5 Things I Like About South Korea

I have figured out why I keep coming back to South Korea. There are at least 5 things I like about this country.

#1 Food, especially seafood jambong and Busan’s fish cake. Among the stalls in Dongdaemun, Yeongdeungpo and Sindorim, the last one kept me going back for more seafood jambong. The shellfish is fresh and juicy; the soup piping hot. There is more seafood than noodles in that bowl. Busan’s fish cake at Jagalchi Fish Market beats the ones I have tried in Seoul in price and taste. A fair amount of emphasis is placed on healthy food too, judging from the kinds of merchandise available such as the numerous brands of bottled 100% tea with no sugar content. There is an interesting tea with oriental raisins which is supposed to be good for the liver and hangovers. And I have yet to come across another place with as many 24/7 convenience stores so far.

jambong

Korean Seafood Jambong

#2 Environmental responsibility. This is most evident in the way Koreans sort their trash into different categories such as plastics/recyclables, food waste and general non-perishables in bags before discarding them. Apparently, that is required by law. Nami Island is so far my favorite tourist attraction, not only for the scenery or filming sites but in the way nature is preserved while meeting human needs using natural materials such as wood and stone. Synthetics, if used, are recyled items like glass bottles and plastic caps.

Organised waste disposal

Organized waste disposal

#3 Creativity. I like the fact that Nami Island supports UNICEF. There, everyone including foreigners is a Naminarian. They make a conscious effort to promote creativity on a global scale, as in the children’s book writing competition and inviting world-reknown personalities to their events to share insights from their creative experience. Even visitors to Seoul are encouraged to submit their videos in a competition. I have noticed that many buildings have sculptures gracing their entrances, from the elegant to the quirky. There is also a sense of humor in some of these creations, many of them on Nami Island, even in the case of the public toilets there.

Elegance in simplicity

Elegance in simplicity

#4 Cleanliness. This is where I get an extra kick out of my travels just because there are clean toilets around. The cleaning workers do a great job. I am impressed by the lady patiently cleaning pipes lining the curbs outside Busan station, digging into gaps to clear debris instead of simply flushing the pavement with a water jet. That’s taking pride and showing integrity in one’s work. Cool. You go girl!

Public square outside Busan station

Public square outside Busan station

#5 The railway system. It connects to many cities of interest. Seoul connects to cities as near as Incheon and as far as Busan. The network is complex enough so there is flexibility to customize your itinerary and reduce costs. Fares are reasonable and transits are smooth once you get the hang of it. The trains announce the name of every station in Korean and English while it is being flashed on screen in every car. Station staff are helpful and proactive. One in Busan came to change my W5000 note into W1000 ones when I was about to slot a W5000 note into a machine that accepts only W1000 ones. Smile, Big Brother’s watching.

Seoul subway map

Seoul subway map

The list may change or get longer but, for now, it’s good.

Day Trip To Macau

I had always wondered about the lure of a single stone wall standing at the end of a seemingly endless flight of steps, that is the remains of St Paul’s Cathedral in Macau.

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When I got there on a day trip from Guangzhou, I could not immediately recognize it because I had expected a monumental landmark but it was smaller than envisaged. That, and also because I had alighted from the taxi on one of its sides instead of the front, not to mention that the remnant was surrounded by a dense entourage of ornate buildings and structures that are vying for attention at the same time.

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When I finally got to walk around the area behind the wall, which was once the premises of a church that was destroyed by fire, and climbed up the metal decking behind the wall, although it was not quite an epiphany, the sense of history and panoramic views made it a worthwhile visit.

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This plan shows the location of the front facade (top) and the crypt in the church (bottom):

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I wonder if the martyrs would prefer to rest in peace than be superstars under the glare of the public eye day in and out, everyday of the year…

Suzhou Express

I took the high speed train to Suzhou three days before the Chinese New Year. A one-way ticket from Shanghai cost 41 yuan. I had narrowly missed the train and with one and a half hours to kill before the next departure, I decided to have lunch at, ahem, McDonalds which was packed with travelers.

It’s pretty impressive, the train. It could travel at up to 350 km/h and arrive at Suzhou Station in just 25 minutes from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Station. The ride was smooth and comfortable too.

When I stepped out of the train station, there were old ladies waiting at the exit, selling maps to tourists. One approached me with two maps – one cost 6 yuan, the other 3. Fortunately, I bought them because I got lost later.

I wandered around the bus depot searching for the bus that would take me to Modern Avenue and when I finally found it, the driver did not know where it was because he was new on the job. Nevertheless, I hopped on. After about half an hour’s ride, I realized that I was lost and found myself stranded in the middle of nowhere.

As it was getting dark, I decided to hail a taxi in order to save time and finally arrived at IN CITY. I was thankful for the warm reception in offered  compared to the  cold outside. One unique feature of the mall was the layout of the escalators although it proved to be quite confusing for someone  new to move from one level to another.

There was only enough time for me to explore WalMart and take couple of pictures before reluctantly rushing back to the station to catch the 8 p.m. train back to Shanghai.

Suzhou express indeed.

The next day, I decided to leave home earlier for my trip to Hangzhou.

The Odd Couple

The odd couple, English and Mathematics, can make a great couple that spells fun for the kids in school.

How?

Well, turn them into budding architects – get them to draw houses by communicating with prepositions and geometrical shapes. Pair them up and ask one to describe a picture of a house to his partner who will draw it as he listens to the description.

That effectively gets rid of the boredom in teaching and learning about prepositions while getting the restless ones to speak, listen, draw and apply what they have learned in English and Mathematics.


Chinese New Year in Shanghai

The Shanghainese celebrate Chinese New Year with a blast, literally, with fire crackers and fireworks. A little after dusk on Chinese New Year’s eve, isolated bursts of crackers mark the beginning of a cacophony that intensifies into the night and climaxes at midnight when it feels almost like a war zone if not for the the multicolored sparkles of fireworks dancing in the night sky that linger like stardust in the eye. And that goes on well after midnight, on the 5th and 15th days of the Lunar New Year as well.


Sun Island Resort

Some pictures of the resort where we stayed while hunting for apartments.

The view from the hotel room balcony.

We lugged our luggage across this patch of green to our rooms on the evening we arrived.

The tree-line path to the main road where a coach awaits us every morning.

And this is a welcome sight after a long day out hunting for an apartment under the hot scorching summer sun.