Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recent Travels: Taiwan

My sort of resolution for  deciding to stay away from home longer has been to keep in better touch. I figure I can start by updating this blog once in a while. Of course, it’s been more than a year since I last wrote in this space, but as always: better late than never. I hope to one day not begin my posts by saying that. I’d like to start updating again with a series on some travelling I’ve been doing in the past several months.

As you may know, the first place I went to upon returning to Asia was the island of Taiwan. After getting there, I went by train from Taipei (where the airport is) to Tainan, where my friend Lon studies Mandarin at a University. I stayed there a week. Of course, Lon had a large itinerary of things for us to do including camping, riding around on his motor scooter, eating a variety of Chinese food, going to a spa, a beach, and I’m sure some other things that I’m forgetting now. Fortunately, I don’t have to remember everything exactly because I took some pictures while I was there.


This first one (above) was taken from the roof of Lon’s apartment building. One thing that impressed me a lot about Tainan was the amount of shrubbery and ‘green’ throughout the city. This is certainly not something you find a lot in Busan or other cities in Korea.




This next pictures are of the camp ground we stayed in. This wasn’t in Tainan, but in a nearby National Park. I don’t remember the name of the place exactly, but it sounded a little bit like the English word ‘cutting.’ You can see here that we had the entire camp ground to ourselves.

The park was actually quite an impressive place. You can see that our camp ground was on a decent sized field. Behind us, was a nice mountain for hiking. Just a short motor bike ride away was a beach. It was really a great place to observe the natural beauty of Taiwan.


You can see here that I’m both relaxing on the beach and guarding the intertube as if my life depended on it. This is because I previously lost one of the rafts we brought with us to the wind (it blew deep out to sea). Here are some more pictures of the beach:




I’ll remind you that it was October when I was visiting Taiwan. Although we met sort of overcast weather when we first got there, the temperatures were still very high. This is because the part of the island I stayed in is in the Tropics. Now that it’s the cold part of winter in Korea, I often think of Lon and how he’s probably still experiencing very warm and comfortable weather this time of year.






Next are some pictures I took when we went hiking on the mountain I mentioned earlier. You can see I’m sufficiently sunburned, but still enjoying myself a good bit.

One impression I always had of Taiwan was that it’s such a small place, and so I guess I assumed the entire island would be densely populated. In truth, so much of the island is nearly uninhabitable thanks to its mountainous interior.

With some bad timing, the weather finally cleared up for some bright skies the day we had to leave to go back to Tainan. We did get to hit the beach one last time though. Here are some sunny pictures:




Back in Tainan, Lon wanted to show me a couple of sights around town. The first was a famous fort. We didn’t actually get to go inside (or see it very well) because it was closed, but the neighborhood nearby was interesting to look around in. We got lucky on our timing too, as we stumbled upon a birthday party for the neighborhood’s deity. This is an annual party, and as we were walking by, got invited to join in the celebration.




You can see it was a pretty big party. The highlight was, after finding out he could sing a song in Chinese, our hosts insisted on Lon singing it for them using their Karaoke machine. I also got a short video using my camera.

On my last day in Tainan, Lon took me to a famous building that has been covered over time by a large tree. I guess the tree is more famous than the building. We spent time debating how many trees there were exactly, but I guess in the end we knew it was only one.




Lon and I used to see each other every day. So, staying just a week with him seemed not enough time. But after Taiwan, it was time to move on to Thailand. It would be my first time in Southeast Asia, and of course I was excited. My time there was one of my favorite vacations. I’ll share pictures and my story of that place in my next update (hopefully soon!).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pictures since last time through October...

Geeze, it's been a while since I made my first post, but better late than never I guess.

I went to Seoul since then. Asian culture, in the past ten years or so anyway, has been largely a derivative of Korean culture. Korean fashion, tv shows, movies, and music largely get exported to to countries like Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Russia, etc. You can see that sort of "high fashion and culture" in Busan to some extent, but I really got the impression in Seoul that it all starts there. Whereas Busan is very much a Korean city, I felt in Seoul as if I was in a city of the world as a whole; meeting many Asian, European, and North American people, and seeing a lot more variety of types of people in general.

It was honestly hard to think I could capture such an experience in a picture or two, but I tried anyway, although not as often as I might have. Honestly, I've never owned a useful camera before so I'm something of a novice in knowing when the right or apt times are to take a shot.

I went to Seoul the same weekend as a couple friends I've made here, but our schedules didn't quite work out to be able to go at the same time. So, I went and met my friend Drew there. Drew and I worked together a few years ago and had kept in touch since. After graduating, Drew told me he was having trouble finding a "real job" and I suggested Korea to him. Sure enough, he took my advice and ended up in Seoul. You can see him here playing one of the many crane games that line the streets of both his and my city. The boy in the picture watched for a while to see if he'd win anything.

Here's my attempt at getting a Woody Allen style crowd shot. One thing I noticed almost immediately about Seoul is that everything is bigger there compared to Busan. The buildings are many stories higher, the roads are many lanes wider, and the crowds of people walking are a many number greater.

Possibly the Seoul equivalent of my own walking trail.

I'm not sure if this fashion show was just beginning or ending when we passed by, but I saw the photographer about to take a picture and took one myself.

One of the most popular Korean past times is No-rae Bong (singing room). Usually they look like this, a room with a tv to preform karoke on, a couple wireless mics, and some tambourines. Here's Drew, with our friend Ji-Won, who was kind enough to show us around a bit.

We had the pleasure of seeing a couple award winning art projects from the school on display in a lawn of some sort. This one is a bed full of hands...

and this one was a robot who would constantly give high fives. I was especially impressed since Koreans don't seem to be much into high fives.

The next week, back in Busan, I went to my first Korean wedding. Admittedly, I haven't been to too many American weddings in my time, but I couldn't help feeling that the Korean take on the ordeal is much more akin to a broadway show than I am used to. The whole thing took place on a stage, and involved a lot of singing and dancing. Much to the dismay of myself and other picture takers, the whole thing was somewhat obstructed by the constant presence of two cameramen. Actually, this is sort of a part of Korean culture from what I can tell: there is an almost constant obsession with taking many pictures, both of yourself and others. From the information I've gathered, there is a sort of idea that your experience in life is short, but something such as a picture can last forever. Maybe I could take a lesson or two from that and start using my camera more often. Anyway, here are a couple more shots. The people sitting to the right and left on the stage are the parents of the bride and groom.

Here's a guy that owns a Swiss Folk Music bar near where I live. He's very kind and plays a dozen or so instruments from what I can tell. He says he learned living in Switzerland for a couple years.

Busan had a really big fireworks show at one of the beaches here. Just to give you an idea of the turnout, I took this picture about four hours before the show started. Once it got dark it became impossible to even walk on the beach at all. Here's some pictures of the show, depending on who I asked it apparently cost between 2 and 4 million dollars to put on.

I'm a member of a sort of friendship club for some locals and foreigners to get together. All the Koreans in the club are extremely nice and speak English well. Our most recent meeting brought us to Beomosa temple. I had been once before but had a camera this time.

Here's the pathway to the temple entrance. You can see that on a Sunday this is sort of a popular destination. Here are some more sights from within the temple walls:

Some shots of the temple... Behind the temple is a mountain you can hike up, and so we did and had a picnic towards the top. Here's a few pics that I took after. You can see me in a couple shots sporting some Korean clothes I've bought since living here. Even the officially liscensed Braves cap was made here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hey, I got a Camera

Unfortunately, since purchasing said camera I haven't done anything exceptionally touristy or exciting (actually, I went to the Casino and had a great time -- Sorry for going without you Grandma -- but they don't allow photography there). However, there have been a couple minor sights, and I've taken some shots of the sort of daily things I see, so here we go:

Here's a pic of the walking / biking / excersize trail near my place. You can see in this part there's some nature type scenery. It's actually a really nice place to walk, but it makes me miss my bike a bit. Actually, from what I've seen here, you can only get mountain type bikes, and not the road kind. Anyway, I'm not sure I'd want to ride on the roads here (they're a little hectic), but having a bicycle to ride on this trail now and again would be nice...

Another shot along the same trail... Here you see some basketball courts. To the right, a river. Above is the subway line which the trail runs underneath until the subway goes underground at some point.

Speaking of which, here's my subway station. My area here is pretty residential from what I can gather, at least in the kind of microcosm I live in. Of course, it's just a short walk to the incredibly commercial type stuff. Actually, if you look in the upper right of this picture (on the opposite side of the subway) you can see the Lotte Department store towering above everything. It's kind of this nine story monument to consumerism. At first sight, I think it was the biggest store I'd ever seen, but there's one bigger in another district that I've seen since.

By now, this is kind of an uninteresting shot for me to look at, but it's also the street I live off of. On one end is the subwawy stop, and if I walk to the other end then I'm at the road my school is located on. I'm actually very close to these things so it's all very convenient.

Here's my school's building, we're the school on the third floor. The first floor is a clinic, the second a web design school. Anyway, not too much to say about that, but I will share a few pictures of some of the kids:

These guys are always asking me for arm wrestling matches. I gave the boy on the right an award for writing in his diary that it's a pity his mom only lets him play computer games for a half hour every night.

Don't let their quaint looks fool you: one of these girls is throwing a fit by the end of class every day. It's almost a given. Is second grade a really dramatic age these days? I don't really remember it...

One of my favorite younger classes, except I made the mistake of teaching them tic-tac-toe one day. Now the game is in constant demand and they don't seem to understand they can play it without me being there. Scarlet, on the end, is a little camera shy I think.

So, whenever the students have any writing to do I'm in charge of picking a best piece for each class and awarding a $5 gift certificate to the kid. As a result, I get an occasional suck-up piece like this one: the girl said if she was a millionaire she'd buy me new clothes and drew this picture.

I actually have done a little shopping since I've been here. I met my school's director and secretary in this place -- Nampo-dong. They live near there so were able to recommend me some good stores and talk down a couple prices for me. Nampo-dong is just one of many "downtown" type areas around. I've personally been to 4 or 5 so far, but there must be several more. Anyway, Nampo-dong is known for being one of the oldest of them and for its shopping. I noticed there were carts selling beer so you can drink as you go from store to store.

Hmm, just kind of a typical picture of Busan I think.

I'll go to Seoul the weekend of the third. So, expect some more pictures after that.

Anyway, I'm doing well lately. Things are seeming more routine than they used to, but at the same time a lot still seems different and exciting in a way. I guess there's a large part of the living in a different country thing that never really wears off. Even though I work, I can't quite help but to feel I'm on vacation most of the time.

I'm learning a little Korean here and there, and I'll start taking some formal lessons this coming Thursday. Actually, the teachers at my school have offered to teach me just as a favor. There are free lessons throughout the city, but they've insisted on letting them teach me. I'm starting to feel like as I learn Korean, I'll begin to forget English, though. My vocabulary here is kind of limited to what others can understand. I feel like I've forgotten some words already. Oh well.

Hope all is well, and I'll try to update this now and again.