A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

Hmmmmm...

No DMZ, but a funny wet smell

I'd love to say that my time in Seoul has been amazingly brilliant and wonderful and that everything went perfectly according to plan. So I will. My time in Seoul has been amazingly brilliant and wonderful and that everything went perfectly according to plan. By now of course, you know that i'm lying. In fairness, I have nothing bad to say about Seoul at all. It's just been a few days of good old sh1t happens.

And so, I failed miserably to contact a friend of a friend who was going to show me around and let me crash at his place, and instead had several conversations with a female Korean recorded message. By that point it was of course too late to try and score some free accomodation elsewhere, so lacking options, I checked into a hostel. Mostly empty, but with friendly owners and cheap so it was no big deal. However, said friendly owner then cunningly forgot to book me on to the DMZ / Panmunjon trip as he was supposed to (for Sunday), and by the time I had realised this and tried to sort my own for the Monday, I discovered that, equally cunningly, the DMZ is closed on Mondays to tourists, and the Panmunjeon tour had been booked out by a japanese tour group. Groan. And of course, despite a good 2 dozen companies advertising tours, they are all actually sending people on the same bus anyway, so they all fell through. Rats. And then, lack of conmmunication between the scheduling people and the companies own websote timetabling meant that I discovered that the boat I had planned to catch Wed only ran on Tuesdays. So in order to get to Beijing on time, I would have to leave Tuesday. Which meant that I didn't get to the DMZ area at all, which was the one thing I really wanted to, and is probably the only must see/do around Seoul.

Feck.

I'm going to have to return here, just for that.

And then, to top things off, some b*stard decided that they couldn't make it as far as the toilet one night, and I awoke to discover that all my clothes and bag had been liberally covered in a fluid which smelt suspiciously like urine during the night. Grrrr. In a way, I was lucky that my clothes were on top, as it meant that much of my bag survived, and there was no permanent damage to things less easily cleaned, like books, camera and journal. A couple of books got soggy, but not too bad to be destroyed, and my MP3 player was swimming in urine. It still stinks. Arse. I don't know who did it, but with an extremely short list of possibles to begin with, there was really only ever one suspect. Feckin hell.

I should probably stop swearing, but whilst i've no problem with things going wrong and sh1t happening (although i'm happy that it didn't in a literal sense this time), stuff like that does annoy me a tad. And then, after doing all my washing and leaving stuff to dry all day, I came back to discover that another friendly person - or possibly the same one, I don't know - had decided that it would be funny to steal one of each of my pairs of socks. Not to be seen again.

As some of you are aware, I have a history with socks anyway. I was (am?) notorious at work for my socks, particularly due to the fact that I wander around in scoked feet, which are normally odd socks and have numerous holes in. There was even a sweepstake as to the number of holes I would appeart with running at one point. And 4 seperate people bought me socks for Christmas. Before I left, I went out and got a couple as well, so that I actually had some pairs of socks I could wear and almost be normal. And now, I don't. As well as the obvious loss of numbers, I don't have any even vaguely matching anymore, so will have to go and buy some. And some long johns, as it's starting to get damned cold. But long johns don't exist in this country. A coat would probably make sense as well. Me thinks I need to do some shopping when i get to China.

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Cheongyeonggung Palace

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Gyeongbukgong Royal Palace

Seoul itself is a vast city of concrete blocks, but is not without charms and sights. Some lovely palaces to traipse around, great markets to browse in and cheap stalls to haggle at, street food to be tried (most of it amazing), interesting people to be watched, and the inevitable hills to be climbed in the icy cold weather. And of course, relevant from a sports point of view due to Olympic and World Cup events in the recent-ish past. I quite like it, although obviously my lack of luck and inability to get to the DMZ have tempered my opinion a tad.

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An Arty shot of me using the floor/ceiling mirrors, and the view East from the Seoul Tower

Randomly, you cannot buy deodorant or long johns in Korea, and I really need to get hold of both.

As so, it's time to move on from Korea. It's an interesting country, and i've loved my time here. Met some great people. Seen some great stuff. had a few ups and downs. But of course i'll be back, even if just to get to the damned DMZ! But to be brutaly honest, all of that is irrelevant compared to the fact that my, urm, fiance got married withour telling me.

Kiki, have you any idea how much that hurts me?!

See you all in the next port of call.

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The Korean sign

Posted by Gelli 02:56 Archived in South Korea Comments (5)

The world of pretty toilets, and a postscript to the wedding

All we need now is a Harry Redknapp induced twist...

I had planned to just pass through Daejon, but that never happened. It was getting dark and cold, still covered in snow, and the alleged nearby bus station turned out to be a 45min slide away. At least if i break any bones in the ice here, i'm back in insurance coverage.

And so I undertook the not inconsiderble challenge of trying to work out which of the 300 motels in a half km radius from the bus station was not actually a love motel, so I could spend the night somewhere cheap and without too many optional extras. It didn't work.

Daejon seems much the same as Busan and Daegu but not as much so. Admitedly I didn't stick around all that long, but there didn't seem any point. I did stick around long enough to somehow whack my second toe on something (which I never worked out what as there was nothing to hit, turning it into a lovely red colour and making it twice the size, but without any of the surrounding toes geting touched, and I don't know how that worked). Instead, I headed out to Gongju, yet another extremely similar sounding "G" place which is yet another former capital. This time, one of the Baekje Dynasty, who were the rulers back in the late 5th to early 6th centuries, or so I would guess. I trawlled around yet another fort, this one cunningly built on the side of a hill and virtually deserted, meaning that it was a tad slippery with all the ice. Before anybody says anything or the sweepstakers start to pay out, I know i'm asking for trouble sliding along an icy castle wall, about 20metres up, and with only a semi frozen river below. Took a quick wander around the rest of the town, although the museum (and one of the main reasons for visting) was predictably closed.

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Images of Gongju fortress

So I gave in, and got the bus back to Daejon. Although not quite how i intended. My suspicion was admittedly aroused by the number of buses heading back, compared to the number of those heading out, but i probably didn't pay enough attention and ask the right questions using my not entirely fluent Korean. And so it was, that whilst we did arrive back at a Daejon bus station, it sure as heck wasn't the same one I had left. It was on the opposite side of town. Waaaaaay away. And of course I had wanted to get a bus from the one I had originally left, to get to my days destination of Ansan. B*gger. After a little pondering, i did what any stupid Brit would do and cheated. I found a train station, and caught a train along the rest of the KTX new line to Yongsan in Seoul, instead of trying to get a bus across the city of Daejon. I just figured that it would be easier!

And so, entirely inadvertantly and annoraky that i keep up to date or even know such things, I added the entire dedicated high speed South Korean system to my completion of the Shinkansen in Japan. Why am I so damned sad sometimes? In Yongsan i managed to get on the subway with no problem, and an hour later found myself in Ansan, a satellite city of 600,000k or so, south west of Seoul, where I met up with yet another great CSer, again as the first guest, and from somewhere a bit unusual (Prince Edward Island), Jeff. The man has a great spelling of a great name.

I planned to use Ansan mostly as a base for the city of Suwon, East of Ansan and another satelite city to Seoul, but a tad more important and with a history which began before the inception of concrete tower blocks.

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Ansan at night, typical of the almost overbearing neon bombardment in all Korean cities

Suwon is known, allegedly, as the city of pretty toilets. And if that isn't a great reason to visit a city, I don't know what is. Unfortunately I couldn't find the published toilet guide book to religiously visit them all (i'm not sure how the rules would work though. On a pub crawl, it's relatively easy to have a pint at each stop off, but if you are forced to have a cr*p at each toilet on a toilet crawl - and there are 34 of them - you could be going for some time, or else need to have condsumed large quantities of laxatives before you start), but I still randomly came across a good half dozen or so. And whilst a toilet is normally just a toilet (when it's not a hole) the buildings were generally at least vaguely impressive - although I ask myself why they bothered - and toilets extremely well looked after. Expect pics of toilets to follow.

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Yup, it's one of the pretty toilets

I probably should be continuing with allsorts of wonderous stories of my latest mishap. But I won't. I've decided to keep that a tightly guarded story, known only to myself, the tree, taxis, hospital staff and 22000 Korean witnesses.

Suwon itself is also home to the Hwasong fortress, an impressive and still relatively intact (well, except the inside of the walls, obviously) 6km long structure built during the Jeongju reign in the late 18th century. The walls are great to walk around, with the possible exception of the Northern side which goes over a whopping great hill which is fine exceept the icy journey down can be a tad quicker that you were expecting... It was also one of the first to be built using western designs and technologies, so includes several innovations. It is also home to a relatively impressive looking - although currently being rebuilt - summer palace, used by the ruling factions as a stop over on there way South or on tours of the region. As with so many mouments, fortresses and temples in Korea, it's history is intrinsinctly linked with the Japanese. Virtually all buildings of note were destroyed (often by fire, sometimes by attack) by the invading Japanese, in at least one of the periods of Korean occupation by the Japanese. And often in several of them. It means that despite the rebuilding there is very little of substance in Korea which is truly original in it's complete form. Odd parts or buildings survived most attacks/fires, but they are essentially tokens rather core, which is somewhat depressing.

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Looking off the highest point of the Suwon fortress, and one fo the smaller gatehouses

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Typical Korean architecture, numerous identical and numbered white concrete tower blocks, in Suwon

And thus, before I regale you about Seoul (which I can't yet because I haven't actually got there properly), it is with great happiness that i should finish such a pathetic and mind numbing entry by entertaining you with what I hope to be the final installment of the story of my beloved (ahem) Kiki and I. I am sure there will be a twist to come, but at this moment I can't work out what it could be. If i could work Alain Perrin, Veli Zajec, Rupert Lowe and Sir Clive into this palava I would, but i can't. And I won't try. But astonishingly, somebody has done a deed for which I could never repay.

Just last night I discovered that the wonderful girl had got her wish, and it is with huge congratulations and a in no way heavy heart that I must wish Kiki and her new husband, Christian, a wonderful and long lasting marriage. I don't think I know the poor chap, so cannot comiserate him personally, and have no interest in further details (or if the ring did fit his finger), but admit that I am vaguely curious as to the circumstances surrounding their meeting, and the time frame involved until marriage. But not nearly enough to ask. Sincere-ish Best wishes to you both, and Christian, when you realise what has happened, I know some people who for a small fee can arrange you with false papers so you can flee the country and take on a new identity.

I'm now half expecting to be asked to become a godfather in 9 months time.

Posted by Gelli 00:46 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Of lots of wooden blocks and a recent drugs offence

The road north, and to the sides, from Busan with winter rapidly arriving

And so it was that I was back in Korea. I'd only managed 3 days on my previous pass through, although that was essentially down to the fact that I wasn't supposed to be there and never expected to be in Korea at that time.

But now I was, and it was time to look around.

I spent a good few days wandering around the Busan area, sometimes in the company of my host, Marie (who put me up last time, and astonishingly, was more than happy for me to return - I should point out that it's her fault I got arrested and strip searched, but I won't), and sometimes not. Several bowls of Dong-dong ju were consumed, along with soju and not unextensive amounts of Korean BBQ. God damned it, i love the food here, despite some of it being slightly on the warm side. Got to see human nature at it's finest (a healthy dose of real life is a good slap in the face and leveller every now and again), trekked around Beomosa, a large and wonderfully decorated temple complex in the hills above Busan, and including the inevitable mountain climb. My first Korean temple, and a pleasant surprise and break form the Japanese varieties, simply because they are so colourfully decorated.

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Beomosa Temple, and one of the guardians

Those Koreans didn't mess around. The Geumjongsan fortress above Beomosa is admittedly not fully intact anymore - most of it is completely gone - but it wasn't done as a stop gap measure. Built on top of a mountain, the walls were a stunning 17km long, and with a height of up to 12metres, thats a feck of allot of people needed to carry a feck of allot of stone up dirt tracks to build the fortress. Which is really put into perspective when you realise that the whole thing - complete with all the other buildings within it - took less than 2 years to build. Admittedly there probably wasn't a large union presence, and health and seafty regs were possibly not the strictest, but thats still impressively quick work! Took atrek around Yongsan Park, and was propositioned by two (extremely stunning) Russian prostitutes near a tuperware stall. Why me?

Somehow found our way back to the Dragon bar we'd been at last time, where muggins got the pleasure of leading Marie and her bf, and her cool Korean language exchange friend Yoon to - who all living in the city - despite only having been there once before. Surely it should be the locals and residents who show the guest the way? Oh well. I wandered around Haeundae in the East of the city, notable mainly for it's beach which on sunny summer days gets a staggering 750,000 odd people into a short stretch of barely over a km, and maybe 50m deep. Thats allot of people fighting for not allot of sand. And of course, to the Chinese consulate where I gave them my application and passport and then prayed very hard indeed.

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Inside the Dragon bar

With my passport taking 5 days to process, i headed north. First to Daegu, Korea's 3rd largest city and home to the obligatory huge numbers of near identical concrete tower blocks, as is the Korean way. Stayed with a lovely CS American girl (i know, I know. I can't believe that i wrote that either. This is happening way too often. I'm not supposed to like Americans, but some of these people are making it damned hard on me. I probably need a few slaps around the face with a wet cod to help restore me) called Erin http://www.erindoeskorea.blogspot.com, who introduced to me the delights of the weekly foreign bar - I had seen a total of one other foreigner until that moment, and suddenly there was hoardes of them. No idea where the feck they came from. And slightly worryingly the doorway to the bar had singles bar writen in English on it. Although that was upstairs and we went downstairs, i'm sure Kiki would kill me... - one of the best burgers I have ever eaten and some fantastic gimbap (approximately Korean sushi, but without the raw fish) and mandu (dumpling type thingy-majigs) from the old lady across the road.

I spent a day trawling the streets at random and peering into the markets (I love markets like this where you can buy anything at all, and with all the sounds and smells), and also through the numerous oddly specific areas, similar to Istanbul - Motorcycle street, kniting alley, medicene road and Rice Cake Street to name but a few. Took a trip out to Haeinsa, a temple complex West of Daegu, up in the forest covered mountains and wonderfully untouristed (until the bus loads of kids showed up at the end). Yet more lovely decorated temples, hills to climb, and also home to the UNESCO listed Tripitaka Koreana - a set of about 82000 wood blocks, on which have been carved the entire Buddhist scriptures and teachings, and essentially constitute the worlds first book.

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The Tripitaka Koreana and shots of the Haeinsa temple complex

Kevin didn't put the tent up, and had actually left it in Busan, and hence it didn't rain.

And I was also taken to do something so unusual and unlike me that it has to be noted. I was taken to the cinema. So, accompanied by Erin and another CSer/Engrish teacher, Ryan, we went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I am aware that may not sound like a major event, but I belive that the last thing I saw at the cinema was probably Titanic, in my first year at Uni, and before that quite possibly Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Andrew Gordon's 9th (maybe?) birthday waaaaaaay back when. I'm not a cinema goer. But it was actually damned good. I've not read the books, and only seen 1 and a bit of the previous films, but as a stand alone bit of entertainment, it was a great film. Admittedly the one that Ryan and I would really like to see would be Harry Poter and the Jehovah's Witness, but that might be a stretch too far. I really must get around to reading the books.

Cunningly leaving Erin to be horribly sick for the weekend (and inadvertantly stealing her LP guide), I spent a couple of days in Gyeongju, the former capital and a major Korean drawcard about an hour to the West. Wandered around the wonderful Bulguska temple complex, home to the finest Silla dynasty temple in existence, and climbed the mountain up to the Seoguram Buddha (of Sakyamini) grotto, yet another place where Korean workers must have had a distinct lack of fun in transporting such a huge lump of rock up a tiny track to the top of a mountain. No, I have no idea what the difference between Silla and non Silla temples is, as they all look the same to me. The only difference I can come up with being the inclusion of the word "Silla".

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The Bulguksa complex

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Seoguram Buddha building from the outside, and the temple at the base of the climb

Woke up to a covering of snow and ice which proved to me that winter is really here. I suppose that it is december, so thats no big surprise, but I now have to figure out how to survive the cold when i'm not really kitted out for it, and without spending lots of money. Gyeongju city is kind of odd because it contains a large number of Tumuli, large grass burial mounds of Silla kings and nobles, doted randomly around the place, which helps give the city an unusual feel to it. To the south, the area is litered with so many burial mounds, temples, stone Buddhas and Pagodas that they are still being found on a regular basis by people just wandering around and going even just a few metres off the path, which makes an interesting wander south past Wolseong Park which led to my imagination predictably going into overdrive about what else could possibly be waiting to be uncovered there. I won't bore you with the results, but I did pay a trip to a bookies after one idea hit me...

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Silla Dynasty burial mounds in Gyeongju city

With trepidation, I returned to Busan, where for the sheer heck of it I stayed at Emily's instead of Maries, took in a night of trivia (or a quiz for those who don't speak North American, which was the first one I had done since leaving the UK, and gave me any number of strange flashbacks and memories from my Oxford days. Who else remembers little Dave??) and then headed to the Chinese embassy to collect my visa. So convinced was I that i would have my application rejected due to a "recent drugs offence", and so prepared was I to argue my case, that I was completely at a loss when I left the consulate all of 90seconds after entering, complete with the requested double entry visa. I'm now convinced that i'm being set up for when I actually enter, and they are just toying with me.

And thus, bemused but with passport in hand, I headed from Busan for probably the final time this trip, dropping into Daegu to return one stolen LP and gain a lovely cough from Erin, and via the high speed KTX to Daejon. Which i really should write about now, but really can not be arsed doing, so It will have to wait.

And if Riz Ree happens to be reading this, I hope Simon has you back on his leash.

Posted by Gelli 23:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (3)

This isn't even a real entry as it involves no traveling

Please, please, no more Sherbert dip requests....

It is with great joy that it appears that so many of you seem to actually be reading this damned thing. It actually even makes it feel vaguelly worthwhile, despite the fact that I was only ever really doing it for myself. But still.

Such has been the overwhelming response to a couple of recent issues, that i figured I should be lazy and answer a couple of recurring questions here instead of individually by email.

1. For those interested in the current status of Kiki, the Japanese girl who tried to marry me, here goes. Although I don't remember it, it appears that I thought something was up from the first time I met her, as I seem to have given her an email address that i only use for random signups, and as such don't check with any frequency. And so it was that 3 weeks or so after the episode in Sapporo, I checked the account, to discover that I had been receiving an average of about 8 mails a day from her, mostly consisting of variants of "I really miss you", "Where are you" and "when are you coming back. I need to reschedule the wedding" as well as a more or less constant updates about what has been going on in her life. It peaked at 31 emails about 3 days after I ran, and even now i'm still getting 5 or 6, despite reporting her email address as spam...

As far as I know, she doesn't have any of my normal email addresses, or this blog address so hasn't yet traced me any other way, especially now that my Japanese phone number is dead (whoever ends up with THAT number, could be in for a fun time...). I will warn you all now that in such an instance and she finds me here, I will instantly leave all trace of my Gelli being and disappear. I might return under a new guise, possibly called Beverley from Australia or some such, but I probably won't actually tell you all in case one of you is an informer.

On a side issue, if anybody (male) - who i know or otherwise, but the later would be preferable - happens to have an urgent desire to get married, and would consider a not unattractive and actually quite intelligent 28yr old Japanese girl, with a strangely psycotic and unhinged streak, please let me know and i will arrange an inroduction.

2. I know that you all think that you are the only one to come up with it, but whilst the first quip about Sherbert Dip was mildly amusing, the following 70 odd requests (plus a few from people wanting other sweets, but not having the foresight to ask for Sherbert dip) got a bit boring. Lack of useful variety to make it interesting, I must admit.

But for the record, No, I will not be bringing anybody tubes of sherbet, as strangely enough, the idea of carrying around tubes of white powder isn't overly attractive or clever to somebody with my record for getting stopped at customs/immigration etc. And yes, that does also rule out bags of sugar, salt and flour amongst many others. Any other requests from people missing stuff, and in places that I might be going, i will quite happily entertain, but only if substance is deemed inoffensive enough by me.

3. For the rest of you who emailed to ask what the feck liquorice actually is, it's a kind of sweet eaten in the UK and North America (and others), and in the form I had it in which caused a problem - the 2 bags of bassets allsorts were ok - was pick and mix black sweets. I'm trying to get hold of a pic of the offending stuff to post here, but until then, this might (unlikely) be of some use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquorice

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Some of the offending candy...

And that's about it.

Pathetic I know.

It includes nothing of interest, and no word of my travels and further exploits. Tough.

I will regale you all with tales from the start of my second Korean odyssey very soon, but until then, i'll leave you with the word that I am happily in Daegu at the moment, enjoying the wonders of South Korea and awaiting the pleasure of the Chinese consulate in Busan almost certainly currently declining my visa application due to a previous recent narcotic offence...

Hope all good, and Happy Thansksgiving/Advent/Lucia/End of term/finish of the RouteMasters or whatever else anybody is currently using as an excuse to celebrate with large quantities of alcoholic beverages.

Posted by Gelli 21:13 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

Ah cr*p. How to be arrested for carrying class 'A' Narcotics

When the second entrance to Korea even beats the first!

A precedent had been set. The last time I had come to Korea was entirely by accident and due to a lack of any other options. As you may or may not recall, it in involved a race around Vladivostok, an interesting bus trip down a dirt road to within sight of the North Korean border, and a long trek on a somewhat, shall we say, delipidated "ferry" down the North Korean coast in a typhoon. It sure as heck had it's moments at the time, but looking back was a great experience and makes a great story. I never figured that my second entry, in calm waters along the well travelled route from Japan, would be anything other than routine. With my history, I really should know better.

And so it was that i spent about 3 hours being guarded in a holding cell, provisionally charged with importing a prohibited class A narcotic. Ah cr*p.

People tell you to ALWAYS check your bags carefully in case they had been tampered with, and to NEVER carry anything through customs for anybody else. In a way, it was the second of these rules that i blatantly ignored, and looking back, I really should have seen it coming. I have had enough trouble crossing borders in the past, and get picked out and checked 'at random' that it is nothing new to me, and I am extremely careful about what I do carry. Except on that fateful day.

And so it was, that after a pleasant crossing from Hakata on a mostly empty boat, I dismebarked in Busan, happy to have left Japan for a new adventure and a chance to actually see some of Korea, and looking forward to meeting up with some friends from my previous visit.

And it was one such friend - she will remain nameless at this point, but I may edit it in if i don't get enough free food and booze out of her as recompense - who dumped me into it. Big style.

She had mentioned that there was something that she loved dearly, and hadn't been able to find in Korea, and that if I happened to come across any on my time in Japan, could I pick some up for her? It seemed an innocent request, and I was happy to look. Searches of Japan failed to find a useful source, but two other friends happily came to my assistance, pulled through, and delivered the stuff to me to bring over.

Passport control was time consuming in itself, mostly because of my lack of barcode and machine readible passport leading to a longer processing time. But they let me in, and even gave my 3 months. My bags went through the x-ray machine without problem, and I didn't even set the metal detector off. And then came the immigration checks. Being the only non oriental on the boat, it was a cert I would be stopped anyway, despite my record, and this duly happened.

"May I see your bags sir?" asks the man. Sure, no problem. "Do you have anything to declare?" he asks. Nothing, help yourself to a look. I handed my immigration card and passport to his colleague for inspection whilst he goes about my bags, and I let my mind start to wander whilst the routine is played out. After a few minutes rumbling through, he pulls out a small carrier bag, opens it and gives me a puzzled look. He prods and sniffs a while, and says something. Two more people come over and inspect the goods, and faces are looking grave in my direction. It is at this point i realise what the offending material is, and think that I should be able to explain ok.

But none of them really spoke English, and the question of "can you explain what this is?" kind of stumps me anyway. I try it's a kind of sweet eaten in the UK and North America, but they ask if it's chocolate (no) or mint (no) and then reach the end of their English without me being able to convince them. You can't get it in Korea, I said, but your welcome to try some. But by this point, the smell is overpowering them, my attempts at an explanation which they would accept are faltering, and the levels of suspicion are very high, so they think i'm trying to get them to take drugs.

It is at this point that the women perusing my immigration card with increasing detail points at something and asks me to explain. This happens often as well. Cartographer isn't really the first word most people learn in a foreign language. Heck, enough native speakers don't know it. I try to explain 'map', and after a few seconds her face changes in realisation. I think, thank dog (i was in one of my dyslexic moments), she knows what i do. She thinks she does. She points at me, shrieks "spy", and then follows a rapid high pitched conversation between the now 7 officials around me, with other passengers wandering through completely unwatched.

And so i'm whisked away to a room and locked in alone, wondering how the hell i've managed to get arrested for being a British spy and in possesion of 2 bags of bassetts licorice allsorts, and 2 bags (the ones which are really causing the problem) of loose licorice sweets and twirls.

This is impressive, even by my standards.

About 10minutes later, some people enter and in halting English - whilst showing me a laminated (it's NOT CALLED PLASTIFY) card with the same writen on - telling me i'm being detained on suspicion of importing a class A narcotic. I'm surprised they don't have one saying i'm being held as a spy or North Korean agent. Or on some other daft charge.

Shortly after, they whisk me to another room and ask me to sign something to say they can search me. I sign. They motion me to take my clothes off, and i'm treated to my first strip search in maybe 3 years, but as it's not exactly a new thing for me, no great problem. I wasn't so keen when they all pointed and laughed, but what can a man do? Still unconvinced, they ushered me to an X-ray machine and I was given the full body X-ray, which was a first. I guess they think i'm transporting stuff inside me as well. Fair enough. But of course it comes negative, and that confuses them. So I am allowed to dress, and then taken back to my holding cell where i'm told that the police will be coming to visit me, and a translater would come soon.

After a couple of hours, there is a commotion at the door. An employee enters, followed by several sheepish looking colleages. He points at me and collapses on the floor laughing (this is also a common afair), and then in perfect English with more than a touch of a Norfolk accent apologises profusely for the 'over zealous nature of his colleagues'. Turns out he had lived in the uk for a few years, and had obviously come across licorice before, and had walked in on them in earnest conference trying to work ot what the hell the stuff was. His colleagues are falling over themselves to apologise and bow at me, and after assuring them that i'm fine and there's no trouble over the misunderstanding (they were just doing their job, saving the Korean population from a highly addictive and subversie substance), i'm then free to go. Strangely, they all refused my offer of a piece of licorice to try...

2.5hours, and I was a free man again. Better than normal, I must admit!

There is only one small footprint to the story, about my subsequently being fondled by a cheery middle aged Korean man on the subway, who had his hand on my crotch whilst trying to talk to me to work out why i seemed to be laughing to myself, but in the grand scheme of things, it's of no consequence, so it shall be left to rest.

This is an interesting country.

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Posted by Gelli 01:15 Archived in South Korea Comments (6)

And amazingly, i actually left!

Does anybody remember an episode of Friends where Chandler ends up going to Yemen? I think he's trying to escape Janis, and tries to fake leaving, but ends up having to go. And during the closing credits, you can see a plan flying and hear Chandler saying to himself in sudden realisation "I'm going to Yemen" and then to somebody else "When we get to Yemen, can i stay at your house?!". Well that's kind of how i felt on the boat to Korea. I had always planned to visit, and spend a few weeks wandering around on my way between Japan and China, but as that is in the future, i hadn't done any kind of research or got any info about the country, so was arriving entirely on the fly with no ideas.

After the hassle of actually trying to get out of the country, and my fears of bribes and confiscations at the border, it all went surprisingly well. I got to the bus station no problems, ignored the burning bus in the car park which said Zarubino on it, and prayed. Which seemed to work as a different bus appeared. The journey was longer than I had expected (over 5 hours) of which, well over half was down dirt and dust tracks, meaning we got covered in shit and bounced to buggery by the road and psychotic bus driver. Zarubino isn’t exactly the world center to anywhere, and seemed to be a small village with a decrepit port attached. No shops, way of getting money or anything. I got into the unmarked ferry terminal (admittedly the ferry next to it was a clue as to approx where to go) by following asst Koreans who obviously knew where to go past several check points. The terminal isn’t quite up to the standards you expect at an International terminal (it’s a shed), but worked. I even got through customs more or less ok. My bags went through metal detectors, but I didn’t (does that not defeat the object?), my gap in stamps caused no problem, nor did my extra cash – they didn’t bother to check or even get my deklarista off me. My lack of machine readable bar on the passport confused them (as did the fact I was neither Russian or Korean), and led to an ever expanding swarm of officials all looking at it and tutting away. But no problem. And amazingly, I officially left Russia.
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The world class facilities and entrance to Zarubino International ferry port, and loading of cargo

Typically, after the Japan and assorted other Russian boat
extravaganzas, the ferry was late in leaving by about 3 hours, and I kept expecting to be hauled back off the boat and interrogated, but it didn’t happen. The most charitable way to describe the ferry would be well used. It had probably seen better days before the Korean war started, and if Kasia hadn’t stolen my duct tape in Irkutsk, I would have amused myself for much of the journey by sticking the boat back together. There were holes everywhere. There was no bar, café or restaurant (which was open), only a few drinks vending machines taking only Korean coins, and the room I was sleeping in must have had about 200 in it, squashed on thin mattresses on the floor.

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A collection of images from the Dong Chung ferry, The engine died about 20mins later

It was a journey I will not forget in a while, but one that I strangely really enjoyed. I couldn’t tell you why, but the idea of being the only foreigner (and one of maybe 5 white people) on a knackered old boat, which leaked from all angles, lost an engine after the first couple of hours and soon developed a list of an angle which seemed slightly more than one would expect, with no food or alcohol and traveling along the coast of North Korea (at times, barely 500m off the coast) in a typhoon just seemed great to me!
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A daft photo, and admittedly you can`t really tell, but those lights are the North Korean coast, about 500metres away
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Me, the following morning after we`ve negotiated the worst of the storm
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Disembarkation from the ferry in Sokcho

Sokcho, was indeed in South Korea, and we did make it. It’s a resort town place which didn’t do much for me, although it would be a good base for some of the nearby national parks which look very good. I got my first taste of Oriental Asia, by walking the 6 or so Km around the harbour bay in the rain to the express bus station, to be told that express means Seoul only, and I wanted the local bus station, about 100metres from the ferry terminal. So back I went. Headed an hour down the coast to Gangneung for the night. And got huge culture shock. Cheap Russian accom. tends to be, shall we say, basic, and here I am checking into a cheap hotel for about 15gbp which not only had electric everything and all bells and whistles, but included free broadband internet in the room and even a portable fire escape kit, which strangely intrigued me. I even saw the first McDonalds I had seen since Moscow, which didn’t impress me. I was in civilization, and that realization caught me off guard.
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The following day, after deciding that the 9hour, 2 change, 5.30am start to get the train wasn’t worth it) I got the bus 5 hours south to Busan (formerly Pusan). It was probably the most comfortable bus I have ever been on. The seats were huge, leather and reclining, and there was a shed load of legroom. They even showed a couple of English language movies on the TV, whilst the scenery was very pleasant for most of the trip.

In Busan, I made my way around the subway to a point where yet another lovely CSer stupid enough to host me, Marie, lived. I’m convinced that there must be at least one horrible CSer out there, but I’ve never met anybody who even comes close to that description yet. Even Seb was great until after I left when he just went weird. We headed more or less straight out to meet up with yet another CSer, Emily, and some of her friends (me and 7 girls), to celebrate her birthday. And we went for an Indian. It was kind of surreal, and not exactly a typical Korean dish, but very welcome and despite my proximities to curries when living in England, it was very creditable.

We went from there back across town to the dragon bar, a cool cave like place, where our numbers instantly tripled. It was odd. In 5 minutes, I had met more westerners that I had even seen in the preceding 2months or so, and reinforced the impression is was back on the beaten path. That ignores the fact that they were probably half the westerners in the entire city of 4million (and half of the remainder were in the club we went to afterwards) so they weren’t exactly taking over the city, but suddenly meeting lots of people who were speaking English was a bit strange to me. As well as helping introduce some the Koreans to Tequila, I was given a good half dozen assorted local drinks to try, none of whom I can really remember the name of, but all of which were good, and one delicious. Must find out what the heck it was called.
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Notes from the rest of a great evening should probably be condensed to memories of Emily playing happily with several large wooden penises, several Koreans seemingly trying to marry me off to their daughters/sisters (it’s just like parts of Russia all over again) and meeting the only person I ever have outside of the valleys who knows of Gelli (he’s a Treorchy boy).
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The following day, after being introduced to an interesting dish of Bivenbap (?), Marie and I took a bit of a wander around the city. We looked at some of the markets and ‘dog streets’ where the dogs (and some other animals) are kept waiting to be chosen and killed to eat, around parts of the downtown area and up the hill – of course – to the revolution park and an interesting war memorial (one of the statues seems intent on killing the others) and strange modern scaffold sculpture nearby which after a while we deduced was probably a space shuttle – or thunderbird - launch pad. To top it off, in another surreal moment of my trip, as we waited for the bus that never came, to the amusement/bemusement of the watching locals, in a carpark on top of a mountain in Korea, I was taught how to do the Cadillac line dance.

Although we had barely scratched the surface, I instantly liked Busan and Korea. I couldn’t tell you why, it just kind of seemed right. And I can’t wait to go back and explore properly.

I can’t believe I’ve actually made it to Korea! And I’ve still never been on a plane.

Posted by Gelli 23:07 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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