and irrational, and I was always fascinated and horrified by the Sectarian rivalry. The chef in the hotel I worked at was a crazy Rangers supporter, had the tattoo and the t-shirts, and he refused to hire anyone who supported Celtic. My favourite part of all this though was the signs in some UK bars that said people could not wear football/soccer shirts to the pub as it would cause fights. Imagine going to watch a rugby match at a bar and not wearing your jersey or your scarf!

Ok, it's your turn. What are your travel ABC's? If you don't do this and send it back to me, you'll have bad luck for seven years!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Let's be honest. Korea is, generally, not the prettiest place in winter. I think the word most people use to describe it is 'dull'. Everything is grey or brown, from the buildings to the roads to the fields. The only thing that sometimes saves the scenery is a dusting of powdery snow, which doesn't last for very long but does wonders for the soul if you're from a country that never really encounters the stuff.

Yesterday morning I made my way to school after a night of snowfall, and I managed to catch it before it melted. It was all gone by 4pm. The road to the bus stop was fraught with danger, a veritable ice rink upon which I nearly saw my bum without a mirror a few times. Things were covered in snow in Gyeongsan  for the first time this winter.

The view from our spare room, overlooking the rooftops of the elderly couple below, is lovely as long as you ignore the trash/wiring/kimchi pots in the yard. Amazing what a bit of zoom can do!

A lonely chair sits outside our apartment block, too ugly to be stolen. It's been there for months, and it's battered by the weather every day.

See what I said about not being pretty? This is a typical street, and I haven't edited it much in terms of colour, if you can believe it.

The ice rink. This isn't water... well, it is water, but it's ice. See how shiny? Super slippery! I must have looked ridiculous, marching along in my Merrell shoes, one high step at a time.

Anyone fancy a cold beer while sitting outside a convenience store? It's one of the more amusing customs here, and I'll miss walking past a Family Mart in the evenings and running into friends having a drink. Constructions workers can still be found here at 7am, drinking Soju after their night shifts.

Someone, not me, scribbled in the snow on someone's car. Ho Hyeon? A name?

A snowy scooter near the bus stop.

This poor woman is out in the cold every morning by the pedestrian crossing, selling her drinks and snacks.

The pathway up the school driveway, showing the kids who came before me. School continues as normal, despite it officially being vacation. Or as one of my boys said, "Teacher, it's fake vacation."

The school soccer field is always a depressing sight, as it's made of sand. Most schools have either a sand pitch, or an Astroturf field if they're rich. It's not surprising, given the lack of emphasis on school sports here, but it's so sad. Also, girls are never playing on it. They run up and down stairs for Phys Ed while the boys play football.

The tennis courts, covered in snow. Don't be fooled, they're not for the students. Only teachers are allowed to use them, and not just anyone either. Only the VP, and his cohorts from the middle school, apparently. Such a waste of space and resources. God forbid a kid should take an hour out of studying to hit a tennis ball!