Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What have I learned in Korea? - Taraa!!

[Katherine]:  Today is our last full day in the 'country' of Korea. I use inverted commas because I've never seen a country like it and definitely wouldn't want to see a country like it again!

As people know, I'm probably Korea's smallest fan (joint with my beloved). I don't think this is an unfair assessment as I gave this place and it's people about a million chances before I got fed up and became all bitter and twisted! It's a small miracle that I have lasted this long, and I'm not sure I'm a better person for it. You never know though, and only time will tell!

The whole year started out in the midst of hell up a mountain, in 'the Shack' in Ancheon. It's ended in Greg's one room in Buan, which I moved into in February, and comes via a frozen winter in the shack with no hot water and a frozen toilet bowl. It's not been a great year and I will certainly never return to this country (unless for like a million pounds), but hopefully it's not been all bad! I think now I've been through this I can cope with anything and it's also given me the balls (and the money) to finally do my MA after 6 years of procrastinating. It's also got me a fab boyfriend for the long term, and hopefully we can get through the rest of our lives now we've got through Korea! So, it's not been ALL bad! However, just because I'm a bitch, here's the list of things I'm definitely NOT going to miss!

1. The people (well 99% of them). I will not miss being glared at, gurned at, pointed at or yelled at when I am just going about the street doing my business.
2. People moving on the subway when I sit down like I have the plague.
3. The weather - whatever they tell you, this country doesn't have 4 seasons, it has 2 - FREEZING and BOILING :(
4. The job - my kids were mostly sweet but had no English level, and teaching them without any support was a nightmare!
5.BORSTAL - these kids were not sweet, and the teachers were a pair of bastards!
6. living in squalor not of my own making. (both in Ancheon and Buan). Sleeping against a wall for six months is not my idea of fun.
7. Having to smile when all I want to do is cry, and lying about my feelings for Korea, so I don't offend these Koreans.
8. The FOOD - it's dire, it smells funny, it's still alive, it's just gross and it makes me sick!
9. Having people take my hard earned money off me for absolutely no reason!
10. Having people tell me I'm wrong, when I'm soo right, and me having to smile and except it!

Ah, that feels better, anyway - farewell Korea and farewell blog, it's time for Suffolk and London and hopefully peace of mind - go England, I'll never criticise you again!!!

Kuala Lumpur –well, it wasn’t Borneo, but it was better than Korea!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Borneo Adventure - guest starring Mags

[Katherine]:  To my delight I got to escape Korea for 2 whole weeks by jaunting it up in Malaysia - to my great surprise my poor mum, Mags agreed to be dragged along with me so she could finally appreciate the delights of Asia (not Korea). We decided to spend 8 days getting to know the monkeys in Borneo and then 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, where we would meet up with Greg and play with baby elephants - cute!!

After a long flight from Korea for me, and an even longer 17 hour flight from the UK for Mags, we arrived at KL airport. on the Sunday. I had gone to the cheapo Air Asia terminal and Mags had flown to the nice one and my flight got in 5 hours before hers so I got to know the couches at the airport, which were surprisingly comfy - take note Heathrow!! We were soon on our way back to the crappy low cost terminal and on to Kuching in Borneo!! Mags was v hardcore and didn't actually die on the plane, I remember my first long haul flight and it was a massive disaster!!

After lots of flying and a loooong taxi drive, we arrived at the first centre of our 3 centre holiday (yes we are that posh!), the Damai Beach resort. It was in the middle of nowhere, about 40 minutes from Kuching, but it was perfect for us as we just wanted time to relax, unwind and get over jetlag! It also had a great pool and was right at the edge of the rainforest and so we got the authentic Borneo experience! We settled into the hotel and Mags was shocked to learn that my lifestyle of starvation in Korea had led me to be unable to consume a full meal - sad times! This was definitely rectified later in the holiday.


The next day we just had a day of sunbathing, which was meant to lull us into the holiday spirit and chill us out, unfortunately I didn't realise that the sun was powerful enough to come through the clouds, so it led to us getting 3rd degree burns - my skin was a canvas of pain for the rest of the holiday! On the plus side, we got to eat a club sandwich, which was the best thing ever! We also drank real wine which is lovely when you've lived on 'Korea house wine' for a year!


On the Tuesday, we ventured into the rainforest, to the Sarawak Cultural Village. It was very interesting and we learned about the millions of tribes that make up the ethnic population of Sarawak Borneo. It was really nice to learn that different religions and ethnicities can live together peacefully - shame they can't manage it in riot torn Oldham! Other fun highlights of the day included Mags using a blow pipe to hit a target with an arrow (I failed miserably), and us making some tunes with an authentic xylophone. Low points of the day included some Koreans sitting in front of us and making total nuisances of themselves! They are so annoying!

failing miserably at using a blow pipe!

On Wednesday we went on a river cruise on the Sarawak River, we saw a giant crocodile, which we thought was fake until it jumped in the river and terrified us. We also saw loads of monkeys and tiny glimpses of Irwaddy dolphins. The end of the tour was the best bit, we saw fireflies which are these bugs that just flicker like Christmas tree lights. It was really magical and peaceful, although the dark boat did freak us out at the end! The biggest bonus of it was that we didn't get bitten at all, which is a damn miracle for pasty asses from the UK in the middle of a rainforest river at night - go caution!

Scary Crocodile!

It was a shame Greg didn't come with us as the hotel contained something he would have truly loved - a cat feeding station! As the word Kuching (nearest place to Damai) means 'Cat' they are all fond of cats here, so left out special bowls of food for them to nibble on, it was kind of weird to have cats wandering around and a bit skanky, but amusing all the same - especially when a guy in the pool hit one of them with a frisbee by mistake!! (I didn't laugh, honest!)

Cat feeding station!!

Kerching! Its Kuching!

For the second part of our fabulouso holiday, we went to the more urban area of Kuching. It was so we could eat out more, explore etc but I was very sad to leave the comfiness of the Damai Beach Resort. Luckily, we had checked into the 5 Star Pullman Hotel, which is the best hotel ever, so I was not sad for long! It was super new and modern and had a bar which did 2 for 1 cocktails at happy hour (we became nightly regulars) it was really luxurious, we had a gorgeous room and a love motel-esque shower room. The pool was also massive and mostly empty so I did exercise for the first time in a long time! The pool area also had cabanas (free!) so we hung out there for many an hour being completely lazy!



It was great! Unfortunately, the hotel was up a massive hill, which walking up in the heat is never a good thing. Kuching was a bit of a dump. They had some really beautiful hotels and colonial buildings dumped in the middle of a big shanty town with crappy pavements and shacky houses - it was like a bigger version of Ancheon! The tourist industry is obviously the biggest economy in Kuching because of the wildlife, but it's like they don't get how to make the most of it - very random! But all the people in both hotels and in restaurants were really lovely, which is more than can be said for Kuala Lumpur!

On the first day we decided to explore Kuching, with myself the seasoned traveler and crap map reader deciding that I knew the way to the Waterfront (Kuching’s main feature). However, as I am a crap map reader, I instead took us on a massive detour in the burning midday sun which almost killed us! Luckily a friendly Kuchinger (?!) took pity on us and showed us the way to the waterfront. We were then too knackered to do any sightseeing so just ate at an overprice Bistro (Charles Brookes Bistro), which had rude staff and is racist according to the bible that is Trip Advisor!

In the evening, we decided to go to a restaurant, Junk, that had been recommended by Trip Advisor, but we didn’t know how to get there. So after a half price pina colada we hopped it to reception. The reception guy was not helpful at all – Women here were so much friendlier, except the friendly concierge, he was ace! So we got a taxi to the restaurant. Unfortunately, our taxi driver didn’t have a clue where we were going – we were very worried that it would be super far! When he eventually worked it out, we got in his taxi and it stunk of wee! It was the grossest thing ever! As it turns out, the taxi ride took about 2 seconds and the driver ripped us off for 10 ringitts (it should have been about 3), so we were not happy! The meal was nice though, and we had a lovely pizza (not very Malaysian) and mmm garlic bread!!

The Friday brought a trip to Bako National Park. Due to our crappy state of health (and my laziness) I had been pondering whether to do this trekking trip, but our massive walk yesterday had led us to the offices of the lovely CPH company and we booked a tour with them. So we were up bright and early for the adventure! There were only 7 people on the tour, but the rest of them appeared to be super fit Europeans – NOOO! And our guide, Ramen, had grown up in Bako, so was determined to lead us on a trip full of animals and away from the general tourist trail. This was all well and good, but it meant we had to wade up to our knees through an insanely slippy swamp and then trek up the worlds most uneven tree trunk roots to reach our destination! It was all worth it though, as we got to see loads of fab animals – including snakes and 3 types of monkey – and a giant hog! It was very satisfying to finish the trail, although we were completely wrecked and my hair was just WRONG!


We then got a boat back to the mainland from the park, but the rest of the group (who were in another boat) missed the tide so spent over an hour making the 20 minute journey back – we were starving and had to wait in the sun for them and by the time they reached the mainland all the food had run out so we had to eat in a ‘locals’ cafĂ©. I have eaten in some right holes in my time, but Mags was pretty appalled by the dirtiness. We had the benefit of a local crazy guy constantly hollering outside to add the ambience as well! The food was tasty though, and didn’t take long for us starving folk to eat it! We were absolutely knackered by the end of the day, so retired to our beds to await happy hour cocktail goodness!

Due to our massive overexertion on the Friday (my usual amount of weekly exercise is dragging myself to the Buan Bus Station in incredible heat daily and then collapsing on a bed), we decided to make Saturday Pool day! Yay! Normally on my holidays I don’t get any time to rest (Greg!), so this was a lovely relief! Especially as the pool was so fabulous. We settled under a cabana for the day and swam, ate and hid from the sun – it was a great day and definitely showed why you should go 5 star (when you’re in Asia and it doesn’t bankrupt you to do so!)

On the Sunday I unfortunately became very old - but it was good as I got lots of presents and cards, despite being millions of miles from home - thanks guys (especially Mags who carried them all and gave me an actual wardrobe of clothes I wanted to wear!).. plus it was good cos I got lots of attention and cocktails! We started the day very early (unusually for a birthday) so we could see the orang-utans eat their breakfast. The orang-utans here lived in a sanctuary called Semenggoh so were only semi- wild but we were well excited to see them! We got there and there were already lots of orang-utans eating so that was very cool - it was a little disappointing as the set up was not as wild as I had hoped - now I am a professional trekker, I expected it to be a lot more wild and not have marked paths etc, it was still very good though and amazing to see them so close in their natural habitat!

After an inital look at some enthusiastic orangutans we headed out to a more isolated area (well it was isolated until about 150 tourists, including loud Asians, grrr, turned up!! We waited for ages and none appeared, and we only had 30 minutes to wait, so we were just about to give up when the cutest thing ever happened and a mum and baby orang-utan came by!! It was soooo cute!! They were playing so close to us and it was just the best thing ever! After a while we were forced to leave and so were gutted, but everyone ignored the keepers for a while, just so we could see them cuteness some more!!
After our adventures in the rainforest tried to get some lunch, but the cafe we wanted to go to was closed and we ended up trekking through the streets - AGAIN! After a mini shopping trip in the tourist shops, which was unfortunately aborted as I thought I had lost my birthday bracelet (it was actually broken and fallen into my bag) we ended up eating the lunch special at McDonalds! I think its kind of appropriate to eat there for my birthday, as that's the only food I've been able to eat this year, plus we were REALLY starving, so it was all good! Weirdly McDonalds in Malaysia only sells Coke and Sprite though, very odd!!

After the lunch trauma we decided to be lazy bitches (well I did, cos it was my birthday so I was the boss) and lay in our room for an AGE! We eventually decided to go for a swim, and just as reached the pool the heavens opened! (they were prone to opening in the afternoon for all our time in Kuching and KL). Luckily, as we were staying in a super posh hotel, we got to sit on fancy couches under covers and watch the thunderstorm - I actually really enjoyed it as I was warm, comfy and could be lazy - my favourite things - plus it looked pretty impressive! Eventually the rain stopped and we swam some token lengths, good times!

In the evening, we had our usual Pina Coladas and then went out to a restaurant called Magenta, it was kind of weird because there were about 5 staff and we were the only customers, and it didn't have a toilet, but the food was really fit (fish and chips) and the wine was doable! After this we went back to the hotel to the bar, where the staff were getting really overexcited about the Man Utd v Man City Charity Shield Match - they were cheering united, much to Mags' amusement!

On the Monday, we had to say goodbye to Kuching and fly out to KL. After an early morning swim we didn't have much to do, as I had stupidly booked a 5.30pm flight! We went to the airport and excitingly I bought a dairy milk! (why is Korea the only country in the world no to sell them?!!?!?!?). We also ate in this god awful hole called Marry Brown (Malaysian McDonalds) which I think is the skankiest fast food ever, and I've eaten at Chicken Cottage!! We had to wait there a long time as a storm came again and delayed our flight so it was with relief and much turbulence that we finally boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur, ending the peaceful part of our holiday!

Start spreading the news, we’re leaving in a week….

[Katherine]:  It’s a terrible tragedy, the Desperate Living blog is about to come to an end. Despite my total adoration for this beautiful country, we are reluctantly returning to the UK, for a life of eating, not being gurned at and not dying of heat exhaustion/pneumonia – sad, sad times!! NOT!! I am sad about the blog coming to an end as I have enjoyed venting my spleen on here, but don’t think it’s an appropriate thing to do for a MA Student! I will be posting a holiday blog though – mostly so me and Mags don’t forget everything when we are old and grey!

As we are not complete dirty bastards (like the guy I inherited my Sintaein apartment from, I will kill him if I ever meet him), we have decided that the time has come to clean out the apartment. The apartment is a tiny hole, covered in mould, with absolutely no storage space, and has always been messy, its not even fit for one person, so when I moved in in February it just became a complete messy dumping ground – very depressing! Some Koreans live in these one room apartments in families of 4 – I have no idea how they do it! I guess they are really tiny….

Greg - overexcited about cleaning!

Anyway, as always, I digress. So, we had to clean the apartment. We will never get the mould off the walls or the general years of grime, but we are going to give it our best efforts, so the next poor sucker who ends up here can at least not live in filth, its bad enough having to actually live here! It’s very therapeutic as we have been able to throw out all the crap various Koreans have given us, mostly inedible food L, plus we have been throwing out all the clothes which have gone all manky and holey after a year in a damp apartment with a crappy washing machine! Luckily, I was wise to it, so most of my Korea clothes came from Primark!

I have also thrown out my two arch nemesis pieces of clothing – the evil man’s puffa jacket and the giant, thick pair of jeans that I had to buy from the shop ‘Bigtopia/Bigtoria’ when my M and S ones went! I took great joy in slashing the puffa jacket, but the scissors couldn’t even make a dent in the thick, 80s style denim!

I hate you puffa jacket!!!!

Still, we had a productive day – rare for Korea, and cleared out about 8 bags of rubbish! Let the countdown begin in intensity 7 days to go!!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

10 reasons why Singapore is better than Korea.

[Greg]:  My brief visit to Singapore is over and I'm now on the bus to Malaysia.  I loved Singapore and it made me realise even more than before what a horrible place Korea is to live.  Here's 10 reasons why Singapore is better than Korea (I could give a thousand):

1 - The weather.  In Singapore it's hot but it's coastal so there's a cooling breeze.  The sun doesn't melt your skin and the humidity doesn't sap you of all your energy.  Buan is also apparently coastal but you wouldn't know it from the lack of any fresh air whatsoever.

2 - No hags.  Old women in Singapore just look like old women.  Old women in Korea look like gurning, sour-faced, nasty hags with their horrible clothes, stupid haircuts and evil faces.  And the old women in Singapore just go about their business.  The old women in Korea make it their business to disrupt your business by pushing you, shouting at you, loudly talking about you and pointing at you and just blocking the pavement.

3 - Decent public transport.  The MRT system is a million times better than the joke that is Seoul Metro.  It's actually possible to transfer from one line to another without walking for about 3 hours through a never-ending underground shopping mall/station.  What's more, ever MRT platform has escalators.  Not once did I have to struggle up stairs with my suitcase.  Korea could learn a lot from Singaporean public transport.

4 - People actually have manners.  When the subway train stops, passengers actually stand aside and let people alight from the train before getting on.  And they queue to do this too, unlike in Korea where everyone pushes and shoves as though the building is on fire and they have to fight their way onto the train or they'll die.  Similarly, if you walk along the street in Singapore, people don't barge into you or try to run you down with mopeds.  And if someone does bump into you, they apologise instead of hissing or carrying on regardless like rude Koreans.

5 - The food.  People in Singapore actually eat real food, not foul-tasting muck like the idiots in Korea.  There's western food, Malay food, Japanese food, Cantonese food, Thai food, Indian food, every kind of food you can think of (I even saw a Korean restaurant, although God knows why).  And it's all cheap and delicious.  Korea, take note.

6 - Things to do.  In Korea there's nothing to do.  There's hardly any historic sights to visit because the Japanese burned them all down and the reconstructions that the Koreans have built are sterile, boring and aimed squarely at the Korean audience.  Plus everything looks the same.  In Singapore there's great shopping malls (that sell clothes that fit real people and that don't look like they've been stolen from the 1970's), lots of historic visitor attractions that are actually interesting and well-presented, wonderful beaches where people are left to get on with having fun instead of being herded around by fascist Korean lifeguards with ridiculous uniforms and whistles, trying to nanny everyone and prevent them from going in the water, fantastic museums (interestingly, the Asian Civilisations Museum highlighted the great civilisations of Asia, taking in Borneo, Java, China, India, the Middle East, Japan, even Papua New Guinea.  Everywhere except Korea.  Funny that!), a world-class theme park (Everland is NOT a world-class theme park, despite what brainwashed, nationalistic Koreans say), a world-class zoo that doesn't abuse and mistreat animals by shoving them into completely unsuitable and tiny cages then letting different species mix and kill each other, and excellent public transport to take you between all these sights.

7 - It's a cultural melting pot.  People in Singapore come from diverse backgrounds.  Chinese, Malay, Indians and Europeans all make up significant proportions of the population and yet they're all united by a genuine pride in and love for Singapore.  There's mutual respect between all the cultures and backgrounds and, having attended the National Day celebrations, it seems that everyone really buys into the whole concept of Singapore.  Koreans buy into the concept of Korea too, but unlike in Singapore, where a pride in their country means they want to show you it's best side, in Korea this manifests itself as an aggressive racist, ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic loathing of anyone and everyone who isn't Korean (especially Japanese, Indians and Africans).  Not that the UK is much better.  We're not racist or nationalistic like Koreans but we're not proud and patriotic like Singaporeans either.  We're just disinterested, unenthusiastic and completely apathetic.  Koreans might be horrible and racist, but at least they have a cultural identity.

8 - Matching Couples.  Matching couples are one of the three things I actually like about Korea (along with sharing food and taking a number in the cinema queue).  However, Singapore is full of matching couples too, proving that it's an Asian thing, not a Korean thing.  Hopefully it'll be a British thing soon too as I intend to take the concept back home with me.

9 - Wireless Internet.  Korea might have the fastest internet in the world (not in Jeollabuk hole though) but they have some weird, ridiculous aversion to providing it in the home.  Whilst wireless comes as standard in the technologically backwards UK, super-advanced Korea makes me connect with an ethernet cable.  And since the Korean ethernet cables are so cheap and crappy, they bend and break all too often, slowing my internet down to an intermittent snail's pace.  Thankfully Singapore realises the benefit of wireless internet and it comes as standard there too.

10 - Architecture.  Korean architecture is samey, boring and, disturbingly, much of it looks like it's been borrowed (or should I say stolen since intellectual property is a foreign concept in Korea and everything is stolen) from the 80's USSR.  The stark, totalitarian looking apartment blocks that blight the skyline of every Korean city are a horrible sight.  And all the shops and commercial buildings also seem to be built to some kind of identikit, cookie-cutter design that allows the building to be thrown up the quickest amount of time possible but pays no heed to the architectural impact on the surroundings or to the quality of the building, which will inevitably be torn down and replaced by another samey-looking replacement in 10 years time.  It's surprising because some of the historic Korean architecture is actually really impressive.  I think the curved roof style traditional Korean buildings are actually much more beautiful than comparable Chinese or Japanese architecture but Koreans have clearly lost their way.  In contrast, Singapore is an eclectic mix of traditional Colonial-style buildings, restored Victorian commercial buildings and gentrified warehouses, modern, gleaming, unique skyscrapers and architecture that's clearly influenced by the many ethnic groups living in the city - Hindu and Chinese temples, Muslim madrassas and so on.  Walking around Singapore is a feast for the eyes.  Walking around Buan is like taking a walk through a lego town (or a wade through a swamp).

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Visit to Buan Celadon Museum (yes, really! There's actually a celadon museum)

[Greg]:  I've just endured 2-days of the English summer camp from Hell.  It was an overnight, residential camp in some hole called Gomso and it was about as much fun as it sounds.  It was ghastly. 

The highlight of the camp was a visit today to the Buan Celadon Museum.  Celadon is a pretty green clay/pottery thing that they've got going on here in Korea.  It's actually really nice (relatively speaking - everything here is horrible so anything that's slightly less than horrible is really nice by comparison) but it certainly doesn't merit a whole museum dedicated to it.  And what a museum this was.  The building was MASSIVE and had multiple galleries and exhibition halls.  The architecture of the building was actually the most impressive part of the museum to me, although the effect was somewhat ruined by the  fibreglass rocks containing hidden speakers that were blasting out western pop songs strategically placed around the building.

Sadly, the contents of the building were predictably awful.  There was a really high quality 4d cinema attraction in the "Special Images Room".  Clearly no-one ever visits this museum (even Koreans aren't that stupid) so the cinema was looking virtually unused.  The animation was really high-quality but the "story" was bizarre.  It featured a young Korean boy who has weird fantasy dreams about floating through space and across fields and lakes in a giant celadon vase.  The next scene cut to the boy on a ship when some Japanese pirates came and set fire to the ship and killed all his friends with burning arrows.  And then it ended.  I'm not sure what the message was other than "JAPAN = EVIL" or "CELADON = MAGICAL FANTASY JOURNEY".  Weird.

After the special images room, I moved to the "Room of Experiencing Celadon" which had such wonderfully-named attractions as "Feel a Celadon", which involved sticking your hand in a hole and feeling bits of pottery, "Celadon Brain Survival Game", which was some kind of interactive celadon quiz and "Hand Stamp a Celadon" where you put a piece of paper under an ink stamp and stamp it.  Koreans go wild for stamping things.

Upstairs there was gallery after gallery of samey-looking green pots and plates and a room full of celadon fish (Koreans also go wild for fish).

Unfortunately the "Celadon Experience Centre" (what's the difference between a Celadon Experience Centre and a Room of Experiencing Celadon? - looks like I'll never know now) was closed so I didn't get to experience even more celadon but oh well!  I can always caress Kathy's celadon vase if I need a celadon fix in the future.