Thursday, October 28, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
- I was surprised with the lack of English spoken. For a country that is so developed, has such close relations with the U.S., and employs so many English teachers, I assumed that English would be spoken or at least understood.
- I was surprised to discover how xenophobic the country is. South Korea is extremely homogeneous and deep rooted in Confucianism which values its culture and customs, to the point of discriminating against or being fearful of people who are different than them. I heard a lot of interesting stories from Jessica's friends who have been living here as English teachers. But I think things may change with the new generation - maybe.
- It's a fairly clean country compared to the rest of places I have traveled to in this region of the world.
- The women wear extremely short skirts, but it is taboo to reveal skin anywhere near the vicinity of their chests.
- I love how people eat and drink inexpensively by going to the local convenience stores. It is by far the cheapest place to drink with your friends. Plus, the convenience stores have tables and chairs set up outside, and occasionally they'll even offer free snacks! So cool.
- They have the most peculiar way of advertising in Seoul. For instance, the guy advertising the local Pizza Hut restaurant will walk down the street with a million pamphlets and toss 'em all over the ground. However, later that night they will return and retrieve all the pamphlets. So when you walk outside the following morning, the sidewalks are clean again.
- There's an increasingly disturbing trend of plastic surgery taking place here. To the point where children are having nose jobs and their eyelids done. Whatever will set them apart from the rest to get ahead, to be successful.
- I gotta say, the street food here is kind of lame.
- There are a plethora of restaurants to choose from in Seoul. Seriously, South Korea has to have the highest restaurant-to-person ratio in all of Asia. There are so many, that there may be 1 restaurant for every person in South Korea. Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating here - but not really.
- The country has the best customer service. Period.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
After ten months of traveling I began to feel a bit jaded. This was something that I hadn't experienced during my travels. I think it was an accumulation of things that led me to feel this way:
- The redundancy of temples, palaces, markets, etc, began to feel repetitive, and I began to feel bored and unimpressed. I simply wasn't getting excited to see any of Beijing's tourist attractions (excluding the Great Wall, of course).
- With the exception of a few vagabonds, I wasn't experiencing any sort of connection with the backpackers I was meeting throughout China. Back when I was in Southeast Asia, it seemed that I couldn't go a day without meeting someone really interesting. However, the type of people I was meeting in China weren't my cup of tea, sort of speak. These exceptional people I met, however, were: Matthew and Ashely, two young guys from the Wales who I'd met in Shanghai (I loved their spirit and thirst for adventure); Jenny, a Chinese woman and aspiring vagabond who I'd met in Xi'an; and Soerish, a Dutchman who I'd met in Beijing. Soerish accompanied me to the Summer Palace, a once summer resort for the emperors in Beijing. He was an interesting guy whose conversations I thoroughly enjoyed as we strolled around the enormous palace.
- I wasn't too fond of the culture in China. The constant spitting, picking of the nose, the yelling and shoving, etc., was all getting old - and fast.
- However the ultimate reason I was feeling the way I was may have been because, in reality, I simply wanted to be somewhere else . . . I wanted to be back in the Philippines with Sheila, where I would be returning in three weeks.
The moment that I'd been waiting for had arrived: I was going to see the Great Wall of China. It was probably the number one thing that I'd wanted to see in China. I don't know about everyone else, but before I traveled to this country just hearing the word 'China' instantly conjured images of the Great Wall. I even remember as a kid learning that the Great Wall was the only man-made object visible from outer space - which, I believe, has been proven to be a myth. And when I say a myth, I mean in terms of being either a) the only man-made object being visible, or b) if, in fact, the Great Wall can be seen at all from outer space by the naked eye. I can't remember which one. But regardless if the Great Wall can be seen from outer space or not, it's a incredible awe-inspiring feat. And perhaps one of the greatest tourist attractions on the planet. Sadly, however, we tend to forget that many lives were lost constructing the Great Wall, and that thousands, if not millions, of people were forced against their will to build it. Many tears and blood were shed, and people who died while constructing the Great Wall were sometimes buried inside of it.
I decided to book a tour through my hostel. I typically tend to stay away from tours, but I had heard good things about it from many people. And the tour that the hostel offered was called the "Secret Great Wall" tour. According to the hostel, we would "hike from the part-restored Ancient Wall (strategic pass of Emperor Li Zi Cheng) to the unrestored & undiscovered Secret Wall. Then return to the Ancient Wall and go for a traditional Chinese lunch. These parts of the Wall are much closer to the Beijing, allowing a shorter travel time. There are also far fewer tourists and no sellers chasing you along the Wall!"
Monday, October 18, 2010
[For more videos by Anthony Trotter, view here: http://vimeo.com/user1170157]
I woke up early the following morning and visited the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Mao was head of the People's Republic of China and the country's most prominent communist from 1949 until his death in 1976. And despite Mao's wishes to be cremated, China had his body embalmed and quickly constructed the mausoleum after he died. The mausoleum is located in the middle of Tiananmen Square, and just a short walk from my hostel. I definitely wasn't going to miss the opportunity to view an embalmed corpse of one of the most influential albeit controversial figures in modern world history. The queue to the Mausoleum of Mao - which is available for viewing only a few hours each day - was exceptionally long. I mean really, REALLY long. The line was so long that I had difficulty locating the beginning of it which resembled a serpentine, curving in and around Tiananmen Square. [Watch below]
There were not enough security guards to patrol the sheer amount of people that formed the queue. Just imagine thousands upon thousands of ill-behaved Chinese shoving and overtly cutting their way in line, who, like untamed animals or young toddlers, couldn't control their impulses. Seriously. Why can't they? It's as if the growth or development of their minds have stunted or something. I was really getting annoyed with this parochial mentality. However, I'll hand it to the guards who were patrolling the "unpatrollable." They did the best that they could. Anyone who was caught cutting in line would be removed - and rightly so. What I didn't understand was why the people who were patiently waiting in line tolerate such behavior, and not say a single word?
You can best believe that I didn't tolerate it. One time I noticed a man - that's right, a grown man - waiting for the patrolman to turn around before he quickly ducked under the dividing rope and cut directly in front of me. I felt like I had won the lottery. I was waiting, just WAITING for someone to cut in front of me! I waited a few seconds to see if the people around me were going to say anything first.
"I don't think so, hombre," I told the man, before reaching around him, gripping his shirt and forcefully pushing him out of line. "Get out of here."
And do you know what? It worked. The man embarrassingly walked away with his tail tucked between his legs.
It took about an hour and a half before I entered the mausoleum. And despite the signs that read "silence" the security officers continued hollering and screaming at everyone to be quiet and to form proper lines. Not that I was offended or anything, I just thought it was humorous as I past Mao's eerily looking corpse. How weird.
Back at the hostel that night I used the Internet. But before I could use the Internet, I was forced to fork over a large deposit, equivalent to three hours spent on the Internet. I debated with the receptionist, and tried to understand why the hostel - as well as the rest of China - always require a large deposit before using anything. I knew she wouldn't know why, she was just following orders, but I just had to ask. Because maybe if enough people voice their dissatisfaction, the hostel will change its policy. Ya neva know.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Feeling physically and mentally exhausted, I immediately took a nap after I checked into my hostel. My room was nothing special, just a place to sleep. It had two bunk beds and a depressingly lit florescent light. The room did have a window with a stellar view . . . into the adjacent communal restroom. Yes, if the mood should dare strike you, the room offered pleasant views of people brushing their teeth and of people walking in and out of the showers and toilets.
See more of Nick Vivion's work here:
Monday, October 11, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Back at the hostel I met Rachel while I was writing in my dormitory. Rachel is an American who'd just spent a year teaching English in Taiwan and decided to travel for a few weeks before returning home. Rachel and I exchanged the 3 basic questions that all backpackers inquire when meeting someone new:
- What's your name?
- Where are you from?
- How long have you been traveling?