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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Whale Shark Ahead!!!

Boat Dives

My 2nd day out on the boat. Glorious sunny weather, getting a nice tan but must be careful not to have it be a burn. Today I was diving with Dive Master Marc, he had a scuba tune up student. A tune up is when a diver has been away from diving for a certain amount of time and needs a refresher course.

Marc is one of those divers who must have been born in the water, ridiculously comfortable in it and will often just jump in before the boat has stopped moving. He is also a bit like a bear in the sense that lifting tanks that take all my strength are like a feather for him, 2 at a time no worries! However, I do have to be careful as I got hit in the head a couple of times by his fins…As far as our customer went, he did really well, except for a minor panic attack when his mask filled with water.

On our second dive I saw something that is considered one of, if not the, Holy Grail of diving, a whale shark. It was beautiful, magnificent and fabulous all at the same time. About 5m/16.4ft long. We had heard they were there after the first dive, so went looking for them on the second. We went out to one of the pinnacles where it had been and hung around looking at tons and tons of fish. Whale sharks eat plankton and the water was thick with it, perfect conditions. But no luck, so we turned around and headed back, just as the whale shark was heading towards us. Blew my mind, but our customer was low on air so we had to head to the surface… incredible, just incredible.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Devlin – fellow dive master

And He Shall Be Named: Alex Whaleshark

One of the recently certified dive masters on our boat couldn’t help himself and touched the whale shark. I was on the surface when a whole stream of divers heading back to their boat started yelling at him. Later in the video you can see the exact moment he touched it, as everyone started yelling underwater. He literally got shunned by the community. Here is the video: Don’t Touch The Whale Shark

There is a reason for this. One of the golden rules of diving is DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING! Take only pictures leave only bubbles… If every diver started touching and riding the whale sharks they may stop coming and on a more serious note, the oils in our hands could cause a skin infection when it comes in contact with them. However, I do understand why, the shark is so amazing that you almost can’t stop yourself wanting to touch it.

All in all a superb day of diving, despite getting a tad sunburnt and smacking my shin on the boat steps twice while trying to get out.

Dinner was at 2 Brothers Restaurant and their famous 2 brothers Pad Thai and snickers/coconut shake. Yummy and soo much. The pad thai had seafood in it, which I am not a huge fan of, but the rest was yummy.

Catch Up Day

Next day was a no work day, so spent it catching up with things. Diary, blog, tried to study my dive master books. Did some training on my bike, Lucy Liu, and Gem (Thai dive instructor and owner of the bike) got me a lower seat and gave me some tips. Seriously, my legs are so dang short.

Later that evening I went with Carol to Tong Sala, the main town, sitting behind her on her bike. We went to the scuba shop and I picked up a dry bag to carry my stuff on the boat.

Back at home it was an exciting afternoon of cleaning and packing away and sorting stuff to move to my new bungalow. Carol had introduced me to green curry ramen so had that for lunch and cornflakes for dinner.

Later I chatted with Ricardo’s girlfriend, Sara, she said it looked like Ricardo had dengue fever, also known as break bone fever, cause that’s what it feels like. I was leaning towards it being the infection from his bug bite on his toe that had hit the bloodstream, but either way he was very sick. Koh Phangan is a hot spot for Dengue and Chaloklum is the hot spot of the hot spot, so break out your mozzy (mosquito) repellent when you get here.

All is well, and enjoying the island so far.. unfortunately discovered the 2nd hand camera I bought for my underwater housing has issues and the screen is blank. What a bugger….

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Learning to Ride…

Practice Makes Perfect

Since my failed attempt to ride the motobike the day before I was very leery about trying again. But with my smaller, purple bike that comes with a basket and lots of encouragement from others I decided to give it a try.

I started by doing short bursts up and down the Lotus dirt driveway, it has a circular form so I could try go round it and then back. I did that a few times and then it was decided I had to try on a longer road. Marc, the divemaster from Belgium, took me on Lucy Liu (my purple bike), down the road to the temple, got off the bike, pointed into the distance and said “go!”. Ummmm, ok. I went up and down a couple of times and then we rode back.

Carol did the same for me later in the afternoon. The first time I looped back and headed to her the look on her face made me wonder if I would ever learn to ride. She looked downright terrified for my safety and everyone else’s. Oh Lordy…..

Ricardo, my instructor, came to the shop in the late afternoon after doing a visa run to Koh Samoi, a neighboring island, and wanted to see my progress. He made me go back and forth a number of times and by the end of it I could go in a straight line reasonably well and with at least some confidence. I still put my feet out and turn manually and stopping usually involves braking, putting my feet down on either side and waddling the bike to a stop. Practice, practice and more practice.

Cafe Del Mar

One of the local places here in Chaloklum is Cafe Del Mar, run by Hinch and Francis, a Dutch couple. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they have all you can eat, first come first serve, till it runs out meals for good prices. Marc and Linda from Belgium took me to my first visit there for roast pork, roast potatoes and coleslaw… We got there just in time to get the last few servings and it was some of the best food I had tasted for a while. It’s funny how you don’t even realise you crave western style comfort food when traveling in the east.

Cafe Del Mar is also located right on the beach so got to sit around and drink rum and pineapple juice while listening to the ocean. I could get used to this!

Sail Rock

The next day was my first dive to the famous Sail Rock, apparently the best dive site in the gulf of Thailand. 45mins from Chaloklum by boat, you reach an unassuming haystack type rock sticking out of the ocean, in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t seem overly big and rather unimpressive until you go below the water.

I can’t even list all the amazing creatures we saw, photos will help though and later I will add a video or two.

Me!

The Water Was Literally THICK With Fish

Me Looking At Bat Fish

Me Looking At…..

At This… Little Goby

One of the most nerve racking things we saw were Bull Sharks. In South Africa they are known as Zambezi Sharks and have a tendency to swim up rivers for many many miles and also have a tendency of tasting the locals. I grew up never going to swim as the mouth of a river, especially at dusk or dawn (usual feeding times), never swimming across a river near the mouth if there was another option to get across and here I was swimming with them. But apparently these are friendly Bull Sharks.

Bull Shark

Bull sharks had not been seen around these parts for over 7 years. But around 4mths ago a net, most likely dropped by a drunk fisherman, covered a large portion of the rock and trapped many fish. Divers from all around joined the effort to remove the net and save as many fish as they could. 2 days later 10 bull sharks were sighted. It’s believed the vibrations made by the dying fish attracted them…

Thai For Dinner

Back at the shop the rain was pissing on and off and so we couldn’t get any bike training in. For dinner I walked to a local place opposite the 7 11 store that Ricardo had recommended and ordered the chicken lemongrass salad. It was delicious! While I was sitting there I started to chat to a Swiss couple who were seated at the next table. Before I knew it I had booked them for diving the next day… and a nice little commission of 400baht (about $11 US) was coming my way. Might not seem like a lot but since dinner only cost 70baht, that would cover a number of meals in the future.

Home and sleep, utterly exhausted with another day on the boat in the morning!

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Diving Mae Haad!

Dinner Plans

My first night Ricardo had organised for everyone to go to a Thai BBQ, I was very excited and he assured me no worries. Unfortunately when the message came through that it was dinner time it also turned out that no one was around to give me a ride, so I would have to take a taxi. I figured no problem and low cost maybe a couple of dollars. After wandering around the little town for a while I finally found a taxi and he said 300baht ($10) to go there. I thought that was crazy and I was very confused about where this place was, I didn’t know the island and assumed it was close by, also it only cost 150baht to come from Tong Sala, the port town.. Ricardo had also sent a text which included the words “139baht Baan Tai BBQ”. At first glance I thought he was telling me how much the taxi would cost.

Feeling rather jetlagged, emotional and down right confused as I realized that I didn’t know where I was in relation to my bungalow. Finally I just decided to go for it as I didn’t have any other option. It turned out that Baan tai was past the port town and so more expensive, add to that being the only passenger and after 8pm…

But eventually, crying it out on the way there in the back of the taxi, which is really a pickup with an open canopy type thing, I made it. It was great to meet everyone and figure out this new thing of Thai BBQ. Must admit think I prefer the Korean one. Thai BBQ is sort of mix between Swiss Fondue and Korean BBQ. You go and collect all the food you want, from a variety of veggies and meat (most of which I didn’t recognize). Then you sit round a hot pot with a dome in the center. You add things to the hot pot part to boil it and make a soup, then BBQ things on the hot dome.

Unfortunately you are sharing the hot pot with other people, which also means the “soup” has a variety of tastes that might not be appreciated by all involved. The BBQ dome was small and so meat kept sliding into the “soup” and had to be fished out continuously. Ultimately, they had delicious coconut icecream made on site. Definitely an interesting experience.

One of the guys who was finishing up his divemaster was able to give me a ride home, saving me the taxi fare. Home and cold shower and sleep.

First Dive

The last time I had gone diving was in Borneo, the same time I met my instructor Ricardo. We decided to try a beach dive at a local area called Mae Haad (Mae Beach). We geared up and climbed aboard the dive truck.

On a beautiful sandy beach we got sorted and then headed in. I knew the water was going to be crazy warm, 28C/82F, so opted to dive in just my swimsuit. Sara, Ricardo’s girlfriend, joined us. She was working on her thesis with a local research group called CORE SEA, and was here for 3months or so.

The dive was fantastic with some amazing things to see, including my first ever seahorse. It took me a second to recognize the sign Ricardo was using but then figured the universal symbol for giddy up.

Giddy Up Partner


Courtesy of Instructor Ricardo

We also saw something straight out of the SciFi movies called a fireworm.
The bearded fireworm is a slow creature, and is not considered a threat to humans unless touched by a careless swimmer. The bristles, when flared, can penetrate human skin, injecting a powerful neurotoxin and producing intense irritation and a painful burning sensation around the area of contact. The sting can also lead to nausea and dizziness. This sensation lasts up to a few hours, but a painful tingling can continue to be felt around the area of contact. In a case of accidental contact, application and removal of adhesive tape will help remove the spines; applying alcohol to the area will also help alleviate the pain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Fireworm


Courtesy of Instructor Ricardo

The visibility was pretty decent, but then for the most part, if I can see my buddy I think the vis is good. Diving on the West coast of the States is not the best for vis.

Getting It All Over On The First Dive

Normally I am pretty good with dives even after a long break inbetween, but this dive had almost everything basic go wrong that could go wrong.
– My mask fogged constantly
– My mask leaked constantly (realized it’s the mask I use when diving with a hood in cold water and that seals any leaks)
– I became positively bouyant all of a sudden and started floating to the surface (Ricardo managed to ground me)
– At the surface my tank slipped out of my BCD
– As Ricardo was fixing my tank I got the mother of all cramps in my left calf muscle….

Other than that it was a fantastic dive!

Payments

Initially when planning this whole idea, Ricardo had hoped to sort out an internship, aka slave labor, to lower my costs. 2 Australians had just finished this when I was arriving. Unfortunately, due to unforseen issues during their intership, management had decided to nix the entire idea. Which meant I had to pay for the course. Luckily having my own gear meant the price was lowered a bit. Total cost was 32 000 baht/$1066. I think thats doable for 3 mths of training and diving. Just means less partying, which is fine with me.

My First Motorbike/Scooter Lesson

Once all equipment was cleaned and sorted and payment was out of the way, Ricardo attempted my first bike lesson. Gem, our Thai dive instructor, rented bikes and had brought one over for me. A brand spanking new one, that looked very impressive. I sat on it and barely scraped the ground with my toes. In fact it felt like I was trying to ride a clydesdale horse as the seat was so wide.

A Side Note for those of you who know me, you know that a bicycle is not my strong point. I know the basics, can go, it’s just the start stop and balance (all fairly important aspects) that I am not so good with. I had a bike as a kid and at 16 I was still convinced that my folks had given me a bike without brakes. Then my mom told me they were back pedal brakes, obviously I wasn’t very coordinated as a kid. So now add a motor and see what my nerves do.

Ricardo explained, front wheel brake (don’t touch it), back wheel brake and accelerator. It was an automatic so at least I didn’t have to think about gears. I started it up and went a little forward. Then a little forward again. I really didn’t like this feet not connecting with ground part.

Finally, Ricardo said “come on try a longer run”. I revved the accelerator and promptly crashed into the grass. I popped up as everyone started running towards me. “I’m ok, is the bike ok, tell me the brand spanking new bike is ok”… Well that just shot the nerves. It was unanimously decided I needed a smaller bike. “With a basket please”. This statement lent to much eye rolling and all the boys going “Girls! They don’t care what its like as long as its pink or has a basket”.

Alex, the divemaster candidate who had given me a ride from the BBQ was all too happy to trade out his purple bike with basket for the brand new manly hulk of a machine.

My Wheels, I Have Named Her LUCY LIU!

Left Lucy Liu, my purple wheels, at the shop and walked home, for a nice quiet evening.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Koh Phangan…I Have ARRIVED!!

Arrival!

Alarm went off at 4.30am, I woke up at 4.28am, really really hate it when that happens. So tired, even though I slept remarkably well on my rock hard bed. At reception we got me all checked out and by the time I was done, the taxi was waiting, I didn’t even see the receptionist call (she’s a keeper that’s for sure). Will definitely stay at Delight Residence again!

The airport was chaos personified, what are all these people doing awake at this time of the morning, and so animated at that. There didn’t seem to be any real system as to processing bags or anything, I stood in line in what appeared to be a pre-security check, but as I put my bags on the belt, I noticed people just walking past. Well at least my bags got a pretty sticker that said “approved”. Not even sure if the scanner was working. Then stood in a line for 5min before I realised it was just a group of people waiting and there was no one checking people at the end. Shifted to another line and finally got to the desk. No problem checking my bags, and when I pointed out which bag was the sports equipment it got another pretty sticker saying “fragile”…well every little bit helps I guess.

Then through security and off to find some hot water to make a coffee with my instant packets i bought in Korea. I was fairly certain I could get a cup for free, but then again I was charged 2euros at Frankfurt airport, so who knows. After some confusion and them asking for money, another lady buying a coffee said something in Thai and then turned to me and said “no no she didn’t understand, just hot water is free”. SWEET!

Met a great lady from Australia while we were waiting to board. She turned out to be lifelong traveler, age 54, saw a little bit of me in her. We chatted until the plane was due to leave and planned to meet up at the luggage carousal.

I had the window seat and chatted to a rather sick looking girl who turned out to be an English teacher in Surrat Thani, the town we were flying to. I quizzed her about ESL jobs in that region and she gave me a bunch of great tips. Then we were joined by a rather hot (as in temperature) looking business man in a suit. It wasn’t even 7am and it was close to 30C/86F and very humid. He was from the British Consulate and had a business trip to the university in Surrat Thani, he removed the jacket as soon as he could.

I got my pancakes and honey for breakfast that I had ordered, not bad, but wish I had maple syrup. At Surrat Thani, I met up with the lifelong traveler and she watched my bags as I did a mad dash to pee, being in the window seat with sleeping seat mates isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Bus…Ferry…Taxi…

Upon getting our bags, lifelong traveler had to dash off and get her bus to the ferry, apparently she had managed to buy a ticket all included with her air ticket. I made my way to what I assumed was the transport desk, handed over 500 baht (US$15ish) and was escorted to a mini van and squeezed into the last seat. Luckily the air conditioning was running as we sat there for 30min. I couldn’t understand what we were waiting for and I was too exhausted too care. Eventually we all headed off and I was pretty certain we had missed the first ferry and I would have to wait 2-3 hrs for the next one. At the terminal the driver pointed me in the direction of the main building and I lugged all my bags (I never travel heavy but a bag with scuba gear kind of throws off the light part of travel light), into the building. They then told me to go back out to pier 3 where the boat was waiting. Turned out the boat was leaving in 10min and would be there in 2.5hrs. Guess all my research was wrong. I had there sheer joy of lugging my bags up a VERY steep gangway and stairs before finally getting to the main deck (there were gentlemen climbing over each other to assist me…not), where I dropped everything in a pile and went in search of water and something salty and sweet. I found it at the little store and also discovered a South African who said there were about 5 of us on the boat and none of us knew each other, what are the odds.

Good To Know: Safety First

Ferry to Koh Phangan

Ended up chatting with a guy from Canada, who had managed to study computer stuff and then moved to the island and live off remote internet things he works on. See I know all that techy lingo! Managed to get in a nap and then the island came into view.

Farewell Mainland

Hello Koh Phangan

The nice Canadian techy guy was kind enough to help me down with my bag and point me in the direction of the taxi’s. Ricardo, my mate and soon to be instructor, had planned to come pick me up in the dive school truck, but it was in use. The taxi took the coast road and while it was beautiful, I found myself concerned about road conditions and wondering if driving a motorbike for the first time here would be possible.

Reunion

For those of you reading my blog you might remember I met Ricardo, dive instructor from Chile, on the oil rig converted to a dive rig in Borneo where he was working. He was the mysterious dive instructor who appeared, took photos and disappeared, and also showed us amazing sights as far as small tiny things go, like nudibranchs.

Well when all the sh@t hit the fan with the boy, I had contacted Ricardo and asked about coming to Thailand, he encouraged me to come and chill out, recoup and do my divemaster at the same time. Seemed like a great idea.

He met me at the dive shop and showed me around. Then took me across the road to the bungalow he had organised for me to get me started. It was really nice, I paid 3000baht (US$100) and settled in. Then I realised the wifi didn’t work, there was no warm water, the power lines made ominous crackling sounds, but for now sleep over ruled it all.

Bungalow number 1

Finally I was in Koh Phangan, new adventures await and it’s not a bad view!!

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in RTW, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Flying to Thailand

Sunday October 14th 2012

I am finally heading to the place that I hope will let me heal my heart and contemplate what the future holds for me, Koh Phangan, Thailand. I was last in Thailand with a friend in 2001 for Christmas vacation when we taught in Seoul. It will be interesting to return.

My flight was at 9am and I had thought this was a fairly decent hour, needing to be at the airport at 7am. However, I forgot to take into account the 1hr bus ride from Seoul to Incheon Airport, also wake and get ready time (luckily for me that’s about 10min). I got up at 5.30am, got dressed, Jamie walked me to the taxi and was on the bus at 6.02am. Not bad timing if you ask me. I had no issues at the airport, unless you count the rather humbling experience of trying to pull a baggage cart away from another, I just grumbled and moved to another one that was much happier to oblige me. All my fears of baggage weights proved unfounded and I was well within the limits I had paid for. I checked most of my scuba equipment except for the more expensive and sensitive regulator and computer, which of course were suspicious going through security scan. Although the only thing they asked me was if I had a dive knife… I would hope not in my carry on luggage, I just smiled sweetly and said no and they barely checked to make sure I was telling the truth.

At check in I was told to take the train to gate 106 and it would take 30min, I assumed that the airport had grown a bit since the last time I flew out of here. But after barely 3min of talking to a very chatty businessman who was heading to China to ship silica, we arrived at the gate. At first I thought it was one of many stops but then realised EVERYONE was getting out. Guess the check in lady had mispoke.

I love watching people in airports and ever since we entered the train I was bemused by the bleach blonde or wigged, serious high heel platform shoed version of what seemed like the Korean Lady Gaga. You just couldn’t help but stare.

With 2 hours and 10,000won I bought an ice coffee and skyped the folks. I wanted to exchange my leftover won and hoped to use my debit card to get $100 worth of Thai Baht. But they wouldn’t accept it, cash only. So I dug out the $20 I had saved and used that along with my remaining change of Korean won. I managed to get 590 baht which would cover the taxi in Bangkok tonight and the one in the morning right back to the airport.

Air Asia – Flight 1

Air Asia has really cheap flights, but you pay for everything from checked baggage, to meals, to seats, to entertainment. The good thing about this is that you can design your trip how you want it, you can also add something like a meal during the flight, it’s just a little more expensive. Usually I don’t book seats and just see where they put me, but for some reason I decided to book these flights.

It paid off and I managed a whole row, where I quickly spread out to prevent anyone else getting the idea of moving to one of the empty seats. Sometimes self preservation and being able to stretch out during a flight is more important.

I was flying Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok. I would arrive around 8pm. I ordered vegetarian lasagna and I must say it was delicious, as far as airplane food goes.

I guess I couldn’t have it all perfect, a full row to sleep, airline food that was actually food and good, tv on my computer…. and an aircon system in the plane that was bordering on schizophrenic. Blasts of freezing air every 10min, then lull you into a false sense of security of comfort and just as you get comfy…another blast of arctic wind. After the one flight attendant saw me turning blue and teeth chattering for the 3rd time they finally got it sorted. Maybe they were just trying to convince folks to buy the “Comfort Pack” which includes a pillow, eye mask and a BLANKET!!!

Arrival Kuala Lumpur

I had a 3hr layover in KL, and it was a balmy 33C, which is the warmest I have felt in over a year. I stripped off jackets and hats and boots in preparation and just as well as the airport’s airconditioning involved open doors and windows.

I was meant to go to the transfer “lounge” but got caught up in the masses and discovered myself in immigration. After some confusion I figured out that the sign was telling me to U-turn back down the stairs and not go round the corner. The entrance to the transfer was a door I had walked passed and had a huge sign announcing what it was… oh well, I blame lack of coffee (you had to pay for that).

In true customer service style there were 3 desks open… but only 1 for about 10 country destinations including mine, so there was a good 30min wait and shuffle, wait and shuffle. But people watching was hilarious. The high maintenance Korean girl wearing ridiculously high wedges and blue stripey socks and nearly breaking her ankle with every step was there. She was having a tiff with her boyfriend/husband, and throwing things on the floor in grand temper tantrum style, I was waiting for her to start stomping her feet, she already had the pout going.

By the time I got through the counter I only had a 2 hr wait. I needed to charge my computer so hunted down a power station, the only one in the whole place. Then realised I had packed my adaptor in my checked luggage. Luckily found one at the bookstore. Plugged in and sat on the floor watching one of my miniseries. Of course, people kept bumping my plug and losing power, and every time I tried to reach across the table to plug it back in, very helpful folks unplugged it for me thinking I wanted to leave. After the 4th time I just took the plug and went to the loo. When I came back I went to the other side of the power station and a plug point I could reach. Started chatting with an American girl, and she watched my computer as I searched, in failure for a water fountain, apparently you need to buy water in this airport.

The Boarding Game

I have taken a flight from this airport before and remember the sheer confusion as multiple destinations are checked through the same gate and you all, en masse, head for a variety of planes and just hope you end up on the right one.

This time was even more amusing as there were streams of people coming off planes and streams heading to planes. You kind of criss cross, look confused, point in one direction, get a nod, head that way, board a plane and hope it’s the right one. Luckily the flight attendants are quite good at checking tickets.

I was surprised when the attendant suddenly called my name and handed over some roast chicken I had pre-ordered. Completely forgot I had got it. My seat mate was Thai and we had a great chat about things, well “great” with limited English. This time the food was not so good and there was a lot of gristle on the chicken and just not that good flavor wise. Oh well can’t win every time.

As we left KL there were massive thunder clouds outside the windows, which made one a little nervous and prepare for bumpyness.

Arrival Bangkok

I got into Bangkok around 8pm, and had been traveling for close to 16hrs. I managed to get my bags, some money and then went to line up outside in exceptionally hot and muggy weather, waiting for a taxi. Once I got my taxi I showed him the name of my hotel, of course he didn’t know it, but luckily I had taken all the information I could including the phone number, and he called to find directions. He was a very chatty driver and told me to be sure to get an early start touring as my area got very backlogged with traffic by 7am in the morning. I said no worries as I had to leave at 5.30am for my 7am flight.

Delight Residence

Finally arriving, actually it was barely 5min, I went into reception and discovered the 2 guys spoke NO English. We managed to get me checked in and they called one of the other staff with English to come and get some info from me. She also helped me get a sim card for my phone, and the wifi code and promised she would be on duty in the morning at 5am to get me a taxi. Finally making it to the room, I collapsed after a shower and a quick message home to say I had arrived. The bed was as hard as a rock, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was the 6hrs of sleep I had before I had to wake up for my last flight, and bus and ferry to Koh Phangan….

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in RTW, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Seoul, Korea – Final Days

Calling Number 2

It was Friday already only 2 days left before I was due to leave Korea. I decided to try call number 2, my second taekwondo master. He was so dubbed by me, because it was easier to tell my mom, number 1 or number 2 and she would know who I was talking about.

When I called he got super nervous and just said:
“Oh Kathy, uh oh uh oh….”

I think I got it across to him that I was leaving on Sunday, but no guarantees.

Meeting the Parks for Lunch

I was meeting Jinsoo, finally, for lunch at his sister’s house. Esther had gone all out with Sam Geup Sal, my favorite version of Korean BBQ. Christine had insisted they go buy all the supplies the day before to have everything perfect for when Jinsoo and I arrived.

Christine with our lunch spread

It was a fantastic lunch and I was so happy to have finally got to see Jinsoo. Afterwards, Esther, Christine and I walked around her neighborhood, running some final errands for me and looking for a glucometer for the animal shelter in Thailand as they suspected they had a diabetic dog.

Unfortunately, all good times come to an end and it was time to say goodbye, I hope to see my wonderful friend again soon!

However, we left on the note of potential work, as Esther is thinking of starting a small hogwan and would need an English teacher… so who knows maybe I will be back sooner than expected.

Picking Up Strangers

When Esther and I had been at the Cat Cafe with her daughter, I got to chatting with a British couple on holiday from Singapore where they lived. We hit it off immediately and chatted about all sorts of things. They asked a lot of questions about my traveling and plans and I was very interested in the project that Kathleen (yup same name) worked with in Cambodia (one of my favorite countries).

We all decided to meet up for a beer Friday night and just managed to connect as they were running late and I decided to wait for just one more subway train. Low and Behold it was the train that they were on.

We had a great evening that started off with being yelled at by a Korean ajuma, older lady. We had gone for a beer in this comfy looking place, but when the lady insisted we order food we decided not to stay, of course the beer had already been poured. So we ended up staying and ordering a couple of very large pitchers and no one bothered us to order food. All rather amusing, but those Ajuma’s are scary!!!

Last Day

My last day in Seoul… kind of bitter sweet. I have been happy to be here, loved all the food (even when it didn’t love me), seeing all the sites and friends and reliving all my memories. But at the same time, as much as I would love to come back, it almost feels like I would be going backwards if I returned.

I spent the morning with Jamie exploring Godeok Dong, my old school’s subway stop, wanted to show her some pillows she had been interested in. We had some kimbap for lunch in the little park.

I was thrilled when I discovered they had my favorite and something I had been dreaming of for years. Mot Nan Ni Kimbap also known as Ugly Kimbap. Instead of the typical California roll style, this one is rather lumped together with rice and meat and flaked salty seaweed and made into balls then rolled in the flaky seaweed. Sooooo yummy, found it hard to concentrate on the serious conversation Jamie and I were having.

Final Friend Meeting

I had got a text message from another friend from OOPS inline skating group. I remembered her but couldn’t quite place her face, until I saw her. It was so good to meet up and we went and sat at my usual coffee place and had a very yummy coffee and vanilla choux pastry.

Photos of Seoul

More Western Style Toilets, for all sizes, With Toilet Paper. No More Hover Loo


Subway Stops Are Now Very Impressive With New Safety Doors


Ko-nglish


Yup, It Is Advertising “Shit Bread”, the exact translation. I am fairly certain it is just in the shape…. some things never change

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Korea, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Seoul, Korea – Week 2

Revisiting Olympic Park – Peace Gate

When I lived in Seoul I was part of an inline skating group called OOPS. Now, many might think this name perfectly appropriate especially for first time skaters, but in truth it means Out Of Park Skaters and they never even realised the irony of the name until I kept repeating it every time I fell.

Being part of that group was another reason why my time in Korea was so fantastic. They accepted and made me part of their inner circle without a moments thought or hesitation and I got to experience far more of the Korean culture (especially the drinking part) than I would have without them.

We used to meet every night at the Olympic Peace gate at Mongchongtosong subway stop on the pink line. There was always a sense of peace and relaxation at this park with reflecting ponds and the eternal Olympic flame. Returning to meet up with one of my closest friends from OOPS seemed like the perfect combination. I couldn’t wait to sit under the arch and relax, so leaving early to have some time to contemplate I headed that way. Unfortunately when I exited the subway I discovered a massive event going on, people and security everywhere. Well there goes the contemplation idea. Security was super tight and everything was blocked off, but I managed to find a spot to sit and watch the goings on.

So Young arrived a little late but we recognised each other immediately! It was amazing to see her, and it surprised me again how seeing someone after so long with only minimal contact can still feel like I met them last week. We giggled and talked and laughed and headed off to find some lunch. Behind the Olympic Park area is a back alley section with tons of restaurants and bars, walking through there was like dejavu. I even remembered us all visiting some of the places (my mind sometimes amazes me). We went to one of our regular hang outs from 8yrs ago and had Korean BBQ. Delicious as usual.

So Young and me at Korean BBQ

Then a short walk to Jamsil station area and coffee and cake. Not quite sure how we managed to fit in the massive slice of honey cake, but it was delicious. So Young agreed with Number 1 that I should return to teach… who knows, maybe I will.

Honey Cake

So Young and Honey Cake

We planned to meet for dinner the next night and said farewell. I truly hate saying goodbye.

The Dangers of Korean BBQ

Sunday was a very chill day, I made a big breakfast for everyone and then relaxed most of the day. Later Jamie and I explored some of the neighborhood and then headed off to meet So Young for dinner. We went to the same Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ) place we had been to the first night. The owner remembered us and especially Jamie being vegetarian.

We had a great evening and while Jamie practiced Korean with So Young, I ate… and ate… and ate. It was so yummy and even though I was full I thought just one more piece. Also it is very Korean to pass pieces over to friends and you can’t say no, So Young and I were doing this to each other all night. I ate so much my stomach hurt to breathe.

Later Jamie headed home and we headed for cake and coffee. We found a place with a slice of chocolate heaven and sat down to enjoy. About mid way through I had a stabbing pain in my upper right side of my back when I inhaled. It was like someone had punched me and bruised my ribs. So Young and I walked around a bit to see if that would help but finally had to say goodbye. I will miss her tons and hope to see her again before I leave.

I hobbled home and as I got in I collapsed on Jamie’s bed clutching my back and hyperventilating saying “I…. think….. I …. hurt…. my ….back”. She looked really concerned and then said “do you think you have to fart?”. Ummm well I hadn’t thought of that since it was so high up. But yes, in the end it turned out to be severe indigestion… note to self, moderation…moderation!!

Boston Campus Revisited

During my 3yrs in Korea I worked at a hogwan, after school program, called Boston Campus. I came for 11mths and after 3yrs my mom asked if I was ever going to return home, I simply renewed my contract each year and flew home for a month in between to keep my green card active.

Hoping onto the number 5 purple line I headed towards Sangil Dong. After some confusion trying to remember how one of the transfers worked I arrived. Up till now my memory had been pretty good at finding the right exits and such but I had to admit, nothing looked very familiar. I took the exit 4 and then decided it must have been exit 1 so walked above ground till I found it. Still nothing! Finally I called number 1 (my code name for my first taekwondo master) and asked. As I started asking I remembered it might have been the stop before, Godeok. Damn it all to heck, so close and yet so wrong! So back on the train and off to Godeok. This time I remembered the exit and found the school no problem.

I couldn’t believe how much it looked the same after 8yrs, everything was the same, from the art work to the plastic flowers. Janet, the head teacher was still there and she remembered me, so did the art teacher. Janet and I chatted a bit and she told me how bad the economy was and how they don’t pay very much, but if I ever want a job I am welcome back.

Then I went upstairs to find the Principal, we called her the Professor. She wasn’t there but one of the cleaner ladies went to find someone. It was Mr. Lee, he remembered me, but not my name, and he was so happy to see me. He called the Prof and said she was coming. Then we stood for a few minutes with him just smiling, his English is still non existent even after all these years working at an English School.

The Professor arrived a few minutes later and was thrilled to see me, she just stared and me at first and then pointed to a picture of me from a calender that was taken in 2002. “Every now and then I look at it and think of you!”… Awww that’s kind of sweet. She also insisted that I call if I decide to come back and work in Korea.

Afterwards, I walked around the old ‘hood for a bit and explored the shopping center I used to get steamed Mandu in. Finally stopping for a bite of donkas (fried pork cutlet).

Luggage Games
I spent the evening playing luggage tetris on Air Asia, trying to figure out the cheapest and safest way to check my bags. I opted for 40kg checked from Seoul to Bangkok and 15kg checked with 20kg sports going through to Surat Thani.

What’s in a Name

I was meant to meet my good friend, and language exchange, Jinsoo, for lunch. I went to spend some time at Olympic Park without the thousands of people from the week before and was thoroughly enjoying the memories when Jinsoo texted me that he had to go out of town for work. Always, Korean’s work way too hard.

Olympic Park Eternal Flame

I met Jinsoo through my Korean co-teacher, Esther. He was her brother and wanted to have some English practice and since I needed to learn Korean, Esther thought it was a perfect fit. I think he had more work to do than me as his English was fantastic. He taught me to read the symbols of Korean, and now prefer to read it that way than with the western alphabet, he taught me the sounds and the inflections and made it possible for me to pick up a reasonable amount of Korean.

He also gave me my name, Park Da Hi. Park being his last name and Da Hi meaning “big happy, always happy”. When he first told me he wanted to give me that name he said he couldn’t because it was the name of his hamster. And we all know you can’t be named after an animal…. 2 weeks later he arrived to our study session literally beaming!

He proudly announced “I have great news! My hamster is dead!”
I looked at him in confusion and said “why is that a good thing, I am sorry.”
Response, “but that means now you can have the name!”

So, yup you guessed it, I am named after a dead hamster…

Namdaemun Revisited

Wednesday I went to Namdaemun Market again in search of postcards and to see if I truly could find the curio shop I used to frequent all those years ago.

Instead of following my instincts from the subway I looked at the sign and promptly got myself lost. I forgot how truly big Namdaemun was. Eventually I found exit 5, my usual location for exiting the subway and then could orientate myself.

I had a flashback to the past for breakfast. Flat dough fried on a griddle filled with cinnamon and sugar that is hot and melted, truly spectacular.

I kept thinking I was finding my store but there was just something that didn’t feel right about them. Also finding just 5 postcards seemed impossible, only packs of 15. Guess the age of letter writing is going out the door. Then one of the sellers suggested I look down the row and 2 streets over and there was a store that had single cards. I walked down but didn’t get far as low and behold there it was… My Store!!! I couldn’t believe it. I was 100% certain it was the right one. I asked the guy if the store had been there for over 10 yrs and explained how I used to come in almost every week with teachers and even brought my parents here. He wasn’t working back then but he was thankful that I came back. I ended up buying a fan, a pack of postcards that was half the price every other seller had them for, and he also included a little cell phone dangly of a little Korean Drum as “my gift to you”. Yup, this is the place I remember.

On my way out I stopped to pick up a box of yummy delicacies. The maker takes honey that is spun into fine strands like spider webs and then encase some peanuts or almond filling inside them. Absolutely divine. Although when I mailed some home one year, there was an anthrax threat for letters and here came a box to my parents with fine white powder leaking out the one side. Something to remember when boxing them next time.

The honey candy guy – all comedians I am sure

Returning home on the 1hr subway ride home, I felt exceptionally satisfied with myself. 1hr there , 1hr exploring and 1hr back, and all worth it!

I had my favorite spicy chicken pieces and some left over rice for dinner. Think they put extra spice this time, as I lost feeling in lips for about an hour.

Spicy!!!!!

Sisterly Reunion

Today I get to have a reunion with one of my closest friends during my time in Korea. Esther was my co teacher during the first 2 yrs and we became very close. I went to her parents for Korean Thanksgiving one year and spent lots of time with her. I have not spoken or emailed her for almost the full 8yrs. For some reason we just sent messages through Jinsoo, her brother, who uses facebook. Esther tried to use Facebook but never got the hang of it.

I also get to meet her daughter, Christine.

While I waited I grabbed a subway waffle, used to love subway travel just for the food stalls. So yummy and filled with cream like stuff.

We met in the artsy market of Insadong. I used to love coming here just to walk around and look at all the different paintings and paper works and curios.

Lanterns made of Paper

For lunch Esther insisted on buying, I had mandu soup (like chinese dumplings).

Esther had a beef bulgogi broth type thing. So yummy.

We explored Insadong, found the post office and mailed my postcards. Then we took a taxi to Myeongdong as I wanted to show Esther and her daughter the cat cafe. Turns out her daughter loves cats and really wants one, but Esther is nervous as she has never had a cat before. Well, visiting the cafe is great practice.

I looked for Juno, my friend from the last visit and found her hiding in the back of a dark spot on top of a fridge that was keeping her extra warm. She did pop out to say hi though.

There are so many pictures I would be loading them all day. The easiest way to see more is to click on the blog where my flickr photos are. Hope you enjoy them.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye, only after a photo op with the mascot of course.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Korea, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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