New Zealand – Part I (Wellington – Kaikora)

Arriving at the huge and barren Wellington YHA Hostel, the instructions for late check-in ask me to ‘press the big red button’. I spend a long time looking for the ‘big red button’. Others also join in. Defeated, I set up camp on a sofa in the TV room.

They had forgotten to put out the big red button. Since travelling, I’ve become quite expert at complaining. They offer up a free nights accommodation, free wifi and free breakfast. After sucking them dry, I check out and stay somewhere with more soul (namely, The Dwellington, great place).

As usual, I spend the first day in a new city orientating myself (wondering aimlessly for miles until my feet are bleeding). The city is full of gowns and hats as Victoria University students are graduating. Old St Paul’s Cathedral offers a calming refuge of dark wood and stained glass windows.

Listlessly wondering into the Houses of Parliament, I find myself in the public viewing gallery for Prime Ministers Questions. Over the braying and playground snipes, I gather expense related scandals are also rife here. There are strange parallels to the UK. The conservative National party are in power (John Key the PM. I was sat just above his thinning hair), but New Zealand First are gaining representation, headed by their own provocative version of Nigel Farage, Winston Peters. He is booted out the chamber by the Speaker (hardest job of them all) for his incessant accusations.

A staggeringly ugly circular building nicknamed The Beehive, houses the PM and a number of his Ministers. Though when the architects name has the gravitas of ‘Sir Basil Spence’, I’m obliged to forgive his misjudgements.

Far more appealing are the former Government Buildings which are now Victoria University Law School. Pillared, stately, and looking very much like stone, it’s surprising to discover the slabs of construction are carved timbers.

And then, IT happens. At last! Casually, I bump into someone I know somewhere I don’t. Georgia went to the same secondary school as me and moved over to New Zealand years back. We drink too much and give up on the most impossible of pub quizzes.

The next day I haul myself up Mt Victoria for views across the harbour. There is a memorial for Richard Byrd and Paul Siple who conducted research on ‘Wind Chill’ in the Antarctic from 1928 onwards. They were also involved in establishing The Antarctic Treaty which declares the area beyond 60 degrees south as a region of peace and science with no territories or borders.

I head to Wellington Portrait Gallery (portraits, no surprises) via a Dr. Seuss exhibition. Prior to The Cat in the Hat / The Grinch etc, he had drawn political cartoons during World War II. With wit and wisdom such as…you have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose…what’s not to like?

The Museum of Wellington City & Sea is heralded as one of the Top 50 Museums in the World!!! And not wrongly so. A slick orgy of facts, buttons to jab at and a gift shop selling cheese make for a thoroughly contended museum goer.

The first car came to New Zealand in 1898 and was named Lightening. Anti climatically, she was crashed on her inaugural drive. Between 1880 and 1912 a dolphin named Pelorus Jack would swim and leap alongside incoming boats, attracting tourists for many years. Nineteen forty-three saw the battle of Manners Street – clashes between US military and local lads agitated by the pillaging of their women. The sentiment was of Yanks being ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here’. A storm in 1968 sunk the Wahine passenger ship with the loss of several human lives. Two hundred albatrosses also died from being blown against rocks. In 1977 a transvestite called Carmen stood for major. Wellington!

I watch an angst ridden play called Other Dessert Cities, play cards, bed. Life. Is. Tough.

The following day I adopt a self confessed grumpy person from Bolton (Ryan) for a series of failures. We decide $8 would be pushing the boat out for a tour of Katherine Mansfield’s childhood home. This isn’t helped by the fact we are both ignorant as to who Katherine Mansfield is. The lady on reception takes pity and provides a potted history of New Zealand’s most famous author…bohemian character, multiple lovers of both genders, moved to London and Paris, wrote astute and well received short stories such as ‘The Garden Party’, died of tuberculosis aged thirty-six.

We go to the city cable car but as it’s undergoing maintenance work there is a replacement bus which is 100% less exciting. We go to the Adam Art Gallery which is closed for refurbishment. We go to the Wellington Cricket Museum which is closed for NO APPARENT REASON.

We turn to the assured labyrinth of Te Papa on the harbours edge. Te Papa houses a preserved Colossal Squid with eyeballs the size of footballs and the potential for calamari the size of tractor tyres. But what caught me most off guard was the Kakapo Ejaculation Helmet. The Kakapo is an endangered bird which resembles a morbidly overweight parrot. It’s also quite close to blind. Research teams trying to harvest sperm found the male in question turned his nose up at the rather beautiful robotic female they had lovingly crafted. Instead, he would try to mate with researchers heads. As a result, they designed a helmet with coils of dried glue to catch the you know what. Unfortunately, he refused to mate with heads wearing the helmet. I think they gave up after that.

After a group evening at Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill and stand up comedy at Hannah Playhouse, Ryan and I escape the big smoke…of Wellington…population 200,100…London: 7 million.

After crossing the Cook Strait we arrive in Picton. Exploring the small town we find the only Friday night action, more stand up comedy. It’s the free food which ropes us in. To circumnavigate licensing laws, they have to provide food to sell alcohol. Testimony to the size of Picton, we find most of the hostel guests (and staff) huddled round the sandwiches.

Then cookies come out! Grabbing a round of chocolate chip cookies for 4 of us, the lady serving drinks casts me a disapproving look. I want to explain that they’re not all for me, but my mouth is full of sandwiches…

Before heading on to Nelson, we walk from Picton to Bob’s Bay. We pass the Picton Men’s Community Shed and a boat pub promoting a gig that evening by ‘The Thieving Gypsy Bastards’. We return via the Harbour Viewpoint with vistas across fjords and mountains. Ryan puts his hands on his hips and grumbles “well…it’s better than Bolton”. It is.

Driving through the Marlborough’s 349 million vines to Nelson, the bus driver commentates on the traffic between his broader musings on life.

The main cause to visit Nelson, aside from a hostel with a jacuzzi, is Abel Tasman National Park. A water taxi drops me at Torrent Bay for the 5 hour trek back. Heading up the coast, the skipper points out blue penguins and seals. The seal pups make me almost as wibbley as kittens do. As I’m informed there are 800,000 of them I wonder whether they would miss just one…

Abel Tasman is confusingly beautiful. Neat tracks wind through topaz seas, towering ferns and perfectly placed plants. Even the mosses looked mindful.

After an evening of poorly played pool, I head across to Kaikora. Stopping in Blenheim to spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need.*

Kaikora is famous for its whales, seals and dolphins. After 3 hours cycling, I arrive at Ohau stream. A short ramble upstream, I discover a wriggling mess of seal pups under a waterfall. Big fan.

On the slog back I pull up at ‘Nin’s Bin’, a dilapidated caravan selling crayfish. A pin board of faded photos commemorates Ronald Clark (and his very obvious toupee). There is no explanation, but I assume he was the old owner. Seeking a high protein and low carb lunch, crayfish is bang on the mark. And only $8, warm with garlic. I place my order. The lady behind the counter lifts up the lid of her cool box for me to select my own crayfish. On their shells, in black marker, are numbers upwards from 67. This turns out to be the price of the crayfish itself, then you add on the $8 to make it edible. All good intentions dashed, I change my order to $6 chips. The portion size is suitable to feed a small zoo. That evening, I use the leftovers and 3 stray eggs to create ‘egg fried chips’. Not my proudest work.

In the hot tub at my alpine lodge accommodation, I meet Tamsin, a South African Swiss. The following day we walk through a park with arches made from whale jaws and visit the local aquarium, which was started in an old shipping container. The main appeal is ‘touch tanks’ where you can molest small fish and sea anemones.

Other titbits of information include the use of coral for bone grafts due to the similar architecture and chemical composition… That the meditative songs of the humpback whale are unique to each male, often last around 35 minutes and perfectly recited throughout their mating lifespan…. And, as a fish grows it doesn’t grow new scales, rather, the existing scales become larger. Therefore, like the growth rings of a tree, a fish can be aged by inspection of its scales.

To celebrate these wonderful creatures, we decide to eat one. The chippy in town has billboards boasting various accolades. It sucks us in and spits us out, abusing us with the cost of their tomato ketchup and mysterious (not) mayonnaise.

This feast is now coagulating as I’m exported to Christchurch. I have been warned, by many, that the city is still in tatters following the 2011 earthquakes.

Guess I’ll be finding out…

*not factually correct. It was really cold so I needed a fur coat**

**don’t be ridiculous! A hoody.

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Australia – Part III (E.Coast Road Trip)

Before being released into the wild with our rusty Land Rover, we have to watch a safety video about Fraser Island. Driving on sand and getting bogged are covered, but a disturbing proportion focuses on the native Dingos (fox like wild dogs). This was along the tracks of don’t feed them, don’t try and play with them and ensure food is locked in cars. However, this progresses into carrying a stick as a weapon, not going to the toilet on your own and ‘defending yourself aggressively’ if attacked. Landing on the island, we pass about 5 warning signs within 5 minutes of leaving the ferry.

Fraser Island. Pourquoi? In 1836 a ship called Stirling Castle was wrecked near the Island. A search party from Brisbane rescued the survivors, though the head of the ship, Captain Fraser, had died. His widow, Eliza Fraser, travelled Australia and Britain telling tales of woe from the incident, in particular, the murder of her husband by ‘The Savages’ (Aborigines). As a result, K’gara (‘paradise’), was reclaimed as Fraser Island. However, survivors argued Captain Fraser’s death was due to natural causes and that Eliza was a sneaky squirrel out to make some quick cash.

We walk through tropical rainforest and past crystalline rivers to Basin Lake. A slight anti climax in itself, we are rewarded with some impressive mosquito bites. Looking like lepers, we head to East Beach and cruise along the sand to Maheno wreck.

Although now a skeleton, the Maheno was washed ashore in much better condition in 1935. Despite listing at a 16 degree angle, the vessel itself was suitable enough to host a wedding in 1936.

The boat was a retired trans-Tasman steamer bought as scrap metal for $15,000 by the Japanese. It was being towed 50km off the coast of Fraser Island when a storm hit, the tow rope broke, and the Maheno washed up on shore. Not worth the recovery costs, this is where she has remained.

At night we camp up on the beach, avoid cooking to avoid dingos, watch the sunset and spot shooting stars whilst a lightening storm flickers in the distance. It all gets a bit too sentimental and we head to our tents. Having managed to lose 3 of our 4 ground mats during the day (ridiculous) this is ‘sleep’ of the standard that makes you weep inside.

Milking our last day on the island, we trek up sand dunes and swim in the freshwater McKenzie Lake, complete with white sand. Following a slight mishap related to being at the wrong port for the wrong ferry, we are back on the mainland bitten, battered and badly in need of biscuits.

The dingos were fine. They only followed us on one walk – which we consequently did facing backwards and with minimal enjoyment.

After snaffling some free wifi (and possibly a cheeky burger…) from Hungry Jacks, we stock up on supplies at Aldi where I’m surprised to find ‘Low Carbohydrate Potatoes’. Is this not an oxymoron? A local strain of sweets, ‘Musk Sticks’, are sampled – like eating soap. Reminiscent of those satanic Parma Violet monstrosities.

Landing in Bundaberg we skirt around the Friday night frivolities to pass out in a residential street. Bundaberg is how I imagine the Deep South, with wide streets, wood board bungalows and pie shops. The town is also famed for sugar cane farming and Bundaberg Rum. Just down the road is a town called Rum Rum and over 1,000 rum fans queued 72 hours for the launch of the latest Master Distillers Collection – Double Barrel. I think they like rum more than sugar cane.

In the eerily quiet Botanical Gardens we can hear a trombone playing in the distance as we pass the Chinese Gardens and over historical railway tracks. It’s a strange but tranquil space which also commemorates a man called Bert Hinkler. Born in Bundaberg, he became a long distance pilot, flying England to Australia in 1928.

His first home built plane used an ironing board for where he lay down, and is now hung from the ceiling of a museum in his honour. Twice he flew this under the town bridge we drove across to reach the gardens. He later settled in Southampton, England.

In the 1980s, long after his death (plane crash, awkwardly) his home was marked for demolition. Bundaberg residents and Hinkler admirers managed to transport and reconstruct the house in the Botanical Gardens. Consequently, there is a fairly ugly pebbledash house nestled amongst the ferns and palm trees. Curiously, Captain Cook’s house had the same fate, being shifted from England to Melbourne.

Town of 1770 and Agnes Waters follow. Same same but different.

After whipping up a corned beef hash (8/10) in Rockhampton we drive onwards to a free camp site and meet more wildlife in toilets – lizards today. Better than spiders and cane toads the size of my head. Whilst eating breakfast we admire an impressive touring van called ‘Midlife Crisis II’.

In Sarina we pass a gathering of folk looking at a large muddy patch. After investigating further and dishing out $25, we are confused spectators at the Queensland Mud Trial Championships. Under the chassis’ of VW Beatles and other unlikely shapes, huge engines and monster truck wheels churn through mud pits. Occasionally a tractor pulls them out when stuck. The heavily tattooed audience sport un-ironic mullets and t-shirts with slogans like ‘I’m sotally tober’. The children have rats tails.

The following day we all head off on different Whitsunday Island tours. Aboriginal legend credits the 74 Islands to an egg laying serpent of Dreamtime fame.

I’d opted for a 3 day Introduction to Sailing Course. The only one to have done so on a boat of 11 others. The general approach seemed to be for me to pull a rope (or halyard…) here and there. Further questions were generally dismissed…they might have well said ‘don’t worry your pretty little head about that’. I kicked up a stink when back and managed to get refunded.

When snorkelling we had to wear black all-in-one stinger suits to protect against jellyfish. This triggers a memory that sharks attack humans as they mistake them for seals. The ‘stinger suits’ might as well be seal costumes. I’m scared.

The array of fish available for perusal is impressive. The parrot fish and snubnose cockrod with its giraffe print pattern please me endlessly…well, until I am cold or hungry. Usually both.

I’d heard that The Whitsundays’ Whitehaven Beach has high silica ‘pure’ white sand which squeaks underfoot – and it’s true!

Back on the road to Cairns we cook steaks and braise vegetables on a BBQ. The guy next to us whacks on a tin of beans – in the tin. Ten minutes late, we watch him trying to open it.

In Townsville, we experience ‘peak irritation’ with each of us wanting to do different things with some hangryness (hunger induced anger) in the mix. We resolve to just meet back at the van 3 hours later.

I head to a cultural museum about aboriginals not being included in the consensus as humans until 1969, amongst other oppressions. This is followed by Queensland Tropical Museum. The main exhibition is about a British ship, Pandora, captained by Edward Edwards (great name). The boat was chartered to recover mutineers of another ship, Bounty (they were Bounty Hunters, I guess). Ultimately, Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef with 99 survivors scrambling into 4 emergency boats. The majority died. The whole jolly escapade is dissected in graphic detail.

Aside from the tragedy, I gather sailors were rationed 1 gallon (4.55 litres) of beer daily and the left over meat fats from cooking, called slush, were sold to candle and soap makers. The money was then used to purchase extras for the crew, hence the term ‘slush funds’.

Walking back past a boat called Prawn Star, we climb into the camper (which is starting to smell like a hamster cage) and head for camping on Mission Beach. Waking up in a fragrant furnace, I drag my duvet and pillow onto the sand and sleep on the beach. I get some strange looks in the morning so decide to go all out. I put my head through a hole on a bin bag, dye my hair, and make use of that donkey milk face mask from Korea.

After rainforest ramblings at The Boulders, we drop the van off in Cairns and head our separate ways. Like siblings, we’ve laughed together, and also wanted to rip each other’s faces off. But ultimately, Team Sanga (so many sandwiches!) will be missed.

One of Cairns tourist retailers is called ‘OK Gift Shop’. Where is the aspiration in that? I also notice a glass cage in the lobby of a hostel. After inspecting the branches and sawdust like a swivel-eyed loon, I ask the receptionist what is inside. She responds “hermit crabs, but they died”. Nothing more. Part of me thinks these two observations provide a decent enough projection of the city, but that would be a little harsh. There are free public exercise classes, flocks of migrating birds and flying foxes (HUGE bats) at night.

I spend my time in the city visiting a fortune teller, unexpectedly enjoying afternoon tea in a swanky hotel (thank you Brad, liking your smooth moves x), diving the Great Barrier Reef and eating pies (Australian tradition. Surely?).

I track down the fortune teller at Rusty’s Market. He tells me I’ll have twins, is horrible about my mum (sorry mum!) and then shows me a photo of him with Bam Magera from Jackass. Apparently we have the same hands…?

After 3 dives on the Reef I’ve knocked heads, quite literally, with a 4 foot maori wrasse called Dennis and hand fed a green sea turtle. The underwater photos were ridonkulously expensive so below is a fairly accurate (photoshopped) representation. On your 14th dive you SOO don’t need your regulator in.

The Great Barrier Reef isn’t quite the underwater theme park often depicted. It may be the biggest reef in the world, but the best it isn’t.

With a plane out to New Zealand tomorrow, I feel troubled that I’ve only seen a fraction of Australia. And a fraction which is well trodden and all too predictable. I’d love to see the outback, learn more about aborigines and hear someone actually say ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie!’.

Oh well, next time…

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Australia – Part II (E.Coast Road Trip)

Our travelling camper is bright green and from a company called ‘Jucy’. We often get approached by people mistaking it for a ice cream van. It’s a big vehicle, but still a small space for 4 fully grown humans.

After raiding the shadiest Aldi in town, we mission on to Port Macquire. The town was founded in 1821 for reoffenders booted out of Sydney. We park up by the beach after nightfall and get hassled by a local drunk whilst eating our rather delicious pasta dinner. After realising he was unnerving us, he wrote down his full name and address, asked us to send him a postcard and thankfully left.

At night, two people sleep in a claustrophobic roof compartment, and two in relative luxury down below. A ventilation skylight can be left open for fresh air. I develop an unexplainable neurosis that local children want to drop fireworks into the van (?!) so I insist on the mesh layer being pulled across, always.

The following morning we make a home at Shelley Beach. A gigantic Varanidae (similar to a Komodo Dragon) creeps around the BBQ area, whilst humpback whales frolic in the sea. Not wanting to miss anything we looked like spectators at a tennis match.

A local Koala Hospital shows us their patients. It seems most have been brought in suffering from Chlamidia. Assuming there are parallels with the human form, this rate of infection seems suspicious for solitary animals. Naughty koalas!

The hospital endearingly name their patients after those who brought them in, consequently we meet koalas called Barry, Barbara and Steve. Barry has scoliosis giving him a distinct hunchback. Another poor case, Kaylee, was brought in to have an infected eye removed. Then she fell out a tree resulting in an amputated leg. She’s not allowed in the wild again. And, and, and koalas can jump up to two meters!

After a civilised (sat at a park bench) meal in Coffs Harbour we head on towards Byron Bay. Avoiding police repremand, we pull up to sleep in a designated rest area by the motorway. The smell of fetid urine is ungodly.

At Watego Beach we meet Skye and Amando. I was at yoga camp in India with Skye (and an Aurora and a Moon…) and they are moving down to Sydney. I check out their camper which they’ve been cruising around in for a few years. Skye opens up the boot to expose organisational witchcraft. Thankfully, she then slides open the side door to reveal an exploding suitcase and some other general mess. Reassured of her mortality, they drive onwards, leaving us to wallow on the beach to the tannoy of a local surfing competition.

In Byron Bay we make up sandwiches in the car park and eat from a depression sized tub of ice cream*. Julian has a Bear Grylls moment, carving up a water bottle to funnel in water supplies for our sink.

Byron Bay is so laid back it should be slipping into the sea. It’s completely acceptable for me to walk around town in my pajamas, using a sock as a handbag.

After setting up camp at North Cliff Beach, we drink goon (cheap boxed wine) and talk about home. Apparently it’s a German right of passage to spend your youth dropping fireworks down drains. We briefly chat to an Aussie couple heading to the beach with their ‘swag’, a waterproof sleeping bag/tent set up. During a game of categories, Stacey is assured that China is a country and we binge on BBQ’ed bananas and Nutella.

We spend the following day doing…absolutely nothing. In the late afternoon we rumble up to Nimbin, a small town famed for its hippy culture. A catwalk of embroidered waistcoats and grown men with feathers in their hair bustle around a peculiar collection of shops and cafés.

After a night at Burleigh Head (where we watched a film called Old Boy – morbid but addictive), we head over to Surfers Paradise. A tram system due to be opened later this year is being piloted by drivers pulling carriages full of sand bags.

Tired of beaches, Stacey and I head to a Psychic Fair for a very unconventional day at a convention centre. It was as bizarre as we hoped. When we arrived, a lady on stage is banging her drum whilst singing a Druid song with Indian influence, channelling her ‘blood line’ from past lives. The following speaker looks much older and much madder than in her promotional leaflet. Her hair is extremely frizzy, forming a matted halo of madness as she vomits a confusing pile of buzz words such as ‘dark energies’, ‘solar flairs’ and ‘inner chi spirit’.

The stalls were equally entertaining. Want a photo showing your aura energies? No problem ($45). Want an Iridologist to look into your eyes and diagnose your ailments? Possible ($50) Want Sue Rose and her drum to identify your power animal? Sure thing ($60 – with drawing).

We listened to Sue Rose with one client, a boy of about ten. His power animal is a sea eagle…called Leroy. Leroy. Leroy!

Overwhelmingly, these money spinners are overweight, seemingly with no lack of food funds. Stacey spots one creature counting a wad of notes in her handbag.

Leaving Surfers Paradise we drop by a fish market which has mug shots of a man who has been shoplifting slippery suppers. As the sea life is laid out on ice, devoid of any packaging, I hold a certain degree of admiration for the man.

Passing by ‘Curtain Wonderland’ and ‘No Braces, Better Faces’, we arrive at Alexandra Harbour. The journey is via Brisbane (good bridges) to pick up some keys from a chap called Tom and his impeccable dog. I cycled round San Francisco with Tom back in January and he’d kindly offered up his coastal apartment for some temporary comfort. This makes him a dude of the highest order.

Our new nest is perfect, with abundant signs of civilised life. We enjoy spending time here, pretending to be normal humans. But first we gut our fish on the balcony and muddle through a new cooking experience.

Before catching some zeds, we watch Austin Powers. I’m struck by the hilarity of Dr. Evils speech about his childhood. Link here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTJj4wbmAhk&sns=em . This pretty much makes my day.

Following a day of generic life admin (food shopping, post office blah blah blah…), the evening is spent playing poker with Monopoly money. I’m educated in ‘The Anna Kournikova’, which is an Ace and a King looks good but doesn’t do much. This seems a little unfair. Australian Koalas..?

Landlord Tom joins us the following day. Driving into the hinterland, he explains the controlled burnings of forest to create open channels as future fire breaks. Near Montville (charming), we walk to a lake for swimming / jumping / trying to remain garmented under waterfalls.

Australia has a number (over 150) of giant fibreglass objects as embarrassingly transparent yet confusing tourist attractions. Experiencing the Golden Circle sponsored Giant Pineapple, we learn that our delicious friends take a full 2 years to ripen…and that Golden Circle have 500 product lines. Good to know.

After some You’ve Been Framed worthy surfing, Tom drops a ton of typical Australian treats. Kangaroo Kebabs (earthy beef), Anzac Cookies (oat and coconut biscuits), Fantales (chocolate covered chewy caramel, like glue), Lamingtons (desiccated coconut on chocolate covered sponge), fruit rolls (also like glue) and honey roasted macadamia nuts (yes).

After an emotional morning hugging the breakfast bar and stroking the sofas, we climb back into our brightly coloured tractor for the drive to Hervey Bay. On the way we pass Murdering Creek and stop in Noosa, the holiday destination for those with a high disposable income, i.e not us. We scurry away to the unspoilt landscapes of Noosa National Park and cook up our best meal yet using packet noodles. It is possible!

Having spent a while in our wheeled bucket, we’ve become accustomed to her wily ways. Gluttonous fuel consumption, hiccuping taps and NO ROOM to name a few. At a petrol stop we see a sunburnt tourist heaving with hot tears of frustration at the wheel of her rented van of the same brand. Sagely nodding with a deep appreciation of her grievances…we buy some cloths to tie up our sagging wing mirrors and get the hell outta there. It’s a dog eat dog world and we’ve got a deadline for adventures new.

Consequently, we are now sat on a blustery ferry to Fraser Island with a rented 4WD, camping equipment and a forecast of thunderstorms.

* Seibertz, J. (2014). German male on road trip. Day 5.

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Australia – Part I (Sydney)

In Sydney airport I’m feeling Australia was a cop out. I understand the signage and look like everybody else. My baselining levels of fear feel alien.

With Westfield shopping centres, Mel B on the radio, trains to Guildford and my first night in Waverley Council, it feels like it might be easier to pick out whats different to home, rather than the same. Why were the British colonialists so unoriginal?

I’m staying in Bondi with Kat, an old flat mate from London. From her back garden, you can hear waves from the sweeping coast. Being in an actual home is quite thrilling. I make full use of most domestic appliances.

Bondi beach and the surrounding area is pristine and surprisingly small town. The coastal path which winds round to Coogee Beach and beyond is also worth joining the pilgrimage for, if only for Victoria Graveyard (Over $50,000 for a plot).

The city trains are double decker, which excites me no end when migrating to my hostel in Newtown. I meet a friendly bunch, including a Frenchman who was previously working as an engineer. Now he is putting his working visa to good use packing potatoes. He shows me his bruised and swollen hands whilst laughing and shouting “living the dream!”.

Through a subtle arrangement with Kat I end up spending 4 hours flyering in the Hurstville Westfields Mall. The Easter Weekend rates are quite favourable! Whilst wearing my allocated flashing bunny ears, I notice the Australians here look different (larger surface area and more varied topography). If ever you need a motivation to eat well and wear sunscreen…

Usually the exchange is simple. I ham up my British accent and they take a flyer. But some people want to share more. One man declares the breakdown of society and the need for mass executions, another shows me his collection of Santa Claus photos.

Heading back to the hostel, hoards of preened women in short dresses (long tops…?) and shoes the size of bricks struggle to project forwards. It reminds me of dressage.

Joining a free walking tour there is a big kerfuffle nearby. News channels are parked up and a helicopter is circling overhead. Kate and Wills (of Royalty fame) are attending mass in the city church.

On the tour I learn that we British dumped our unsavoury population in Sydney after North America was no longer viable. One talented convict, Francis Greenway, became the architect behind many of the cities oldest buildings.

Sydney is proud to have only experienced one act of terrorism, which was thought to be aimed at a visiting Margaret Thatcher.

When moving the Australian currency away from the pound, an open competition led to the short listing of ‘Kanga’ as a potential replacement. This is a vast improvement on the Australian Dollar. What a wasted opportunity!

We learn about Arthur Stace, or Mr Eternity, who wrote ‘Eternity’ up to 20,000 times around Sydney in the 50s and 60s. Ultimately, this was due to him misunderstanding a priests sermon, however, it has become part of the cities history and even featured during a recent New Years fireworks display.

The Danish architect of the Sydney Opera House, Jorn Utson, never saw his completed project after relationships with country officials turned sour.

In 2003 three students received a $150,000 cleaning bill after painting ‘NO WAR’ on the Sydney Opera House, in protest against the Iraq conflict. They settled the debt by selling figurines of the iconic building with their moto drawn on with permanent marker.

After trying not to insult our ‘free’ tour guide with a minimal tip, we head for a museum about ‘The Rocks’. This is the area where convicts were exiled and ramshackled houses built. In the 1970s the government sought to flatten and regenerate the area. This was met with opposition from the ABL (Association of Builders & Labourers) whose members refused contracts on account of the ‘The Rocks’ being the long established stomping grounds of the working class. This lead to the eventual restoration and preservation of ‘The Rocks’. Ironically, these tight lanes in the heart of the city are now one of the most prestigious (and expensive) locations to reside.

Inexplicably, the museum also played a video on wood block roads. Apparently these were used in Paris and London before Sydney. Wood block was favoured over stone cobbles as they afforded greater comfort for horses whilst also being quieter for local residents. The Australian hardwoods and drier climate meant they survived well with the maintenance of ‘Block Boys’ or ‘Sparrow Starvers’ (as they cleaned up the horse mess which sustained the local birds). Unfortunately the wood blocks are no longer visible, preserved under Tarmac roads.

We climb up one of the Sydney Bridge Pylons for panoramic views of the harbour area. Over 30 years in the making, the government only cracked when the existing bridges and ferries could no longer sustain the traffic of the growing city. The pylon also used to be occupied by several white cats in the 70s, a fetish of the lady maintaining the museum within. I want a time machine! …or just some white cats…

Still trying to exhaust my companion, we catch a ferry to Cockatoo Island. The island was formally used for isolating convicts, though you can now camp on site amongst the derelict buildings. Contemporary art displays are scattered along the 1km circumference, including the projection of a 50m waterfall, with sound effects.

After some sub standard sweet and sour pork in Chinatown I slump into bed and dream that I am a terrible mother, leaving my daughter locked in an overheating car.

The next day, a motley crew head out to the Blue Mountains. Just two hours out of the city you can trek within fertile Grand Canyon like landscapes. The day is punctuated by a knee injury and an argument over faux gras.

Having recruited my roomie, Stacey, on an East coast adventure, we spend our last morning heading up the Parramatta river to the Olympic Park (as expected).

I eek out the day in the Museum of Contemporary Art (pleases my eyeballs), watching the sun set at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in the Royal Botanical Gardens (pleases my eyeballs) and visiting Luna Park, a horror movie worthy funfair (please don’t spoon out my eyeballs).

Sydney has been predictably enjoyable and unpredictably familiar. I’ll miss flip flops in vending machines and the anti-littering posters declaring ‘Don’t be a tosser!’.

But I have a big green Campervan, 2 German drivers (independent men in their own right) and a Stacey. And 1,800km of coast to be discovered. May the road trip commence….!

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Taster of Tokyo

The elaborate seven-step daily skincare routine undertaken by both males and females in South Korea was explained to me on my last night. Indeed, their skin is strikingly supple. Inspired, I buy myself a face mask in Duty Free. It boasts Donkey Milk as its active ingredient…which I find strange. Apparently this is good as it is close to breast milk…which I find strange.

On the flight from Seoul I was sat in a window seat. The guy next to me nods across and casually asks “is that a fire?”. Panic stricken, I manically investigate out the window, classifying him a freak for such a placid enquiry. Then I realise he’s asking about my Kindle(Fire)…oh, how we laughed.

Tokyo. I’ll start with the toilets. The seats are heated and at the press of a button you can request fake flushing sounds should you need to disguise other noises. These lust worthy lavatories are also at my hostel in Asaksabashi. Local to the place are exciting attractions such as a Bag Museum and a Stationary Museum.

Shortly after arriving I’m cajoled into joining a bar crawl in the Rappongi district. Keen to bond with folk, I join the crowd. After a short while, I meet a Japanese man child who looks 14 and is playing chess on his phone. We start playing against each other and stop talking to other people. Party. Animals.

A number of ‘No Dancing’ signs can be found in Japanese bars and a couple of clubs. Rather than an ironic joke this is actually due to a license being required for dancing. Certain conditions have to be met, such as an unobstructed space of at least 60m squared (how are they dancing?!?!). It’s ridiculous, and people do dance, though police raids sometimes result. This rule seems as odd as putting donkey milk on your face.

The following day I have a local guide, well, Matt. He’s from the UK but currently lives and works near Tokyo. I know him through a guy I played netball with (yes, men do play netball!!). We head to Senso-ji temple which was founded in 645 and is credited with building up the Akasaka area. There are stalls of high calorie and low nutrition snacks. After a stroll in Ueno park and some OMG amaze balls Takayama Ramen we go to the bright lights of Akihabara. Within a vibrant red Sega building we discover a photo booth which enlarges your eyes and smoothed your skin. You can then layer a selection of cringeworthy statements and cartoons over your plastic looking selves. We look like camp alien children (…in the photos, to clarify).

We eat ice cream made to look like teddy bears in a ‘maid bar’ where young Japanese women dress, and act, like over sexualised minors. We sit amongst a crowd of appreciative Japanese customers.

Within another high rise block we browse music and DVDs. With each floor the manga (Japanese cartoons) becomes more depraved. Then it’s not manga and we seem to have found ourselves in a human porn shop.

We cleanse our minds in Shibuya, famous for it’s busy, neon cluttered crossing. Matt tells me about the strict etiquette of Japanese friendships which have left him unceremoniously dropped by one man. He points out the video games and adverts featuring Hatsune Miku, a digital singing prodigy making Crypton Future Media and Yamaha millions. Using software, musicians can compose songs she sings to and which frequently appear in the best seller charts. Her avatar also appears in ticketed holographic gigs. Related to his work, I learn about the mind boggling data mining possible through Last.fm, spotify etc. Apparently, each users listening history is called a ‘scrobble’. I head home with painful feet and a full brain. Matt – thanks for the crash course in all things Japanese and miscellaneous other!

Hostel Tim and I jump on bikes the following day. In the style of local set ups, they resemble Elliot’s bike from the film E.T. We see packets of dried fish tails, octopi, giant bluefin tunas and hoards of tourists at Tsujiki Central Fish Market. Shifting 2,400 tonnes of dead animal a day it is the worlds largest seafood market. Tim confesses that through confusion he once tried to skin a fish…before cooking. Not easy.

Moving on, we see lunging businessmen on their lunch breaks and wind through the narrow streets of trendy Shimo-Kitazawa way out west. By this point I’m about to chew my own face off with hunger so we duck into a small local cafe and hastily point at pictures. I’m convinced the meat in my noodles is pig anus. The offending items are pale with visible translucent blue veins, wrinkled and don’t chew so well.

Japan is famous for their onsen. These are public baths, usually with natural volcanic waters and a series of steam rooms. They are single sex and NAKED! Tattoos are banned due to their mafia (or yakuza) associations. After a schlep across town we are greeted by a ‘closed for maintenance’ sign. After staring at the sign and escalators for several minutes, we admit defeat and call it a day.

The next day I jump back on the bike to spend a day exploring the Tokyo Bay Area. Two hours in and my plan has gone terribly. I’m completely lost and the most interesting thing I’ve found is a collective of sleeping taxi drivers beneath an underpass. Eventually, I get across Rainbow Bridge into the spacious modernity of Odaiba. You’d be hard pushed to call it Venice but multiple bridges connect multiple islands. Incidentally, the famous fish market is due to move here in 2015.

Spotting a sign for ‘Palette World’, I get all worked up over the prospect of seeing so many palettes in one place. Maybe they’ve been decorated to! I cycle over to instead find a McDonalds and a Subway. That kind of (undiscerning) palette…

God knows how, but I then end up in a car show room. It’s pretty dull until I get ushered into a seatbelt safety simulator. Me and an old Japanese man get strapped in and chucked about to a chaotic video which makes no sense. The frail man vocalises his ecstasy throughout.

But the fun isn’t over yet! I take part in some Toyota research on the use of plug-in hybrid vehicles in emergencies!! They are lobbying to introduce inter-car communication systems for use in disasters, such as earthquakes. Often telecom signals go down or are over saturated. Their proposed system would allow contact with loved ones and for emergency electricity requests to be sent and received which drivers can respond to. The altruistic potential is impressive as charged vehicles could be used for medical equipment, search lighting etc etc

Feeling uplifted about life, I head to the Tokyo Contemporary Art Museum. Two pieces stood out for me. One was by a lady called Kana Yoshida. She had laid out a string grid on a Finnish lake in Winter. Once frozen over and covered in snow she used the markers to create a chess board effect by shifting the snow off every other square. The smooth dark ice starkly contrasted with gleaming snow. This process, and the following days are recorded on time lapse, showing the bizarrely patterned melting process which baffles passers by.

The second was a video by Spanish artist, Cristina Lucas, which pivoted on a passage from a Virginia Woolf novel which contrasts dogs standing on their hind legs to women acting (I.e at the time, being like men – human). She manages to make you laugh whilst also demonstrating a frustrating and unfair inequality in life. I can’t do it justice with words.

I end the day up the Tokyo Skytree tower confirming that, yes, this city is large.

The following morning Chrystal and I wake early for attempt number two at visiting an Onsen. After a schlep across town we are greeted by a ‘closed for maintenance’ sign. At least we now have an intimate knowledge of the subway…

And, alas I have to leave Japan…I’ll miss the cycling. As you can be on the sidewalk or in the road, movement through the urban sprawl is pacey and good fun.

I didn’t have close to long enough in this country. Hiroshima, Kyoto and boarding in the mountains will have to wait….*sad face*

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The North Korean Border

The below is my current understanding of the related history and current situation. I’m sure it is riddled with inaccuracies…

The Korean Peninsula used to be united as one country. Following the Second World War and the ousting of Japanese occupation, the people of Korea had little power. The US and the Soviet Union decided to split the territory along the 38th parallel, creating North and South Korea (well, technically, the Peoples’ Republic of Korea (North) and Republic of Korea (South)).

North Korea adopted communism from the Soviet Union, and South Korea, parliamentary democracy from the US. Both countries want to be unified BUT this pivots on adopting one political ideal which neither are prepared to budge on. As a result there is hostility and the threat of enforced unification (by the North).

In 1950, North Korea (and Chinese troops) invaded South Korea, taking Seoul and many other major cities. With the support of the UN and resources from 25 nations (and millions of lost lives) South Korea was recaptured.

Negotiations were (and still are) held on the border, in the Joint Security Area (JSA or Panmunjum) and after 700 odd talks an armistice was agreed. This armistice is ongoing with the Koreas, technically, still at war. No peace treaty has been signed.

To ease tensions the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was also put in place. This buffer extends 2km North and South of the border, coast to coast.

Twenty-one months of military service are undertaken by male South Koreans between the ages of 18-36. And of those active in the South Korean military, 65% are posted to monitor the border of the DMZ (reputed to be 90% of North Korean) Therefore, ironically, the DMZ is actually the most militarised border in the world.

Between 1974 and 1990, the South Koreans discovered 4 tunnels 70-80m under the ground, crossing the DMZ. A North Korean man working on one of the tunnels fled to the south (losing a leg in a mine blast) and in exchange for personal protection within Seoul, indicated where they could be found.

Once discovered, it was apparent that the granite tunnels had been painted in charcoal paint to appear like a mine, rather than access points for an attack on the South.

Our first stop is to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, which is barricaded at the border with 3 concrete partitions. No cameras are allowed. So just imagine a tunnel!

Next we drop by a viewpoint where a ‘propaganda village’ is just visible through the morning haze. A propaganda village is like a film set, to give the illusion of prosperity, although nobody actually lives there. At night the lights in top floor windows are bright, but less so moving down to lower floors, suggesting the building are empty shells. A GPS blocking tower is also visible.

Driving to the JSA, we pass Tae Sung Dong, one of 3 villages within the DMZ zone. Here, tax and military service do not apply and produce (ginseng, rice and soy beans) grown here is highly desirable. Farmers here earn around $100,000 a year. In the 80s a 98m flag pole was erected in Tae Song Dong. Within sight, 12km away, the propaganda village of Kijong-Dong soon had a 160m flag pole installed. At the time, this was the tallest flag pole, and largest flag in the world.

Due to North Korea, South Korea is blocked from much desired rail transport into China, Russia and Europe. During a period of cooperation, a line was build and materials started being transported from Dorasan (S.Korea) to Kaesong (city in N.Korea) with the hope of longer range transit of humans. In 2008, N.Korea stopped admitting trains whilst their soldiers visible in the JSA stopped wearing the armistice armband.

Within the DMZ is Camp Bonifas, which houses Republic of Korea and UN/US personnel. There is also the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (Switzerland and Sweden) on site. Their presence is mainly a reminder of the ceasefire agreement and they interview North Koreans who have crossed the border to determine whether they want to be repatriated or defect to the South.

Due to a forgotten passport our tour guide has to babysit one person at Camp Boniface near the JSA. As a result, a US officer becomes our guide. He has a strong southern drawl, a meaty head and attitude problems.

Nevertheless we get to see the famous blue UNCMAC (United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission) conference room. This is flanked by South Korean soldiers looking to the North and vice versa. The border between the countries runs through the middle, however you can move about freely within the room. So, technically, I have been to North Korea, which is mildly exciting.

We learn about some of the skirmishes over the years, including the axe murder incident of August 1976. After seeking permission from North Korea a small group of military personnel started to chop down a poplar tree which obscured the view between two checkpoints. This was not popular with observing North Korean military and resulted in the axes being wielded for other purposes. Two officers died, including Capt. Bonifas, the Panmunjom/JSA base namesake.

As a result of this, two things happened. One, the tree was cut down in a deliberate show of force (Operation Paul Bunyun). The lumber jacking work was supported by Special Forces on the ground, 27 helicopters and a number of other fighter jets. The North Koreans did not intervene and the tree was successfully removed. Two, where there was previously shared space within the JSA, a clear line was marked with white stakes and concrete blocks with no crossings permitted.

It’s believed that 90% of North Korean artillery is maintained in a hillside close to the DMZ. Within 7 minutes Seoul could be flattened. Only a few days prior to my visit (31st March) shots were being exchanged between the two countries over islands on the ocean. It makes you start to feel a bit twitchy.

I left wondering a few things. It’s strange to use this place as a tourist destination. Are certain details hammed up or brushed away to maintain a clean (and very one sided) narrative? With further research, there are certainly times when the South have been provocative. Do the guards REALLY stand facing each other in such aggressive stances for 4 hour shifts throughout the day? One of the guides suggests not, that this is just during talks or when tourists are in the vicinity.

Ultimately, it’s fascinating. The mystery of life in the hermit kingdom to the North is magnetic. With no peace treaty in place and fairly regular fire stoking (largely by the North, but not exclusively) how will history pan out? (???)

And I never found out why the conference building were painted that distinct bright blue. Which bothers me.

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Cracking open Korea

Up front…Korea is an incredible country. You should go. You should go. Do it. Go.

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Seoul’s International Airport is immaculate, modern and slick. This tends to hold true for all things here on out.

The city design is considerate and efficient. Wifi underground, travel cards which work across the whole country and call buttons for more loo roll in public facilities (woooo!).

When using the ATM for the first time I go to withdraw an unknown amount (failure to do FX research), the screen informs me I have”won” 1,000. This is clearly exciting, until I realised “won” is the Korean currency and 1,000 is worth about 55p.

My hostel is in the Hongdau district. The streets throb with painfully trendy young people and shops feeding their addiction. My budget goes out the window. The first shop, ironically, hands over my purchase in an ‘I love London’ plastic bag.

In the evening I linger in the lobby waiting to attack someone. Sometimes I resort to this method of enforced social activity when I’ve been on my own for too long and the voices in my head start again…

I meet Australians Reece and Annalise. They had previously lived in Korea for 6 months. We potter about the backstreets whilst my mind continues to be blown by the creativity, variety and cleanliness of…everything! We eat rice burgers with Kimchi (local fetish of fermented cabbage) and then head to an underground bar which has world beers across 6 fridges. In line with their trust based system, you help yourself and pay on leaving. I don’t think this would work in England.

Reece disseminated knowledge. It’s not unusual for Korean parents to fund eyelid surgery, often when their offspring are about fourteen. This is to create a more open eye and is undertaken by a significant chunk of the younger generation. Also popular is the shaving of cheekbones and removal of jaw corners for a flatter and more triangular face.

Christianity has also been adopted at pace, recently overtaking Buddhism as the countries main religion. Sceptics see Christianity being equated with materialistic wealth and status (i.e being like the US) rather than a fervent calling to god.

I’m delighted to be shamelessly wearing sports trainers with jeans – a fashionable uniform here. Trainers have to be box fresh and paired with skinny jeans. Blissfully practical when walking all day. I’m bringing this look home with me.

I walk to the Old and New City Halls. There is an event on in the public square to, seemingly, raise awareness of water and…pavement? Inside one of the tents I get to make some badges for free. No idea how this helped either cause…

By joyful luck I am in Korea the one week of the year that cherry blossom trees flower. Walking around the ornate pagodas of Deoksugung and Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds whilst petals snowed down was tranquil and quite surreal.

In the National Folk Museum I learn about Geomantic Theory having dictated the sites and orientation of many Korean cities. The ideal site, called “baesanimsu”, has a river at the front and a mountain at the back.

Traditionally, when a male is born into the family rope is hung across the front door, with coal and red peppers entwined. For girls, coal and pine twigs. Another section of the museum is dedicated to the practise of “napping”. Big fan.

I confront the entrance to yet another palace and another 3,000 won entrance fee and instead head back to the hostel. Annalise and Reece are up for a Cat Cafe. Coffees are 8,000 won but there are cats. Cats! This expenditure is not a problem for me. I feel happy but culturally guilty surrounded by eighteen (eighteen!) extravagantly fluffy cats. Shortly after wondering how peace prevails, two cats become a fast moving tumbleweed projecting wild noises and clumps of fur (mobile video of the warm up to this available on request). They have to be pulled apart. Blood is drawn, both human and feline. The whole operation has lost its magic and we leave.

The following day requires some life admin. The Myanmar (Burmese) Embassy take my passport for visa processing and the train station is ransacked for tickets.

Right beside the station is a modern art museum. It’s free (yippee!) and has a number of design ideas which will be stolen, including the use of painted tyres as planters. In Namdeamun Market I find sneakily subverted patents. A post purchase snip of connecting (but not stitched) leather here and there and you have yourself a “Chanel” bag.

Taking a cable car up to N Seoul Tower in Namsan Park there are views across the expanse of the city (big) and their own version of Paris’ bridge of padlocks dedicated to past and current loves.

In the evening Matilda (Finnish yoga beauty, and my room mate) and I head out for falafel but avoid beer topped with ice cream. Sweetened pine bud juice, on the other hand, good.

The next morning I slice through the countryside at 270km/h on the fast train to Busan on the south coast. There are drop down TVs showing news and weather. It looks like the weather lady wears clothes which reflect the conditions as she’s coddled up in a hefty raincoat, which must be hot under studio lights.

The Koreans in Busan largely remain aliens of perfection, BUT, I do spy a hair out of place here and there and occasionally trainers which look like they may have done some training.

The hostel toilets have armrests with some intriguing animations below various buttons. I’m scared.

I meet Olivier (French), Phoebe (Malaysian) and Saraya (Australian) and we head out for a feast of Korean style chicken and soju (potent local drink). This is followed by a traditional desert of frozen milk shavings with soya powder, condensed milk, squishy rice cake and almonds. Completely odd but oh so deliciouso.

The subway plays the sound of seagulls for coastal stops and classical music for transfer stations. Couples wear matching outfits. I encounter a mad old lady who looks like Cruella Da Ville and smashes the end of her umbrella into the ground with every step. She is about four foot tall, but terrifying.

Phoebe, Saraya and I go to the Trick Eye Museum which is a collection of optical illusions which you integrate yourself into and take photos. This is all. We eat mandu (fried dim sum) and hoeddeok (doughnut like dough with cinnamon, sugar and sunflower seeds) and browse k-pop (Korean music…).

At night I potter along the Suyeong River and stare at Gwangan Bridge, adorned with 16,000 LEDs. Despite the late hour people are out running and I don’t see one shady looking character. Again…everything immaculate and the architecture striking.

I visit Gamcheon Cultural Village, a scramble of pastel coloured housing on a hillside. Plonk it in Brazil and it’s a favela, but it’s not, so it isn’t. Weaving through the small alleyways there are art installations, cafés and dubious potato snacks. My journey there had been long winded so I asked (mimed) for directions on the way back and end up with a Korean woman pulling me by my jumper for 5 minutes and then forcefully pushing me onto a bus. I sensed it was her duty to help me, but she wasn’t best pleased about it. I later end up in the subway control centre surrounded by security camera screens and tunnel maps as 5 members of staff draw out a map.

The hospitality of Koreans is comprehensive and included chewing gum and business cards. I was escorted a full journey across two subway lines by a guy who spoke very little English. I tried to ask about the face masks some people wear and whether it is to protect against external germs, or because they are ill. With my animations he believes that I am asking about snorkelling and struggles to churn out some thoughts on this obscure and challenging topic.

Before rushing to the overnight ferry to Jeju I tailgate a lady and her dog. The dog is wearing a nappy with a hole cut out for the tail…and it’s ears are dyed purple. This a deviation from the usual selection of dog jumpers and transportation handbags.

The ferry to Jeju Island has a whole deck dedicated to Karaoke, and massage chairs on the lower deck. When people lie on them it’s hard to distinguish massage from potential fitting. We spend the journey drinking soju and beer with dried chewy squid. When in Korea…

On the Jeju tourist map I’m delighted to spot the attraction “A Story of an Enzyme by Lazy Farmer” just round the corner from the hostel. It appears to be a simple brewery lost in translation, which is a travesty!

Jeju Island is home to Love Land. A quite unfathomable park dedicated to…sex. It was supposedly set up to help educate honeymooning couples. It’s a special place, with animated displays and phallic fountains. Embarrassed Korean men zoom through the place laughing nervously with exasperated girlfriends trailing behind.

Before flying back up to Seoul we visit the Jeju Meseum of Art (nice building, inspiring talent: Cha Kyu & Chang Lee Suol), Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (steep) and hike up the snow mottled Mt. Hallasan (painful).

After picking up my passport from the Myanmar Embassy (visa issued – yay) it takes me 2 hours, lots of miming and a queue to speak to an English speaking personal banker to find a post office where I mail a new wardrobe home.

Filming for a Marvel film had been taking place in the Digital Media City area of the city. No sign of action so I walked to the Seoul World Cup Stadium (hosted in 2002 by Korea and Japan). On the way I see 100 naughty old men being disbanded by the police for playing cards and gambling in public park land. Afterwards I find myself paying to visit the Korean World Cup Football Museum. For me, it is monumentally boring. Displays of ticket stubs and promotional posters make me want to claw my eyes out. Standing alone in an empty stadium and potentially pub quiz worthy facts (i.e subbing players only came into action in 1966 and first World Cup was in Uruguay in 1930) make the 60p entrance fee bearable. The experience ended on a depressing note with the gift shop desperately trying to flog left over (…for 12 years) caps with their country stitched on the front…spelt incorrectly…COREA.

On my last day before flying onwards to Tokyo I visited the North Korean Border. I’ll be tackling this in a separate post as this is long enough already (!) and the gravity of the subject needs it’s own space. Also…my (female) roommate is shaving her moustache and I want to watch.

Korea is a wonderland of underfloor heating, crisp ski resort air, lovely looking people and water which makes my hair so soft it feels invisible. I only saw one homeless man and he honestly looked cleaner than me.

There seems to be a strong Korean identity and a consensus on what looks and feels good. I wonder if this ease of agreement is due to a lack of multiculturalism. The country feels 100% Korean (minus the usual super chains from the US) and I want to be a part of this immaculate club! Korea presents a temptation to be the best whitened and tightened version of yourself. I want to go home, wear well tailored clothes in muted colours and own a small dog.

I’m sure the cracks would start to show over time. I hear rumours of well concealed mental health and personal debt issues. But I’ve enjoyed the illusion.

As it stands, this country can do no wrong – shame about the badly behaved neighbours.

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