Cambodia

10 Feb


Cambodia is one of those places that every traveller has to go to before they die. It’s a mystical magical place that can rub shoulders with the ancient wonders of Egypt.  Unfortunately the 1000 year old temples are the only remarkable thing about Cambodia.

The major temples of Angkor are all located near the town of Siem Reap.  If not for the temples Seam reap would just be another Cambodian village.    Siem Reap is the rest stop for all tourists exploring the temples, and unfortunately that’s all you experience.  Just thousands of tourists, from backpackers to package tourists, roaming the streets.  There is no real feel of Cambodia or Cambodian culture.  everything feels a bit fabricated.

Even with some of the most spectacular sites in the world, Cambodia is a very poor country and poverty lurks around every corner.    Coming from a country where poverty is a daily issue, I have become somewhat immune to it.  I know this sounds very selfish and arrogant but if you are faced with something everyday you tend to get used to it.  But this year in Korea took my away from the reality of seeing beggars on the street and people living in shanty towns.  Seeing people suffering after such a long time really broke my heart.  Little kids begging for food and people missing limbs going around with a sign asking for some help was just horrible.  It’s horrible that people have to live like that.  We gave what we could.  As with any poor country in Asia, I guess, a tourist is a walking talking shiny dollar sign and that is exactly how we were treated.  Apart from the staff at our hotel I found general Cambodians to be very rude.   They would stick a smile on their faces when they are trying to sell you something or convince you that you need to take a ride in their tuk-tuk.  But after the sixth”no thank you” that smile quickly goes away and is replaced with a look of disgust.  When they shouting out prices of things in the market they sound like whiney 3 year olds.  All of them.  The sounds of ‘one dollah’ coming at you from all directions was a little unnerving.  So I came to the conclusion that Seam Reap is just a stopover, a resting place, somewhere to recuperate and regain your strength for the next day’s tomb raiding.

Also it’s important never to be in a place for longer that is required.  It is possible to take most of the important sights in Siem Reap in 3 days.  We had a total of 5 days and it felt a little long.  But nonetheless I had a great time and it was magical to walk and climb inside the temples.  There is just something about walking in a 1000 year old structure that is difficult to put into words.  It’s just amazing.

I happened to have my birthday in Cambodia and although it’s very exotic and everything I missed celebrating my birthday with my friends.  But that doesn’t mean that my birthday wasn’t awesome.  I was treated to a helicopter ride/flight (I don’t know which one) around the magical Angkor Wat.  It was truly magical and something I will cherish for the rest of my life!

Cambodia was great and right up there with the awesomeness I experienced in Egypt!

Malaysia – Easy going, laid back Asian wonderland.

9 Feb

 

Malyasia was probably the last place I thought I would be going this year.  But as I started looking into places to go for my Winter break Malaysia kept creeping up!  Adding that the flight tickets there were also the cheapest of all South east Asian destinations, it really was a no brainer.  Malaysia is tropical, located very close to the equator, just what I needed to escape the freezing Korean winter.  I really did not know what to expect from Malaysia and in a way I think that is what made the place so amazing!

Arriving in KL we were greeted with humidity.  It was easy enough to get a bus into the city from where we took a taxi to China town.  We hadn’t made any hotel reservations for Malaysia.  Once we got to China town we looked at about two or three different cheap hotels before settling on one decent enough.  We wasted no time and went about exploring the city.  We took the hop on hop off bus as this would take us to the city’s main sites.  KL was amazing and everywhere I went I was amazed by how green and lush the vegetation was in the city.  There were many mosques and older buildings that transpired you to a time of sultans and flying carpets.  Everywhere we went there were these traditional Indian eateries were the locals ate.  It was easy enough to decipher the malay menu and indulge in the Indian goodness.  If nothing else Malaysia is definitely a food destination.  I fell in love with Kuala Lumpur, the scenery, the people, the vibe, the trees – just everything!  One thing that I immedietly noticed was the friendliness of the people.  Everywhere we went people wanted to talk to us and smiled at us.  It was strange experiencing this, especially coming from Korea where this is not common practice.  But what made Malaysia even more memorable was the fact that these people were genuine.  In many South East Asian countries (or poorer countries) people usually are very friendly but it’s with an agenda.  They want your money, to them you are just a big walking dollar sign.  But in Malaysia we never got that impression.  The people were genuinely friendly, they didn’t want to sell us anything or take us on a tuk-tuk, nothing.  It was great.

 

 

Kuala Lumpur’s multi-cultural population adds to the splendor of the city.  The mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian groups makes Malaysia a melting pot of Asia.  From the architecture to the food these influences are visible everywerhe you go.  Kuala Lumpur is definitely among my top 10 World cities!

 

From Kuala Lumpur we set out to the UNESCO world heritage city Malacca about two hours south of the capital.  Malacca is great with Dutch and Portuguese architecture and a very small but vibrant China town.  The main sights of Malacca are all concentrated in the town square area so it wasn’t too hard to see everything in one day.  So that same evening we returned to the bus station to catch a 7 hour bus ride to Lumut, north of Kuala Lumpur.

 

We arrived in Lumut freezing at 4am.  The AC on the bus was set at the minimum temperature and we soon realized that all forms of public transport were freezing!  It seemed like we were the only people awake in Lumut and just sat on a little bench to wait for the ferry at 7am.  I venutered a little donw the street and spotted a little restaurant/shop down the street.  We had a cup of the most fowl tasting coffee at this little place until it was time to board the ferry for Pangkor Island.  The lonely planet described Pangkor Island as the girl next door of islands and it truly is.  Very queiet with limited cars on the island we had a blast.  We spent our three days chilling on the beach.  We even had a small island all to ourselves for a full day!  It was great!  One of the days we rented a scooter and explored the island on our own.  It was really hard for us to leave Pangkor Island but we knew we wanted to more of Malaysia.  So back on the mainland we took a bus to Butterworth where we would catch the ferry for Penang Island.  Georgetown is described as the mecca of backpacker destinations.  We arrived on Penang on the day of the Hindu festival Thaipusam, so finding a place to sleep proved to more difficult than anywhere in Malaysia.  After seeing some of the most horrible places I’ve ever seen (literally beds separated by office dividers) we found something suitable and affordable.  We wanted to take the Ferry to Langkawi the following morning but could only get seats for the day after so we had an extra day on Penang.  Penang truly is the food Island as I had some of the most delicious Indian food here.  Restaurants and local eateries are everywhere.  Gerogetown is also a UNESCO world heritage city and everywhere you go you are surrounded by history.  Georgetown is really pretty and it has a certain charm to it that I don’t think you can experience anywhere else.  Our time in Penang quickly ran out so it was time to head to Langkawi by ferry.

 

Langkawi is a collection of 99 islands and it is truly beautiful.  I was really hesitant to visit Langkawi because from everything I read about it on the Internet it sounded like a Malaysian Phuket.  But due to the Monsoon season on the east coast we we had no choice but to visit Langkawi.  And contrary to what I’ve read Langkawi was nothing like Phuket.  It still felt like Malaysia and not just a cluster of tourists.  Among the Europeans and other backpackers there were many locals as well.  We spent another three days on Langkawi and once again just relaxed.  One of the days we took an excursion to Palau Island where we snorkeled and saw some of the most beautiful tropical fish.  We also swam with black tip reef sharks and it was an amazing experience.  We ended our Malaysian trip in style by taking a sunset dinner cruise on a yacht.  After our yacht trip we went to the airport for our flight back to Kuala Lumpur. We got into KL at midnight and our flight to Cambodia was at 6AM so we decided to just sleep at the airport!

 

Malaysia is one of my favourite countries and definitely in my top 5.  It’s an ideal holiday destination where you still get a feel of the people and not just feel like a tourist among thousands of other tourists like Thailand.  The people are some of the friendliest and warmest people I have ever come across and the culture is amazing.  The food is so great that being back in Korea is so hard because nothing can compare to it!

 

Malaysia, what a wonderful place!  I will definitely go back one day!

 

Progressive Pohang – my Korean niche

10 Jan

I will kick of 2011 with a post on my weekend trip to Pohang.

It’s a new year, and even though the 2010 gave way to 2011 without a real break these past three weeks have been great.  Christmas was wonderful and new years weekend was just as enjoyable.  We ventured down to busan to count in the new year, and even though we literally froze our butts off it was a great party.  It was my first trip outside of Daegu since September and I needed a scenery change really bad.  We had an amazing time.  Being a large city we spent a lot of time on the subways navigating our way underground between the places we wanted to go.  It was all a bit exhausting.  So since our time here in Kimchiland is running out faster than you can say Kimchi we decided to make another weekend trip to the coastal city of Pohang.  Why go to Pohang? Well, to get away from it all.

Pohang is a small city on the east coast of Korea, famous for crab and POSCO, the second largest steel manufacturer in the world.  There’s not much to see or do in Pohang but that was not the objective of the weekend.  We wanted to go somewhere where we could just relax.  Pohang rose to the challenge!  Driving into Pohang we noticed a lot of snow.  Much more than had fallen in Daegu a few days earlier.  A day or two before we arrived Pohang experienced two days of snowfall which accumulated around 15 inches of the white stuff.  That’s the most snow I’ve seen in any urban area ever!  We quickly found our way downtown and booked into a nice centrally located motel.  We ventured into the streets of Pohang and immediately noticed that somethings different.  We could immediately feel that we were not in Daegu anymore.  Although the scenery in Korea hardly changes from place to place there was just something we could not pin down.  The people.  Even though Pohang is a small city with a very small foreigner community, we weren’t faced with uncomfortable glares and deer-headlight looks from the Koreans.  It is as if they didn’t even notice us.  My dear friend Diane immediately called it out and said it is as if the people in Pohang are a lot more progressive than their counterparts in Daegu.  How is this even possible.  Daegu is the third largest city in this bustling country and even claims to be the fashion capital of Korea.  Daegu is a very conservative city and I have come to the conclusion that many of the Daegunites cling on to an ‘old Korea’.  Like the pan-Africanists would say Korea for the Koreans!  I realize that it is completely different to live in a city as opposed to just visiting it, especially just for a weekend, but this weekend away made me experience a sence of liberation that I have not yet felt in Korea.  The people are super friendly and kind.  They help us without scurrying away when they notice the Waygooks.  The amount of english speaking Koreans was astounding, especially considering the size of Pohang compared to Daegu.  All in all it was wonderful.

The friendly vibe and the 15 inches of snow made for a awesome weekend.  We walked on a beach with snow.  Truly a rare sight and one I will not forget very soon!  Even though my Korea clock is ticking super fast now there is still so much I want to see and experience.  Pohang was a great and fresh way to start of this new year and a great memory to add to my Korea chapter.

 

That’s all for now, cheers from Kimchiland!

2010 – My year in review!

31 Dec

Wow, it’s the last day of the year.  It is now exactly 3:01 PM (Korean time) and I am still at work.  Even though there are no kids am I expected to sit here and deskwarm!  not the ideal place to be on New Years Eve but what can you do.  It’s crazy to think that another year has passed, so quickly, as if time is on fast forward or something.  But this is not only just the end of a year but also the end of a decade.  The first decade of the new millennium.  2010.  What a symbol those four number have been!  How much they represented.  How many stories can they tell.  2010 was all in all a great year.  I started my first real full time job (in another country).  I am glad that I only have two months left at this job because to be honest I really dislike teaching.  That could a new years resolution – find a job that you enjoy!

This year started off great.  I counted in 2010 on a Namibian beach with a bottle of bubbly in my hands!  Then shortly after that I ventured up to Mozambique and had a great time there.  I wrote my final honors exams and passed (phew) and thus go my honors degree in Information Science.    The next adventure was the much anticipated journey to Kimchiland.  It was a shock!  A big one!  It took me a while to adjust to life here in Kimchiland and to be honest i don’t think i will ever be able to fully adjust.  My Korean chapter started off with a horror story.  The first 4 months I just wanted to pack up and go.  But that’s Korea for you, so much of your experience here is out of your controll.  Your school, co teacher, apartment, area, all of that plays a big p[art in how you will experience this country.  Even though I got screwed over with most of the above mentioned, I still managed to have a great time.  In the end the possitive over shadows the negative.  I made some amazing new friends from all around the globe.  I learned so many things about myself and how to cope with certain things.

I also got the opportunity to travel to Thailand and China which was great.  I have experienced the hottest, most huid, most uncomfortable summer of my entire life.  I saw snow and plenty of it!  this is great.  But this is also the coldest place I have ever lived.  I can not believe that place can have such extreme climates.   This was also the first time in my life that I lived in a place that is under constant threat of attack.  Where military and evacuation drills are part of daily life. This is all a bit strange.  I learned that you do not have to speak a language to survive in another country.  It’s amazing how much you can accomplish without the language, but is the same breath it’s amazing how much frustration the language barrier brings.

2010 Was a good year that I will cherish forever.  It was my Korea year and I will think back on this year with great memories.  It’s imposible to name good thing I experienced this year, but I know that I have grown as a person and I have learned so much about myself and what I am capable of!

Good bey 2010!  Cheers from Kimchiland, see you guys next year!

A Kimchi Christmas!

31 Dec

It’s supposed to be the best day of the year.  A day where friends and family get together and have a great time together.  As an expat, I dreaded this day.  I love Christmas and celebrate it with more enthusiasm than some of Santa’s elves.  But being far away from home and not able to enjoy this festive time with my family placed a great damper on my mood.  There was only one way out of this sticky situation and that was to embrace the festive season like never before.  Even though most asian countries don’t celebrate Christmas, Korea has more than enough Christians to make this day a public holiday.  The consumerist train didn’t waste anytime as Christmas means only one thing in Korea and that is money.  And money I did spend!

Daegu was decorated beautifully this holiday season and it was so festive to be in this Christmas surroundings.  Almost all the stores all over the city had Christmas trees and played Christmas music and had Christmas special offers.  People bought Christmas decorations and everywhere you went Christmas was in the air.  that was truly great.  Even though I sometimes had to remind myself that it is almost Christmas due to the weather.  I am not used to a cold Christmas.  This was the first time in my life that I experienced a winter Christmas and even though it is nice and cozy I prefer the summer version!

Even though Koreans celebrate Christmas it is done very differently that what I am used to.  If you are christian you will go to church on Christmas morning.  Christmas is mostly celebrated on a commercial level as a romantic holiday here in Korea, a sort of second  (or third) valentines day if u will.  Couples go out and get something good to eat and then exchange gifts.  Kind of misses the point, but who’s judging.  Christmas to us is a day of family, of thanksgiving and a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Even though the Christmas experience was different here, Korea was still very festive during this Christmas season and I think December was my favourite month here in Kimchiland!  It was great.  It was a little bit annoying to work on Christmas eve but that did not spoil my fun.  After work Nicola and I went downtown and took in the Christmas spirit.  People were very festive and it was great.  We had a delicious dinner and went all out!  After dinner we walked around and took some more pictures.  We went home eventually because it was freezing.  At home we finally opened up our gifts and had some delicious Dunkin Donuts Christmas cake.  It was great!  On Christmas day we had a fabulous dinner with our closest friends here in Daegu and as per Christmas tradition, completely overindulged!

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All in all my Korean Christmas was great, not ideal, but great!

Still . . . ?

22 Dec

 

Apparently I am amusing.  I really do not try to be funny, but yet you can not help but to laugh at me.  I would love to take this as a compliment, something to be known for, ah he’s the funny guy, oh he always makes us laugh.  You see the thing is I want to laugh with you, and not just you at me.   One of my colleagues, who sits across from me in the office, greets me every morning with some laughter.  I still don’t understand it.  This particular colleague is also very noisy, in that he talks to himself, cleans his teeth permanently with his spit (loudly), he breathes like a rhino and coughs and sneezes without covering his mouth.  I am forced to sit with my earphones on when I am in the office because if I have to listen to his sounds all day long I will lose my mind!  Don’t get me wrong, I do not despise his, in fact I am very fond of hims as he has shown real interest in me.  We have gone for coffee a few times and although his English is more limited than most he makes an effort.  And I appreciate it!  But the sounds, it’s just too much for to handle.  And the laughter.  Everyday when I take my sandwich out from my bag, he get’s a laughing fit.  EVERYDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Yes I can understand that it must seem weird for him that someone can eat a sandwich everyday, but not so much where I come from.  He will look at me and then the sandwich and the burst out in laughter, followed by “sanduhwichee”.  this is very strange behaviour.  I have gotten used to this and accept it as part of my daily routine, but it boggles my mind.  The laughter isn’t limited to only my lunch.  Nope my face is also very funny.  I have a funny face.  Yes I am bery punny! Now that it is winter and mostly below 0 in the mornings when I have to walk to school ma face is usually red and my clothing might suggest that I am an arctic explorer.  I do what I have to prevent frostbite.  Anyway as soon as I open the office door and I approach my desk I hear it.  The laughter.  the “ha ha ha”  .  I understand my face is red and that I have like 6 layers of clothing on but if you have seen me like this for 67 times it’s not funny anymore.  the same in the summer, when I got to school in the mornings I was panting, sweating like a pig and waving my trusty fan all over the place.  No that image might provoke some laughter, but still, after the 100th time.  I am very funny.  My being solely exist to amuse my dear colleague.  Please stop laughing, it’s just not that funny!

 

Time to go . . .

20 Dec

It’s time to go.  The year is getting too long and my nerves are on end!  I know there is a first time for everything but I have never had to work during the holiday season.  It sucks!  For the first time in my life I am experiencing Christmas as a winter holiday and although Korea is very festive it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.  Yes there are Christmas trees everywhere, and Christmas carols in every store, decorations and lights and santa hats – but it’s just not the same.  Up until this weekend I was very ‘festive’ and excited about Christmas.  I love Christmas and go absolutely nuts each Christmas time.  But with only one week to go I am starting to get a little homesick.  Usually this time of year I would be lounging around the swimming pool or going to the beach with my friends and family.  And it’s been all good up until now.  Now I just want to go home.  I’m ready!  I guess it’s just the end of year blues.   Mark my words, this will be the last Christmas that I’m not home.