Monday, November 09, 2009

Tokyo here we are

Tokyo tower from our hotel room window

We have 2 hours between flights on the way home from Japan. Now in Seoul Airport. I thought I had better update the blog before we arrive back in Australia tomorrow.
90 mins it took to drive by bus from the Airport into Tokyo City. We realised what a huge place it was. The road network looked so complex even though they were driving on the left hand side of the road. The expressway is about 8-10 stories high sometimes it was 4 or so levels of intertwining roads. Glad he was driving not us. Our first impression was of nothing that showed we were in Japan. It was all buildings and more skyscrapers than we had ever seen. We passed over many canals and over a lot of bridges. It strikes us that it is so pristine and clean. Can't see any people though..where are they all? We find out later where they all are. Our plug to convert the power was the incorrect one so just on dark we set out to find one. What we didn't know was they were sending us to Electric City..the one you see in the books and on TV. We actually managed to find our way around the VERY complicated metro system. As we got on the train we found out where all the people are. Thousands and thousands of business men and women ..mostly men with their laptops, mobile phones and suits live in the underground. A lot of them live 90 mins by train and commute 6-7 days a week. They work long hours as each time we caught the train even quite late at night the stations are still packed..extraordinary. To get on the train you basically backed in and stood cheek to cheek or back to back with total strangers. I don't think they would have a chance to stop H1N1 from spreading even though a lot of people were wearing face masks. It was exhilarating to say the least to get to our station and home again without getting lost once. In the subway it is like watching ants moving around an ant nest, everyone going in all directions with occasional people stopping to talk, all this without bumping into each other and all going about their own business. More about the subways later. Don't attempt it unless one or both of you can think laterally. The minute we stepped on to the platform we realised what a crazy place Tokyo is. It is definitely alive and kicking. So exciting. Electric City is floors and floors of electrical and electronic equipment of all the brands you could imagine in dozens of buidlings all out yelling each other with their specials lights flashing neon blinking everwhere. It was gob smackingly awesome . We actually found the plug as well.
Our accomodation was right next to Tokyo Tower so upon returning we went up to see the enormity of Tokyo and were not disappointed. Our Japanese is nearly non existent so ordering food is fun. Twice we have ordered from the pictures on the English menu and twice we got what we think was liver and tripe. Never mind the experience of eating at little hole in the wall places is fantastic. Their local beer is great also. Moving from our accom next day was very easy thanks to Kosei as he gave us great directions. It was great idea to move because Tokyo is so huge that each area is very different.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Final Goodbyes to South Korea and to friends

We really loved our stay in Andong but decided to leave a day early to catch up with the newly weds Yonghee and Kosei. The autumn colurs even more vivid now from the train window.Yonghee called us and offered her families home for the night.They live in a beautiful apartment fairly new and in an area very close to the city centre. We enjoyed our first Korean BBQ with them in a tent on the street. As you enter the tent inside are lots of tables . Each has a charcoal heated centre with a sparkling clean grill on top. The tables are full of business men in suits , very noisy and bustly. Fantastic atmosphere. The meat is cut into small portions and placed on the round grillplate to cook very quickly. We are supplied with a variety of sauces , vegetables and salad items such as lettuce and of course seaweed wrappers. As the food is cooked you wrap the meat in the lettuce along with the other items and eat . So yum. We also tried our first Korean spirits we liked that as well. It is an experience one would not want to miss if visiting Korea.Just remember to look inside those red tents.Every meal we have we are learning to eat new foods and of course how to eat them. Thanks to friends like Yonghee and kosei.It was so cold that night it was minus 1 so to warm us up we decided to brave the night and visit the Seoul Tower at 10 pm.It was freezing but so worth it as it was very clear. The walk down the mountain all the way to their home was fantastic especially after all that food.
The next day was a treat also experiencing shopping in Lotte dept store, eating great food in the basement my last Bibimbap and last meal with our hosts and experiencing the Fountain Bridge which has the Guiness Book Of Record for the longest fountain from a bridge.With regrets we leave them though knowing we will see them again in July next year when they come back To Adelaide to study.We also wish them well in their new venture importing , selling and promoting 'soap nuts' for bettering the environment.
At night we had our final meal in Korea with Hwang, Joanne , John and Dana..Shon's cousins at a very different Korean BBQ where we had our first meal on floor mats knee held up thank goodness. We were hosted in their home also. They live in an apartment on the 14th floor so it was fantastic to see how they live as a family.We experienced the Korean Wii as well so it was a fun night with the kids.What a wonderful family they are . Thankyou to them for looking after us so well in Korea and giving up their time and taking vacation time.We really appreciate it.Thankyou to Hwang for taking us to the airport vey early as well.
Anyone comtemplating travelling to an Asian destination may I suggest you look in to Korea. It is easy to travel, is inexpensive, safe and is a very peaceful country.We loved it and the food was such a surprise.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Andong and its culture

A short 2 hour hop by train to Andong was divine . The autumn colours were well and truly turned now with some of the most photographic scenery. We hopped on the local bus as soon as we arrived to go out to Hahoe Village. Once a week they have the masked dance and comedic opera at 3 pm.We hoped we would make it but found out on arrival that it started at 2pm. Never mind that we travelled half way around the world to see it..only joking.To our surprise it was still going so we saw a snippet of the show.Very colourful and very funny if the laughter emitting from the crowd was anything to go by. Of course it was in Korean but the actions speak louder than words. It was a dreamy warm Autumn day wandering around a living and working folk village.Their homes are situated around a very old tree in the centre of their village. Some of the buildings were thatched immaculately and were from mud brick construction.The others were roofed with the traditional pottery type roofing one would expect to see with curved edges.The flowers around the place were lovely as were the veggie gardens. We were able to peek into a few homes and how they lived as they had set aside a few for the tourists to see. It is a very popular place for Koreann tourists but they are very respectful. It was very quiet and serene. Very impressive place with an insight into what Korea was like in times long gone. No hooha either. Got to love this country. The 24km trip cost a total of $10.60 including admission. Korea is very inexpensive to travel , to eat, to sleep and to visit their important sites. Love it

Sadness and Tears

We left Pohang with so many emotions and our ' picnic' packed by Shon's mum. A picnic lunch is used for the times that we would pack sandwiches etc.Traditionally Koreans would pack gimbap for train journeys etc. Kim in JeJu island did the same for our car ride. Gimbap is similar to sushi but made with a nicer seaweed wrap. It has a thinner and tastier outer covering. It then has a layer of rice then a variety of pickled radishes meat or salmon or tuna and other vegetables. We also had some at the train station for breakfast. Shons mum had also packed chopsticks, 10 boiled eggs with a dish of salt and drinks and juice. We were set for a week if we were trapped and couldn't get off the train. It was a wonderful parting gesture and one we will remember always. We were all sad to wave goodbye. Instructions again to look after Shon in Adelaide. We loved meeting them all and thank them for all their love imparted to us.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Shon's family

A big black saloon with tinted windows pulled up out the front of our weird hostel and out stepped Shon's mother a vision of fashion, Shon's sister and her friend Seong-Hee. It was so exciting to meet his family at last. Shon's sister looks just like him.. much to her dismay and has the same happy disposition. His mother is very genteel and a snazzy dresser. Seong-Hee is a very down to earth woman who enjoys teaching and speaking English. They drove us up into the mountains to see a very famous Buddhist Temple and to see the changing autumn colours . It was the best day we had had as we learnt a lot about the culture ,the food and the habits of past and present Koreans. Poor Nick he was the only guy and the car was very noisy with 4 woman chatting and laughing at anything and everything. Shon's mum took us to many important sites that we would not have been able to access in one day. What a generous person she is. She paid for everything that day from entrance fees to lunch , dinner and even our accomodation in a very posh hotel. Of course Shon's name was bought up many times and was the butt of many jokes from his sister and us. His mum misses him terribly and constantly asked us about his well-being and his new life in Australia. She was happy to meet us as we were the first Aussies she has met so I am sure it was a huge culture shock to her. I really want to thank Seong-Hee for her invaluable English as we learnt a lot more about Korea from her. It was a fantastic experience today and Shon now has an Australian mother and father and a Korean mother. Watch out Shon!! We have been told to look out for you and make sure you are behaving.

Gyeon-gu of surprises

We had a very quick 2 hour train journey to Gyeon-gu with the autumn colurs starting to make their mark. We were so surprised to find this place so westernised. Not a small country town at all. It has a mixture of Korean , Japanese and Western restaurants and clothing. We found a fantastic little coffee shop that the owner opened after travelling to Australia. He served us coffee and proceeded to sit and sing folk songs that I think he thought we would like. He sang Rainbow Connection.That song was made famous by Kermit the Frog from the Muppets. Except he kept singing Lainbow Collection as he found it impossible to pronounce the R. Sorry you had to be there. We sat having our coffee opposite an historical burial site. The huge mound of grassed dirt once held the remains of a Silla King from the Three Kings era 262-284. Kings and queens were both buried this way along with all the goods and chattels that one would need in the after- life. The largest mound is 23 metres in height, 123m long and 80 ms wide.They have only excavated a few when the Japanese occupied Korea. The others can't easily be excavated as it would be noticeable due to the fact they are huge mounds of dirt and someone would notice if you dug a hole or removed the dirt. The town itself is in fact a huge cemetery... very easy to stroll around but remember where you are staying if you go out at night..say no more. It is so colourful here at night as it in all the towns and cities. Neon is the word. That night was the best display yet. Tomorrow we are going to meet Shon's mother and sister and her friend who is fluent in English.

Busan ferry

Again the ferry experience was totally unexpected from what has gone before in other Asian countries.This time we were on a large ferry with very smooth seas and set for 11 hours. The food served was fresh tasty and slops. We settled into our room , which slept 10 in bunks, quite early as there was absolutely nothing to do show girls. The only downside was the snoring but that was nearly negated by the hum of the ship. Up at 5.00am for a 6.00am departure. Now anyone travelling, knows rocking up to strange cities without a booking is always interesting. Well at 6.00am even more so. We wandered around the first district but it looked a bit seedy so hopped on to the subway with the throngs of office workers.We certainly looked odd with our back packs, dishevelled and hungry. We decided to go to a place called Hyundae then it was around 7.30am and of course too early to find accomodation so we camped out on a wall and ate some cereal we had managed to buy the day before. What a sight this time for the joggers, walkers and again the men in suits. One great thing about travelling at the end of a season is that the hotel rooms are about the same price as a hostel so we decided to treat ourselves to a "posh" hotel for $30 a double. Which considering we could see the beach in the most expensive area of Busan was a bargain. Next we decided to find Kevin Rudd our prime minister. he was in Busan for the APEC conference. We looked high and low for luck.The Fish market was spectacular to say the least but no Therese(his wife) doing the shopping for dinner. I think we have never seen so many fish in markets as we have seen in Korea. They can't possibly eat it all. They eat anything from the sea so we saw interesting creatures for sale all alive and kicking in huge aquariums. Nick must have have taken 50 photos of fish etc in tanks. It is a nice place but we were keen to get out to the country areas and meet Shon's (cser) family. So next day to Gyeon-gu.

Trains..the way to go

We travelled around Korea by train and found them so clean and that I mean compared to the craziness of Vietnam and China. There aren't any hawkers on the train or on the station all yelling at once selling the same things trying to make a living.There are not the chickens etc that get transported regularly as well.No grafitti on the train or anywhere in Adelaide and even in our small home town. The country towns of Korea have a lot of 5 to 15 story apartment blocks which actually is not a bad thing .They have so many people that if they built homes on blocks like ours they would not have any farming land left. The scenery passes by while we relax in the comfort as people come and go about their daily lives. It is also the best way to see what they grow and how they farm.Of course their staple crop is rice and it is harvest time and the paddies are golden much like our wheat crops. No bullocks here.. a machinery is used for harvesting.The staff on the trains and at the stations are so considerate to travellers not speaking Korean. When the train conductors walk through the carriages at intervals they always turn around and bow as they leave the the toilets were immaculate.