Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloweeny

I had a busy, spooky weekend. I'm still trying to work out a new VPN situation, so for the moment I'm still blogging via email (pictures hopefully to come soonish).

My work hosted a party at this posh bar on the Bund. There were copies of the magazine with my cover story on all the tables (nice little ego boost, there). James went as a priest and my friend and I went as sheikhs (think robes, bears, aviators, gold chains...). The reactions were really interesting. All the Chinese people loved it. We must've had 50 people ask to take pictures with us. We got mixed reactions from fellow foreigners - lots of laughs, some "are you allowed to do that?" stares, and then about an even split of people saying "hey look a terrorist!" and people saying "Umm... I don't even know what you're supposed to be..." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Excited!

Next week I get to interview Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian Economist who wrote Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa.

The efficacy of aid (or lack thereof) has interested me since I was a teenager, I think I got into it a couple years after my brothers were adopted since aid has certainly done both a lot of positive and negative things for Cambodia. For example, I remember a WSJ article saying Cambodia's medical infrastructure is virtually 100% reliant on NGOs. And one problem Cambodia now faces is the most desirable jobs for Cambodians are with non-profits. Those jobs are better than the private sector and even better than working in government.

Anyways, I think this might possibly be my biggest/most exciting 'celebrity' interview.

I quoted Captain Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch when he appeared at the Seattle 4th of July parade, that guy who played Hercules on TV at a campus charity event when I was in college ... I talked to the lady who masterminded Days of our Lives for an obit once ... I feel like there are some other notables I'm forgetting, but Dambisa is definitely the most exciting.

6:30 a.m., I am watching Evil Dead

The roommates and I have a pre-Halloween horror movie watching contest in progress. The winner gets to choose a DVD set for the others to buy. The loser has to wear a costume of everyone else's choosing Saturday night.

The contest ends at midnight Thursday, which means right now is crunch time. Yesterday I watched Nightmare on Elm Street 7 and Cloverfield before work.

Part of the rules are no one is allowed to watch anything but horror movies until the contest ends, which - for me - really takes the joy out of watching. When you watch horror movies back-to-back they all start to feel the same - very predictable.

Plus, for competitive purposes, it's better to watch 90-minute movies than a good two-hour movie. Thus, I'm almost completely through the Elm Street series, and only got around to watching The Shining over the weekend.

Monday night we watched Misery, which I think I might actually like better than The Shining. I also saw Paranormal Activity for the first time, and that's the first new movie to genuinely scare me in quite awhile. The Friday the 13th remake, 30 Days of Night sequel, and this Hong Kong film called Womb Ghosts were all pretty awful, while Leprechaun Back 2 Tha Hood was surprisingly entertaining.

So far I'm behind in the contest, but I'm taking this afternoon off from work since I worked on a Sunday this month and plan to knock out six movies between 3pm and midnight.

Bad News

My USC student ID expired today, and with it goes my super high-speed VPN. No more Hulu or Netflix. YouTube will take a billion years to load, and photos will be almost impossible to upload here.

James and I are looking into alternatives.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sokcho and Soraksan

After my DMZ tour, I took a four-hour bus ride to the East Coast and spent the second half of the trip making my way south.
restaurants at sunset
There isn't much to see in Sokcho, just a beach and some seafood restaurants. I wasn't man enough to try the local specialty - a purple sausage stuffed with seafood and veggies.
Since it's pretty close to the border, the beaches are lined with barbed wire and they shine lights on them at night to watch for spies.
abandoned furniture
The night in Sokcho was the low point of my trip. Seoul had been pretty non-stop, seeing people, seeing things, having fun. And then all of a sudden I was alone in a ho-hum town. The old lady at my motel made a mistake counting my change and came up and yelled at me, thinking I'd somehow taken more than I should've.

Then, when walking down the street, a couple young Korean guys came up to me, looking really excited and smiley. "Russian?" "No, no - I'm American." "Not Russian?"

It's not uncommon for white women traveling alone in Asia to be mistaken for Russian prostitutes.

I told my friend from Seoul, a Korean-American guy, and he was flabbergasted, maybe even a bit disbelieving, which made me think about how when you're traveling you always experience a place through your own identity. It makes a difference.

The next morning I woke up - the old lady apologized - and I headed for Soraksan (Mt. Sorak).

And have it noted: Aside from the mistaken identity and the change issue at the hotel, Koreans were helpful throughout my trip. Every bus driver made sure I got off at the right stop, everyone was good about giving directions, etc.
Road to Soraksan
Soraksan is one of Korea's top nature destinations.
Chilis drying
near the part entrance
The air was crisp and fresh, the sky was blue. I was tempted to just stick out the duration of my trip on the mountain.
boarding the cable car
Since I was by myself, I opted out of serious hiking, and took a cable car to one of the summits.
looking out toward the sea
rocky peak
After the summit, I went for a short hike toward a waterfall.
notice the walkway, trails are much more developed in Asia
As I was walking up the trail, my friend's roommate, Heather, was coming down the opposite direction. I'd seen her about a month earlier, and we both knew we were going to Korea over the holiday and discussed exchanging emails in order to meet up, but never got around to it. Instead we just happened to be on the same mountain, on the same day, on the same hiking trail. Sometimes the expat community in Asia seems very, very small.
on the mountain
We decided to meet up the following day and travel south together. That night I think I was the only guest in the mountain hostel I stayed in. There was a glow-in-the-dark Winnie the Pooh decal on my dorm door and it gave me the willies. So rather than enjoy the natural quiet, I listened to my iPod.

Suffice it to say, I was glad to be meeting up with friends the next day.

Next Post: Penis Park! Stay tuned.

Friday, October 22, 2010

DMZ Trip

I got up early on a Saturday morning to board the bus at the USO in Seoul at 730am. I wound up sitting next to a German guy who works in logistics in Shanghai.

my guest badge
The first thing we did after the hour-long drive was get briefed by an American MP and then sign a United Nations visitor's declaration, acknowledging that should things get craaazy, the UNC couldn't necessarily assure our safety.

We were told not to look at or say anything - make any sort of contact whatsoever - should a North Korean soldier come down to the line.

one of our guides
Join Security Area
That's as close as the North Koreans got. I was a bit disappointed
South Korean soldiers
We spent five minutes in the UN conference room that's right on the military line of demarcation, so on the north end of the building you can technically stand in North Korea. Both sides lead tours into the building, but they never enter at the same time.

Here I am standing in North Korea
I have a friend who has visited the North Korea side and he says - from my telling - the rules are much more relaxed.
Bridge of No return

After that we got back on the bus and drove past the Bridge of No Return - where prisoners of war were exchanged at the end of the Korean War. A handful of Americans and Brits chose to stay in North Korea. Only one remains to this day, Comrade Joe - and I've been meaning to watch this documentary on him.

Looking out toward North Korea
observation point
From South Korea
The last stop on the tour was Dorasan Station, a completely equipped train station ready and waiting to ship goods from South Korea, through North Korea and connect with the Trans-Siberian. South Korea is kind of like an island now, there's no land bridge for exports.
"Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North"
Dorasan Station
all aboard!
There was a strange PR element to it: We were also made to watch a video about what a bountiful nature reserve the DMZ is (250 kilometers long, 4 kilometers wide, and there hasn't been almost any human activity in it for more than 50 years). I suppose that's one way to look at one of the world's most heavily-armed borders.

We also toured the third infiltration tunnel, but as it was underground and dark I didn't get any pictures. It's one of the tunnels North Koreans dug in order to attack the South. They painted the walls black in order to say they were just digging for coal, but it's a limestone tunnel. Har har.

More pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cheap Thrills...

Reading a banned book on the subway. My tiny act of subversion for the week was popping open Murder in the High Himalayas on my way across town (thanks for sending, dad!). It's about Chinese military murdering Tibetans trying to escape to religious freedom in India.

This little Chinese boy seated near me showed some interest - "Ooooh - een-geh-lish."

Yeah kid, keep studying. Maybe you can read too someday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Great Big South Korea Food Blog

A quick reflection what I ate on vacation before I dash off to work:

From South Korea
Tea Cakes
crispy, airy and sweet
ginger tea, something I'd like to learn to make at home
spicy, pickled goodness. this is one example of all the little side dishes you get at most every meal
A western-influenced, cheese-topped rice noodle dish (bar food). A lot of pubs require you order food.

potato pancake, also bar food

Korea version of the Japanese pork cutlet
pounding sesame seeds for my pork cutlet sauce

mixing it all up

more bar food: tofu,fish cakes, muscles...
Rice Wine, plus a side of pickled stuffs. Korean rice wide is mild, fizzy and delicious

Kimchee beef and rice. I forget why the rice is purple, but this was a good meal

They used to be this cute

In the past 10 days my brothers turned 12 and 14. When I was 14 I used to wonder what it would be like when they were 14. I could image being in high school, going to college - but everything beyond that seemed too far out of reach to even guess.

Now I'm 24 and they're coming into their teen years. When I was in college I was a little bit sad to come home and have them be noticeably taller. As I get older, it seems like there are more things I'm missing out, not less: I've missed a few football seasons now. I missed Ricky's Pitch, Hit, Run regional championship. This summer I missed their big festival concert.

But it's good in a way. Even though we're far apart in age, and proximity, I feel like we're still close. I just hope they're looking forward to Christmas a fraction as much as I am.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Seoul Highlights

Before they become even more overdue - here are my Seoul pictures! 11 million people live there, but after 7.5 months in Shanghai it seemed almost homey.

Koreans are educated and courteous. I found that everywhere I went - any bus I got on - people were eager to help me get to the right place. Plus it's sooo much cleaner than China.

I'll try to get the rest of them up over the next week, but for now here is the first half:

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok is the biggest of five palaces within Seoul

It took about a hour to walk through all the grounds
From South Korea

Funky accessory wholesale market

Need a little boost from behind?

Me + Giant Mascot
selling veggies

four-story Dunkin' Donuts

Before I left, a friend from home introduced me to his friend living in Seoul, who was kind
enough to take me out for drinks a couple nights. One night I also went to watch his radio show.

plastic surgery ad. plastic surgery is super popular in Korea
Hey look!
Fancy digs

Fancy digs' view
long way down
Fancy Digs' bath tub with TV.

In one of the tourist districts, I was randomly interview by Arirang, Korea's international English-language TV channel. They asked me how I felt about amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants in Thailand and the Argentinian government's decision to ban a dance contest for ugly people...Things I'm highly qualified to expound upon.
Fortune Teller stands outside a public park
well-dressed old man. wish I could've got a better picture.

Tablets depicting Korean student uprising against the Japanese. Every historical place there is to visit in Seoul,
there's some reminder of Japanese brutality.
Hmm, how do you pronounce that?
A discount only for foreigners. That would annoy me if I were Korean

That's all for now. More to come!